Weekly Dose: If the Jazz make it to the NBA Finals, I’ll eat my laptop
Each week, I’ll be writing about one thing that’s on my mind.
A large cohort of NBA writers and podcasters have been singing the Utah Jazz’s praises of late. As they should. With their current hot streak and 25–6 record, the team deserves its flowers.
However, what has been astonishing is that many of these same media members, some of whom I respect a great deal, are going one step further, proclaiming the Jazz to be legit NBA Title contenders.
Huh?? Is this some bizzaro world?
To those who believe that the Jazz are NBA Finals-bound, I wholeheartedly ask, have you ever watched the playoffs before? If the answer is yes, then what the fuck are you talking about? Have you gone mad? Have you not witnessed first-hand, again and again, what a championship team looks like?
Even Magic Johnson (or at least his intern) is convinced that the Jazz are a Finals team. You’d think that a 5-time NBA Champ would know what it takes to win the chip. Apparently not.
The Jazz may finish first in the West or even end up with the best record in the NBA. But title contenders they are not. Not even close. Here’s why.
Although they feature two All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, they have no true superstar. Not a one. And without at least one superstar who can put the team on his back when the chips are down, they are not getting to the Finals, let alone winning it.
The Jazz are a well-rounded, the-sum-is-worth-more-than-its-parts type of team that features great chemistry, thanks largely to their year-over-year continuity.
This type of team can run the regular season gauntlet and rack up plenty of wins. But not in the playoffs. The Raptors have had many a-team just like this — most recently the 59-win 2017–18 team. But with no proven superstar to take over games, like a LeBron James or future Raptor, Kawhi Leonard, they predictably crumbled.
As did the 60-win 2014–15 Atlanta Hawks, which also was a sum-of-its-parts team. Despite their regular season success as a collective, like the Raptors, they eventually got swept out of the playoffs by LeBron’s Cavaliers.
Sorry, but Mitchell ain’t that playoff go-to guy. Not yet, anyway. Yes, he went off in the bubble last playoffs. But those were special circumstances. Let’s see him repeat that performance.
This is not a slight on Mitchell. There are only a handful of true superstars in the league who you can hand the ball to and say, “Win us the game.” There’s the aforementioned James and Leonard. Also, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jimmy Butler to name a few.
Yes, the 2004 Detroit Pistons did win the championship without a superstar. But if you think about it, that’s quite rare. Just look back at the last five title teams:
2020 Lakers: LeBron & Anthony Davis
2019 Raptors: Leonard
2017 & 2018 Warriors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson & Durant
2016 Cavaliers: LeBron & Kyrie Irving
Without a dominant, go-to playoff performer, the Jazz aren’t beating a healthy Lakers or Clippers team in a 7-game series. No way.
No playoff pedigree
So the Jazz are 25–6. Big whoop. Those are 25 regular season wins. Who cares. Even if this team has the most wins entering the postseason, it means absolutely nothing. The playoffs are a completely different animal.
That’s why championship teams always feature several players with deep playoff experience. Unfortunately, this is something that the Jazz are in short supply of.
Besides Mike Conley, who accumulated tons of postseason knowhow with the grit n’ grind Grizzlies, this Jazz team has little-to-no extended playoff experience. Unless you count Bojan Bogdanović who made it past the first round once. Or Jordan Clarkson who rode LeBron’s coattails to the 2017–18 Finals with the Cavaliers. Because I don’t.
It’s rare for a team to jump from back-to-back first-round exits to the Finals. Let’s see them make it to the second round before we start crowning them.
The Jazz are killing it from three-point land this season. They’re absolutely devastating teams with a three-point barrage from the likes of Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Royce O’Neale, all of whom are shooting over 40%. In fact, they’re shooting a ridiculous 40% from three as a team. AS A TEAM!!
They also recently nailed a franchise-high 28 threes versus the Hornets. And according to USA Today, they just became the fastest team in NBA history to connect on 500 threes, doing it in just 31 games.
That’s all well and good during a large sample 82-game (or in this case 72-game) regular season. But it’s a whole different story during a very small sample 7-game series, where one or two off nights from three can derail your series.
That’s why three-point shot making is so high-variance. A team can go supernova from beyond the arc one night, then dead cold the next. Remember when the Rockets whiffed on 27 straight threes to fall to the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 West Finals?
This, of course, is an all-time extreme choke job. Be that as it may, the three-bomb is just not a weapon you can count in a small sample postseason series.
It’s February, guys
Right now the Jazz are firing on all cylinders and are first in the West. That’s nice for them.
It’s important to note that it’s still just February. And not even a regular February at that since the season started in late December. They’ve played just 31 of 72 games with still more than half of the season to go. And, by all accounts, the second half is going to be a doozy, schedule-wise.
So please, just do me a favour. Hold your fucking horses on chiselling them in as championship contenders. Thanks.
It’s a COVID season
So far the Jazz have been relatively lucky in terms of being hit by COVID health and safety protocols. And beside from the recent Conley injury, they’ve also been relatively healthy.
A lot of their competitors have not been so lucky. Players have been in and out of the lineup all season due to contact tracing or contracting COVID itself. In more extreme cases, teams like the Grizzlies and Spurs have had to shut down completely for large periods of time.
All of this is to say that it’s difficult to judge any team right now. Maybe even for this entire wacky season. The Jazz are constantly facing teams that are missing key rotation players. I’m not taking anything away from them. You have to play the team in front of you regardless of the situation. But it does make it difficult to evaluate teams.
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I don’t see the Jazz coming even close to a Finals appearance, no matter how many regular season wins they collect or how many winning streaks they rack up. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my laptop. But based on the almost 30 years of NBA playoffs that I’ve witnessed, I think my laptop and I will be just fine.
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