This is Part 15 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: The Jazz took three-of-four from Minnesota last season, holding the Timberwolves under triple digits in each game. The lone Wolves win came in the first game of the year between the two teams, a 94-80 victory.
The Timberwolves did a great job executing defensively against the Jazz, but just couldn’t put it together on the scoring end against one of the better defenses in the league last season. Nobody expected these games to be shootouts, but Minnesota just found themselves on the wrong end of some bad luck when it came to pulling out W’s.
Utah just barely missed out on the playoffs last year, but they are poised to be in contention again this year.
What’s new? George Hill comes to Utah after a successful run in Indiana over the last five seasons. Averaging 12 points and four rebounds last season, those numbers would provide ample production from that position for the Jazz. He also shot 40 percent from beyond the arc last year.
As a point guard, that weapon could be important for a middle of the road three-point shooting team like Utah. Simply put, Hill’s playing style is much different than that of his Timberwolves counterparts, and the match-up at this position will be one to keep an eye on. The leader of this battle could dictate the tone of the game.
Also entering his first season is Utah is veteran big-man Boris Diaw. He has made a living coming off the bench and he will prove to be very valuable in that role for the Jazz. He has continued to adapt his game over the years, improving his outside game and becoming a better passer. Although his minutes have continued to decline over the past few seasons, Diaw’s importance has seemingly increased. We’ll see if that trend continues for him in new scenery.
Joe Johnson also brings his veteran resume to Utah after splitting time last season in Brooklyn and Miami. Johnson was at one point one of the premier threats in the NBA from the shooting guard position on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, he is now a shell of the player he once was.
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It is likely that Johnson’s role will be fairly limited with the Jazz, but he may see a spot start here and there and my see some bursts of minutes off the bench. Is the seven-time All-Star still capable of shutting down shooters and cutting off drivers effectively? I doubt it, but it’s possible. I don’t see a ton of value here unless it’s in a mentorship role to young guys on the roster.
What’s the same? Gordon Hayward returns for another campaign in Utah — and is still one of the most under the radar players in the league.
Hayward is still a lethal shooter, but tends to not score in volume. He’s great on the drive, but isn’t lightning quick. He’s a stellar passer, but he hasn’t had a lot of weapons to help him out in the past. The addition of guys like Hill and Diaw make Hayward that much more dangerous.
Along with Heyward in the starting lineup, the Jazz will also have the likes of Rodney Hood, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors back in their starting roles. Shelvin Mack will probably lose his starting job at point guard, but look for him as a possible contender for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He was a valuable addition to the Utah roster last year, averaging nearly 13 points, 5.5 assists and four rebounds per game. If he can continue that production and cut down turnovers, I could see him making a strong case.
One player I will be keeping a close eye on this season is Dante Exum. He spent all of last year sidelined due to injury, but is full of potential. The highly-touted Australian may see a limited workload to start the year, but don’t be surprised to see him come into his own throughout the course of the year and end up playing a huge role for the Jazz.
My prediction? I think these games will yield similar results as the match-ups from last year. However, I see Minnesota turning the table and taking three-of-four from Utah. The final two games in this series will take place after the All-Star break, and it is likely both teams will be fighting for a playoff berth in the West; the young Timberwolves will be very hungry to win these battles. Expect close, low scoring games here, but expect Minnesota to find a way to win.
The first game in the Minnesota-Utah series will take place November 28th in Minneapolis.