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Playoffs or the Draft . . . was it, whatever it is, worth it?

Mar 18, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) reacts during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. The Jazz defeated the Lakers 103-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 18, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) reacts during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. The Jazz defeated the Lakers 103-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Clearly, it would be necessary to do this after the draft happens, or at the very least after the draft lotto happens. However, who knows when I'm going to have free time to talk about this then . . . so . . . here we are. I guess a late night stream of consciousness argument with myself about the whole Playoffs vs. The Draft issue.

First of all, let's look at some points:

  • We are a young team, even our *old guys* aren't really that old
  • The only *good* guy we have on our team who has actually played in the playoffs before was Paul Millsap, and he's only played in 48 games in the playoffs
  • The playoffs are a new animal, and nothing gets you ready for being in the playoffs like actually BEING in the playoffs
  • You have to admit that if Tyrone Corbin had a team fully healthy, and without veteran complications, then we wouldn't have seen the big lineup down the stretch and the playoffs -- and you could argue that some other younger guys wouldn't have played as much as they did
  • It almost seemed like some of our veterans were just happy to make the playoffs, and not actually hungry to be in it -- this was not true for all of our players though (key play: Tony Parker blowing by Big Al -- only to get block from behind by Devin Harris)
  • Some of our best players, or most encouraging signs, in the playoffs were our younger players
  • As a team, we FULLY got our butts kicked.

And lastly, on the record, I did not think that we would have made the playoffs this past year. I am happy that we did; however, I felt like it would have been a fools errand. I was proven wrong by this team, but we had a bit of luck. Let's get into it . . .

The Early Gong:

The Jazz went 1-3 in December, 11-4 in January, and 4-11 in February. Overall, that was a 16-18 record, and at that point in time, it was the 11st best team in the Western Conference. I know. Because I looked it up.

Western Conf. Standings
March 1st, 2012
1 OKC 29 7 80.6% --
2 SAS 24 11 68.6% 4.5
3 LAC 21 12 63.6% 6.5
4 LAL 21 14 60.0% 7.5
5 DAL 21 15 58.3% 8.0
6 HOU 21 15 58.3% 8.0
7 MEM 20 15 57.1% 8.5
8 DEN 19 17 52.8% 10.0
9 POR 18 18 50.0% 11.0
10 MIN 18 19 48.6% 11.5
11 UTA 16 18 47.1% 12.0
12 GSW 14 18 43.8% 13.0
13 PHO 15 20 42.9% 13.5
14 SAC 12 23 34.3% 16.5
15 NOR 8 27 22.9% 20.5

The Jazz ended up leap frogging the Houston Rockets (#6), Portland Trail Blazers (#9), Minnesota Timberwolves (#10), while staving off the Phoenix Suns (#13), and watched the Golden State Warriors (#12) tank like no one had tanked before. The Jazz won the games they had to, but honestly, the Jazz had a lot of help in getting to the playoffs. And this concerns me. Did the Jazz have an easier route this year? Is this year a "mirage" as a result? Does asking this question make me a bad fan? Or should I just not ask questions and stop being so negative all the time?

The Jazz went on to win 20 of their next 32 games. A number of those games were against the teams we had to leapfrog. So there you go, in a zero sum world that works perfectly. Let's move on.

I wish.


The Playoff Push:

The Jazz won the games they had to, but like I stated earlier, we also had some significant help too.

  • Houston Rockets: this team had an epic collapse, and fell from grace very hard losing almost all the impossible to lose games down the stretch.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: this team blew everything up, they could have easily still contended for a playoff spot like Utah, Houston, and Phoenix did -- but they wanted to start early on the crazy.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: they lost their second best player in Ricky Rubio -- their main PG stud, and were still beating the Jazz in the standings and on the court. They went into full stealth tank mode and we were gifted the #3 spot in the division by the actions of the Blazers and Wolves on account of their injuries -- we didn't win the #3 spot because we were truly better than them
  • Golden State Warriors: they don't mess around when tanking (goaltending a game winner that was going to miss, etc), yet somehow they were still beating us head to head. Even at this stage in the season the Jazz were only 1 game ahead of them. If they tried their hardest down the stretch I could expect them to fall off a bit -- but let's not fall prey to the idea that they were as bad as their W/L record indicates. We were ahead of GSW on March 1st, but who is to say that they don't stun us again in that must win game we played?
  • Phoenix Suns: we beat them when it counted, fair and square. They did us no favors either. So suck it, Phoenix.

