The Utah Jazz have started off this season on a really poor tear if all you really care about are wins and losses. Some fans, well, some fans would rather take the easy way of continuously renting mercenaries and fight for an 8th seed every year (Displaced Burrito Merchants probably); but that's directly NOT what the Jazz org is even trying to do or aiming to do. Some other fans want to defend whatever the front office does, so in this case, they should be defending the losing if they want to maintain their credibility of white knighting every decision the brain trust makes. A third group of fans are just kiss ups trying to find their own fandom still.
I'm none of those things, and I'm still okay with the way things are going this year. Because we have lost 8 games let me go over 8 reasons why:
1. I am not basing this season on Wins or Losses.
As a fan you always root for the win, but this season is a different animal; a completely different experiment. Dennis Lindsey (aka, the man in charge) has taken the pressure off of this club by removing the sometimes opposing goal of winning games. Free of the need to 'win now' the team can focus on the heralded D&D year (development and discovery). Because my way of grading the team isn't based on wins or losses the lack of any wins after eight games (or eighty) doesn't bother me at all. The Jazz aren't going for wins this year, and it's obvious. There are a few reasons why. The first is to take the pressure off, as stated above. The coach can be free to experiment and try different things / think outside of the box. He shouldn't be worried about his job based on the expectation of wins. (Does that mean this year Tyrone Corbin has immunity to being fired? Of course not. Just that Wins or Losses should not be a contributing factor to an early termination.) The other reason why the Jazz benefit from not having to be a horny dog trying to hump everything at crotch level in order to get a win this year is that, well, this is a good year to suck because championship teams are really built through the draft.
2. Being an 0-8 team at the beginning of the year is a product of many factors.
The team was built to lose games (the coach isn't tanking, the players are trying their hardest to win -- but the front office clearly built an incomplete roster in ORDER to tank. THEY are the tankers, the very people with the most job security. It's a lot like corporate America in that regard). The team has a crappy opening schedule. The team had 5 rotation players injured to start the season (Trey Burke, Brandon Rush, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Evans, and Andris Biedrins). The largest disparity in talent lost to talent remaining is at point guard. The team has played a number of good point guards to start the season. And the team is new, with lots of new players, and returning players in new roles. This was a team that was designed to have a bad start, and the bad start was ensured by bad injuries and a bad starting schedule. It's not the end of the world.
The newness will be changed into familiarity as the roles are tweaked in practices and film sessions. Guys like Brandon and Marvin are almost 100% back from injury. Trey and Jeremy can't be too far behind. The schedule gets easier in January. A lot of the problems that the team faces to start the season are not going to be problems the team faces to finish the season. So I'm not upset.
Lastly, losing all those games in a row at the start when we do have legit challenges displays a team that's trying to find itself. If the Jazz, after a full season of getting better, finished the season on an 0-8 run it would look like a blatant tank. This is the stealth tank all season long. We are doing it all at the start of the season so it's less obvious.
3. The team getting better is also going to be obvious and we'll finish the season on a positive swing.
But more on this as the season goes on -- but you already know that Gordon Hayward takes a few months to start going. He's going to be balling like crazy to finish the season and head into restricted free agency. Guys like Enes Kanter and Alec Burks will be too as they'll be going into their summer where they can get their contracts extended.
4. Good players can still lose games because of a crappy bench.
The bench was a mess with all the injuries, and as a result, our main players were running out of energy and we let two games we should have won slip away. (No doubt in my mind that if the team had a Brandon Rush or Trey Burke healthy in Phoenix we pull away from the Suns in the early 4th) Those were the first two games of the season. The Jazz, with a stronger bench and better rested starters aren't an 0-8 team. The situation was really bad, but it's behind us. While I still don't know why Jeremy Evans is out so long, Trey Burke is on the mend. He could be balling in another two weeks. Andris Biedrins, and his Latvian Tornado spin move, may not play for a long while -- but I'm really okay with having Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams back. They are vets. They were both lotto picks (so it's not like they came into the league as scrubs). They both do things we really need -- they play defense, rebound, and make threes. They both also slash and can make free throws; but the first three things are the larger needs. They are both back much earlier than I expected as well.
