A couple months from now we will probably be asking ourselves, "How were the Jazz so good in January?" Aside from asking ourselves that question because the Jazz will be selecting 7th missing out on top prospects, it will soon feel like an anomaly hearkening back to better times. Well ... why are the Jazz so good this month?
- Strength of Schedule. In their last 10 games, the Jazz have faced the 20th most difficult schedule in the NBA or the 10th easiest, whichever way you want to word it. The opponents the Jazz have faced in their last ten games have a combined record of .482. Those teams the Jazz have played in their last 10 are Minnesota, Detroit, San Antonio, Denver, Cleveland, OKC, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, and Bobcats. For the entire month of January they have played all of those teams listed minus the Bobcats and Clippers.
- Days off. The Jazz have faced a lot of these teams on a lot of rest. The Jazz have only played two back to backs in January and have only played 8 games. That's 2.63 days of rest for every game. That's a ton of time for practice and working on fundamentals. Perfect for a young, developing team.
- Half of the Jazz's games in January have been played at home. That is 50% of the Jazz's games. That percentage will then climb to 67% as the Jazz play their final 4 games of January at home against Washington, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Golden State. They have a combined record of 79-83. But once you take in account that they're playing on the road that record goes to 36-46. Yes, home games are a great equalizer. Add in the altitude of Utah and the aptitude of young players playing better at home and you have the makings of a .500 record for a young developing team.
- Trey Burke. The Jazz are 13-15 when Trey Burke starts. Pretty big difference compared to when he doesn't start (1-13).
Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid have talked about returning to school here and here, respectively. Then everyone lost their *** **** minds. THEY'RE NOT GOING TO THE NBA. WE TANKED FOR NOTHING. ALL IS LOST. WOE IS US! WE'RE DONE!
Sit the **** down and look a calendar. It's January 21st. January 21st. You know what that means? These kids are living the high life right now of being the talk of campus. One of those, Jabari Parker, is loving this. His pond is smaller than the NBA's ocean of talent and he's able to take it all in. Duke's basketball players are rockstars on their campus. He's one of those. Even though he's a level headed kid, he's feeling the stardom.
Joel Embiid on the other hand has just started basketball and feels overwhelmed. In his head he doesn't know how he will continue to learn and improve. The talk of him being a great center in the NBA gives him heart palpitations. He's scared. He looks at the mountain to climb, the hype, and the ESPN articles like a Mount Rushmore of expectations that he'll never reach. In his mind he's got so much to learn so another year of school looks more comfortable. He can learn there without the expectations.
Guess what, these are just kids. They may be 19 and 20 but they are just kids. I changed my major 4 times in that 19 to 20 timespan. You don't think these kids won't waffle back and forth between staying in college or going to the NBA? Of course not.
Sit down. Calm down.
Having been around the draft process now since last year's combine I can tell you that a college recruiter has got nothing on a pro scout and their network. They will calm these young phenom's fears. They will show them how they will improve at the next level. How they will feel comfortable in the NBA lifestyle. GMs and Assistant GMs are talking to these guys. Getting to know them. Do you think it's any coincidence that the Jazz hired a prior player agent as their Assistant GM right before this draft? It's just as much about recruiting these guys to just get to the NBA as it is to negotiate a contract.
It's January. It's two months before tournament time. Once the tournament hits, these players settle down, and see the great things in the NBA most of them will have a change of heart. But honestly, I think only one of these great potential NBA players does not come out. Not a host of them. They're in their Disney movie eating it up. Let them feast and imagine themselves at college for four years right now. Once the tournament closes, the pearly gates of the NBA will be glistening and they will then be able to imagine their NBA glory.
Richard Jefferson, you no longer are as bad as someone else.
WHO SUCKS MORE THAN US?
Tayshaun Prince, Gerald Wallace, and Anthony Bennett all get the dubious honors at Small Forward. So congratulations you three. To you I place upon you the mantle of Richard Jefferson's corpse. May you forever keep a young player from starting. Or in Anthony Bennett's situation, any player from playing who could actually contribute to a basketball game.
Marc Stein updated his Tank Rankings. Jazz are now 5th. Before you Tanksters walk off the edge remember that February and the trade deadline are looming; after that, the Ides of March. I come not to bury the .500 Jazz but to honor him. LEND ME YOUR EXPIRING CONTRACTS.
The Jazz continue to play .500 ball with Trey Burke in the lineup. I don't see that ending anytime soon unless the Jazz trade one of their core young players -- something I think is highly unlikely. That means every week we are likely to see them slide a little further down the rankings, perhaps killing their chance at landing Jabari Parker or one of the other top prospects in the draft.
But given the Jazz's situation -- they are already giving big minutes to their young players -- I'm not sure there's anything they can do about it. Getting a high pick is important, but I don't think they'd sacrifice a member of their young core to do it.