Winter is Coming Early in Utah, but the Jazz Look Ready

Utah has undeniable depth at every position, but what kind of impact will Gordon Hayward’s injury have on the Jazz’s early-season success? Can they start establishing themselves as an upper echelon Western Conference squad? Can they begin making that leap without him?

The hits don’t stop with Hayward’s left ring finger fracture.

Rodney Hood is dealing with a sprained left shooting hand. Derrick Favors is battling a bone bruise and IT band syndrome in his left knee. Alec Burks is on the comeback trail after surgeries on both his left knee and left ankle.

Is there any luck left in Utah? This just isn’t right. The Jazz were supposed to enter the season as one of the most exciting teams to watch despite their glacial pace, but now they may be subjected to an opening month of .500 basketball.

Here’s the thing though: none of this will matter in May.

By then, the Jazz will have solidified themselves as Golden State’s top threat in the conference.

Despite the presence of Kawhi Leonard, I’m finally ready to start questioning San Antonio after a strange offseason. Anytime I feel myself becoming confident in the Clippers, visions of DeAndre Jordan shooting free throws creep into my mind.

However, Utah has been built to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune–to topple these wicked Warriors.

Suppose the Jazz opt to put everyone I’ve mentioned thus far on ice for a few weeks. They could roll out a starting lineup of Dante Exum, George Hill, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, and Rudy Gobert and bring Boris Diaw off the bench–it usually takes until about the six-minute mark in the first for his cappuccino to kick in anyways, so a sixth-man role is probably best for Boris.

All jokes aside though, pre-season injuries to Khris Middleton, Gary Harris, and Ian Mahinmi might seriously stifle the playoff hopes for Milwaukee, Denver, and Washington. Not every team is built to survive this stuff.

The Bucks lost their most well-rounded player and best outside shooter. Milwaukee did add some help in that regard (Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and perhaps Malcolm Brogdon), but now it’s back to lacking. The Nuggets are loaded with frontcourt depth, yet the young Harris was very arguably the most capable two-way shooting guard on the squad. Replacing him in a backcourt with Emmanuel Mudiay will be a tough task given the roster construction. Spacing looms large as a concern for Milwaukee and Denver.

Meanwhile, Washington will sorely miss its big-time free-agent acquisition and lone rim-protecting force, Ian Mahinmi. I was surprised to see Mahinmi coming off the bench behind Marcin Gortat during preseason play, and I’ll be stunned if the Wizards are able to get off to a hot start without him. Looking elsewhere, conventional wisdom suggests the Sixers were still at least another year away from competing for a playoff spot. Nevertheless, the uncertainty surrounding Ben Simmons and his injury has Philadelphia temporarily removed from over/under betting lines.

Amid all the ailments though, the Jazz are holding firm with a win projection in the high-4os. Last year was a different story, a hopeful one in the beginning that was ultimately derailed by a seemingly never-ending spiral of injuries (and some late-season struggles). Newcomers such as Hill, Johnson, and Diaw will get extra reps early in the year, and if it doesn’t wear them down, it should help their continuity when everything matters most. Exum and Lyles also aren’t guaranteed that many minutes this year, not when everyone’s healthy, not on a deep team with talented young vets and older dudes that still get the job done better than streaky sophomores.

Utah enjoyed a brief taste of winning with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer not too long ago, but it was short-lived for an area that was blessed to witness the sustained success of John Stockton and Karl Malone through the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. They came so close, but never managed to beat the Bulls. Here’s to hoping the underdog slays the giant this time around.

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