This was supposed to be the year that the Jazz turned the corner.
They were supposed to take the next step to become playoff contenders.
While the Jazz currently find themselves in the thick of the race for one of the final playoff spots in the NBA’s Western Conference, the word that comes to mind when it comes to describing the first third of the season is “underwhelming.”
Just before Christmas, I had an opportunity to watch the Jazz twice in person as they played home games against Denver and Phoenix. For the game against the Suns, I was on assignment for the Transcript Bulletin, so I had what would be considered fairly prime seats at the top of Section 9 in the lower bowl of Vivint Smart Home Arena. But I would argue that I had a better perspective for the game against the Nuggets three nights earlier when I was one row from the top of the arena, also known as the nosebleediest of the nosebleeds.
Yes, having those lower-bowl seats in the corner was nice. It gave me a nice view of Alec Burks’ dunk over Jon Leuer. But when it comes to truly analyzing the game and how it should be played, it’s hard to beat having a bird’s-eye view of Larry H. Miller Court.
And it was the game against the Nuggets that might have been the most telling as to why the Jazz haven’t performed as many thought they might.
The Jazz, to put it mildly, are maddeningly inconsistent. They thoroughly dominated the Nuggets through the first 18 minutes or so, making the boys from Denver look like they barely belonged on the same floor. Utah’s effort at both ends of the floor gave it a huge lead early on.
But, suddenly, the Jazz decided to take their foot off the gas. They became lackadaisical on both ends of the court. There’s little doubt that the Jazz have more high-end talent and more athleticism than the Nuggets, who lack star power. But what Denver may lack in talent, the Nuggets make up for in effort, particularly with high-energy players like Kenneth Faried and Will Barton.
By the middle of the third quarter, what should have been a relatively easy win for the Jazz had become a nail-biter. In fact, the Nuggets had the lead several times in the second half. Utah left the floor victorious that night, but I guarantee you the team wasn’t pleased after making the game far more dramatic than it had to be.
The Jazz had no such problems against Phoenix, leading wire-to-wire. Derrick Favors was a force at both ends of the floor, and Gordon Hayward was his normal, steady self. Burks’ dunk was seemingly the perfect exclamation point on an impressive win.
But it wasn’t perfect. Head coach Quin Snyder found the fly in the ointment when noting that Trevor Booker neglected to get back on defense following Burks’ dunk, allowing the Suns to get two quick points in transition.
Sure, those two points didn’t mean a whole lot with the game’s outcome having long since been decided. But that wasn’t the point Snyder was trying to make. Utah’s head coach is looking for more consistency from his squad, and that means playing hard for all 48 minutes and not just in spurts. The Jazz are a good team, but they’re not good enough to get by on talent alone. Even those legendary Jazz teams of the John Stockton-Karl Malone era couldn’t have gotten away with that — and, like Snyder, Jerry Sloan wouldn’t have stood for a lack of effort.
The Jazz have the potential to be right in the middle of the postseason hunt if they put forth enough effort. Instead, they’re on the fringe.
Until the Jazz heed their head coach’s advice, they’ll continue to be mediocre — mere first-round cannon fodder for the likes of the Warriors or Spurs come playoff time. And the fans of Utah aren’t about to be content with that.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He, too, can dunk a basketball just like Alec Burks, but only with the help of a trampoline and if the rim has been lowered. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.