There is no shortage of story lines with this year's Jazz. The fact that we're even having a season at this point is a story itself. While there are many and worthy story lines, these are the things I'm looking forward to the most.
Can Gordon Hayward pick up where he left off? Hayward will be facing a new challenge entering his sophomore season. In the AD (After Deron) era, Hayward's numbers took a big jump. With his minutes doubling after the break, his shooting percentage increased to 51% and his three-point shooting percentage jumped to 55% (on 44 attempts). As Amar's detailed breakdown of Hayward shows, he closed out the season with a phenomenal April.
As Hayward takes a more prominent and permanent role with the team, more teams will start game-planning for him. He could be a starter or he could be coming off the bench. Even as he got more comfortable with the offense, he still showed hesitancy by passing up open looks. When he gave up the ball, it wasn't so much to set up a teammate for a shot as it was get the ball to someone else. As the ball gets taken out of his hands this season, it will be up to him to find a better use for his passes, finding the open man.
Hayward got stronger and more confident as the season went on having defining games in Indiana, Los Angeles, and at home against Denver. The Laker game was particularly sweet in the Jazz hadn't won there since Hayward was still in middle school. Of all the Jazz teams to finally break that streak, it had to be one that was injured and dysfunctional down the stretch. A large part of that win was because of Hayward's play on both sides of the ball. He went head to head with Kobe and won. The Lakers weren't just resting players either. They were fighting for playoff seeding and trying to break out of their own funk.
Those were the kind of games that Hayward can build upon.
Tyrone Corbin being put through the refiner's fire. This isn't normally how you're supposed to take over a coaching position. Let's recap Tyrone Corbin's year. Overnight, your Hall of Fame head coach and lead assistant -- a former coach of the year -- step down. You're given the job on the spot after the team can't talk them out of it. Now your coaching staff is down to two mid-season and the team is in a tailspin. Your All-star and leader of the team is traded suddenly, shocking your team and the players. Now you're still in the playoff race at this point but now you have a huge roster turnover. Injuries are hitting your team so much that you're having to start a second round tweener draft pick at PF. The season ends on an upward note but everything has been too much and you miss the playoffs after a promising start to the season.
Shortly after the season from hell ends, the league locks out the players. You just drafted two lottery picks with your number three pick not having played organized ball in over a year. He desperately needs some playing time and coaching in the summer league but now can't.
As the lockout goes from weeks into month, it may end up that the season gets cancelled and you can't start your dream job for another year. Suddenly though in late November, good news. The league is back. However, now you'll have two weeks to bring together a team mixed with a bunch of young and promising talent mixed with some veterans who are still in their prime years. You want to implement a new system on offense and have no time to do it. Practices will be scarce once the season gets underway and you may never have a proper evaluation of players -- which you need because you're probably going to have to trade one of your veteran forwards.
After all of that, future seasons should be a piece of (relative) cake.
How many games will the Jazz win this year? This could be one of the biggest mysteries of the season. If they follow last season's pace, it would put them around 31 wins in a 66-game season. Remember though, that was with an extraordinary start. They were 8-17 after the All-star break a .320 winning percentage which would put them at 21 wins on the year.
If they go with the veterans for most of the year, they still have a capable team. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Devin Harris are all at the least, above-average players. CJ Miles is solid with a per of 14.4 (average is 15). Hayward and Favors are more than capable of starting or coming off the bench.
This team won't suck but they're not going to be a playoff team either. Of all the teams that finished above Utah last season, maybe only Denver (half the team is in China) and New Orleans don't make the playoffs next season. Then you have the Clippers who should rise and Houston who is always right there. So who are they passing?
Maybe we see a 2004-type performance from this team. Maybe they make a surprising run at a playoff spot. Maybe they continue their struggles which expedites the trade of Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, or Paul Millsap. Neither scenario would surprise me.
If you're given the chance to bet on the over/under on the number of Jazz wins this season, run.
Who's going to shock everyone this season with their play? I mean that primarily in a good way. Does Favors exceed even our high expectations? Does Hayward continue to shoot over 50% from three? Does Al Jefferson suddenly become our most efficient offensive player? Does Kanter put all of our fears to rest with monster play, forcing the Jazz to trade someone early?
Maybe it ends up not being just one player. Maybe the team shocks everyone.
I'll leave this last one up to you. What story line are you looking forward to the most for the upcoming season?