The Jazz should’ve had a very hard time improving this offseason. The kind of player they needed is just extraordinarily rare. They needed a nominal point guard who doesn’t mind playing off of the ball, but can also run the offense with bench units. They needed a three-and-D player who could guard multiple positions but also handle the ball. They needed a veteran who has been through some playoff battles who was still young enough to fit in with their core.
In all of basketball, that might describe only two or three players. Who else besides George Hill fits all of those criteria? Patrick Beverley? It’s an extremely rare archetype, but one the Jazz needed. Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward are both high-volume ball-handlers for wings. They’re both very good players, but they also make the Jazz a less attractive team for high-end point guards on the free agency market. Why would Mike Conley willingly move to Utah just so he could fight for touches?
But now the Jazz have improved their dreadful spacing by adding a point guard who just made 45% of his catch-and-shoot three’s last season. They also have bigger-than-average defenders at literally all five positions, all of which are capable of switching onto multiple positions. They no longer have to rush 2014 1st round pick Dante Exum back from injury, in fact, at 30-years-old, Hill is the perfect bridge point guard to hold down the starting spot until Exum is ready to take it.
Utah couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit at point guard, and all they had to give up was a lottery pick they don’t want or need. The Jazz already have Exum, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Trey Lyles, Raul Neto and Shelvin Mack on their bench at 25 or younger. They don’t need any more young players. They needed a veteran. They didn’t give a single minute to any player over 28-years-old last season and they still almost made the playoffs.
Now? There’s plenty of reason to believe that if the Jazz can stay healthy, they’ll be right up there with every non-Warriors team in the Western Conference.
Every principal character from the 2014-15 team that finished the season 22-10 in their last 32 games (once Rudy Gobert was fully integrated as a starter) is here and closer to their prime. Hill makes their defense, which gave up fewer than 95 points per 100 possessions during that end-of-season stretch starting Gobert in 2015, even better.
It’s going to be a top-five unit so long as Gobert is healthy, and if Hill can raise their 17th-ranked offense to within sniffing distance of the top-10 the Jazz are going to be contenders. Case in point, here are the teams that finished in the top-12 on both sides of the ball this season: Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Miami, Charlotte and the Clippers. That’s the four final four teams, two more that made the second round, and two that should’ve if they’d stayed healthy (the Clippers) or hadn’t run into another team on this list in the first round due only to tiebreakers (the Hornets). You could argue that these were the eight best teams in the NBA last year.
At the very least, that’s a group the Jazz should be in next year. If Hood and Exum develop as hoped, they might even reach the top seven or eight on both sides. This is a team that might be a few lucky breaks away from a championship, all because the Pacers were dumb enough to trade a one-of-a-kind point guard in George Hill.