Entering the 2021-22 season, the Utah Jazz knew how good they could be.
The players haven’t shied away from publicly admitting that they want to take the next step in the playoffs and bring home that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy to Salt Lake City.
But they also knew that to achieve their goals, they would have to revamp the team’s depth. They wanted to add a veteran presence that could help take pressure off Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, the top-two finishers in the Sixth Man of the Year award voting last year.
So the organization went out and signed prized free agents Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gay, traded for former all-rookie first team member Eric Paschall and then added a very nice piece in rookie Jared Butler through the draft.
“At this point in my career, I just want to win. … I felt that Utah, with its style of play, was the perfect fit,” Whiteside said.
All of a sudden, head coach Quin Snyder—who typically runs a nine-man rotation throughout the regular season—found himself with more talent and depth than before.
That’s why the primary goals of the preseason and the early parts of the season have been about establishing that depth and figuring out the correct rotations to play with Clarkson and Ingles.
Two games into the season and the Jazz are 2-0, primarily due to the play of the reserves.
Whiteside, who spurned offers to start elsewhere just to backup Rudy Gobert in Utah, is averaging 7.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 17 minutes of action. Eric Paschall provided massive minutes off the bench in Friday’s victory over Sacramento, setting a physical tone that matched what the Kings were doing.
“Can’t say enough about Hassan, Trent (Forrest), and Eric. … Those three guys, the minutes that they gave us were really big,” Snyder said following the 110-101 victory over the Kings.
Eric in with the NPE#TakeNote pic.twitter.com/5VxzuAs3Rw
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) October 23, 2021
Through two games, Utah’s bench is a +30 on the year. It’s become a luxury that Gobert feels will make a big difference as the season goes on.
“We know how good our second unit is, with Joe (Ingles) and JC (Jordan Clarkson), how they can impact the game for us,” Gobert said. “It’s no surprise because we got guys ready to come in and contribute and bring something specific to the game.”
Utah isn’t even fully healthy yet as Gay is still out recovering from offseason heel surgery. While his prognosis looks good, the team will not rush him back because they know how valuable he can be in April, May, and June.
“The fact that this team was the No. 1 team last year without me, that gives me all the cushion I need,” Gay said about his return to the game. “This is a good team. … I just want to contribute and get them over the hump, and with that being said, I have to be 100% healthy.”
Gay is a good pickup for the Jazz as he brings instant versatility and wing depth to the team. His ability to drop down and play the No. 5 role in smaller lineups should allow Utah to rival any team in the league attempting to do the same—and this comes after he averaged 11.4 points on 38.1% shooting from beyond the arc last season.
Combining Utah’s returners with the newcomers, it’s no shock why the Jazz believe they have the overall talent and depth to win a title. According to Gobert, he considers the makeup of this team to be one that rivals the Spurs and Warriors during their championship runs.
“I believe that for every championship team, the key really is the second unit,” Gobert said on Sunday. “You saw it with the Spurs back in the day, and even the Warriors. The second unit is really important.”
Utah next plays on Tuesday, Oct. 26 when it welcomes the Denver Nuggets to Vivint Arena. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. MST on TNT.
It’s a big man showdown
The Nuggets are coming to Vivint Arena and you can’t miss it. Get your tickets now https://t.co/J8DBM8bbq7 pic.twitter.com/GYpm0jDvgq
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) October 21, 2021