What a weird, wild, wacky season it's been. I honestly don't know where to start. The Jazz are one win away from making the playoffs. It's real now. In the past few weeks, the Jazz would be headed toward the playoffs, then lose a heartbreaker to Minnesota. Then they'd get an unexpected win and move back on the playoff track, only to lose to New Orleans. Now it's down to one game. We win we are in. I can't believe I am saying that.
There are several songs that describe portions of this season. This is the song that describes this season for me right now.
I will be really happy if the Jazz can sneak into the playoffs. The opportunity to root for the Jazz in the playoffs again would be really welcomed. I didn't think this team had a chance to make it happen, 3 months ago. If I could have written the script for this Jazz season and how it should have been carried out, it would have been much different. But looking back, a lot of great things have happened for our vets and our youngsters and the playoffs would be the cherry on top. A lot of things have led to this opportunity to make the playoffs, but you have to admit that a bunch of that has been absolute luck.
Not only have the Jazz been able to avoid injuries for the most part, but you could argue that injuries have benefitted the Jazz greatly. I know that sounds harsh and cruel, but I believe it is true. More on that later. But other than the Jazz and injuries, injuries to the Jazz's opponents has been really timely and...well, lucky.
There is no doubt that every team has benefitted from injuries to opponents this year, but let me illustrate. Jazz played Milwaukee one game after Andrew Bogut was injured. Memphis two games after Zach Randolph went down. The Clippers one game after Chris Paul went down. They got Minnesota at home the game after Ricky Rubio lost his season and won in overtime. We beat Golden State in overtime right after Monta Ellis was injured and Curry was already out. We got the Spurs when they were resting their 3 best players. We got the Magic in the middle of all their dysfunction. Every team gets lucky breaks, but this is list is ridiculous. And now with two games, that we need to win, we are getting the Suns the game after they lose Channing Frye (who is probably their second hardest player to replace) and a home game against the Blazers who are probably the second worst team in the NBA right now.
Somebody up their likes us. Maybe we have Big Al's grandma to thank.
One other stroke of luck for the Jazz? Injuries serendipitously lead to Paul Millsap playing more small forward.
If you haven't read it yet, you need to read all of Kevin Pelton's writeup on Millsap's move to the 3. Pelton describes it as the move that saved the Jazz's season and he isn't being dramatic. If you remember the first time we saw Millsap play extended minutes at the 3, we were losing to Portland by 14 in the 2nd quarter of a game we looked horrible in. Al Jefferson subbed in for Alec Burks giving the Jazz a lineup of Devin Harris, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Al Jefferson. Over the next 29 minutes the Jazz outscored Portland 68-49, sparked by the "Big 3 lineup." In the Orlando game, the Jazz outscored the Magic 71-37 while Millsap, Favors and Jefferson were in the lineup. It truly is the lineup that saved the season and might give us our only chance of competing in the playoffs.
The "Big 3 lineup" is effective for 3 reasons in my opinion. They are in order of importance:
1. Derrick Favors is on the floor more often, anchoring the defense, while not having to be a main offensive weapon.
2. It allows the Jazz to have their 5 best players on the floor at one time. We can debate about who the 5 best players on the Jazz are, but I think it's impossible to argue that Millsap, Jefferson and Favors aren't in the top 5. So if you sit one of them, then you are guaranteeing that one of your best 5 players isn't on the floor.
3. The Jazz have below average options at the small forward position if Millsap isn't there. And the Jazz are great at defensive rebounding with this lineup.
The only question we can ask is this: Where was this lineup for the rest of the season?
We have argued reasons for why Millsap can or can't play the small forward position. I certainly didn't ever think it would be this successful, but I figured we would see it earlier and more often than we have, for the reasons I stated up above. One reason to not try the lineup is that Millsap wouldn't be able to guard many small forwards. Here is the list of Small Forwards he has had to guard in the last 11 games.
Rudy Gay is the best Small Forward on this list and he had the best performance of any of them, although it wasn't ridiculous or anything. I think the common thread is that none of these small forwards are very versatile other than Gay. The other Small Forwards either aren't very good offensively or else just shoot 3 pointers and can't drive. Millsap hasn't had to guard the Lebron James or Kevin Durants of the league. At the same time, the NBA is short on fantastic, versatile small forwards, so over the course of a season, Paul Millsap would probably be fine.
I also can't imagine that Coach Corbin won't use Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson together often in the playoffs, granted we make the playoffs.
And on top of that, I can't wait to see if this storyline, forces the Jazz to hold onto both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap next season.
In the spirit of jinxing, I'm not even going to mention the fantastic thing that happened last night. Instead, let's talk about this tweet from Jody Gennessy:
While I completely understand any fan who wants the Jazz to retain their own lottery pick, I want to address the second part of Jody's statement. Kevin O'Connor has other options. The Jazz have options and can trade to get a lottery pick if there is a player they want to draft. O'Connor admitted as much to reporters over the weekend.
1. The Jazz will have expiring contracts in Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, and Paul Millsap leading up to the draft. Not only are expiring contracts very valuable in trades, but each of those players have value. Any one of those guys could be traded straight up for a lottery pick.
2. The Jazz could also trade one of those expiring contracts to take back a player with a bad contract along with a lottery pick.
3. The Jazz could use their trade exception to take back a bad contract along with a lottery pick.
4. On top of all of this there are a handful of teams that will have multiple first round picks this draft and would possibly be more willing to trade. New Orleans will have two lottery picks. Portland might have two. Houston will have two picks in the top 20 picks.
Like Jody said, "KOC has options."