The Utah Jazz have a great core of Hayward, Burks, Hood, Exum, Favors, Burke, and Gobert. In fact, if the Jazz could play them to the ground Thibodeau style, the Jazz would be one of the top 6 teams in the West. But, as has been discussed on this site before, the Jazz's main objective this season is not the playoffs. It's still very much in development. So what are the Jazz trying to develop?
A Reliable 3rd Big
The Jazz drafted Trey Lyles, signed Tibor Pleiss, accepted Trever Booker's 2nd year, and signed Jeff Withey all with the hope of having a reliable backup big. Surely someone out of that core would step up to the plate. Unfortunately, 12 games in all of these players look out of their league. So what is the plan with all of these players?
Most likely Trey Lyles is going to become a resident of Idaho at some point or another. He's going to get pretty familiar with Boise and other cities that are anywhere from 100,000-200,000 residents in size. Don't scoff either. This is not an indictment of Trey Lyles, this is an opportunity. The Jazz are more aligned than they ever have been with their D-League franchise. Rudy Gobert saw huge gains by playing in the D-League and Trey Lyles will be no exception. This will allow the game to slow down for him so that in his second year he'll be a reliable 3rd big in the Jazz's rotation. Until that time, expect Trey to struggle. Remember, he played a position-less role at Kentucky. I don't think he, nor the Jazz, know where he fits right now. D-League will allow Utah to experiment with his future role in their offense and find out what they have without the knocks to his confidence.
Prediction: D-League Development
This is really a make or break season for Booker. Last year Booker was a bargain contract. He played well above his abilities and was a spark plug off the bench. Contrast that to this year where he's a spark to setting our defense a blaze. He has played out of control and his hustle plays are negated by his lack of focus on the defensive end. It's easy to see the Jazz coaching staff has told him to play with his signature energy, but unless he can figure out how to reign it in, hit a few open jumpers, and focus on defense he is at risk of the Jazz making an in season move to remedy this. Booker is getting to the point in his career where performance is expected. The Jazz don't have the resources to spend as much development with him as with other players. This could also reflect how much patience they'll have over the course of the season.
Prediction: Displaced by small ball lineups or big man acquired through trade.
Tibor was acquired through the trade that sent Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was the teammate of coveted Jazz asset Ante Tomic. Unfortunately, his defensive stints have been as effective as Kanter's. He's been atrocious and the game is just too fast for him and different. I believe Tibor will adjust, it just won't be this season. Expect Tibor to join Lyles in the D-League for some development, conditioning, and much needed playing time in the American style. Tibor has the size but he isn't ready for the athleticism of the NBA ... yet. Give him development, an offseason at P3, and time to adjust and he'll be a value acquisition next year. But this year? Don't expect much from him.
Prediction: D-League Development.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of all the terrible big man play is Jeff Withey. Jeff Withey is what he is. The Jazz are not going to spend a lot of time on development with him, but he is a stop gap until the backup Jazz bigs get their act together or are replaced. The Jazz had a huge need for a backup big in the offseason (I advocated Bismack Biyombo, but what do I know). Instead the Jazz kept to their core of trying to find undervalued players and hope they break out. Last year was a great example of that succeeding with Rudy Gobert, Trevor Booker, and Joe Ingles. This year it's an example of how it can blow up in your face. That strategy, while cost effective for small market teams, comes with a lot more risk. That's why other teams with front the cash required to minimize that risk of failure. The other side of that coin is the Jazz have to dump countless hours into development. If the player doesn't have work ethic, it will fall on deaf ears. So while Jeff Withey is nothing spectacular. He knows what he is, he knows what he does well, can't carry a team, and he understands the NBA game. All great qualities for your 5th big. But if it's your 3rd best big, you're in trouble.
Prediction: Takes hold of the 3rd big spot until displaced by trade acquisition.