Today’s post concludes 3 Shades of Blue‘s analysis of the Northwest Division. Be sure to check in with us next week as we head out to the west coast to take on the Pacific!
Enemy: Utah Jazz
Coach: Tyrone Corbin
Potential Starting 5: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson
Other Key Players: Randy Foye, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Demarre Carroll
Threats: Interior muscle, Interior depth, Rebounding, Three point shooters
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-2
Due to their early exit at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, many may have forgotten about the fact that the Jazz were a playoff team last year. More impressive was that they mounted their push for the playoff seed on a run in which they fielded a lineup that featured Demarre Carroll with the starting unit. What makes the Jazz an interesting case this year is that they are a team that are amidst a transitional phase, and were in spite of this able to swing a playoff seed. Now, the playoffs showed us that this team is still not quite ready for the big time. The nucleus of this team is comprised of all very young guys that will be getting nothing but better in the coming years. While they haven’t been successful after trading their superstar (Deron Williams) to the extent that the Nuggets had, the Jazz have managed to do quite well for themselves. The infinitely talented return from the trade, Derrick Favors, is the future foundation of this roster, and is joined in that light by Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, and Gordon Hayward. With all of those players on rookie contracts, and projected to be solid starters in this league, things look good for Utah’s long-term outlook. That is 4/5 of a starting unit, and it’s hard to say that any one of them has nearly met the limits of their potential yet. What’s more is that I have yet to mention the fact that this roster also possesses Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and new acquisitions, Randy Foye, and Mo and Marvin Williams. So if we’ve established anything, it is that the distant future figures to shine bright upon Salt Lake City. The question then is: what does the immediate future hold?
The Jazz have made some nice offseason maneuvers to position themselves for another playoff push, this upcoming season. First, if you factor in some degree of improvement for the members of the young core, you have to acknowledge that the team will be better. Outside of internal improvements, the Jazz’ trade for Mo Williams allowed them to swing a deal involving Devin Harris, which netted them Marvin Williams. Despite playing off the bench in Los Angeles, Mo Williams is definitely still a starting quality talent. He was an all-star in Cleveland, and while I wouldn’t count on him re-claiming that status for the Jazz, I do see him fulfilling the starting role more admirably, and with more consistency than his predecessor. Williams is not really known for his ability as a facilitator, but he is good enough in that regard, and Coach Corbin runs a tight, efficient ship on the offensive end. The wing play looks good for them as well. Alec Burks looked good in Summer League, and is out to take a leap of productivity in his second year, while Marvin Williams is out to prove that he’s better than he showed us in Atlanta, Randy Foye is accepting his fate as a gunner, and Gordon Hayward has already displayed that he belongs in this league with his solid production last season. And of course, it’s hard not to root for a guy like Demarre Carroll with how hard he works. Now while all that is nice and dandy, clearly the most captivating story line surrounding the Utah Jazz is their remarkable depth, potential, and productivity on the front lines. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap make the veteran half of the bunch. Both are built, strong guys, who are very good at getting positioning, and consequently are exceptional rebounders. The other half of the group consists of the athletic freak and shot-blocking-extraordinaire-to-be, Derrick Favors, and the next incarnation of the WWE’s Undertaker, Enes Kanter. Such depth is a great thing to boast, but is not always the most functionally efficient model of roster construction. With rumblings abound that Favors may be looking to take the starting job this year, Paul Millsap could potentially be made expendable to the market to bolster some depth elsewhere, perhaps. Moving Favors up to serve as Jefferson’s main complement makes sense for the team, as Jefferson and Millsap share some of the same deficiencies on the defensive end, and Favors’ agility and above the rim ability would create a nice fit.
The Grizzlies front line is very good. I can easily say it is one of the best in the league. However, the Jazz have one of the few that I think could truly keep up with ours. Due to the varied abilities of their post players, Marc, Zach, Darrell, and Mo will absolutely have their hands full in the trenches. If we want to fare well against them, I would have to hope that for starters, Darrell hasn’t lost any explosiveness, because he will need all of it against Favors. Another thing that makes me weary regarding a matchup against Utah is the Gordon Hayward issue. For some reason, he was able to light us up one night last year, and muster 7 free throw attempts in another. He’s one of those sneaky Kevin Martin-like guys, and it’s no secret what they can do to us. Where I give us the nod is in the guard play. I know that I spoke highly of Alec Burks, but he is still very raw, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tony Allen take advantage of that all night. Similarly, I spoke highly of Mo Williams, but I have faith in Mike Conley to take care of his own in this the matchup, making it at the very least a wash. Overall, the Jazz are one of those teams that I would say are not quite on our level overall, but when pinned against us make for a very tough play, and could catch us for more games than we take them, again.