Jazzing it up

The Utah Jazz are arguably the most overlooked team in the NBA. At least it feels that way as a diehard fan looking out at the landscape of the league. Perhaps the only other team that might rival the Jazz are the Nuggets.

When I tell people I’m a Jazz fan, most just laugh or scoff at me, despite the fact that they’re fans of the Knicks or some other tanking, pitiful team. Even when they’re not, they don’t realize that the Jazz have been beating them on the low.

Recently, the Jazz have gotten a little more attention. Gordon Hayward had been quietly dominating the league, making himself into a member of the NBA elite. He brought the Jazz to the playoffs, where they beat the Clippers in the first round, but lost to the Golden State Warriors. Much to the chagrin of the fans, he departed to Boston, where the Celtics were attempting to build a “superteam.”

Many analysts and fans thought that the Jazz would subsequently tank in the next season without their star player. Their predictions looked to be true when the team started 17-21 in 2018. What they didn’t see was that the Jazz’s new draft pick, Donovan Mitchell, was slowly heating up game-by-game. Mitchell became the linchpin of an amazing midseason turnaround from which the team finished the season by going 32-13, at one point going on an 11-game winning streak. Their final record was 48-34.

The team made the playoffs again despite having lost Hayward, the only major roster changes being the addition of Ricky Rubio via trade and Donovan Mitchell from the draft. After beating the Thunder in a thrilling playoff series, the Jazz were in the exact same position as they were in the previous season.
Better yet, the Jazz actually took a game off of the Houston Rockets, where they had been swept in the previous season. The loss to the Rockets was agonizing for Jazz fans though. The team was down 3-1 in the series, and on the brink of elimination. Mitchell had not played great in the first three games, but was finally shooting well. In the third quarter of that game, Mitchell scored 22 points. It looked like Mitchell was ready to take the game — and the series — over. Then he got injured.

It was devastating for both fans and Mitchell to go out on the injury. The game was close, but everyone knew that without Mitchell, the game was surely going to end up in a loss, and it sure did.

As a fan, I developed a deep animosity towards the Rockets, and I’m unapologetic about it. James Harden, one of the Rockets’ marquee players, is known to flop, dive, and do whatever acting is necessary to draw fouls. To give a statistic, Harden has had 858 free throw attempts this season, while the nearest person in the league has 686 attempts.

I respect Harden for taking advantage of every rule in the book, but beyond this concession, there is nothing else to him. Even for the fans that aren’t too invested, the Rockets make the games simply terrible to watch, with so many free throws interrupting the flow of the game. For me, it’s even worse because the Jazz are playing the Rockets again right now in the first round of the playoffs, and it’s not going well.

As the regular season ended, teams were shuffling around, tanking, and angling to try and avoid the Rockets in the playoffs. Fate just had to have it that the Jazz have to face the Rockets. On Twitter, Tony Jones, a journalist covering the Jazz, put it best: "The entire Western Conference other than Golden State did musical chairs to avoid the Rockets. The Jazz were just the team that said F it, tanking isn’t us. If it goes down, it goes down. I admire that, to be honest [sic].” And that’s the spirit of the Utah Jazz.

To be honest, I know that this playoff series is likely going to end in a loss. I’m still going to watch every game and root for them like a madman, but I think I’d be speaking for most of us Jazz fans to say that our consolation is in the future.

We have Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and a near all-star in Donovan Mitchell. The NBA’s biggest meme, Joe Ingles, who looks like the person that just came and fixed your WiFi but will beat your favorite player in isolation, is on our team. Ingles coupled with Kyle Korver make for deadly three-point shooting as the “Splash Uncles” (a play on the Warriors’ three-point shooting group, the “Splash Brothers”). We have our beloved Jae Crowder, and the league’s most hated rookie, Grayson Allen. And Ricky Rubio looks like Jesus. There are a lot more notables, but there’s not enough space to talk about them all.

What a combo, right? And this offseason, the Jazz will be looking to make some big purchases, especially in the point guard department. Hopefully they will be the difference that makes us title contenders in the years to come. It’s going to be fun. We’re an entertaining team. You’ve probably never heard of us, but join us and become a fan before it turns into a bandwagon. We welcome anyone and everyone, for when the rings and trophies are delivered, there will be riches and spoils in abundance.