What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Friday, January 30, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 24. Utah Jazz

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  11-21, fourth place Northwest Division, 13th Place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 96.1 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 100.2 (17th)
  • Team FG%: .454 (19th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .472 (27th)
  • Team FT%: .744 (19th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .334 (25th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.9 (19th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 39.1 (2nd)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (17th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 11.4 (29th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Gordon Hayward (19.2)
  • Rebounds per game:  Derrick Favors (8.3)
  • Minutes per game: Gordon Hayward (35.3)
  • Assists per game:  Trey Burke (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Rudy Gobert (.619)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Alec Burks (.820)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Gordon Hayward (.458)
  • Steals per game: Gordon Hayward (1.3)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Rudy Gobert (1.7)

Worst of the Class: +Dante Exum 
Some may consider this unfair to call him a flop considering he is just 19 years old; however, after being selected fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, people were correct to expect far more than Dante Exum has given up to now.  This guy was touted as the next great player of his generation along with +Andrew Wiggins and +Jabari Parker, but thus far he along with all the other so called superstar prospects have far from lived up to their expectations.  After all, wasn't this supposed to be one of the deepest and most talented draft in NBA history?  Unfortunately, so far these rookies have been a complete letdown save for a few exemptions as none of the top picks have made their projected impact.  Hopefully Exum in time will live up to the hype that came with him upon entering the league because he certainly has the tools to be a star with his size, skill set and athleticism; however, right now he has made numerous Utah Jazz fan scratching their head wondering if their team made a mistake in picking him so high.      

First of the Class: Gordon Hayward
For those who thought that signing Gordon Hayward a max level contract was a bad idea, they certainly must be eating their words, as Hayward has proven thus far that he is well worth the money.  Along with leading his team in scoring, Hayward also has proven to be an excellent all around player showing leadership on the offensive not only putting points on the board, but also getting his teammates involved with his nearly five assists per game.  Defensively, he has also stepped in front of the line leading his team in steals per game, while providing a solid presence on the boards averaging five rebounds per game as well.  To think that some people even questioned the idea that he belonged in Utah, even going as far to allow him to head off to the +Charlotte Hornets before the Jazz stepped up to match the offer sheet he signed with them.  Not only has he proven to be well worth the money and the length of his deal, but with his current play, he has proven himself worthy of being the face, heart and soul of this franchise for years to come.  

Although they currently rest at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and they may not see the post season for quite a few years, who cannot love the Utah Jazz?  Despite their rather grim outlook as they take their first steps out of the Jerry Sloan era with a new head coach and a roster than can be considered more of a daycare than an actual basketball team, there is still plenty to be excited about.  Here is a team that has arguably one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA and so far in spite of their record, they have still been quite entertaining to watch. Even those they have won just a third of their games, they have keep all their games rather close falling by an average of four points while at the same time have played rather disciplined and efficient basketball in spite of having such a young and inexperienced team.   Their defense leaves little to be desired, but much of that has to do with the previously mentioned immaturity and lack of experience; plus, their defensive woes have been compensated in some regard by their rather impressive offensive execution that can rival even the most seasoned veteran team in the league.

Much of the credit has to go to the team's rookie head coach Quin Snyder who took a team in which the majority of players have yet to reach the age of 25 and turned it into a rather cohesive unit in spite of the trappings in which numerous young team's fall into.  With a young team consisting of primarily top 10 draft picks, there may be a case for conflict as each of these players share not only the same age, but also the desire to be the one in charge forsaking the team and focus on their individual statistics.  Yet, upon looking at the statistics, there seems to none of that as the team's overall field goal percentage is rather high while their field goal attempts per games rank among the lowest in the league thus giving the assumption that the Jazz as a whole are not only very selective, but also very responsible with the shots they take.  On the flip side, Utah, in spite of allowing their opponents to shoot better than .470 from the field, have also been able to limit the amount of shot attempts that they take as the Jazz rank fourth overall in the league in opponents' field goal attempts per game.  Overall, Snyder has had this team running in sync and efficiently like a well oil machine assuring that every shot attempt taken is a quality shot and that every possession is utilized to its potential for the best result.

In terms of offensive execution, it should also be noted that for such a young team as the Jazz, they have managed to keep their turnovers in check falling in the middle of the pack among the lead leaders in turnovers per game at around 14 per game.  That seems to be the median amount of turnovers in the league as they range between 14 and 15 per game which puts Utah in the same company such as +Brooklyn Nets, +Washington Wizards+Phoenix Suns and +Golden State Warriors--teams who, unlike the Jazz, are currently in the midst of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences.  In an ironic twist, there is also a intriguing contradiction that despite it ranking near the bottom of the league in opponents' field goal percentage, they rank among the top teams in blocked shots per game, so they do in some respect provide a strong presence at the rim regardless of what the numbers say.  Their top ten ranking in blocked shots per game certainly shows that defense is certainly a priority regardless of what the statistics say, although it does still has quite a ways to go until it reaches at the same level with their already impressive offensive execution.  All sign points to the Utah Jazz heading in the right direction in terms of developing their young players and returning themselves to playoff contention one day; however, that is easier said than done as they find themselves in a rather oppressive Western Conference.

