This season for the Utah Jazz will ultimately be judged on a few things -- how well the team plays at full strength; how well the parts improved; and what draft pick they ended up with. That's sadly the case, but it's a fate that won't be determined for a while. Right now the Jazz are a few days off of the trade deadline (aka. Jazz fans fools day -- where we hope and hope that we'll trade the vets away to make room for the youth, every year.), and there are 30 games left to play this season.
Sure, the team is essentially a .500 team with Trey Burke, Marvin Williams, and Jeremy Evans in the rotation and not on the bench. That's good. Is that good enough? I'm just as confused today as I was back in November about what our plan is this season. It is increasingly looking more like the team just let things go on autopilot for a season, either to better evaluate what they have as assets, or in a test of chaos theory. Either way, we're approaching a time when normally, a team would try to maximize their ping pong balls *and* shut down any vets that they were trying to trade at the deadline. After all, the deadline will pass in 2 days and as expiring deals their value is to expire -- not to contract year their way onto another team at the expense of development. (Gut punch 1: you've played 95 fewer minutes this season than rookie guard Ian Clark, MVP of the Vegas Summer League)
But that's what other teams would do. Not us. We're going to try to win as many games as possible, you know, to build that 'winning culture' that seems to have really interfered with teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, and Los Angeles Clippers. (Also known as: half of the teams that would currently represent the Western Conference in the playoffs.)
So how many games exactly is that going to be? Well, right now the Jazz are at 19-33. That's pretty good. I was worried about how many wins we'd get this season, and I decided not to do a full schedule post this off-season because my number would be seen as so low that it would have been evocative of a negative bias. That's honestly how I felt back then and looking at this team -- save for the surprising role (and resulting production) of Richard Jefferson, there were few surprises as to how this team would play out.
They are on point to win more games than I felt they would. And that comes with good news and bad news. Moreover, it does seem to have the Jazz on that familiar, easy, and ultimately pointless "mediocrity" trajectory. I guess that's good if you look at your sports team in terms of it being the 6th most profitable car dealership your dad's company started. It's not good if you are actually in it, excuse me, to win it.
Rhetoric aside, I think these next 30 games is going to teach us a lot about this team, these players, these coaches, and this playbook. It's going to be fun. So let's get into it.
This is what we're left with.
And yeah, that's 30 games in 57 nights, and that's a much more reasonable GPD (games per day) value than what we had in November -- it's about one game every two days. And it's split 15 / 15 between home and the road. The Jazz do have two road trips left -- a huge five games in seven nights sojourn early March that has us playing at the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers; and then two weeks later at the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies -- three games in four nights. The Jazz have two 'home stands', but they aren't like what they used to be. A three game stand facing off against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and Phoenix Suns; then another three game stand against the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, and Los Angeles Clippers.
We're better at home than on the road, but we also have to factor into the quality of the competition we're going to face, not just where. The Jazz play the Top 10 (it's a close race for #8) of the Eastern Conference 7 times, 4 at home (Hawks, Nets, Pistons, Knicks), and 3 on the road (Pacers, Wizards, Knicks). The jazz play the Top 10 (close but not as close as the East for #8) of the Western Conference 14 times -- 7 at home (Clippers, Trail Blazers, twice hosting the Mavericks, Suns, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves), and 7 on the road (Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Timberwolves). Some of those games are just schedule losses when you factor in cumulative fatigue -- but you never know when another team is going to throw in the towel or one of their best players gets hurt.
That's why you have to play the games, I guess.
That's true, but March is a beast, and the team have have tuned the coach out by the time April comes along (so many contract year vets, and a young core who never felt embraced by this staff), I'm not saying, I'm just sayin'.
This team could go either way, and as a Utah Jazz fan it's hard to root for the team to struggle. I want to find wins in this remaining schedule. I'm sure you do too. But you also want a good draft pick. I don't think the cumulative 'benefits' of what we gained from this season outweigh whatever future gains could be had if we drafted Top 5. I'm sure you agree that aside from Marvin Williams and Alec Burks no other players took any major steps forward. Gordon Hayward is shooting like a cyclops; Derrick Favors isn't even averaging a double double; Trey Burke is only really impressive at the free throw line, which he never gets to; Enes Kanter, uh, love that kid but let's move on; Jeremy Evans looks good at times in very limited ways; the rest of our rookie class have played how many minutes this last month?
I think the main point of this season partly was chaos theory with the hopes that it would lead to a Top 5 pick in this 2014 NBA Draft. I think that is what Dennis Lindsey tells us between the lines. But we're not there yet. 30 games to go.
What's our final record?
In the preseason I felt like the team would win only 21 games this year. Now that may have been too low. In recognition of this, I'm over-estimating how many they will win out of this next batch. I say the Jazz finish the season at 27-55.