#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Utah Jazz for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Utah Jazz, who lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics but still feature a deep, talented roster.

19. Royce O’Neale: 1.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks (for Herbalife Gran Canaria)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

“Standing 6-foot-6, with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and weighing 220 pounds, Royce O’Neale is built like a tank and fits the mold of a defensive stopper on the wing. He also has the size and strength to handle stretch fours in the modern NBA,” John Keeffer wrote for The J Notes. “Also, anyone who can get hit in the mouth, catch their tooth, and then run back on offense like nothing happened, deserves a chance to make this team.”

Seriously. That happened.

I wish I could say something different, but losing a tooth and continuing to play still couldn’t help O’Neale earn votes as anything more than an end-of-bench piece. Changing that would require significantly more skill and consistency on the offensive end.

Unfortunately, that’s the tooth truth.

18. Eric Griffin: 1.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 27
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.8 blocks (for Hapoel Galil Gilboa)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Though Eric Griffin’s basketball journey has taken him from Campbell to Fileni BPA Jesi to Leones de Ponce to Guaros de Lara to Indios de San Francisco de Marcoris to the Texas Legends back to Leones de Ponce to Al-Nasr Dubai SC to Hapoel Gilboa Galil to the Utah Jazz and Salt Lake City Stars on a two-way contract, one element of his game has always remained consistent: He’s a monster dunker.

Griffin first burst onto the scene with the jam you can see above, but he’s produced plenty of memorable slams between now and then. Most recently, he decided to embarrass Livio Jean-Charles and Davis Bertans with this evasive throw-down while playing for Utah’s summer-league squad:

Griffin’s game is no longer just about dunking, though. He’s become a more well-rounded player who can read schemes well on defense and create his own shots off the dribble. Showing that growth in the G League could lead to more than just 45 days with the main roster.

17. Nazareth Mitrou-Long: 1.36

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 189.01 TPA (for Iowa State Cyclones)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Not a single player at the NCAA level made a bigger leap in TPA from 2015-16 to 2016-17 than Iowa State’s Nazareth Mitrou-Long. Part of that was because he played just eight games during his fourth year with the Cyclones before receiving a medical redshirt due to persistent pain after hip surgery. But he also grew tremendously on both ends, learning how to keep his turnovers in check while creating even more of his own offense.

The 24-year-old shooting guard doesn’t have dizzying upside, thanks both to his advanced age and lack of elite explosiveness. But he’s a strong shooter who can line up at either backcourt spot and hold his own offensively. Any minutes he receives will likely feature him as a spot-up 2, but he’ll also be able to put the ball on the floor and drive toward the cup.

Mitrou-Long is a microwave scorer, so don’t be surprised if the Jazz ride with his hot hand at some point in 2017-18.

16. Joel Bolomboy: 1.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-0.8 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Though Joel Bolomboy struggled in summer league, he’s having the opposite experience in preseason. Granted, these numbers come with the typical exhibition-season caveats, but through four appearances, he’s averaging a jaw-dropping 33.8 points, 16.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes while slashing 73.3/66.7/85.7. Obviously that’s unsustainable, but the very fact he’s been so efficient while contributing in myriad areas is impressive in and of itself.

During his brief run with the Jazz as a rookie, this power forward didn’t show the same shooting tools. He was a raw athlete who got by on his physicality, whether springing toward the hoop for an interior finish, rebounding with aplomb or contesting shots around the hoop.

But now, he’s showing off some skill as a shooter who can even put the ball on the floor. And it’s not like he’s regressed in the areas that previously served as strengths, indicating that he might do more than just hold down the fort as one of the final additions to the regular-season roster.

15. Tony Bradley: 1.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 19
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 98.49 TPA (for North Carolina Tar Heels)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Yes, Tony Bradley was the No. 28 pick of the 2017 NBA draft. And considering the Utah front office’s track record of unearthing quality players outside the lottery, it may be a bit surprising that not a single panelist viewed this 19-year-old center as anything more than an end-of-bench piece during his rookie season.

But that’s not a condemnation of the selection.

Bradley is just a raw commodity, and he’ll need plenty of seasoning before he’s ready to break past the many frontcourt contributors who call Salt Lake City home. Lest we forget, the long-armed big man played just 14.6 minutes per game during his freshman season with the Tar Heels, and that won’t exactly ease his transition to the NBA. He’s plenty talented, but let’s give him some time.