Marvin missed the end of last season to yet another serious injury. He's come back and looks like he's ready to contribute. He's averaging nearly 15 mpg but he's still trying to find his place within this new Jazz team. This is his first season EVER playing on a team without an offensive ball stopper (he's dealt with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith with the Atlanta Hawks, and had to deal with Al Jefferson and the #MOLO experience with the Utah Jazz last year). He is shooting over 40% from downtown so far, and in his limited minutes he is contributing. If you bumped him up to 36 mpg he's adding 7 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 1 when he's on the floor. Scoring is down, but that's because, again, he's still trying to find his place on this new team. But I like what he's shown so far in small doses.
Brandon Rush is coming off of an even longer absence, and more serious injury. He has only played 10 minutes in one game, but I expect him to be contributing in no time. At the very least he gives our coaching staff another option at the wing when we need steady, dependable play and are looking to sit mercurial guard Alec Burks.
And both Rush and Williams not only help the team with their defense and three point shooting, but are also in contract years. They will be motivated to play as efficiently as possible.
5. Holy crap Rudy Gobert is a steal!
Most Jazz fan's don't even remember how we got him (we traded our 2nd round, pick #46 player Erick Green and cash for him). Our very own "bébé girafe" is fun, but he's going to grow into a very solid player. (And these guys who stick in the NBA don't usually come from the bottom of the first round according to the data from 82games.com) He can't dribble but he got his first assist of his career last night on an inside dump to Derrick Favors for an And-1 contact finish. Gobert is also a bigman who has come out of the womb or shell or egg or whatever giraffes come out of, displaying an ability to hit free throws. Right now he's sub-Fesenko at the NBA level (37.5 ft%), but in the summer league and preseason he was stroking it, and seems like he could be quite serviceable from the line as a pro.
The last bigman we had at around his draft spot was Kosta Koufos. As a rookie Kosta played in only 48/82 games, and managed to play 11.8 mpg. The last bigman we had with his length and defensive potential was Kyrylo Fesenko. As a rookie Fes played in only 9/82 games, and at 7.8 mpg. So far this season Gobert is playing in every single game, and playing 13.0 mpg. He's getting that early experience (success or fail) that a young player needs in order to develop faster.
It's almost like the Jazz are finally learning from past mistakes. Taking the winning out of the equation the Jazz are finally free to really try to maximize the potential of their youth. And that's an AWESOME thing.
6. Trey Burke is injured. He is not always going to be injured.
Trey Burke missing these early games sucks, but if he's able to assume some level of control and ability as a player he will look really good as a direct comparison to how poorly John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley have handled their offensive loads. It may work in Trey's favor as his return should coincide with the obvious and eventual Jazz winning % turn around. I feel like in this situation Trey can be a Rookie of the Year candidate. Getting the legs under Gordon Hayward and company helps stabilize the role that Trey will assume when he is finally on the court for us. I would have rather that he played every game in the preseason, never got hurt, and played every game in the regular season. It would have only helped our team, our record, our morale as a fan base, and helped Trey adjust to the NBA speed in real time.
Burke is going to come back, and while this is the silver lining, I will take it because despite what people on the internet think, I am an optimist (but also a realist who looks at data, and doesn't become and ostrich when the data says the head coach is bad, despite what the local PR department suggests). Trey is also going to be fine here with other people making life easy for him. I'm cool with this injury because out of all the types of hand injuries you could get, this one isn't one to make life hard for him going forward as a basketball player.
