Enemy: Utah Jazz
3SOB Forecast*: 38-44
What’s the story in Salt Lake?
To ascertain all that you need to know about the summer for the Utah Jazz, observe the fact that its hallmark moment was their involvement in the facilitation of the three-team trade that sent Andre Iguodala to Golden State. The blockbuster deal (from other angles) saw them taking the one-year remaining salaries of Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush, and Richard Jefferson off the Warriors’ hands.
In other words, we have officially reached a state of full immersion in the rebuilding oils in Utah. The apathetic loss of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to free agency marked the continued severing of all ties to the time that was the Jerry Sloan era.
As a result, this season’s outlook does not figure to be a friendly one for the Jazz, but all the better, as this year’s draftee Trey Burke and a super-high draft pick in the stocked 2014 draft will by many accounts accelerate the growing process ten-fold. With a bushel of future assets already in handle, the presumably talented 2014 draftee, whomever he may be, will walk into a situation already stocked with a lightly seasoned cast of characters primed to come into their own as a unit. There’s already a lot of good going on here, and a few more pieces can really set this machine in motion to where the Jazz can make some sweet, sweet music once again someday not all that far off.
Even more progressive for the Jazz is the boatloads of cash that will be rolling off the books, and in turn into the spending wallets of the front office for the enormous free agent class on the way. According to ShamSports, the Jazz are already seated below the $58.7 million cap number, with their total salary racked up to $55.9 million. Factoring the contracts of Biedrins, Rush, Jefferson, along with the expiration of Marvin Williams, there is a $31 million chunk of tied up cash projected to evaporate off the roster in nine months, given that the Jazz do not opt to trade of the expiring assets mid-season.
The first order of business that would eat into all the expected free space is that of the players coming off of their rookie deals. Contract extensions to Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, the two figures that at the moment factor as the most critical to the team’s evolution, would need to be consummated by the Halloween tip off of the NBA season, if they want to get a deal done in advance.
Their prospects of reaching deals prior to that date is muddy, however, as a proper appraisal of their respective values going forward is largely incomplete. Hayward still has plenty of room to grow, but has put together a body of work that sheds light on the type of player he will become. Favors on the other hand is a bit tougher to project. ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan expects a near-max deal for Favors, which may sound a bit steep for someone that has yet to average ten points per game for a season, but he declares him a “safe bet” for the Jazz, looking ahead.
Who are they cooking with?
The advanced metrics for the Jazz were pretty much pedestrian all across the board last season. Even with reputable glass cleaners Millsap and Jefferson in the lineup, their rebounding percentages were just around par for the course in the league. Only on the offensive boards were the Jazz able to crack the top ten with a 28.8% rate.
By letting the aforementioned duo depart, the assumption on Utah’s part is that the next-in-line duo of Favors and Enes Kanter is either ready to assume the mantle of the starting gig, or at least hold the fort well enough not to implode while they develop on the fly. Hollinger’s PER ratings suggest that the two might be ready for the task, as they each boasted measures of 17+ (17.65 for Kanter and 17.57 for Favors, respectively) in 2012-13, but it remains to be seen how they will fare as the focal points of opposing defensive schemes. Replacing Kanter and Favors in the “to be developed” queue is 7’2, 7’8.5 wing-spanned Frenchman Rudy Gobert, who was acquired via a draft night trade. Gobert is three shades of raw, but his soft hands and never-ending length give him a real chance for staying power in the league.
The player poised for the biggest leap in 2013-14 is Hayward, who turned a lot of heads with his performance at the Team USA camp in Las Vegas. Hayward is a well-rounded player, comfortable shooting, handling, and distributing the ball, while playing far better defense than he is given credit for, logging opposing PERs of just 13.6 and 12.4, respectively at the two and three slots. At 23 years old, he is the oldest member of their core starting five, and will have plenty of headway to showcase his talents as the featured option.
Moving on to the guards, Burke will have the keys to the offense and would like to put a nasty Summer League showing behind him. The rookie’s jumper was on the side of a milk carton in Orlando as he went 1-19 from downtown. If he cannot adapt to the NBA three-point line, it could pose a real problem for the Jazz, as they already have Alec Burks’s improving, but still not threatening outside shot residing in the backcourt.
It is likely and hopefully the case that Burke’s cold stroke was nothing more than an aberration, as the three comprised a large part of his offense at Michigan — 36% of his field goal attempts, of which he knocked down 38.3%. In contrast to his Summer League flop, the Jazz signed Vegas MVP Ian Clark, who if nothing else will put up some three point field goals of his own off the bench.
How do the good guys stack up?
The Jazz are in transition and that lack of team identity hurts them against teams like the Grizzlies. The altitude in Salt Lake will make them a dangerous team to play on the road, particularly on the 2nd night of a back to back, but they don’t appear to know who they are as a team. Losing Mo Williams, AL Jefferson, Paul Milsap and former Grizz Earl Watson will not help in that regard either. The Jazz are rebuilding with talented players such as Gordon Heyward, rookie Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are a solid base for moving forward but the front office seems more interested in winning 2-3 years from now than they are about winning this season which won’t make it easy for the Jazz matching up against a veteran and deep team like the Grizzlies. The Jazz may steal a game at home but shouldn’t offer much competition in Memphis especially in the paint where the Grizzlies should dominate.
Brian Duff (of Buckets Magazine):
For those used to well run plays featuring perfect timing and mind meld teamwork (like, for instance, Grizzlies fans), watching the 2013-2014 Utah Jazz will be a disquieting experience. There is, however, a method to Utah’s offseason madness, which included emancipating Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap and taking on Golden State’s salary ballast: the Jazz have decided that the future is now. Regardless of how ugly this season may be in the SLC, 20 year old Trey Burke, 21 year old Enes Kanter, 22 year olds Alec Burks and Derrick Favors, and 23 year old Gordon Hayward will all start and see significant minutes and a whopping $31.5 million – more than half of the projected 2014-2015 salary cap! – will come off of Utah’s books at the end of the season.
The Jazz will not even sniff being competitive with top flight teams like Memphis for at least a couple of years. Utah has advantages at zero positions and its best talent, the baby twin towers of Favors and Kanter, will be thoroughly outmatched by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Similarly, rookie point guard Trey Burke, aside from stirring up some bad Ohio State-Michigan blood, will not cause Mike Conley any real problems, and even sixth man and designated adult on this team, Brandon Rush, will have his hands full with his opposite number, Mike Miller. The Jazz will have to be extraordinarily fortuitous to steal even one win in this three game series.
When and Where do they square off?
December 23rd: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
March 19th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
March 26th: 9:30PM at EnergySolutions Arena
For more Jazz content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Salt City Hoops.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.