In a conference where seven of the eight playoff spots have been spoken for essentially for the past five or so years, it leaves a young aspiring team like the Jazz with little or no chance to climb up the ladder with little or no room to maneuver.  Already, all eight spots have been taken up with four of those teams coming from the same division--namely the +San Antonio Spurs+Houston Rockets+Dallas Mavericks and +Memphis Grizzlies of the Southwest Division--with two more being held by the Pacific Division leading Warriors and +Los Angeles Clippers.   Other than the +Portland Trail Blazers, who currently have a lock on first place in their division and one of the top four records in the West, the entire Northwest Division has essentially been blocked out of having any chance of making the playoffs.  Even the +Oklahoma City Thunder, a Northwest Division team that has seen plenty of playoff success for the last four or five years is on the outside looking in as it is one of three teams which not only include the Suns, but an upstart +New Orleans Pelicans team that are fighting tooth and nail for the eighth and final available playoff spot.   Such a prospect of having little to look forward to being stuck in such a cold and repressive system such as the Western Conference is certainly not very motivating considering that the Jazz may be resting at the bottom on the pack for quite some time; however, with every dark cloud there is a silver lining and for the Jazz, their silver lining probably shines the brightest.

Thanks to the wealth of young talent--many of which have not reached the age of 25, the Jazz can simply wait for father time to slowly deteriorate their foes while their rather green roster continue to gel and grow stronger with each passing season.  As these young guns grow older and continue to improve their feel for their game, they will improve incrementally with every losing season building on an already solid foundation based on smooth, efficient offensive execution and a developing defensive game.  Utah already has a core of three all star caliber talent in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and +Enes Kanter  to build upon and right now they sort of resemble a the greatest front court tandem of all time--one that not only sported three hall of famers, but had also made five NBA Finals appearances winning three NBA Championships.   Gordon Hayward has already shown signs into developing into a near facsimile of +Boston Celtics  legend +Larry Bird with not only his scoring ability, but his rebounding, passing and overall basketball IQ while his two front court mates look to emerge as future superstars themselves. Since being drafted at the age of 19 years old, Derrick Favors has slowly been developing into one of the league's top big men while Kanter, who has been often overlooked, has been silently putting up strong numbers which have continued to improve with each passing season.

Together Hayward, Kanter and Favors have the potential to become this generation's Bird, Parish and McHale; Plus add along complementary pieces such as the super athletic Alec Burks, as well as a sharpshooting Trey Burke in the back court, the Jazz have the makings of probably the most dangerous starting five than has ever been seen in the NBA.  One can argue that this starting five have the potential to possibly eclipse the starting lineups led by the historic dynamic duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone because unlike the Stockton and Malone duo where the offense focused primarily on them, this current incarnation of the Jazz have five devastating weapons instead of just two.  Right now all the pieces seem to fit well together with Burke and Hayward facilitating the offense by not only scoring, but also getting the ball to either Kanter or Favors in the paint while finding a slashing Alec Burks either heading  to the basket or waiting at the corner to shoot the three.  Add the fact that along with an iron clad starting five, the Jazz also boast an exceptional supporting cast consisting of players who would more of less start for any NBA team had they not been previously picked up by the Jazz.

Backing up Gordon Hayward is the high flying Jeremy Evans who with his athleticism and physical style of play reminds many of a young Gerald Wallace, a player that went from being a mere role player on the bench of an extremely deep +Sacramento Kings team to becoming one of the premier rebounding small forwards in the NBA.   Evans is followed by another blue collar big in Trevor Booker, who has built a sterling reputation as a bruiser in paint while playing for the Wizards and has spent the season being the primary backup of both Kanter and Favors.  Despite coming off the bench in limited minutes, Rudy Gobert has proven himself to be quite a presence in the paint as he is fifth in the league in blocked shots per game while at the same time leads the Jazz in field goal percentage and is the third best rebounder on the team behind Favors and Kanter averaging over seven per game.  Last and certainly not the least are two young rookies who have been touted as future stars in Rodney Hood and fourth overall pick Dante Exum, who at 22 and 19 years old respectably have plenty of years ahead of them and might just live up to the expectations tagged upon them.   Altogether the Jazz look to be a roster that is more than ten players deep and the question will no longer be whether or not Utah will make the playoffs sooner or later, but whether or not the front office will be able to keep such a young and talented team together.

Although they already have Favors and Hayward locked down for the next our to five years, both Gobert and Kanter will be in high demand once they become free agents and they both will command very high pay raises with their size, skills and potential.  It is a shame that Utah may have to make a choice between keeping a physical shot blocking blue collar beast in the paint or the multifaceted Kanter who can basically score from anywhere one the court and at just 22 years old has a limitless ceiling. Nonetheless, there is plenty of talent to be had and very few teams have the luxury to have so many players who are not only young, but also have limitless upside and give them a few years together, they will certainly emerge into something special; however, as it stands now, they will have to settle with being on the outside looking in for quite some time.  Nonetheless, if they continue to maintain their solid and efficient offensive execution and continue to develop their defense which is strong in rim protection, but lacks a strong perimeter presence, the Jazz might just surprise us all and emerge as a playoff contender far earlier.  For now however, all anyone who is loyal to the Jazz can do is just enjoy the effort that their exciting young team has given them thus far, win or lose.