14. Nate Wolters: 2.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks (for KK Crvena Zvezda)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Nate Wolters immediately becomes one of the best—maybe the best?—players to sign a two-way contract. He wasn’t a star during his first run in the NBA, and he didn’t function as such while playing abroad, either. Instead, he’s a steady contributor who can use his size and discipline to make an impact in a number of different areas.

Back in his days at South Dakota State, the 6’4″ point guard was a do-everything contributor, capable of changing a game with his perimeter shooting, drives to the basket, distributing or rebounding prowess. He’s not quite athletic enough to do the same in the NBA, but he still functioned as a top-notch facilitator during his rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 5.1 assists and just 1.6 turnovers in only 22.6 minutes per game.

With Dante Exum now injured, Wolters could get hot in the G League and start to carve out a significantly larger role, potentially moving all the way up to the backup role at the 1. That’s the ceiling, of course. But it’s by no means unrealistic to think he gets there, which would help justify the four voters who already viewed him as a legitimate depth piece.

13. Ekpe Udoh: 2.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 11.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks (for Fenerbahce Ulker)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

“Like I said, I’m one of the best defenders in the world—I’ve really developed over the past two years overseas and I really look forward to that challenge over here,” Ekpe Udoh claimed after a preseason shootaround, per Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News. While it’s tough to know the extent to which he was serious, there’s often truth in jest. Even if he was kidding around, this defensive confidence is coming from somewhere.

To his credit, Udoh was already an impact defender during his last go-round in the NBA. Small-sample alarms could be sounding, but he posted a career-high defensive box plus/minus in 33 games with the 2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers and finished with a positive score in ESPN.com’s defensive real plus/minus. If he’s grown even better, the Jazz will have a devastating defensive duo at the ready whenever Udoh joins Rudy Gobert to protect the inside of the team’s schemes.

But even if he’s stagnated after a few years abroad, solid but unspectacular defense and great per-minute rebounding can still make him a useful commodity off the pine.

12. Raul Neto: 2.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.5 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-1.98 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Self-awareness is one of Raul Neto’s best traits.

He’s fully aware that he’s not an offensive mastermind and rarely tries to function as such, instead taking the majority of his shots around the rim while looking to find open teammates. Better still, he conserves his energy for the defensive end, where he shows plenty of discipline against spot-up shooters and understands how to navigate screens against pick-and-roll ball-handlers. He actually posted a 1.4 DBPM during his sophomore season, which was the No. 3 mark among qualified players 6’1″ or shorter who logged at least 300 minutes, trailing just Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley.

But unless he can improve his passing vision or start knocking down some perimeter jumpers to space out the defense, he’ll have trouble earning much more run, even with injuries to key rotation figures.

11. Jonas Jerebko: 3.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-47.2 TPA (for Boston Celtics)
  • Unanimous Grade: 3

Jonas Jerebko was one of three men who received a unanimous grade that didn’t peg them as a player who shouldn’t receive minutes, joining Tyler Zeller and Mirza Teletovic. And just as was the case with the other two bigs, that’s largely because it’s so easy to tell exactly who Jerebko is. For that reason, we won’t spend too much time here.

Is he going to play big minutes or assert himself as a scoring spark? Nope. But he is going to continue functioning as a competent defender and rebounder who can knock down perimeter jumpers to drag opposing frontcourt players out of the painted area. He only hit 34.6 percent of his triples during his final go-round with the Boston Celtics, but he made up for it by converting 62.5 percent of his two-pointers from at least 16 feet.

More of the same is coming in his age-30 season.

10. Alec Burks: 3.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-52.34 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Tony East)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

“This is the first time I felt like myself since I took that fall that December night,” Alec Burks recently revealed, per Mychal Lowman of SLC Dunk. He wasn’t referring to a recent December, but rather to the one back in 2015 that saw him take a nasty fall against Paul Pierce, resulting in a broken leg that’s proven difficult to get back to full strength.

Burks was once considered a promising prospect capable of becoming a go-to scorer who could thrive in spot-up situations while also creating plenty of his own shots. Now more than ever, that skill would be highly valued on a Utah roster devoid of established alpha dogs in their primes. But Burks is also 26 years old, and getting back to that original level of upside would be rather unusual.

Some of our voters saw it all the same, with five pegging him as at least an upper-tier backup in spite of his lack of achievements at the sport’s highest level.

