This new season is a good chance to test some of my beliefs about NBA basketball. I’ll combine my beliefs with the predictions that reasonably should follow.
Belief no. 1. NBA coaches don’t make much difference in winning or losing. No statistical studies that I have heard of find any difference. Kevin Pelton speculates that if a coach did make a difference, it would be no more that five games. I have also heard, however, that coaches can make a difference on defense. So maybe in the best case scenario the team improves it’s defense and wins a few more games. I think Snyder is likely a better coach than Corbin (snarky comments here) so I think he will add more wins. He’s a rookie though, so I’m not going to give him five. I’ll say three. Add to that the fact that the Jazz now have an NBA level bench (as opposed to a D league) and just natural growth, and I think the jazz will win somewhere between 5-10 more games this year.
Prediction: 30-35 wins.
Belief no. 2. Kanter and Favors were terrible together last year. The numbers don’t lie and all of them are bad. It’s becasue both of them play to a large extent in the same floor space around the key and having both of them out there clogs up the offense AND the defense. The only real solution is that Kanter becomes a stretch four. He didn’t really shoot that great from 18ft and out last year, but that was the first time he took a lot of those kind of shots. So I’m going to give him a 30% chance at shooting over 30% for three. Not that great. Plus, him out there on the perimeter takes away from his most obvious strength, which is scoring in the post.
Prediction 1: the Kanter/Favors experiment Fails.
Prediction 2: the jazz end up playing a lot of small ball with Favors or Kanter at center and Novak or Hayward at four.
Belief no 3. Pace and when you take shots in the shot clock have very little correlation with winning. Locke had a good podcast on this, but I don’t think he really drew the same conclusion. I think running more fits the personnel and the altitude, but aside from that, a young, poor shooting team doing everything faster seems like a good way to increase turn-overs, bad shoots, and poor decisions.
Prediction: pace metrics go up way more than the jazz’s offensive rankings.
Belief No. 4. Players usually don’t make big jumps after their 3rd year. The historical record is unambiguous. We keep waiting for Favors to suddenly "get it" on offense or Kanter to suddenly "get it" on D, for Burks to explode into Harding or Westbrook territory, for Hayward to become a No 1. option (though maybe he’s the only one still thinking that). The odds are that none of those things are going to happen. There are caveats though. Kanter is way behind the curve on playing time, not having played for two years between college and the lock out. Big men take longer to develop. Burks has a couple of elite skills in his ability to get to the hoop and get fouled. And Hayward has a lot of ways to fill up a boxscore. But…. the odds are the odds.
Prediction: From now on, the core 4 make small incremental improvements rather than anything drastic.
Belief No. 5. Gordon Hayward is a streak shooter. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Every year since college, Gordon Hayward has had long streaks of good and long streaks of bad shooting.
Prediction: Hayward will spend a long part of the year shooting above 40% for 3 and a long part shooting below 33%
Belief No. 6. While talent (at least at the perimeter and the rim) is the most important factor playing good defense, team defense can improve with buy-in and schemes. The players all seem to be enthusiastic about Snyder who has made defense a priority. In particular, I have heard getting back on D emphasized, and area which is particularly low-hanging fruit for the Jazz. Plus, they literally can’t get much worse.
Prediction: the Jazz D rating jumps up into the low 20s.
Belief No. 7a and 7b. You need a superstar (a high usage/high efficiency scorer with one of two other above average skills) to be a contender and Denis Lindsey knows what he is doing. This is more of a long term prediction/hope. It is very difficult to predict whether Dante Exum will turn into a superstar. In addition, the kind of superstar required to contend is almost never a pass first point guard. The odds are none of the other players the jazz currently have will ever become more than a good third option on a contender. That means trades have to be made. Who knows when though. If everyone makes incremental improvements and they can sign Kanter and Burks to reasonable contracts, they might just keep the team together until Exum turns into Kobe or a blockbuster deal presents itself. I personally think you need more churn in personnel to have a chance at stumbling across that diamond you need, but that doesn’t seem to be the Jazz way. Which may turn out to be their tragic flaw. I’ve heard rumors that the jazz could have had Eric Bledsoe at different times but passed. Seems like a mistake to me. I’d trade anyone but Favors for Bledsoe in an instant. But I think Lindsey does understand the realities of NBA basketball and that the Miller’s--at least for the present--are letting him run the team. And if those beliefs are correct (and Exum doesn’t pan out), he’s got to make a move sometime.
Prediction: Three years from now, at least three, and very possible more, of the 6 current high draft picks will be gone.
Alternate Prediction: Five years from now a jazz team starting Hayward, Burks, Exum, Favors, and Kanter loses in game six of the second round. This is that iterations peak.