On Youth and Progress

I'll warn you first: this post is long.

* * *

I've been a strong advocate for the Jazz to play their young players as much as possible. My reasons are simple: I believe the young players are a) more talented, b) are the future of the team, and c) the team and players will reach their potential more quickly if the players are given playing time to grow and develop now.

The Jazz, and many fans, feel differently.

I don't want to rehash the debate here. I'm really not interested in it right now.

I want to instead look at something else: Why does our team believe young, talented players are not ready to play significant minutes and major roles? Where does this philosophy that they have to come off the bench for multiple years before they are ready to start come from?

This post is going to show three major things:

  1. The Jazz did not always treat picks like they have Favors, Burks, and Kanter (interestingly enough, Hayward has been treated quite differently and more consistently with the team in the past).
  2. The rest of the NBA is not treating their draft picks like the Jazz do Favors, Burks, and Kanter.
  3. The Jazz of the recent past would have made "retooling" roster moves very differently

More after the jump

A history of Jazz draft picks

I'm not going to look at every single draft pick. But I am going to look at many. Some will be good; some will be bad. Basically, I want to get a feel for how the Jazz generally treated quality rookies' playing time vs. not-so-good rookies' playing time.

The 1980's

Things were, admittedly, different then. The Jazz got a lot of higher picks in the early years (because they stunk), and players came out of college at 21 or 22 instead of 19 or 20. But still, look at the situation with the draft picks.

The "Years to Start" column in the table shows what season the player began starting a 50% of games the games. A "1" means he did in his rookie year. "2" means he did in his second year, etc.

Year Player Pick (Round) Rookie min. Rookie Starts Years to Start Age as Starter
1980 Darrell Griffeth 2 (1) 36 82 1 22
1981 Danny Schayes 13 (1) 20 20 2 23
1982 Mark Eaton 72 (4) 19 32 2 27
1983 Thurl Bailey 7 (1) 25 54 1 22
1984 John Stockton* 16 (1) 18 5 4 25
1985 Karl Malone 13 (1) 31 76 1 22
1986 Dell Curry** 15 (1) 10 0 Never Never
1987 Jose Ortiz 15 (1) 6 0 Never Never
1988 Eric Leckner 17 (1) 10 0 Never Never
1989 Blue Edwards 21 (1) 23 49 1 24

* Stockton is unique in year two he played 24 minutes per game (essentially splitting PG time in half with former All-Star Rickey Green). He also started 38 games. Saying he didn't start or play a major role until his 4th year (the Jazz official stance) is revisionist history.

**Dell Curry is also unique case. He never was a starter. But for six years with the Hornets he came off the bench for 28 minutes per game and 15 ppg. He was a high quality player. He was also traded after his rookie year. I think it's fair to say the Jazz didn't play him enough to see that he was a quality player and made a mistake.

Summary:

In the 1980's, quality rookies often started as rookies. All quality players except Dell Curry and John Stockton were given major roles, major playing time, and primarily starting no later than their second seasons. John Stockton was an exception in that he played behind a former All-Star, yet he still started 46% of the games in his second year. Dell Curry's playing time was a mistake, and it cost the Jazz a quality player.

Now let's look at the 90's

This decade the Jazz never had a high pick. They were always a very, very good team. Things were changing, as far as draft picks. They had two years without a first round pick (1990, 1994). One year with no pick at all (1992) They also had years that the top picks were traded (1996 and 1998). And Andrei Kirilenko, chosen in the 1999 draft, will be looked at later because he didn't come over until later.

Year Player Pick (Round) Rookie min. Rookie Starts Years to Start Age as Starter
1990 Walter Palmer 33 (2) 3 0 Never Never
1991 Eric Murdock 21 (1) 10 0 2 24
1993 Luther Wright 18 (1) 6 2 Never Never
1993 Bryon Russell 45 (2) 17 48 1 23
1994 Jamie Watson 47 (2) 11 1 Never Never
1995 Greg Ostertag 28 (1) 12 10 2 23
1996 Shandon Anderson* 54 (2) 16 0 4 26
1997 Jacque Vaughn** 27 (1) 10 0 6 27
1999 Scott Padgett 28 (1) 9 9 Never Never
1999 Quincy Lewis 19 (1) 12 0 Never Never

* Shandon never started in his three years in Utah. By his second year he was the 6th man and playing 20 minutes per game. But he was behind Bryon Russell and Jeff Hornacek, and ... most importantly ... never as good as either of them. Which is fine for a #54 pick.

** That Jacque Vaughn started for Orlando his sixth year is more a statement to Orlando's roster than Jacque's talent. He gave them 6 points and 3 assists per game as their starting PG. Shockingly, that was his only year starting at least 50% of the games.

