The Utah Jazz are not doing a few things this season. The first is that they are not winning. The second, it appears, as though the team is not playing hard enough at certain times of the game. The third big thing that seems to have fans a little upset is that the lack of wins or effort could be absolved if the team at least displayed increasingly encouraging play on the floor. The team isn't playing well, and coasting, and losing.
And I think there are three significant reasons that have influenced the team so far. The first one was the schedule, which I talked about in Part 1. The second factor has to be who the Utah Jazz have actually had available on the floor. If the team was HEALTHY to start the season (like some teams are) and healthy through training camp certain things would be much different. And I would go as far as to say that things would be vastly better as a result.
If everyone was healthy to start the season a guy like John Lucas III wouldn't have been a starter; but a third stringer. If everyone was healthy to start the season our front court rotation wouldn't be Derrick Favors (22), Enes Kanter (21), rookie Rudy Gobert (21), and Mike Harris. If everyone was healthy to start the season, heck, we wouldn't have started the season shooting three pointers like a crack addict, and have been able to actually space the floor -- allowing for more penetration, cutting, pick and rolls, and post ups. (Aka: offense)
Some people felt like the Schedule was a legit reason that hurt us, some people did not. I don't think it can be argued that when a team starts the season without FIVE rotation guys (not five rotation guys if I was the coach, but for sure five guys who would be in the mix with our current coach Tyrone Corbin) it's going to be an uphill battle.
For the sake of making this easy to follow, let's list the five guys I'm specifically talking about:
- Trey Burke, who would have been our starting point guard if not on day one, but by this stage of the season. NCAA college player of the year with big play ability who raises the game of his teammates and himself when the moment calls for it. Legit three point shooter and pick and roll player. Most marketable player and erstwhile national face of the franchise (while Gordon Hayward is the local face).
- Marvin Williams, who was a starter last year and probably would have been this year too if healthy, is a veteran presence who can do whatever a team needs. His money shot, the left corner three, is right where we've been missing a lot from this season.
- Brandon Rush, while he hasn't played in a minute, but he's got enough talent to stay on the court. He most likely, if healthy, could have been a comeback player of the year candidate. Do they still have that award? I don't know. I think Bobby Hurley won it once.
- Jeremy Evans was primed for a breakout year after spending his entire career as the fifth big in a four big rotation. He has worked on his face up shot and was a defensive force in the summer league.
- Andris Biedrins, let's be honest, dude has played over 500 games in the NBA and over 11,000 minutes. Ty Corbin would have had him as the third big, because "he has something to prove."
Here's a refresher on their injures:
Okay, so those are five guys who have missed some time -- in some cases a lot of it. Three of these guys needed surgery to correct their injury. Only two of them have even made it back onto the court for NBA action yet. For those two guys, their stat lines aren't amazing. But don't let that confuse you into thinking that these guys wouldn't have been useful here. They will be, once they return. N.B. I made this chart yesterday, so add another day to the Days since injury column.
Here we see their roster utility (where they would have been placed within the rotation in a best case/wost case scenario), and their career stats. For Trey I had to use his NCAA stats, but that's really all I had!
These ARE good players. With the exception of Evans who doesn't play, is an advanced stats monster, and was primed for a breakout season -- the rest of them have been contributors in big roles. Even a dude like Biedrins who we make fun of was doing enough good things on the floor to AVERAGE playing nearly half a game played for over 500 games at the NBA level. His level of experience is something our young bigs do not have. Andris has played nearly double the total combined NBA minutes of Favors, Kanter, and Gobert put together! N.B. The best case/worst case rankings are by my own method for who has the possibility to BE there, not that they ARE the #3 big, or whatever.
But with these five rotation guys, only one who is really "back" and playing ball for us, it's more than just their career numbers. It's really their place within the rest of the team. Our team is being forced to give battlefield promotions to players not ready for those roles. And a big reason for this IS because so many of our rotation guys are injured.
This is our whole team (inc Jamaal Tinsley because he's a good example of experience and started for us for a few games). Look at how much "green" you see. That "green" is largely inexperience. This inexperience is a large part of Part 3 in this series; but for now we're going to really focus on what this team looks like at full strength, and again without these five rotation guys. Part of this section is inherently subjective because these rankings are based on my own opinions of these players.
As we can see these players are divided into three player classes: bigmen, wingmen, and pointmen. (Uniformity is odd looking at times) Jamaal (red cell) is off the team but he was one of the most experienced guys on a very green roster. The guys with the red font color for their names are the five rotation guys who were injured.
