The 2021 Utah Jazz came out of left field. A team that can drop thirty-five points in a quarter, can lock down your team’s best player, and limit an opponent’s offense to only lucky isolation baskets.
Dominating the entire NBA, with the second closest team being the LeBron/AD Lakers that are 3.5 games behind, there is a major unanswered question that looms over the franchise: Are the Utah Jazz legitimate title contenders?
The short answer? No (but they can get lucky).
Everyone loves a Cinderella story, whether it’s the 2015 Atlanta Hawks, 2018 Houston Rockets, or the 2021 Utah Jazz. Unfortunately for these teams, the road to success is always filled with obstacles, often named LeBron James, Stephen Curry, or other generational greats.
And, though anyone with a grain of basketball knowledge will admit that watching the Utah Jazz has been a treat to all basketball fans, the West is dominated by LeBron, Davis, Kawhi, George, and Curry. I have been fooled and persuaded into predicting against LeBron in my past, specifically 2018, and I do not want to fall into that trap anymore. I am convinced that LeBron can make the finals with Woody, Lightning McQueen, and your local Lucky’s cashier as his sidekicks.
However, a scenario where I can see the Jazz sneaking into the Finals would be if LeBron and Kawhi coincidentally get injured and ruled out for the playoffs. However, in any other plausible scenario, I don’t think Utah has a chance.
The Jazz are very reminiscent of the 60–22 Atlanta Hawks from 2015. They have both outstanding offense and defense, many solid and all-star caliber players, but none that can currently be considered the first option on a championship team. Though many would argue that Donovan Mitchell can fit that role, I would say that because his stats have remained pretty unchanged from last year and he hasn’t been able to take that MVP-level leap many were hoping, it’s unfair to put him in the same tier as Giannis, LeBron, Durant, and others. Also, because the Jazz were eliminated in the first round in last year’s playoffs, he wasn’t able to acquire any significant playoff experience, which makes me believe that, simply put, he’s the same player as last year with more regular-season experience, which doesn’t count for anything when you’re facing LeBron or Kawhi in a seven-game series.
Jazz fans should not lose all hope, however, this team is looking great, and the chemistry that role players like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have created within the team’s system makes them extremely dangerous in the very near future. With Mike Conley at age 33, the Jazz have a championship window of about three to four years, so whenever Donovan Mitchell can take his game to another level, the team will be right there behind him, hopefully bringing success to a team that hasn’t found any in its 44-year existence.