Conclusion from the 90's

These were bad, bad, bad years for the Jazz in the draft. They simply did a terrible job and drafted a lot of crummy players. Yet these guys still had more opportunities than we see today. Scott Padgett started more games as a rookie than Derrick Favors did last year. 2nd round pick Bryon Russell was given a far bigger role as a rookie than was Alec Burks. And in an eerie twist, rookie Bryon Russell started over established 31-year-old vet Ty Corbin.

Again, though, you see a pattern. The "quality" players (we have to use the term generously here) were starters by their second season ... with the exception of Shandon Anderson who still played more than 20 minutes.

The 2000's

Things again change this decade. You have foreign players coming in years after being drafted (Andrei Kirilenko, of course, being the important one, Raul Lopez being the other significant guy). The Jazz had no rookies in 2002. The rookies also started getting younger. AK was 20. Kris Humphries was 19. CJ was 18. The Jazz also started having a lot of rookies playing for them (2002 aside). It was a total flip from the 90's, when they were giving away their picks. Now they were collecting a lot of them.

Year Player Pick (Round) Rookie min.
Rookie Starts
Years to Start
Age as Starter
2000 DeShawn Stevenson 23 (1) 7 2 4 22
2001 Jarron Collins 52 (2) 21 68 1 23
2001 Andrei Kirilenko* 24 (1) 26 40 3 22
2003 Curtis Borchardt** 18 (1) 16 0 Never Never
2003 Raul Lopez** 24 (1) 20 11 Never Never
2003 Sasha Pavlovic 19 (1) 15 14 5 24
2004 Kris Humphries 14 (1) 13 4 7 25
2004 Kirk Snyder 16 (1) 13 7 2 22
2005 Deron Williams 3 (1) 29 47 1 21
2005 CJ Miles 34 (2) 9 0 4 21
2006 Paul Millsap 47 (2) 18 1 3 23
2006 Ronnie Brewer 14 (1) 12 14 2 22
2007 Morris Almond*** 25 (1) 4 0 Never Never
2007 Kyrylo Fesenko*** 21 (1) 8 0 Never Never
2008 Kosta Koufos 21 (1) 12 7 Never Never
2009 Eric Maynor**** 21 (1) 16 2 Never Never
2009 Wesley Matthews 21 (1) 25 48 1 23

*Andrei Kirilenko had to battle for playing time against two other establishd SF's: Donyell Marshall and Bryon Russell. He played more minutes than either of them. In fact, rookie AK played more minutes than anyone on the team except Malone and Stockton.

** This was the bad joints year. And Raul was a better PG than we remember. 9 assists per 36 minutes in 2004-05. And despite the playing time, I believe the Jazz intended Borchardt to start immediately. But bad joints didn't cooperate for these two.

*** The weird rookie class. Both Fes and Almond played 9 games. Nine. The Jazz found more playing time for rookies in their NBA Finals years than they did for these two guys. And nobody can tell me Fes and Almond are less talented than guys like Jamie Watson, Quincy Lewis, or even freaking Greg Ostertag.

**** Maynor has never really been a starter, but he's been a solid guy off the bench for OKC.

Conclusion of the 2000's

That was a lot of rookies. There's also a lot of variety in the opportunities they had. But it's clear that they can be clumped into some pretty distinct groups:

  • Deron, Andrei, Wesley, and Jarron Collins (aka, the Human Tree) played big roles and big minutes as rookies. Three of the four were starters. Andrei wasn't starting in name only.
  • Millsap and Ronnie B. were getting 20+ minutes by their second seasons. Ronnie B. was a starter that second year. Millsap was his third year.
  • Several others were l ... o ... n ... g developments that became servicable players, usually for other teams (DeShawn, Pavlovic, CJ, Humphries)
  • Some got mintues per game, but everything was cut off by injuries (Borchardt, Lopez)
  • There were the guys the team just hated and wouldn't give a shot (Almond and Fesenko)
  • Guys given reasonable looks but never panned out (the KOOF and Snyder)

But despite all the variations, there's still a very clear pattern: the best guys in the group were clearly given big roles and big minutes in their first or second years. This would be Deron, Andrei, Wesley, Millsap, and Ronnie B. (I'm ignoring the Human Tree anomaly for this post).

The 2010's

This is our kids today. Look at what we see:

Year Player Pick (Round) min. as rookie Games started as rookie

Years to start
50% of games

Age to start
50% of games
2010 Derrick Favors* 3 (1) 20 4
2010 Gordon Hayward 9 (2) 17 17 2 21
2010 Jeremy Evans 55 (2) 9 3
2011 Enes Kanter 3 (1) 13 0
2011 Alec Burks 12 (1) 16 0

* I'm only looking at Favors's starts with the Jazz.

Conclusion of the 2010's

Hayward had decent minutes as a rookie, and then started and played major minutes in his second year. It's very similar to Stockton, Ronnie B., and Millsap. It fits the pattern.

