AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 15. Utah Jazz
Preseason play has tipped off, which means real, live NBA action is just weeks away. To pass the time, AOL Sports has been rolling out our preseason team previews and power rankings.
Last, we had the Boston Celtics come in as the final East playoff team at No. 16. Up next, we break down a young unit that could finally reach postseason heights in 2015-16.
It is admittedly a bit jarring seeing the Utah Jazz this far up our rankings, but it's with good reason.
The last we saw of the Jazz, they were finishing up one of the best second halves in the entire league. Their 19-10 record after the All-Star break was good for fifth-best in the Western Conference, holding their opponents to a 42.2 field goal percentage -- good for second-best in the league.
Their elite defense should carry over to the new season, anchored by 23-year-old Rudy Gobert, one of the league's breakout young stars of 2015. The 7'2" center with a wingspan of 7'9" held opponents to a 40.4 field goal clip at the rim last year according to NBA.com -- which was an NBA-best among players that contested at least four rim attempts a night.
Offensively in 2015, Gordon Hayward took the ever elusive "next step," and figures to be an All-Star contender in the West. The swingman made a career-high 120 three-pointers last season, splashing them at a 36.4 percent clip on 4.3 attempts per game. He did even more damage from between 16 feet and the three-point arc, making 46 percent of those attempts. His 7.2 points per 48 minutes on drives to the hoop led Utah by a sizable margin. Entering his sixth season, Utah is depending on Hayward to continue his scoring prowess and lead the attack.
Dante Exum's torn ACL is crushing, but in terms of 2015-16 success for the Jazz, it shouldn't be too difficult to overcome. The Australian guard shot under 35 percent from the field as a rookie, and his absence should open more time for Alec Burks, who has averaged 14 points per game over the last pair of seasons.
Derrick Favors has emerged as one of the more gifted big men in the league, and together with Gobert and Hayward, forms a potentially tantalizing frontcourt trio. If Trey Burke can handle the starting point guard duties, and health doesn't become more of a concern, the Jazz appear ready to compete for a playoff berth in the rugged Western Conference.
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