This time last year, much of the basketball life had been sucked out of Utah. Or so we thought.
The fans of the Jazz, who had just watched their beloved team piece together its first 50-win season and playoff-series victory since the Jerry Sloan era, likely felt let down when star wing player Gordon Hayward left the small-market club to join the Boston Celtics during free agency. His departure threatened to stymie the ascendant squad’s progress and render it irrelevant to basketball fans leaguewide, who might not tune into a game in which the Jazz were competing.
But in a bit of a plot twist, the Jazz were just as good without Hayward last season; while they won slightly fewer games, they posted a superior point differential compared to the 2016-17 club. Despite losing Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to injury for almost a third of the season, they were arguably the NBA’s stingiest stoppers. And rookie Donovan Mitchell looked like anything but a first-year player, averaging more than 20 points while making Utah fans forget about Hayward.