Those are five teams that, for the most part, could have given us more trouble than they did down the stretch. One of them lost a starter (Minny), two tanked outright (Blazers, Warriors), and one had an epic collapse (Rockets). All four of those teams will be better next year than they were this year. (Unless they are legit injured next year too) Minny will be challenging for that #8 spot next year. Portland could, if they sign the right FAs and buy enough draft picks. Golden State can't possible by worse with a healthy Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry. Houston can't have a failure to launch again either. And Phoenix, well, it all depends on what Steve Nash does.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because it would look really dumb to make the playoffs this year, only to not make it next year. And homer hat off -- we made the playoffs this year because we were kinda lucky. I don't expect the Jazz to be lucky every year. Yes, we're going to be better next year too. I just hope for our sake we're better than these 5 teams next year and make the playoffs again.

If we don't then we know that this playoff push was a mirage. Speaking of misunderstanding quality for mirages let's talk about our playoff push in terms of our team here. It wasn't just other teams doing poorly that got us in the playoffs. That was a huge part and to deny it is folly, but it's also who we played. If Earl Watson, Raja Bell, and Josh Howard were all healthy and amicable, then Tyrone Corbin plays them. And he plays them big minutes. I've pointed out elsewhere that leading up to his injury Raja Bell's MPG went up every month this season. And Josh was playing over 27 mpg too. I don't hate old people, but I think that these two guys flat out STOLE minutes from younger guys this year. And these minutes are wasted on these two guys because they both don't have futures with this team. Only one of them even played in the playoffs. 300 of Josh's minutes wouldn't have better helped him get ready for the playoffs, but 300 more minutes to Alec Burks would have. But hey, I'm just a crazy guy who hates old people.

Fair enough. I may not love old people, but I love winning. Who were we playing during our playoff push? Thanks to injuries we got a chance to play the right guys. The guys who worked hard and didn't jack shots in the playoffs. The guys who fought to get in the playoffs. The same guys who hustled during the playoffs. Which guys? The young guys. Sorry. That's the fact. And you all saw it.


The Playoffs:

Our best players played poorly. And the players that looked the best did not get the playing time needed during the regular season to have the confidence or respect to make a difference. We lost every game, and only Game 4, the pride game, was close. The rotations were all messed up -- and we were severely outclassed by a team that is on a mission this year.

I think we would have done better if we faced enough team. The Spurs have a way of making us look worse than we actually are.

All in all, I expected the series to go, at a maximum, only 5 games. We lost in 4. We made it to the show, and didn't last long. It is a learning experience. Guys like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors got good minutes. Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, and Enes Kanter got their feet wet. Jeremy Evans played in garbage time. What else is new? If Ty's best case scenario was in effect Josh and Raja and C.J. Miles are all healthy and ready to go, so we see less Burks, less DeMarre, and less of the Big lineup (Paul Millsap at the three). I think we dodged a bullet.


My concerns of playoffs vs. draft:

While I did not think we needed more lotto picks (as players, if we had more lotto picks we should have packaged them with some dead weight to sign a good veteran who fills a need for us, I dunno, three point making maybe?), I felt like this season would have been an Icarus year. Basically a year where we aim for something and fail hard at it. Specifically, the Jazz franchise were aiming for the playoffs -- and during stretches of this season it looked like a deluded fantasy. I was certain that the Jazz were not going to make the playoffs this year, especially not when giving big minutes to Raja Bell and Josh Howard.

It was with some measure of grim satisfaction that I viewed their injuries, and as a miracle, we started to win games again. Funny. Really funny.