Favors, on the other hand, had no increase in minutes, role, or starts. Here the pattern dies, because he DID play well as a rookie, he HAS shown legitimate talent and work ethic, he HAS shown ongoing improvement ... yet he was not given a bigger role in his 2nd year.

Evans also violates the pattern. His rookie season was similar to that of Ronnie B., in terms of minutes and production. Yet his minutes and role actually got cut his second year. It clashes with the pattern.

Kanter and Burks, obviously, have only a rookie year so far.

But consider this: unless other players' minutes get cut drastically, there will be no more playing time available for either Kanter or Burks this year. And what kind of playing time and roles did they have in their rookie years? Kanter's looks an awful lot like Kirk Snyder and the KOOF. PT for Burks is exactly like that of Shandon Anderson.

Historically this kind of playing time has been given to disappointing players and low 2nd round picks.

So either Kanter and Burks are disappointments or something has changed in how the Jazz give playing time to young talents. The theory of a changing philosophy is consistent with how different Favors and Evans have been developed compared to the team's precedents.

It's also interesting that the change does not include Hayward. The change came with Favors, included Jeremy Evans, and it perpetuated with Burks and Kanter.

The Jazz were able to find more playing time for rookies in the glory of the mid-to-late 90's than they did the past two years. Not only that, but in the 90's the Jazz picks were consistently terrible. Nobody picked in that decade had the talent of Burks, Kanter, or Favors.

Again, something changed.

How the rest of the NBA develops young talent

Also of note: nobody else in the league plays high draft picks so few minutes unless the players are busts. Here are some examples:

2011 rookies who have played more minutes than Burks (Kanter's list would, obviously include these and more):

(draft number and rookie age in parenthesis)

We see teenagers and 22-year-olds. We see immediate stars and guys who need some development. We see guys we're sure will be great, and guys that the teams are still unsure about. We see every draft pick from 1-18 except a guy who hasn't played in the NBA yet (Jonas V.).

Remember, the Jazz didn't keep Burks and Kanter from playing because they stink. We saw that there's legitimate talent in these guys. What we're seeing is the Jazz giving talented rookies playing time in a way that is totally different than the rest of the NBA.

2010 rookies who have played more minutes than Favors to date:

(again, draft number & rookie age in parenthesis):

You'll notice that list includes all draft picks from 1-10 except two guys who have performed very poorly to date (Udoh at 6 and Aminu at 8). And again we see guys who were younger and guys who made their debuts older. And again we see the Jazz doing something different with Favors than every other team has done with their young talent. Even differently than the Jazz have done with Hayward.

The Jazz philosophy during the last rebuilding phase (2004-05)

This really strikes me. What follows is from a Deseret News report by Tim Buckley in the fall of 2003, when the Jazz bought out the contract of Glen Rice before he played a single game for the Jazz. For context, Stockton had just retired, Malone had bolted to hang with Tibetan Monks for a while before really retiring a life-long Jazzman, and the Jazz were seeing how far Andrei Kirilenko could take them. Then the Jazz made a trade to get a couple draft picks. Acquiring Glen Rice was part of the trade.

The Jazz bought out the fourth and final season of Glen Rice's $36 million contract on Friday, three days after they obtained the 36-year-old former NBA All-Star forward from Houston.

Having Rice come to Utah never really was in the plans for the Jazz, who ended up with him as part of a complicated deal with the Rockets for disgruntled big man John Amaechi and either one or two future second-round draft picks.

"As we are committed to a youth movement," Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations, said in a statement.

The Jazz did not want a declining vet to get in the way of playing time for their younger players. In fact, a declining vet like Glen Rice would interfere with their "youth movement" and rebuilding plans.

Putting it all together

Something has changed.

The Jazz are working with their young players — and building their future team — in a way that is totally different than how they have worked with young talent in the past. In a way totally different than how the rest of the NBA develops young talent. In a way that is completely opposite of their rebuilding plans less than a decade ago.

As far as I can tell, the change began with Derrick Favors and now incorporates Jeremy Evans, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks.

Of course we know what happened at the time Favors came on board: The losing streak in January 2011, the Deron-Sloan meltdown, Jerry Sloan resigns, Ty Corbin unexpectedly gets the head coaching job because Phil Johnson decides to resign too, Deron is traded (and totally blindsided and hurt by it), and the team falls apart in the worst collapse in the history of the NBA.

We're also dealing with a different CEO overseeing the Jazz.

So ...

What is really the catalyst behind it all, the underlying shift that brought about this change? Why can the team no longer trust young talent? Why are young players suddenly no capable of filling big roles successfully? Why is young talent no longer the way to rebuild an elite team? Why is young talent suddenly incapable of becoming successful without a bunch of veterans taking most of the playing time?

Why the change?

And more importantly: Is the change good? Will the change actually help our team and our players reach their potential?

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