The Downbeat: Winning IZ hard

USA TODAY Sports

The bench is magical.

A couple weeks ago I listed out the Jazz's next 12 games. I had said that the Jazz's season would be determined by how the Jazz faired over that stretch. My original prediction was this with the real outcomes in parenthesis:

vs. Hawks - Loss 0-1 (0-1)
vs. Bobcats - Win 1-1 (1-1)
@ Bucks - Win 2-1 (1-2)
@ Cavaliers - Loss 2-2 (1-3)
@ Bulls (B2B) - Loss 2-3 (1-4)
@ Knicks (B2B) - Loss 2-4 (1-5)
vs Pistons - Win 3-4 (2-5)
@ Thunder - Loss 3-5
vs Grizzlies Loss 3-6
vs Knicks Loss 3-7
@ Rockets Loss 3-8
@ Spurs Loss 3-9
@ Mavericks Loss 3-10

What is worse is that I had said the Jazz needed to at least go 5-8 to survive the upcoming surge by the Lakers. WELP. Since that post the Lakers are a cool 5-1. Worse yet, they're playing great. Adding to this conundrum is the decreasing difficulty of schedules for Golden State, Los Angeles, and Houston. Throw in a Portland team that just won't die and a Dallas team eager to shave their beards and you got a Jazz team that will be more active at the NCAA tournament with scouts than a team hell bent on the playoffs.

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Now this could seem like a blow to the heart of some Jazz fans out there. But let's look at some positive developments in the frontcourt other than Favors.

Next positive, Kanter can play. OH BOY, can the kid ball. During March he is averaging 15.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.7 bpg, all while shooting .683 from the field. Yes you read that correctly. All while averaging 26.7 mpg. Yikes. Chew on that.

Second Jeremy Evans is not just an overpaid jumping puppet pal to Gordon Hayward. Turns out he can play. No I swear. He can. In March he's averaging 8.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 bpg, in just 18.7 mpg. He's shooting .769 from the field. Of all the developments of the players on contract next year this one could be the biggest. This allows the Jazz to really diversify their options in free agency. It also gives them a lot to chew on when evaluating Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Yes those two players are great. They have very elite skills. But the Jazz might have a up and coming above average front court that could be making a combined 12.3 million dollars (Jeremy Evans, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter). To put that in perspective Al Jefferson makes 15,000,000 a year. His next contract will most likely command 8 figures again. Paul Millsap will be looking to command about 8 figures as well.

All in all, the Jazz can have 3 guys under contract who have PERs of 17 or better for the price of one Al Jefferson. That's not a typo. The Jazz have set themselves beautifully for the future. It's looking more and more like the Jazz are going to let these two players walk and maybe try to garner a trade exception at most in the process. I would go more into this but I'm sure our own Peter J Novak would be more apt to show you all what the Jazz could do if they were to allow Millsap and Jefferson to walk..

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The Jazz's bench is magical. No really. It allowed Marvin Williams, previous useless starter, to become superhuman.

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.I...I...I don't even....

This Saturday tournament time will begin. SLCDunk's heart throb Myck Kabongo might not be in it. But look at this publicity he's getting from Chad Ford of ESPN:

Kabongo is the most intriguing player on this list for me. After sitting out the first 23 games thanks to an NCAA suspension, he's come back for the final few weeks of Texas' season and has been, for the most part, great. With the exception of a rough game against Oklahoma State last weekend, Kabongo has proved to be an efficient scorer and passer and has looked like a first-round pick. If he could get Texas past the first few rounds of the Big 12 tournament, he still has a chance to move way up our Big Board. Scouts really love the talent. They just need to see a little more..

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All in all this could prove to be a rough week with the Jazz facing some very difficult opponents while not at full strength. But as a Jazz fan I can't be mad. This team is still sitting above .500 after battling through injuries, a tougher western conference, while transitioning and ciphering minutes to it's future players that look like they're more than capable of taking over the reigns. Transitions like this are hard because it's difficult to keep people motivated that know they are not part of the future plan. It's hard to keep people motivated that know they are part of the future plan but not a more integral part of the current plant. All in all transitions are a clustercuss. But the Jazz have handled this season pretty admirably. I could name times when I felt they really messed up but there are times where I have come off impressed that they have handled it as well as they did. The worst is not over for the season. But players have put in some heroic efforts in albeit failing circumstances. And, really, that's what we all want. Just some effort.

Last night's Detroit game was nice for that. You can tell everyone was pushing for it. Al Jefferson was suffering through a bum wheel but kept it up. Randy Foye is starting to look worn down. Mo Williams is coming back from injury. DeMarre Carroll brought his usual tenacity. Derrick Favors has been trying to ascend his still pedestrian offensive skills to match his elite defensive ones. Kanter has become a man child. Jeremy Evans has become useful. Gordon Hayward is doing his best through a difficult stretch for him. Alec Burks has performed wonderfully in a difficult transition as a crunch time point guard. Jamaal Tinsley has dat swag. Earl Watson has brought defensive tenacity in most stints. Marvin Williams has started to look like he could be capable of something off the bench.

It's hard watching losses. But right now there's so much development being had all around. If the Jazz miss the playoffs this team deserves our highest regard. They've gone through a ton of scrutiny, a ton of questioning, and a very difficult transition. This is the last transitory year from Sloan. From the Deron William-era. They have performed marvelously during the past 2 and a half years of change. God bless them. Because this has been a difficult pill to swallow for everyone. To say they made the playoffs one time out of those years and had an above .500 record for two of those three years is amazing. Kudos.

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