SLC Dunk - Utah Jazz 2014-15 Preview - SBNation.com
Sure, last season the team was specifically built for the NBA draft lottery. And that includes all the fun and games of going out there 82 nights in a season, and nearly having the worst season in franchise history. The team reported a home attendance average of about 18,176 people in the stands, but that just didn't pass the eye-ball test at all. The team last year didn't have any imagination on offense, were astoundingly poor on defense, and played at such a slow pace it only seemed to make the season seem longer than it was. It wasn't a fun team to watch, yet there were some die hards. Props to them for sure, but if there ever was a Utah Jazz era to be concerned customers about it was the previous era.
The new era promises much more for fans. For starters, get this, the team will attempt to score buckets in transition this year. They'll also try to fit the offense to the talents of the players, and not shoe-horn Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter in Al Jefferson's old playbook. This Jazz team has a point guard who can dunk -- and finish Alley-oops, not just throw them. The bigmen will be allowed to expand their range. And the pull quotes from practice this year are more likely to be informative and constructive, instead of the "get better / be better / young guys / you know" mantra. (It's no "Hare Krishna / Hare Rama," but it's a start Ty. Tybots could meet you at the gate in airports and try to sell you stuff. You have to be really old to get this reference.)
The most important reason is the simplest. This era will return Jazz style back to the Jazz franchise. The team is filled with hip athletes who get along and want to play with one another. The coach is bringing in an offense that flows, swings, jives, and jams. It's going to be the offense that Pistol Pete Maravich would have been perfect for, but instead we get to see Gordon Hayward and his clean cut looks in that role. (Floppy socks not included) The players will be smiling on the court, and getting fans out of their seats -- and not out of a desire to beat the traffic out of the arena after another blowout loss at home.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
5th in Northwest Division - 15th in Western Conference
Last season marked an entirely new brand of basketball for the Utah Jazz, in a year where the youth movement was officially embraced. Speculation leading up to last offseason suggested that the Jazz were not going to move forward with both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but they ended up parting ways with both as they each exercised unrestricted free agency and opted for a change of scenery. After Jefferson moved on to Charlotte and Millsap landed in Atlanta in the summer of 2013, it was finally time for Derrick Favors to get a shot as the team's number one big.
Favors put together his best season to date, posting career highs 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while maintaining his physical presence on the defensive end of the floor. While the 23-year-old is showing signs of improvement, however, he didn't quite reach the level that some people had hoped. It would be unfair to call Favors' 2013-14 campaign disappointing, but the big fella is still very raw and certainly still has a long way to go if he is going to live up to the hype that suggested he has star potential.
Enes Kanter also got more of an opportunity to shine last season. The third-year center began the season as Utah's starting five-man, playing approximately 30 minutes per game throughout the month of November. By the time December had rolled around, however, head coach Tyrone Corbin decided to go with a smaller lineup and inserted Marvin Williams alongside Favors to fill out the front line instead. Kanter's minutes slightly dipped in the middle part of the season, but he worked his way back up to 30 minutes per game after the All-Star break and reclaimed his starting role to close out the season in April. Kanter played almost double the amount of minutes than he did as a rookie and sophomore in the NBA, and put up career highs 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Rookie guard Trey Burke, who was selected ninth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, was handed the keys to the car right away and held down Utah's starting point guard role all season long. Burke struggled at times, like any first-year point guard, and experienced some ups and downs but showed plenty of flashes to keep Jazz fans excited about his potential going forward. Burke shot just 38% from the field in his rookie year, but accumulated 12.8 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 90% from the free throw line and proving that he can knock down the NBA three-point shot. Once he comes into his own and improves his basketball IQ, along with improving as a finisher, Burke looks like he has a chance to put together a solid career as a starting guard.
His borderline namesake Alec Burks ended up making the most progress of all Jazz youngsters in 2013-14. After playing between 15 and 20 minutes per game throughout his first two years, Burks took on an increased role last year as Utah's sixth man, playing heavy minutes at both guard positions. The slithery 6'6" shot creator not only doubled his scoring output from his first two years by jumping from seven points per game to 14, he also played the most efficient basketball of his pro career thus far, shooting 45.7% from the field along with taking and making more free throws. Burks is a very skilled, aggressive attacker off the dribble and if he can continue to become a more consistent shooting threat from the outside, he is going to be one heck of a guy to try to defend.
While Burks is steadily developing into a big time offensive weapon, Gordon Hayward assumed the role of the team's top gun. In his contract year, Hayward struggled to shoot the ball efficiently on a consistent basis with such an increased usage level, but the multidimensional swingman made plenty of strides as an all-around ballplayer. He worked himself into the best shape of his life and had the ball in his hands more than ever, as he posted career highs in scoring (16.2 PPG), assists (5.2 APG), rebounding (5.1 RPG) and steals (1.4 SPG).
