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The Utah Jazz Hope For Backcourt Balance: The Downbeat #1696

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Let's talk about what we don't know we don't know. It's your Tuesday Downbeat.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hardest things about this time of year for Jazz fans is that we know all the storylines. Or rather, we know what we think we know, and until the season starts, we can't figure out what we don't know. And other plot threads may arise that we don't know we don't know about.

One thing we can do right now, though, is watch as national sites explore storylines we've already kinda beaten to death. Sooooo...let's do that for a bit.

Here's an example: This Hardwood Paroxysm chart showing the NBA starting lineups and whether their Wins Above Replacement came from the frontcourt or backcourt positions:

The article's description for the Jazz:

No other team had more wins above replacement in their starting frontcourt than the Utah Jazz. They're up there, in the top left corner, with a negative WARP for their backcourt and a 9.45 WARP from Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. That's a young, talented, and potentially dominant frontcourt playing basketball in Salt Lake City, and if Quin Snyder can develop Dante Exum and Trey Burke, while reincorporating Alec Burks into the rotation somewhere, the Jazz have the foundation to contend for a playoff spot this year. Don't overlook Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert as one of the best forward-center combinations in the game as well. They have the physical tools to match up against anybody.

Nothing we don't already know -- obviously the Jazz's wins were due far more to Hayward, Favors, and Gobert than anyone else -- but interesting to see plotted out. I'm not sure it necessarily means anything, but yeah, it'd be nice to get more of a contribution from the starting backcourt this year, difficult though it might be.

Here's another storyline we've kicked around a lot: what does Trey Burke's future look like with the Jazz? I wasn't on Twitter on Sunday night when it made the rounds, but this HoopsHabit article, for one, thinks Trey's future should be as Jazz starter:

Answer this question.

What point guard on Utah's roster averaged the most points, assists, steals, rebounds last year? What point guard also had the best assist to turnover ratio?

That answer is none other than Trey Burke.

[...]

It hasn't been exactly like it was at Michigan but Burke hasn't been a terrible NBA player. He's gotten a lot of flak but has definitely been a solid professional. The beauty of Burke's 12.8 points per game is that he shot 36 percent from the floor. If Burke can get his shooting percentage near the mid-40s then he'll be averaging close to 16 points a night.

[...]

Why is Exum starting? Because his "upside" is higher than Burke's? What about his production? Upside is what got Hasheem Thabeet, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Darko Milicic chances in the league.

A lack of production is what all got them out.

Dennis Lindsey has done a masterful job when it comes to assembling this roster. Finding gems such as Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood in the draft has been his speciality. It seems like Exum has been forced fed into the starting role because management doesn't want to look like they made a mistake by drafting a bust at No. 5.

Hmm. Well. There's a lot there that I disagree with. At the very least, I'm confused by the argument that the Jazz have given up on Trey Burke too soon and yet Dante Exum has already shown enough to be a bust. Two years is too soon to give up, but half of one year as starter isn't?

Beyond that, I get the author's point. (And please don't go harass him on Twitter over it; he got enough of that on Sunday.) Burke, to this point, has vastly outmatched Exum when it comes to counting stats, especially scoring. But that's exactly why I'm happy to have Trey on the bench, where that scoring is needed. And where the Jazz can afford to give him the 13 shots a game he has needed to score those 12.8 points.

Out of guards who played in at least 50 games and more than 20 minutes per game, Trey Burke's 45.5% True Shooting percentage (which takes three-point and free-throw shooting into account) ranks 100th out of 102 qualified players. Guess who comes in at 98th? Dante Exum (45.7%).

But Exum only scored 4.8 points per game, and Trey scored 12.8. Even accounting for minutes played, why the discrepancy? Because Trey took more shots (13.2 vs 5.1).

I feel like I'm belaboring the point, and I know you guys know all this already. There's an argument to be made that the more confident scorer should be given more opportunities to score. Maybe, if Exum took 13 shots a game, he'd score the same amount. (That's what the numbers say.) But that doesn't mean he should.

And maybe the fact that he hasn't taken those shots is proof that he won't. Or it could just mean that a very young player, who didn't have the experience of leading a team through the NCAA tournament, needed time to adjust to the NBA.

