Expert NBA Handicapping: Utah Jazz Off to Rough Start
A whole lot of things in the NBA haven't turned out so far like we expected them to a quarter of the way through the NBA season. The Rockets are struggling badly. The Celtics aren't much better. The Hornets, Clippers and Grizzlies are all division leaders. The blissful happiness in Golden State has dissolved into a pile of bitter resentment.
Of all the things we have seen in this topsy-turvy season, though, the one that is the most surprising and disappointing to me at this point is the Utah Jazz. Last year they were the plucky squad that was always fun to watch and which seemed to be laying the foundation for ongoing greatness. They looked like their days as a contender were going to be long - that they could be a real threat in the West. And they had a very solid offseason. But so far this year things have been ugly. At 10-12 they have the third-worst winning percentage in the West, and one of the teams they are better than is Phoenix so that hardly counts. They are allowing 8.3 more points per game, haven't increased their offense accordingly, have dropped six of eight at home, and just aren't doing much of an impression of being a good team. Let's look at what is going on and what it means going forward this season:
Donovan Mitchell: Mitchell should have been Rookie of the Year last year, and there is no point debating it. And while he is again the leading scorer for the team, and is scoring slightly more than last year, he just isn't the force that he was last season. He hasn't been as efficient, isn't as defensively committed, lacks some consistency and clutch play, and just seems to be off somehow. He is still playing at a high level and has struggled with some injury problems that surely haven't helped. The expectations for this team, though, were built largely on the basis of reasonable expectations for a big step forward for their superstar this year. Instead, he isn't even totally treading water compared to last year, and it's a problem. Mitchell is the kind of guy who sets the tone for his team, and the tone is off right now. The upside is immense, though, so if he can get healthy then all doesn't have to be lost.
Rudy Gobert: The Stifle Tower is one of the top defensive players in the league, and the defending Defensive Player of the Year. You wouldn't know it from watching him this year, though. He's not the ever-present force that he has been, and he just doesn't seem nearly as sharp. You'd almost worry that he is starting to lose a step, but he only turned 26 this summer. His less-impressive defensive play is a big factor in the defensive woes of the team. It's not all him, though. In fact, there is a bit of a chicken and egg argument to be had here. The team last year had a relentless commitment to team defense, with Gobert at the center of it all. This year the team's defensive intensity has been notably weaker. Is the team worse defensively because Gobert is struggling? Or is Gobert struggling with consistency because the team is leaving him on an island too often? Mitchell and Joe Ingles are two guys who clearly aren't playing as well defensively this year as they did before. It's not that Gobert has been bad this year and that the team has been much better with him off the court than on it. It's just that we know how much better he can be.
Point guards: Last year Ricky Rubio was playing by far the best ball of his career. He was a Top 10 point guard, and it seemed like he had found a spot in which he could stay up there in those heights. And Dante Exum was finally healthy all offseason and should have been able to really prepare for this season like he has been unable to before. It was easy to be optimistic about the point guard play this year. Exum, who got an extension this summer, still hasn't figured out how to shoot, and he is far from impressive. Rubio has regressed to his worst form, and the guy who was so good in the second half of the season last year is so far from what we are seeing now that it seems like that was all a dream. And Raul Neto continues to be injured more often than he isn't. The point guard position was supposed to be a strength, but it has been a major liability, and that is a big factor in the issues the team has had.
Betting performance: The team has a 10-12 ATS record to match their straight up record, so they haven't been any fun at all to bet on, but not much more fun to bet against, either. The highlight, though, has been on the total - some good things come from unexpected defensive incompetence, at least. They have gone "over" the total 14 times in 22 games to produce some very solid profits there. Only Philadelphia has gone over more times at 15, and they have played one more game than the Jazz.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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