The Golden State Warriors are chugging along at the top of the western conference and NBA standings as we head toward the NBA’s Christmas day spectacular.
When you ask most fans or prognosticators who the Warriors’ biggest threat in the western conference is, the majority will say the Spurs, followed by the Clippers, and maybe even the Rockets, but none of those teams poses as big of a threat or match up nightmare for the Warriors as another up and coming team that has yet to be fully healthy this season: The Utah Jazz.
The Jazz are currently sitting at 18-10 which is good for 5th in the western conference and are a younger team that hasn’t reached the postseason with their current group. So why would you say they are the biggest challenge to the Warriors western conference supremacy? Length, match-ups, style of play and depth.
The Jazz are by most metrics the best defensive team in the NBA. They are No.1 in the NBA in scoring defense, only giving up 94.6 points per game, No. 2 in defensive rating, No. 1 in opposing fast break points, No. 1 in opposing field goal percentage, and top 10 in the league in opposing team’s second chance points and points in the paint.
They also play the slowest pace of any team in the NBA as their offense only averages 93 possessions per game.
Combine their pace, size and the fact that they inhibit fast break points and opportunities better than any other team in the NBA, that sounds like a recipe to get the Warriors out of their groove.
The Jazz also have the best rim protecting center in the NBA today in Rudy Gobert. He can get out and cover a pick-and-roll and when healthy. They also have one of the five best defensive combo guards in the NBA in George Hill. Not to mention a bruising and talented post scoring threat in Derrick Favors if he can get healthy, a number of skilled, high I.Q. secondary ball handlers such as Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. Add in their lengthy and young wing players such as Rodney Hood and Dante Exum who can guard multiple positions and you have a team of Swiss Army knifes that could be uniquely suited to match-up with the juggernaut Warriors.
The Jazz are just starting to find their way and have the right mix of leadership, veterans, talent and depth to be a burgeoning contender.
Their lack of playoff experience is a drawback, especially when compared to the Spurs, but when you consider that they don’t have the wear and tear and emotional scarring of the Clippers it may have some advantages as well.
It’s hard to imagine anybody seriously challenging the Warriors in the west, but if anybody fits the bill it might just be the Jazz.