I'm throwing a lot of "coulds" and "maybes" and "times" around here. The truth is that I don't know. I don't even know what I don't know yet. (I do know that I didn't even mention defense in this section, and neither did the author of the original piece. The stats there favor Exum.)

I'll end with this, though. I think we've moved past the era of counting stats and scoring as all-encompassing factors in player evaluation. We have so much more data available now, even as fans: shooting formulas, usage rates, offensive and defensive efficiency, and stuff like SportVU movement tracking to boot. We also have intelligent, patient analysts on every NBA team who know how to take time to process that data. I'm happy to wait, myself.

(One last point before leaving this subject: Analysis does not equal dislike. I want both Trey Burke and Dante Exum to succeed. I know how hard they work and I believe they can. It's not a zero-sum game. You don't have to pick a side. I believe there are optimal ways to use both players in the context of this Jazz roster, and I am confident the Jazz staff will figure that out.)

Okay, I wrote too much. Time for your writing. FanPosts!

Beeblebrox42 plays a game of Guess Who:

It's the offseason and I'm bored, so let's play a game. I have some tables below with one of our frontcourt players' stats next to some comparable guys. These are all single season stats. Our guys are from this year, everyone else is from some random year (in the last 20 years) where their play was similar to what the Jazzman produced in similar minutes.

And kbazl tries not to get carried away:

So I have always thought of myself as an optimist. I understand the pessimistic "worst case scenario" and acknowledge that there is a real possibility of said scenario coming into a hellish fruition. I understand the realist's angle of accepting things as they literally are. But I like to focus the majority of my attention and thoughts from the optimists perspective. Mostly because it is fun and it gets me psyched for the future. So i'm going to start my whole shpeal on why i am downright giddy about this team's future.

Click through to read both. Thanks, y'all! Have a turkey leg.

Rodney Hood's hometown newspaper the Meridian Star ran this profile on the young Jazzman:

Having played college ball at Mississippi State and Duke before being selected with the 23rd overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, hood said living in Salt Lake City has been a different but enjoyable experience.

"It's a great city," Hood said. "It has beautiful mountains, and there are a lot of things to do as far as skiing and rock climbing goes. It's kind of like the South in their perspective, because there are a lot of good people out there."

First time I've heard Utah described as "like the South." (Not that I've spent a lot of time in Mississippi.) But I'm glad Rodney has felt comfortable here.

I know it's something of a PR angle the Jazz like to tout -- I found this article via the @UtahJazzPR Twitter account, as a matter of fact -- and it may not have a ton to do with the on-court product. But I do think the Jazz try to find players whose personalities fit the fanbase. Speaking of which...

...here's Dennis Lindsey talking about what the Jazz look for in international players, which confirms the previous point (transcription by Moni, natch):

And so the cultural awareness, the worldliness that others can bring back to a team environment makes it really rich and interesting. And at the end of the day, I don't care if a guy's from Salt Lake City or Detroit or Houston or L.A. or Serbia — you know, the country of Serbia — or France or Spain or China. It doesn't really matter.

It's what that individual can bring back to the group. It's individual merit inside of a team setting. But each guy that we've brought on with international playing and coaching experience, I do think has individual merit and will add to what is starting to become a unique group.

Well said.

Bonus point: where did Hakeem Olajuwon learn his Dream Shake? From John Stockton, says Dennis:

[...]Watching Hakeem play every day, it's — I know this is gonna be strange, but there are times that — I believe John Stockton, Steve Nash were two of the best at what we call playing between the dribbles. And Hakeem copied that in many ways. He just did it on the post.

So, if I were to break down his basic move — everybody talks about the Dream Shake, and the up-and-under. And really, the program on Houston, from a scheme standpoint, an offensive scheme standpoint, was built around Hakeem's jump hook. And if I were to show you his footwork, it was, watching him work every day was like watching, I would imagine, Picasso paint. I mean, it was part formulaic, but really it was as much art.

And he could dribble a ball once, and instead of immediately grabbing the ball, in layman's terms, he would let the ball drop. So he was able to get in an extra, what we call step-slide, in between the dribble, and letting the ball drop. And so he could cover huge amounts of ground in between dribbles. And you see a lot of players on the perimeter do it. Hakeem just did it on the post, and he covered so much ground and he was so graceful.