9. Dante Exum: 3.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-58.59 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Just when it seemed Dante Exum was starting to turn the corner and was ready for a breakout year, he collided with T.J. Warren while driving to the hoop against the Phoenix Suns and separated his shoulder.

“An MRI revealed a separated shoulder and ligament damage, and Jazz officials and doctors are conferring Saturday to discuss a plan of action on recovery and rehabilitation, league sources said,” Adrian Wojnarowksi wrote in a report for ESPN.com, which also revealed that the enigmatic guard could miss the entire 2017-18 season.

He’s graded here as if he were healthy, but he obviously won’t perform like the ninth-best player on the Jazz until he fully recovers and gears up for the 2018-19 campaign as a 23-year-old guard.

8. Donovan Mitchell: 3.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, 218.44 TPA(for Louisville Cardinals)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

The way Donovan Mitchell’s stock has trended throughout the offseason, we may come to regret not grading him out as at least a solid starter. He’s already flashed tremendous defensive ability with a knack for poking away careless dribbles and jumping passing lanes, but his offensive development has been even more staggering.

This 21-year-old wasn’t supposed to immediately look comfortable running the show as a backup point guard and thriving as a go-to scoring option. And yet, he’s attacking the basket for athletic finishes and whistles while also showing promise as a spot-up shooter. The shots aren’t all falling yet, but the preseason is more about process than results.

Already, Mitchell ranked No. 9 among rookies in #CrystalBasketball, and his stock is still on the rise. Plus, one player ahead is an international addition to the first-year crop (Milos Teodosic), while another is a member of an older draft class (Ben Simmons). Not bad for the No. 13 pick of the 2017 NBA draft before he’s played even a single game that actually counts.

7. Thabo Sefolosha: 4.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 33
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 38.87 TPA (for Atlanta Hawks)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (Arjun Baradwaj)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

If you’re expecting much offensive production from Thabo Sefolosha, you’ll be let down.

He’s never going to thrive as a spot-up shooter, and it’s now been five years since he connected on his threes at a 41.9 percent clip for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the time that’s passed between then and now, he’s taken 1.9 attempts per game and hit just 32.9 percent of them—a clear indication that he should stick to his strengths in transition and when cutting to the basket.

But Sefolosha was signed to a two-year deal worth $10.5 million because he can still play lockdown defense. Stingy as they come on the wings, he has the length and physicality necessary to defend bigger and smaller players alike, routinely taking on tough assignments and allowing his higher-scoring counterparts to preserve more of their energy for offensive exploits.

6. Joe Johnson: 4.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 36
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-7.04 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

What a transition it’s been for Joe Johnson, who has gone from clear-cut alpha dog with the Atlanta Hawks to thriving as an off-the-bench scorer who can blend in with nearly any lineup combination. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he spent time at point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward for head coach Quin Snyder during his first season with the Jazz, meshing with so many different players because of his overall malleability.

Johnson is still at his best when he’s allowed to attack in isolation, but he can also wear different hats. He might serve as a primary facilitator on some plays, then go to work shutting down an opposing wing for a brief spell. Maybe he’ll show off the outside stroke next, only to capitalize on a mismatch by overpowering a smaller defender in the post shortly thereafter.

No longer a star capable of producing gaudy scoring figures with any semblance of consistency, Johnson has settled in as a useful bench piece still effective enough to boast the value of a low-level starter in the minds of six different voters. Plus, he can still have the occasional outburst like the one you can see above.

5. Rodney Hood: 5.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-36.48 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

Someone has to replace Gordon Hayward’s departed scoring production, and Rodney Hood seems like the most likely candidate.

The 24-year-old shooting guard is a disciplined scorer who operates on his own clock and rarely forces the action. He may drive into traffic successfully, but only when that’s his desired outcome; he’s not going to force the action. That gives him off-the-bounce ability to pair with his spot-up work, which should only get better alongside Ricky Rubio and his wizardrous feeds after this Duke product finished in the 58th percentile last year.

Hood has seen his per-minute scoring average grow each season, rising to an impressive 16.9 last campaign. That should just keep trending in the right direction, leaving him as one of the team’s go-to players when in dire need of a bucket. His skill set is only improving, and he’ll spend even more time on the court at shooting guard for a team that desperately needs some scoring production from the wings.

4. Joe Ingles: 5.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 97.84 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Nick Birdsong)

What a rise it’s been for Joe Ingles, who quickly went from competing for a roster spot to re-signing with the Jazz on a four-year deal worth $52 million. And if he continues to play like he did throughout the 2016-17 campaign, he’ll justify those expenditures—and then some.

