Utah Jazz: Can They Shock the West, and Then the World?

Andrew PhillipsCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2012

Paul Millsap
Paul MillsapKelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

With a 36-30 record during 2011-12 season, the Utah Jazz were considered a surprise playoff team. With a home record of 25-8, Utah remained one of the hardest places in the NBA for a road team to snag a victory.

By averaging 99.7 PPG, the Jazz put up the fourth-most points per game in the league. Fast-forward to the 2012-13 season, and the Jazz are poised to become one of the top teams in the Western Division. Led by the likes of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Derrick Favors, Utah added some crucial pieces in the off-season in the form of Randy Foye from the Los Angeles Clippers and Marvin Williams from the Atlanta Hawks. With a core of Favors, Jefferson, Foye, Williams, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward, Utah is in a very favorable position to make a run in the Northwest Division.

With the Oklahoma City Thunder trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets so close to the beginning of the season, the Thunder are left in a somewhat vulnerable position. Emphasis on somewhat. While the Thunder got a decent return for Harden that will allow them to be competitive for years to come, the fact remains that Harden was the heart and soul of the Thunder, outside of Kevin Durant. In the game of basketball, continuity and consistency are a requirement. Teamwork must be learned and worked on throughout countless practices and preseason games, something that will not come as quickly as the Thunder would most likely prefer, thus opening a proverbial door for the Jazz to slip through.

Utah's veteran presence is scarce to say the best. The elder statesman of the roster is Raja Bell whom is likely to be traded by the team. After Bell, Earl Watson is the oldest member of the Jazz at 33. Watson, a Northwest division veteran, having played for the Nuggets and the Thunder, and way back when, the Sonics, provides some needed veteran leadership to the younger members of the Jazz. How old are these Jazz anyways? Kanter? 20. Favors? 21. Hayward? 22. Jefferson? 27. Millsap? Also 27.

Needless to say, this team is hungry. After making the playoffs last season, this team knows it can win and be successful in the highly competitive Western Conference. A hungry, young team is very, very dangerous in a division which everyone has simply handed to the Thunder on a sliver platter. Even if the Jazz don't come away with the division crown, they are in a much better position than they were last year at this time.

The Jazz open the 2012-13 season playing 12 of their first 18 games on the road, where they had a dismal 11-22 record. After slipping into the playoffs with the No. 8 seed last season and getting dominated by the Spurs, the Jazz know that they must play better throughout the season to avoid running into a top seed in the playoffs again. If the Jazz can survive the month of November, and improve their play on the road, the association had better lookout, because Utah may just be the surprise breakout team in 2012.