Utah Jazz: Despite losing Hayward, the playoffs are still feasible

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 04: Rudy Gobert
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 04: Rudy Gobert /

Gordon Hayward’s departure certainly hurts the Utah Jazz, but an otherwise good offseason has this team set for a return to the playoffs

The Utah Jazz were dealt a crushing blow earlier this month when star Gordon Hayward decided to sign with the Boston Celtics.

Hayward was the best player on a team that was on the rise in the Western Conference. Many people may assume that the loss of Hayward means going back to square one for this organization, but the subsequent moves by general manager Dennis Lindsey send a different message.

In fact, I believe that Utah Jazz have a strong enough roster that they’ll make the playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference in 2017-18.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

The Jazz may have lost their only star player, but they still have a deep roster filled with quality contributors. Lindsey is one of the most underrated GMs in the league, and he’s done an excellent job since taking over the team in 2012.

Utah’s best player is now center Rudy Gobert, around whom Lindsey is now building. Gobert is a perennial candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors, as he’s one of the league’s elite rim protectors. He’s gotten better every year since entering the league, and he’s still just 25 years old. Having an eight-foot wingspan certainly doesn’t hurt.

It’s easy to forget that Derrick Favors, Gobert’s frontcourt mate, is still just 26 years old, as he came into the league at a very young age. Favors is coming off a down year that saw him injured quite a bit, but I think he’s more of the 16 and 8 guy we saw the two previous seasons and expect him to prove that this year. Gobert and Favors give Utah a very good duo up front that can defend and is entering their respective primes.

Before Hayward chose Boston, Lindsey was able to acquire point guard Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves for an Oklahoma City 2018 first-round pick that Utah owned. While this move was made in an effort to convince Hayward to stay in Salt Lake City, it remains a good one in the wake of his departure.

Rubio is one of the most gifted passers in the league and a quality defender. His shooting is never going to come around, but he played the best basketball of his career down the stretch in 2016-17. He’s going to make life a lot easier for the rest of the Jazz players on offense.

Rodney Hood has been a steal for the Jazz since they selected him with the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft. He’s 24, extremely talented offensively and still growing as a player. Alec Burks is still just 25, and if he can stay healthy he should be a meaningful contributor for Utah this season. I didn’t love the contract handed to Joe Ingles, but he’s a really good shooter in a league where that is more of a premium skill than ever.

Let’s not forget about Dante Exum. Exum was somewhat of a mystery man entering the 2014 draft, oozing upside while being a bit of an unknown. He looked extremely raw his rookie season and missed the entirety of the 2015-16 campaign due to injury. However, last year Exum began to show signs of what he could be in the NBA.

He’s long and athletic, capable of playing either guard position. His ability to slash and get to the rim will be a real asset for him, as will his underrated passing. He needs to become a much more efficient offensive player and live up to his vast potential on the defensive end, but he’s still just 22 with tons of room to grow. He was a standout at the Utah Summer League, which was surely music to the ears of Jazz fans everywhere. Learning from Rubio can only help this kid. I’m happy to continue buying up Dante Exum stock from anyone looking to sell it.

The Utah Jazz player generating the most buzz right now, however, is not Gobert or Exum. It’s rookie Donovan Mitchell. His 37-point performance against Memphis in Vegas, one that featured eight steals, showed why Jazz fans are so excited about this guy. The organization was high on Donovan heading into the draft, high enough to send Trey Lyles (a player I like, but one that took a step back last year) and the 24th pick to move up to 13 and select him.

The summer league returns were great, showing Mitchell to be a potential steal. He’s a tenacious competitor, and guys are going to hate being defended by him. Sometimes it seems like he takes the ball away from opposing players by sheer will. He reminds me of Draymond Green in that way, the guy who always seems to come up with the 50/50 balls. He’s going to add toughness, defense and an offensive spark to this Utah team.

Lindsey rounded out the Utah offseason with some sneaky-good free agent acquisitions, landing Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko on contracts of value. Sefolosha is getting up there in years a bit, but he’s still a quality perimeter defender. Udoh is a former lottery pick that was forced to play overseas, but he shined during his two years with Fenerbahce and won the EuroLeague Final Four MVP last year.

He should provide Utah with a solid defensive presence in the frontcourt rotation that can play the four and the five. Jerebko adds versatility to the frontcourt.

Must Read: NBA Summer League All-Stars: 10 players worthy of praise

This is a deep team that is going to be able to defend at a high level night in and night out. In a league where flashy offense is becoming somewhat of a hallmark, defense still gets the job done consistently. Just look at San Antonio. Head coach Quin Snyder is one of the best head coaches in the NBA, though he continues to fly under the radar.

I don’t see the Utah Jazz cracking the Top 4 of the West this season, but I think a seed somewhere between six and eight is pretty reasonable for this squad. I expect them to surprise a lot of people.