Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Outside of a catastrophic injury, is this the only answer the West has to the Bay Area Behemoths? It might seem insane to count out the Spurs or forever baby brother Clippers for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs last year, but I honestly believe the next challenge to the throne is going to come from someone we haven’t seen before. And, for a team that has shown flashes of being a top 5 defense, with the versatility to throw out groups that could even match up with Golden State’s revamped line-up of death, I love the Jazz at 50/1 odds to win the Western Conference.
Utah might not have been one of the few teams to beat the Dubs last year, but they did play them incredibly close at home, losing their two games by a combined 10 points. They benefit in a big way from Rudy Gobert, who combines the rebounding and (otherworldly) shotblocking of a traditional center, with the mobility of a much smaller player able to switch onto guards and wing players on the perimeter. While Utah generally likes to play big with both Gobert and almost All-Star Derrick Favors at forward, they added a couple of intriguing small ball fours in free agency with Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson and got a killer second half of the season out of rookie Trey Lyles, who looks more than capable of stretching the floor from power forward or even getting all over the court as a kind of hybrid, diet Draymond Green type center.
It’s a group that over the last season and a half has been one of the best in basketball at rebounding and protecting the rim. They hit on one of the best players in the 2014 draft in Rodney Hood, who along with Gordon Hayward, offers one of the league’s best scoring and playmaking combinations on the wing. They even went all-in on this team during the summer, trading their first-rounder for Indiana point guard George Hill. The Jazz do have an intriguing point guard on the roster, in 2014 #5 pick Dante Exum, but the young Australian missed all of his sophomore season last year to a torn ACL and is largely an uncertainty at this point. Hill is money in the bank; he can play off the ball to let Hood and Hayward create, blister the net at a near 40% clip from deep, and provide arguably what might be the best point guard defense in the league. Steph Curry come at me!
This is still a team that has underperformed for its talent level over the last two years, missing the playoffs in 2016 by just a single game. They may be fairly young, but this will be Hill’s last season under contract with Hayward expiring one year after in 2018. Coach Quin Snyder has shown flashes of being one of those top-5/6 coaches in the league (as well as having some Batman-villain style crazy hair), but he’s yet to take these guys even to .500. The Utah ownership group has generally remained fairly patient with their groups developing, as well as being adverse to spending money in a BIG way, but you have to think that this is the year where the mandate is clearly playoffs or bust. The Jazz have all the talent to make the postseason, even in the West, and I firmly believe they’ll do so. But with all the new faces on this roster, and all the flexible, multi-positional players Snyder can put on the floor, I’m fascinated to watch how they get there and whether they can contend once they’ve reached the big show.
Last year’s ranking: 19 (+10)