With a gun to my head if you gave me the option to either:

A) Aim for the playoffs and fail, and get a lotto pick


B) Give big minutes to younger guys, and if you don't make the playoffs you get a lotto pick

then I would have gone with B every time. However the situation changed. The removal of the bad veterans which allowed the younger players to play more -- while actually being a threat to make the playoffs -- happened. This wasn't an issue of A or B anymore. We got option C: Both.

Really. This was the best of not just a bad situation -- but the best situation period.


Option C:

Play the younger guys, while aiming for the playoffs.

I may elect to go into more detail about this later, but tonight isn't the night for an Option C post.


The aftermath:

We did play the younger guys, and we did make the playoffs. And the bad older players were exposed in the playoffs -- while our youth shone like diamonds. All in all, this was a great year in terms of promoting / giving evidence for my own opinions. Which sucks for people who don't agree with me.

The Jazz are 1 year ahead of schedule because they got a little help from other teams ahead of the Jazz having crappy luck, and because we were visited by a very selective injury bug. If we lose Devin Harris, instead of Raja Bell, we don't make the playoffs for example.

My idea was to season the youth so that when we DO make the playoffs (my target was next year) that we are good enough to win a damn game in the playoffs, and be good enough to be in the playoffs for a very long time (the next year, the year after that, and so on). This team, the mirage of the playoffs clearly on the minds of our front office, is honestly at risk of missing the playoffs next year if they don't improve.

The team needs to keep improving. Even if that means making a tough decision about some of our popular players (be them established veterans or younger dudes).


My Expectations:

In a Post-Sloan Utah Jazz world I'm content for the Jazz to fix one problem every season. In Big Al's first year we sucked at rebounding. Drafting Enes Kanter, giving Derrick Favors more playing time, and having guys like Paul and Al go harder fixed that. I'm satisfied in that regard. Even guys like Gordon Hayward and Josh Howard helped on the glass. As a team we fixed that problem. And I hope that problem is gone for good.

There are other problems that need to be addressed. And I hope the Jazz get around to fixing them too. I don't want them to half fix 3 things when they could fix one thing fully, for good. (Like what they did with rebounding) In my estimation here are our problems:

  • Three point shooting
  • Solve the backup PG issue (more professional veterans, or find the 'next one' to apprentice behind Harris)
  • Bench scoring
  • and D.E.F.E.N.S.E.

Three point shooting, bench scoring, and having a better back-up PG all look to improve, directly, our offense. And we were the #4 team in the league in offense. (IT all broke down vs. the Spurs though because of its' inherent imbalance ...) Getting better defenders on the floor is a must. Guys who hustle and dig out those 50/50 balls. Guys who are hungry. Guys who show on pick and rolls.Guys who challenge shots at the rim. Guys who foul, and earn the foul -- and not get called for a foul because their belly hit Tony Parker in the ass.

I'm holding breath for the PG issue to be resolved in the 2013-2014 off-season (we resign Devin Harris, and draft his eventual replacement -- and yes, I'm still nuts for Myck Kabongo, he'll have a great year this upcoming year). I think that bench scoring is easily rectified by more consistent play from one of our wings, or moving Millsap to the bench.

So I hope the Jazz fix the defense or three point shooting this off season.

IF they do that it retroactively changes this year from that Mirage year (which is better than the Icarus year) into a building block year.


Parting thoughts:

We made the playoffs, by playing the right guys. If we played the guys Ty wanted to play we don't make it. I will defend that point till my dying breath. (The record agrees with me too) We dodged that bullet. We don't get another lotto pick -- which is great. Lotto talent is fine, but if you look at our cap issue, all these rookie deals for lotto picks add up. They aren't cheap 2nd rounders anymore. Greg Miller is signing checks for high priced guys. We need bigtime play that's equal to their salary in the next few years.

Time will tell what we define this year by. But as far as seasons go it was one of the most exciting in a long while. And I think many of us hold this season in high esteem, and this team as one of the most loveable teams since that crazy Sloan/AK/Harpring/Arroyo team that almost made the playoffs. A team that won 6 more games than this one did.