Trey should have been, even in the worst case situation, no lower than #2 on the point guard depth chart. Marvin, looking at his career and last year with the Jazz, should probably also be starting under Ty Corbin. But Marvin *and* Brandon could have been our #2 wing player depending on how well they were playing. We assume Favors and Kanter are not able to be moved from the 1 or 2 bigmen spots, but #3 was up for grabs.
Here's that same image again with the injured guys greyed out:
Notice anything big? Yes, the team looks much less capable than before. Let's investigate further.
These are our point guards / potential guys who could play there:
So in a perfect world, we could have 6 guys who could fill in at the very least. Three of them you really don't want to play there (John Lucas III, Alec Burks, and Ian Clark), and you have to pick between one of Jamaal or Diante Garrett. Still, that's not horrible if the majority of the minutes are going to your Rookie of the Year candidate, right? Well, injures happen and take a look at the practical reality of this spot so far this year.
Oh. Okay, so Jamaal is good, but he's not there anymore. He was a legit point guard who had the potential to be one of our top point guards this year. He's gone. And we're currently left with one guy (Diante) who could even be our worst guy at this spot (NBA D-League player, not an NBA player), or the second best. We don't know. He's a huge unknown. And after Diante we have three guys we didn't want to play at the point guard spot in the previous paragraph. It sure would have been nice to have a potential Rookie of the Year player here instead of this mess.
Surely, point guard is our thinnest spot, it's not really THAT bad when you move to the wing players, right?
That's a pretty versatile wing corp, you have some guys who are slashers, some guys who can hit threes, some guys you can post up, and some guys who are all around players. Now let's get rid of the injured guys . . .
Oh, so that's still salvageable, right? Well, Hayward is having a good season but he can't to it all himself. Richard Jefferson, who is starting right now, is doing his best but he's just not really that great anymore. Alec Burks is having a very similar state line to Jefferson, but we all feel as though he is in some real bad funk right now. Smart guys even think he could be out of the league if he keeps this level of play and doesn't improve over the next few weeks. If Burks was playing well we could have tread water, but having two of your top 5 wings out sucks when one of the remaining three is playing so poorly. Not having Brandon and Marvin had this team starting off in a really bad spot. And that included having to play guys like Mike Harris crunch time minutes at the start of this season. (He's . . . he's not very good)
Thankfully Marvin is back and has played in 7 of our 12 games so far.
So that leaves us with the bigmen. We felt like we had a logjam last year with so many rotation guys at the spot. This year we were to be led by our titans Favors and Kanter. The rest of the guys would fall into line.
If Favors and Kanter are playing well, does it really matter what happens to the rest of the bigman rotation?
YES IT DOES! So our rotation CURRENTLY is Favors, Kanter, Gobert, and Harris. This works in 2 more years if Kanter and Favors continue to develop. This does not work in their first years ever of playing a big role on an NBA team.
So what does this look like all put together? And rank them by NBA minutes played?
It looks like a very green team without these vets. Jamaal has played more NBA minutes than Days he has been alive and we got rid of him for a guy who had one good game, and needs to continue doing good things on the court for cheap. But the main issue isn't about trying to tread water with one or two injuries. Richard Jefferson has been one of the few legit vets on this team that is composed of a mostly GREEN roster. This team had five big injuries to start the season, and we were sunk from the start.
These five guys would have been rotation guys for the Jazz this year. Are they all-world talents? I don't think so. But within the scope of this Utah Jazz team, a team that has gone 1-11, they would have made us deeper, more talented, and have allowed the coach to set his lineup and rotations better. The offense would have been better. And it would have been an addition by subtraction by not having to play guys EVEN WORSE the minutes they are getting right now.
I believe that the injuries the Jazz had to contend with to start the season were significant. But the good news is that the team is not going to spend the entire season with five rotation guys injured at the same time. Guys are healthier and coming back. Marvin is already back. Trey Burke should be returning to action soon. And as a result, our depth will improve, the lineups Corbin can use will be more talented and he can mix and match more. And we will play better.
It's hard to win games with your main guys out. Take five rotation guys (2 starters) for the Finals teams for the Jazz and try and think of how good they would have been.
It's also hard to win games if you play poorly in the games you do play. The Jazz have been doing that, and no one is making an excuse for that. What we are seeing is that a reason why the Jazz started this season off so poorly is a temporary one. We're moving forward with better health. And better play will be seen on the court.