Utah Jazz Season Preview: Getting Ready for a Revolution

I’m going to drop a whole bunch of song references in this post, because Jazz. WARNING: It’s not jazz music, so don’t get your hopes up. You can find them fairly easily and guess the group I’d imagine, but it’s a nice little game I figured I’d play with the Jazz post.

Team Capsule

The Utah Jazz are in a transition phase. For most teams, that involves years of rebuilding and losing. But for the Jazz, their rebuild lasted all of, like, 6 months. The Jazz started with a solid (if flawed) frontline pairing of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. They acquired a third big in Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade. They previously drafted a solid project perimeter player in Gordon Hayward. And they had the third and twelfth picks in the 2011 draft. With that haul, and a patchwork supporting cast, the Jazz made a leap back into the playoffs a bit earlier than expected. The rebuild, while not complete, started off spectacularly.

But this year, though? This should be a transition year, with maybe a bit less progress in the W-L column than would be hoped. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward enter their third year in the league, on the verge of breaking out and becoming something memorable. Alec Burks and Enes Kanter enter their second year in the league, looking to seize solid rotation spots and maybe more. Jefferson and Millsap and some other vets’ time is running out, with free agency looming and replacements ready.

But I would advise that the Jazz fans take some caution. For all the praises I poured on their core 4, there’s one major glaring weakness in the core: the lack of a great offensive player, or so it seems. Alec Burks has a longshot at that, but that’s it. While those players often find their way to free agency, few sign in places like Utah. Their best hope may be to make a trade during this season with one of Jefferson or Millsap. New GM Dennis Lindsay, who comes from the Spurs, knows what the team needs to make a leap.

Until then, look for the Jazz to do what they do: beat you inside with their bigs and play physical basketball, especially when playing in front of the league’s best home crowds. At the least, they should easily be in playoff contention again. For now, that’s fine.

Biggest Strength: Rebounding

I tend to use per-36 numbers, despite their natural flaws, for comparative purposes because players can only do so much based on their playing time. Utah’s rebounding numbers are especially highlighted using them. The four main bigs – Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, and Kanter – all put up wonderful rebounding numbers, averaging at least 9.7 boards/36 each. The numbers really scream out because the 4 practically played with only each other on the court. Because rebounds have some amount of scarcity – that is, there’s a limited amount to go around – the numbers become even more impressive. They finished 3rd in the league in rebound differential and, with Kanter and Favors seemingly up for more time, look to improve that.

Biggest Weakness: Assisting

The Jazz have Mo Williams at the point, which is all fine and dandy given the construct of the current roster. Throw it into the post for Al Jefferson to take care of? Alrighty. Let Paul Millsap face up? Cool beans.

But when Favors takes over, which I believe will inevitably happen, one of those two main sources of offense goes away. Favors has some moves and a ton of finishing ability, but you can’t rely on him as a number one source of offense. It’s not going to happen. Someone else will be needed to create offense, preferably a point guard. I’m not sure Mo Williams or Randy Foye or Jamaal Tinsley is that guy. If they trade Jefferson, and not for a point guard? Well, there’s something to really think about. Where will the offense come from?

(note: Chris Barnewall pointed out how bad the Jazz are at shooting threes. With Foye and Mo in the fold, who are good shooters, I thought the lack of a good play-making point guard would be more pressing)

Player to Watch: Derrick Favors

Most of the talk since Favors was traded to Utah involved getting him playing time to develop despite backing up two talented bigs. Now, most acknowledge Favors breaking out into the starting lineup is only a matter of time. His defensive revelation kind of forces the hand of the Jazz – at some point, they’ll be forced to make room in the starting five for Favors. But would they rather have the productive, plodding black hole that is Al Jefferson or the versatile but undersized Paul Millsap? When the time comes to make things right, I think Jefferson will be gone.

Coach: Tyrone Corbin

2011-12 record: 36-30

Key Additions: Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye

The unrelated M. Williamses help the Jazz fill more roles around the young guys, though of course you’d like them to be a bit younger. Mo Williams, as mentioned above, is more of a shoot-first point guard who can spot-up when need be. He provides some floor spacing from the point guard position that the Jazz desperately needed. I actually think Marvin probably shouldn’t have been added to the team. While he gives the Jazz an above-average wing defender, he exacerbates their spacing issues. Foye, meanwhile, will provide yet another shooter who can play either guard spot, although not all that well other than the shooting thing.

Key Subtractions: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Josh Howard

The three could dissipate like snowflakes in the Great Salt Lake, and no one would notice. Harris never seemed to fit his role in Utah, for whatever reason. I guess that applies pretty much everywhere for Harris, however – he never was as great a defender as his athleticism indicated, and his offensive game just didn’t match what Utah needed from him. C.J. Miles and Josh Howard should help them more now that they’ve left town, considering how awful they each were last season.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The future is now in Utah. While major success looms in the future, future progress and change should be the theme for this season. Cap room awaits, unless they turn their expiring contracts into even more assets. The future is very, very bright, and the league should take notice of Utah’s Uprising.

Projected Record: 47-35

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