7. Our young bigs are young and big.
Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are 21 and 22 years old, and starting regularly as a tandem for the first time in their careers. And collectively, they are averaging: 29.0 ppg, 17.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg, and 2.1 bpg. Last season Al Jefferson (28) and Paul Millsap (27) averaged: 34.2 ppg, 16.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.3 spg, and 2.1 bpg. What's the difference in production? Well, last year's starting bigs averaged +5.2 ppg more, +1.7 apg more, and +1.3 spg more (which is really all Millsap, who is a beast). This year's bigs average +1.0 more rpg. Both tandems average the same number of bpg. Despite the huge experience difference, that's not much to talk about. If our guys start to make their free throws and their fg% naturalizes to their career norms that +5.2 ppg goes down in a hurry.
Oh, and the real big difference is that Kanter and Favors are 21 and 22 years old; and on their rookie deals. I'm totally cool with that, 8 games in with zero wins.
8. Lastly, and most importantly, I just enjoy watching this Jazz team play.
I don't care about wins or losses for this year, as the front office clearly does not either. I don't care about young guys, finally in larger roles with the team, missing FTs, or open jumpers, or turning the ball over. Who else remember Andrei Kirilenko completely destroying Kevin Durant when Durant was a rook? I do. Who else remembers all the air balls from a young Kobe Bryant in the playoffs? I do. Some players learn through on court experience, and they learn FROM mistakes. By babying these guys and pulling them at first discomfort all those years they never got a chance to roll with their mistakes and find success. They are getting a chance to do that right now.
I love seeing growth and all the flashes of hope. Seeing Gordon Hayward assume a leadership role and make his team mates better is more interesting to me than watching Mo Williams take a last second shot with 8 seconds on the shot clock left. I love seeing Alec Burks screw up three times in a row, but be on the floor long enough to make that fourth time turn into pure magic -- and grow from that. I love seeing Derrick Favors struggle, get mad, show emotion, and anchor our defense way better than a detached Paul Millsap who had checked out by the trade deadline. I love seeing Enes Kanter try on pick and roll defense, and incorporate and synthesize the play styles of Karl Malone and Al Jefferson on the floor. Even Richard Jefferson, and his poor metrics, is making me happy to see him on the floor. Dude is a vet, and gives a consistent effort every day. I can root for that over rooting for a guy to start who bases his entire career upon gambling on defense.
It's going to be great to see Trey Burke return and bring clutch play to help us close out close games. It's going to be fun to say "MAAAARRR-VINNN" after he makes an open shot, or find a similarly cool thing to say when Bradon does something good.
Gobert and Ian Clark are already so fun to watch on and off the court.
Jamaal Tinsley is still going to do one amazing play a month, and when Jeremy Evans returns I hope he gets enough play to earn a chance to take his dunk crown back.
I'm really cool with an 0-8 start, because I knew that it was going to be this way. I also knew that it was going to get better, and it's starting to get better already. (Hey, we didn't lose by 24!)
I'm cool with things in Jazz land in the big picture right now. Does that mean I'm happy with everything with the team right now? No. That's not the case. Does that mean that everything gets a pass? No. Not at all. I think Burks is playing a little too out of control. I think John Lucas III isn't shooting as well as he was supposed to be. I don't think that Tyrone Corbin is being creative enough with a "wins don't count" year, and so on.
But over all, in the big picture, starting this season 0-8 doesn't bother me at all.
Heck, I only felt like the team would win 21 games this year (I did not announce that fact because, well, people think I'm too negative -- I have it on record though, but didn't show it to the world yet).
The record of this team is not indicative of how good this team can play this year when at full strength, nor indicative of how well this team is going to play in the future.
It's just 0-8. The Jazz season is 82 games long. Some fans may feel miserable or whatever. Not me. This is what not skipping a step looks like. The losses feel bad, but that's what this is supposed to feel like. We've been very fortunate that we had two super stars play nearly two decades here, mostly under one Hall of Fame Coach, and then that coach stuck around for another decade plus. This is new.
And I'm cool with that.