This post is an extension of one I did for Shoot Hoops. I wanted to focus more on the Jazz end of things for the Utah fans. Plus, there's some things that weren't suitable to put in the original for a league-wide look; it would have come out too homerish for an international basketball blog like Shoot Hoops.
The focus is to try and determine where Jerry Sloan and the Jazz franchise stand in regards to player development. Sloan is all-too-often accused of not developing his young talent enough, or not doing it properly.
I can prove otherwise to the Sloan
In fact, I intend to pound those silly assertions right into ground, where they belong.
If you were too lazy to click on the link to the original article (which you should have done if for no other reason than to see the stellar likeness of the Mythbusters' Jamie Hyneman I did on a basketball) then allow me to fill you in.
The research was centered on the 2005 NBA draft wing players, which included oft-maligned-by-detractors C.J. Miles. Why Miles, aside from the obvious? His draft class is sufficiently experienced some five-plus years later and included numerous similar players to compare against giving us an ample sample size to work with when searching for valid results.
What we want in a wing player for these purposes is someone big enough to play the SF position, but not so big that they can't also play the SG position. So the specs are approximately: at least 6'5" tall, and under about 235-240 lbs.
That left us with 18 drafted players, one of which who never played in the league, so the remaining 17 appeared on the first chart. (Note: Each player's peak year in MPG and PPG, along with the last year they played in the league were charted)
We're left with only nine players of the original 18 still playing today, meaning right off the bat Miles has somehow had a staying power that 50% of his contemporaries lack just five seasons later, despite many of them getting far more minutes than he has either annually or in total.
Here are the nine players that made the cut, so to speak, and how they've fared by year in minutes played and points-per-game, as well as their career total minutes played through December of 2010. Click on the image if you can't see it well enough in the post.
As you can see Miles played the 2nd-least rookie minutes of the nine. Indeed, he played the 5th-least among all 17. But remember, half of those players aren't even in the league any more despite their "early development."
And notice how most of the players on the list peaked many, many games ago, only a couple-few years into their NBA careers. Sure, some of them may come back to have a stellar season here or there, but none with the exception of CJ Miles and maybe Martell Webster have headed consistently in the right direction. And Webster was on pace to follow the arcs of Danny Granger, Francisco Garcia, and Ryan Gomes before he went down for a year.
Ryan Gomes, who has played well over 11,000 NBA minutes might be the poster boy for why reps don't = development.
Take a closer at Miles' line and you'll find that he was brought along at a steady pace, earning more floor time from Sloan as he added maturity and more facets to his game. There was a reason why the Jazz's coaching staff insisted he come back despite the brass being on the verge of letting him go on more than one occasion.
Think about that for a minute. The guy that gets bashed for not playing CJ is the one responsible for ensuring that he's still a Jazz man today.
Sloan and the staff undeniably saw something in him. Something that made them want to put in the time to develop Miles the right way, rather than simply tossing him out there "to see what they got" like 90% of the league's other coaches do with their up-and-comers.
The fact that 60% of the 2006 draftees are no longer in the league bears this out even more, 47% of first-rounders and 80% of second-rounders. Ronnie Brewer is a first-round survivor of that draft, and Paul Millsap the second-round surviving member of the remaining 20% of Utah picks.
Full disclosure: The Jazz also took Dee Brown in that 2nd round, a player that's had the misfortune to be one those who ultimately could not make the cut in the NBA. Brown played more minutes his rookie season than Miles did that same year, his sophomore season
I often hear "Why can't the Jazz do what the Spurs and Gregg Popovich do and find good role players and play 'em?"
After playing extremely limited minutes for a handful of NBA teams Roger mason Jr. landed on the Washington Wizards at the right time, just before Gilbert Arenas went down with the first of his knee injuries. This thrust Mason into the lineup in the 2007-08 season where the San Antonio Spurs noticed him, bringing him into their fold the following year where he'd play more than 30 minutes a game.
However, all those minutes didn't serve to make him a better player.
Mason isn't a guy with the kind of talent that made coaches go "Oooh! This guy is gonna be something special!" He's a role player that has had the fortune to fit into the right roles a couple of times, getting starter minutes for a couple years, making a couple of nice, timely, memorable shots, then fading away into obscurity once more.
That's what the Spurs do. They don't spend tons of time on guys for a few flashes of brilliance. They fill in holes. Then when those fillers don't pan out or have outlived their efficiency they move on to others. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Same story with the Jazz. Even though the grass may seem greener on the other side, the Jazz found their Gary Neal last year in Wesley Matthews, who just happened to also find himself in the right place at the right time due to injuries to key players. Only time will tell if Neal has staying power, but the odds are against him if he doesn't have that "it" factor that will make his coaches want to fight for him. It's entirely possible he's simply the next Roger Mason Jr. and not the next Wesley Matthews.
In Miles' case he does have that "it" factor, according to the way he's been brought up in the Utah franchise, making his progression as a player one that needs to play out in a more intelligent, patient manner to hone his skills, his mental edge, to prepare for him for that day where he's possibly celebrated as an extension of the brilliance of the brass that took him in that second round in 2005.
Had they thrown him out there to flounder his way through by trial and error the odds are he'd have long ago been thrown out with the Euro-trash or Chinese exports like so many others.
Instead, we find him now averaging career highs virtually across the board, and one of only three wings out of the 18 taken that have surpassed a certain threshold of efficiency in minutes-to-points produced.
Of that meager 17% of '05 wings that have crossed that threshold, CJ is one of only three currently headed in the right direction, and the only one out of all 18 that has posted a steady rise in development with no noticeable dips.
Had Miles been allowed to play the way he wanted long ago now, we might well be seeing only a streaky-shooting pine rider with bad habits instead of the well-rounded under-25 player with a vaulted ceiling that stands before us today.
It's difficult to debate the downside of Sloan's methods when we measure the fruits of his labors this way. After all, he does know a thing or two about what it takes to keep hanging around a certain somewhere for more than a season or two.
Check this out! Clutch stats were released today by 82 Games.com and guess who's a Top 5 thief come crunch-time? Cool, huh?