Hayward may not be a number one scoring option, but he makes a positive impact on multiple aspects of the game and is more than capable of making plays without anything being drawn up for him. His natural feel for the game is something that cannot be taught, and there aren't many 6'8" guys out there that can run the pick n' roll as well as him.
Through all the ups, downs and growing pains Utah's young core experienced in 2013-14, as you would expect, they had a tough time balancing out the W column with the number of losses they had to take. The Jazz finished the season at 25-57 and had the worst record in the Western Conference, in a year that was more about development than anything else. Even considering all those losses, you can't deny that the Jazz have put together a promising cast of quality young talents that have a chance to grow into significant rotation producers.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Steve Novak, Trevor Booker, Quin Snyder
Key Losses - Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Diante Garrett, Tyrone Corbin
Utah entered the 2014 lottery with high hopes to land in a position where they could potentially draft a franchise-altering talent. They may not have come away with heralded prizes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid, but with the fifth overall pick in the draft they were able to snag Australian guard Dante Exum, who scouts have absolutely raved about in terms of his long-term potential. It's not every day you get a chance to add an athletic 6'6" pure point guard. At age 19, Exum is raw and will need some time to adjust to a new country and NBA game, but he is blessed with as much god-given talent as any guard in this draft class.
With the 23rd pick in the draft, the Jazz went with Duke's Rodney Hood. The 6'8" wing is sneaky athletic with a wiry build that should bode well for him on the defensive end of the floor, and he's got a sweet stroke to go with it. With Richard Jefferson moving on this summer by signing a free agent contract with Dallas, Hood may get a chance to get some run and his perimeter presence will surely improve Utah's spacing when he is on the floor.
Speaking of spacing the floor, Utah also brought in Steve Novak in a trade with Toronto in return for Diante Garrett. Novak was buried at the end of the Raptors bench last season, but he was absolutely terrific for the Knicks throughout the two years prior. The seven-year veteran will fit in beautifully with attacking dribble-drive creators like Burke, Burks, Hayward and Exum.
The biggest news of the summer was centered around Gordon Hayward, who inked a four-year, $63 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets. However, since Hayward was a restricted free agent, Utah had the option of matching and they elected to keep the four-year vet around. With that kind of contract, you've got to expect Hayward to take on even more responsibility than he did last season, and if he can become a bit more efficient and consistent with his own offense, we may be talking about an All-Star caliber player down the line.
It will be interesting to see how Hayward is used, as the Jazz chose not to renew Tyrone Corbin's contract and replaced him with new head coach Quin Snyder, who was an assistant coach in Atlanta last season. Snyder has also spent time as the head coach of the University of Missouri as well as an assistant coach with Duke University, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers and CSKA Moscow of Russia.
It's safe to say Snyder will have his work cut out for him in his first head coaching gig in the NBA. Let's hope he practices patience.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Enes Kanter / Rudy Gobert
PF - Derrick Favors / Trevor Booker / Jeremy Evans
SF - Gordon Hayward / Rodney Hood / Steve Novak
SG - Alec Burks / Dahntay Jones / Ian Clark / Carrick Felix
PG - Trey Burke / Dante Exum / Dee Bost
X-FACTOR - Derrick Favors
The Jazz won't find themselves in the playoff hunt this season, but if Derrick Favors can finally elevate his game and take the next step individually, it would be huge for the franchise. Despite all the hype, Favors has yet to show signs that he is on his way to becoming star player. He is a physically imposing specimen that possesses all of the characteristics of a potential All-Defense kind of player, but has hasn't been able to put it together on a consistent basis and his offensive game still has a long way to go.
Favors is owed an average of $12 million in each of the next four seasons. If the 23-year-old can start consistently performing at a higher level, the Jazz will be in a much better place going forward.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
As it currently stands, Utah looks like they are destined to play themselves into another top five draft pick in 2015. They are in the process of rebuilding and are patiently bringing along their young talent as they go, but don't be surprised if the Jazz end up dead last in the Western Conference for the second straight season.
With that said, there is plenty to look forward to as there are a plethora of guys on this roster looking to take the next step individually this season. Can Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter continue to grow? Will Gordon Hayward live up to his new max contract? Throughout the season, who will win the point guard battle between Trey Burke and Dante Exum? Is Alec Burks finally going to take over the starting two-guard spot? Will the players respond to Quin Snyder's coaching methods?
Jazz fans will probably stop paying attention to the standings after a certain point, but there is plenty of promising young talent to get excited about on this squad.
5th - Northwest Division
15th - Western Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Atlanta Hawks preview, coming Monday morning.