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Sunday, June 23, 2013

SDH Presents the 2013 End of Season NBA's Worst to First: 17. Utah Jazz

Overall Win/Loss Record (At Season’s End):  43-39,  third place Northwest Division

At Season’s End:

Team Statistics and League Rank (At Season’s End)

  • Points Scored: 98.0 (13th)
  • Points Allowed: 98.1 (16th)
  • Team FG%:  .454 (12th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .458 (20th)
  • Team FT%: .764 (12th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .366 (9th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.0 (15th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.8 (7th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.2 (19th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.1 (16th)

Individual Statistical Leaders (At Season’s End)

  • Scoring (ppg): Al Jefferson (17.8)
  • Rebounds per game:  Al Jefferson (9.2)
  • Minutes per game: Al Jefferson (33.1)
  • Assists per game:  Mo Williams (6.2)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Enes Kanter (.544)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Mo Williams (.880)  
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Gordon Hayward (.415)
  • Steals per game: Paul Milsap (1.3)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Derrick Favors (1.7)

Taking a Look Back at the Season that Once Was . . .

SDH Worst to First Recap
Time Period
Change (+/-)
At Season’s End
SDH Player of the Year:
Enes Kanter

Here was a young guy that had little if any basketball experience and was expected to be quite a gamble after being selected third overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.  However, Turkish born big man Enes Kanter, at the tender age of 20 years old, proved to be quite the solid investment after posting quite an impressive regular season.  After posting rather insignificant numbers his rookie year, Kanter came into this season stronger and more confident showing all who doubted he would amount to anything wrong.  In a little over 15 minutes per game, Kanter came of the bench to average close to eight points, six boards, and a blocked shot per game while leading the team in field goal percentage as well.  It certainly makes Jazz fans eager to see what he will do for an encore as he has yet to reach his full potential and at such a young age and with his incredible mix of size, strength, athleticism and skills, Kanter's ceiling appears to be almost limitless.      

Throughout the 2013 Season, the Utah Jazz had been treading water as it maintained a winning record throughout the season and looked as if they would make its second straight playoff appearance in the post Jerry Sloan.  Unfortunately, after a rough stretch which saw the Jazz win just three of fifteen games, they lost any chances of making the playoffs as their key rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets swooped right past them.  Now the Jazz has to live with the onerous distinction of being the only team in the league that finished with a over .500 record and be forced to watch the playoffs on the sidelines and wait the this summer's NBA Draft.  It almost seems unjust considering that the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, who both finish with .500 and under records, yet were still able to qualify for their respective playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, while Utah, who in all accounts, greatly outperformed those two teams and were forced to sit the post season out.  Sadly, that is the fate of a team that has the unfortunate luck to be stuck in the ultra competitive and far stronger Western Conference and now the Jazz's front office enter the off season with a very difficult decision--do they either keep the team together and hope for the best next season or do they simply tear the team down and look to rebuild.

Right now the team is in quite a very precarious position as they are stuck in the middle between being a team that is not good enough to make the playoffs, yet not bad enough to earn them a good chance of winning the draft lottery.  The team is also in a very good position to tear the team down and start over as they have three expiring contracts worth in the excess of 32$ million coming off of the books and a deal worth around 8$ million going into its last season which it can easy buy out totaling the savings and salary cap space to a cool $40 million.  Unfortunately, they may be forced to keep those players as Utah has never been considered a desirable locale for prospective free agents and will not be able to attract the talent needed to bring the Jazz back into playoff contention; however, if the Jazz do decide to resign their free agents, it will most likely be stuck with the same team that try as it might, will not be any better than a marginal playoff team at best.  Although Utah does boast one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA, would it be wise to through these lambs to the wolves for a fan base that has been used to winning for close to thirty years.  Either way, it does look good for the Jazz who have to choose between remaining to float around in mediocrity with the team it has or simply tear the sucker down and look forward to a long and painful rebuilding period where it will be uncertain that they will EVER return to the post season.

And as for the players who are up for free agency, although they are quite talented and impressive in their own right, none of them can really be considered as neither marquee name material or players that the team can invest long term into the future. Throughout his career, Al Jefferson has proven to be one of the most talented and consistent men in the league able to put up 20 point and 10 rebound nights on most occasions; however, even at his best he was not able to carry the team to the post season and has never shown himself to be franchise player material.  Paul Milsap, who like Jefferson, will also be looking for a big payday as he has shown himself to be one of the best power forwards in the league; however, after seeing his numbers drop slightly over the last couple of year, he seems to have reached his ceiling and does not look as if he will get any better.  The same goes for Mo Williams, who at thirty years of age, has probably seen his best basketball pass by and is in no ways the prototype point guard that the Jazz need to move forward into the future as Williams has been often regarded as more of  shoot first "combo-guard" more than the more traditional facilitator that the Jazz need him to be.  All three of those players would find it more in their best interests to look for greener pastures and part ways with the Jazz as they will most likely be stuck in the same rut if they continue to remain in Utah which might even prove to be detrimental to the team's long term future.

Plus it will certainly be better for the young players who have been patiently waiting in the wings for their chance to be handed the reins of the team if the Jazz kindly show Williams, Jefferson and Milsap the door.  Both Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have proved themselves to be more than capable big men who can start on any team in the NBA and have both recently turned 21 years old; however, is it fair to put the weight of the world upon the shoulders of two young men who by all accounts, would be in their senior year had they been in college?  Some may consider such a prospect as a disaster waiting to happen as they will be plenty of pressure to perform as they face an extremely proud and very particular fan base that is used to the best and heaven forbid, of either one or both of those prized gems fall to injury, the Jazz will no longer have a backup plan.  The only player in that young talented roster filled with some many X factors who can be truly seen as a sure thing is Gordon Hayward who has shown numerous time that he has not only the ability, but also the poise, focus and maturity to provide a consistent source of leadership for this team; however, at the tender age of 23, just like Kanter and Favors, is it too much to put such high expectations on such a young player?  Although the fans love their team, Salt Lake City fans are one of the hardest crowds in the league as they not only expect excellence on the court but also off the court as well expecting these young twenty somethings to be morally upstanding citizens at the same time--quite the difficult high wire act for young men who have recently just attained their independence as adults.

Either choice they make, the Utah Jazz will still still be looking to be heading to the lottery once again--the only difference being how high or how low they will be headed in the draft.  At least if they decide to take a chance and face the long hard road towards rebuilding, the Jazz will at least have a greater chance to attain the number one pick, or at the very least land in the top five; however, if they do not, they can find themselves narrowly missing the playoffs yet again and being stuck at the bottom of the lottery teams with a low thirteenth or fourteenth pick.  Certainly it would make better sense to choose the first option as it provides the Jazz to find a star quality player in the top five rather than in the bottom 14th to 16th spots; however, for the coaching staff and front office, it is certainly not a desirable prospect as they will most likely be the first to go if things start to backfire.  Thus to maintain any sense of job security, both head coach Ty Corbin and GM Dennis Lindsey will find it in their best interest to keep the status quot as long as possible even if it means that doing so will shackle the team to years of mediocrity.  So it will definitely be interesting what will happen in the next few months as it will determine what direction the team will take not only the next season, but potentially the next five or six upcoming as well and hopefully they will make the right choice and not settle for the easy way out.