Ingles was one of the league’s deadliest shooters last year, connecting on 44.1 percent of his three-point attempts and leaving opponents with no choice but to respect his perimeter prowess. In catch-and-shoot situations, he hit a staggering 46 percent of his deep looks—the No. 7 mark among the 200 players who took at least 100 such attempts.

But Ingles wasn’t just a shooter. He could run the show in the pick-and-roll when the primary ball-handlers needed breathers, slowing down the pace of the game even more until he could find an opening for his precision passing. He could hold his own against opposing small forwards and displayed such quick feet and strong defensive instincts that Snyder trusted him on lead guards in late-game situations. Seriously, he got to play clutch possessions against Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul by design.

Ingles might not have the scoring total of an upper-tier starter, but he played like one last year. Now we get to find out how sustainable that performance was.

3. Derrick Favors: 5.44

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, minus-2.26 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

Derrick Favors is finally healthy, no longer playing on one leg.

Health alone should lead to more production from this 26-year-old, who still remains an explosive two-way contributor on the interior.

“Offensively, Favors billed himself as a big man who could thunder through the lane and finish at the basket or anchor himself in the post and clean up his teammates’ messes when they missed shots,” Thomas Rende wrote for NBA Math in an extensive breakdown of Favors’ game. “An old-school hybrid mixing his brute style with a versatile tenacity on the opposite end of the floor, he made himself the Jazz’s best player during that healthy time period [2015-16].”

If he can turn back the clocks while remaining a positive defensive presence alongside Rudy Gobert, he’ll remind plenty of onlookers why his stock once soared so high.

2. Ricky Rubio: 6.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 26
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 11.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 34.06 TPA (for Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

Ricky Rubio’s shooting has never come around, but he’s still turned into one of the game’s better point guards.

The 26-year-old floor general is as gifted a passer as you’ll find throughout the league, capable of seeing plays develop while motions are still in their infancies and never afraid to successfully squeeze the ball into tight spaces. He plays with the passing confidence necessary to zip the ball through tiny windows only he can see, to the point that his teammates must keep their heads on swivels and expect passes to come from unorthodox angles and at inconceivable times.

Perhaps the best stat isn’t the raw assist average, impressive as 9.1 dimes per game may be. The Minnesota Timberwolves connected on a mind-numbing 58.7 percent of their attempts following one of his potential assists—a clear-cut indication that he was constantly putting them in positions to succeed, as well as the top mark among the 98 players who suited up in at least 40 games and produced no fewer than five assist opportunities per contest. Pair that with his underrated defense and steal-happy hands, and you have two-way production that helps make everyone around him that much better.

1. Rudy Gobert: 9.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.6 blocks, 308.95 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 10 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)

At this point, everyone knows Rudy Gobert is a dominant presence on the glass who’s emerged as arguably the NBA’s best defender. He ceded the Defensive Player of the Year trophy to Draymond Green last year, but he might have been even more impactful in his area of expertise. Green was just more versatile for the Golden State Warriors, while this French center thoroughly shut down the paint, holding opponents to 43.8 percent shooting on 10.2 attempts per game while he was stationed at the rim.

But let’s look past his fearsome paint presence, which legitimately deters players from driving toward him. Lost in his point-preventing excellence was legitimate growth on the offensive end, as increased levels of touch made him one of the game’s most efficient players.

Gobert wound up in the 95.4 percentile as a roll man, thanks not just to the athleticism and size that allowed him to finish easy alley-oop attempts. He also showed a newfound level of patience that let him delay for a split-second before going up for more advantageous attempts. His 14.0 points per game largely came in close proximity to the basket, but his improved accuracy from the field (66.1 percent) and the charity stripe (65.3 percent) gave him a league-best 68.1 true shooting percentage.

Knock him if you want for the limitations to his game, but those should be wholly irrelevant. He’s still producing, and it’s not like players can suddenly decide they just want to thrive on easy opportunities. Everyone would travel down that path if they could, which indicates Gobert still earned his production in a way only he could.

The NBA’s best interior stopper is now coming off a year in which he posted the third-best true shooting percentage in NBA history among all those who have scored at least 14 points per contest, trailing only two Artis Gilmore seasons. Those traits alone should make for a game-changing presence at the 5, and they did.

Gobert was Utah’s best player in 2016-17. Now, he should make that even more obvious in the wake of his only challenger’s departure.

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo

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