As a family of Jazz fans put it on social media, “Our 182-day wait is over.” The NBA season finally descended on Salt Lake City last night, and it came with a bang. Not only was everyone excited about seeing this new-look Jazz team play in its first meaningful game but also Adam Silver was in the house that Larry built after announcing that the 2023 All-Star Game would be coming to Utah. The scene was set for an epic opener to the 2019-2020 season, and the Jazz did not disappoint.
There are multiple story lines that could be written about the game: Bojan Bogdanovic spraining his ankle, only to come back to hit a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter; Mike Conley going 1 for 16; or Emmanuel Mudiay looking more and more like a viable rotation piece. However, the two biggest story lines from this game, and the biggest reasons why I think the Jazz won the game, have got to be the team defense and Donovan Mitchell’s start to what I believe will be an all-star season.
Just last week, I noted how lethargic the Jazz’s defense was during the preseason. Not only did the Jazz finish dead last in defensive rating among all NBA teams but their defensive rating was also worse than some of the international teams that participated in the preseason. The Jazz’s defense (or lack thereof) was a big reason why they went 0 for against NBA teams during that stretch. There was a lot of discussion in the media about whether this Jazz team was even capable of being a top-10 defensive team with their new additions.
True to form, Rudy Gobert’s words of assurance came to fruition last night. The defense started out with a bang, only allowing the Thunder to score 12 points in the first quarter. While the Thunder did go off for 34 points in the second quarter, the Jazz held them to just 95 points for the game. If the Jazz hold teams to an average of 95 points per contest this season, they are going to win a lot of games. Some of the other impressive stats include holding the Thunder to 38.6% shooting percentage, only allowing 34 points in the paint, and having a defensive rating of 94.1. I am almost convinced that any team with Rudy Gobert in the middle coupled with Coach Q’s defensive scheme is automatically going to be a top-10 defensive squad. They are both that good.
If you are one of the few who hasn’t already bought a ticket for the Donovan Mitchell train, you better buy now before prices go up even higher. This kid never ceases to amaze. Let’s go over some of the things he wanted to work on in the offseason to see how he did in game one.
- Be more efficient: he went 14 for 22 – Check!
- Make better decisions with the ball: only one turnover while being the primary ball handler in large stretches of the game – Check!
- Be in better shape: while this one is difficult to tell since it was the first game of the season when everyone seems to have a bounce in his step, Donovan seemed to get stronger as the game went on, so I’m going to go – Check!
And for good measure, Donovan scored 32 points, got a career high 12 rebounds, and got his first career double-double. I’d say that’s not too shabby for one night’s work.
While there are still a lot of questions to be answered on how this team is going to gel as the players get more familiar with one another, there are two things that look like they’ll be a constant on this team: Rudy anchoring a solid defense and Donovan continuing to amaze us with highlight plays and scoring.