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The Downbeat #1820: The Best of Times, Worst of Times Edition

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The Jazz are barely hanging onto the 8th spot in the West. Will the cavalry arrive in time?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With last night's loss the Jazz are barely hanging onto the 8th seed in the playoff race.  Portland and Sacramento are hot on their heels and losing to both teams is probably going to hurt.  With the injuries to Favors, Gobert, Exum, and Hood this past season the Jazz are constantly having to bail out the ship.  Quin Snyder has used an insanely high amount of different lineups this year.  The Jazz's best performing lineup of Raul Neto, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert has not been seen since November.

Just hold that thought, the Jazz's best lineup has not been together since November.  The Jazz's 3rd and 4th best performing lineups are not even a possibility right now with the injury of Alec Burks.  Their 5th and 6th best performing lineups are not a possibility without Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.  Without Trevor Booker, their 7th-11th best lineups are not a possibility.

For those complaining that the Utah Jazz are less than average and disappointing ... you're right.  But not for reasons of lack of effort or hustle.  The Jazz are hurt.  Their best players are out and their unique advantages do not exist.  The Utah Jazz are 17-21 without their best players for a lot of that time.  For a bit of perspective for those crying that the Utah Jazz have taken a step back at this time last year the Jazz were 13-26 and that was with a very healthy team.  Quin Snyder is probably doing the best coaching job in the league right now and no one is going to think twice about it.  The Jazz are 4 games ahead of year they were last year and their best players are out.

There have been some crazy calls to trade Gordon Hayward.  While I have said in the past that Gordon Hayward would probably net the Jazz the most money on the trade market the Utah Jazz would not dream of moving him midseason in a year filled with injuries.  It wouldn't make sense and it would be counterintuitive to their long-term plan.  Not when they have evidence that their lineup of Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert can destroy worlds.  They wouldn't move Gordon Hayward until Dante Exum is back and they can reap the results.

Next year if that lineup fails, yes, there'd be some injuries to break up that pack and retool a little bit with Exum & Gobert being the foundation, but not now.  Not when they're so close to creating something amazing.  For the Jazz to move Gordon Hayward this year they would have to receive something very amazing back.  Something that would cause Dennis Lindsey to scrap a 5 year plan that is in its 3rd year.  I don't believe that deal exists out there.  The superstar or lottery asset that would cause him that much reservation just does not exist on the market.

With all of the injuries, there has been one player in particular that has taken advantage of his minutes and improved.  It's not Rodney Hood.  It's not Jeff Withey.  It's not Tibor Pleiss.  It's not Trey Burke.  It's Trey Lyles.  Trey Lyles has been taken more and more steps to becoming a bonafide starting caliber player.  That is pretty incredible considering he looked completely lost at the beginning of the season.  Let's take a look at Trey Lyle's month by month progression ... shall we?

Trey Lyles

Now here's where things get interesting ... if he just take an average growth and assume that Trey Lyles continues to cannibalize Trevor Booker's minutes, Derrick Favors & Rudy Gobert continue to be in and out of the lineup, and assume Trey Lyles continues to improve Trey soon is going to be a 15 ppg, 9.5 rpg, and 2.3 assists a game player.

But there's one big assumption to this if scenario, he learns how to play defense.  Currently when Trey is on the floor in the month of January the Utah Jazz are getting outscored by 7.7 points total.  Not exactly a winning combination.  But for development's sake, Trey Lyles has hit the lottery.  This big man absence is reminiscent of when Carlos Boozer was down for a time and Paul Millsap took advantage of the extra time.  Trey Lyles development is being put into hyperdrive and will only help the Utah Jazz in the future.

What is hurting the Jazz the most during this injury stretch is it is occurring when their schedule has finally lightened up.  This was supposed to be when the Utah Jazz could go on a tear and rack up some easy Ws.  With the major players being out of the lineup, the Utah Jazz have not been able to create any separation between them and the middle of the pack teams fighting for the 8th seed.  If Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert had been healthy all season the Utah Jazz are most likely fighting for a 5th seed and are the feel good story of the year.  Instead they are a pain point for the Western Conference as people can point to them and say, "The Western Conference is down and nothing says that more than a below .500 team making the playoffs."  Wins have not come any easier and the Jazz have just as little room to make mistakes now as they did when playing the tougher schedule.  This is a huge deal.

Mentally the Jazz are having just a hard of time winning than before.  One could say the Jazz are mentally stronger than they ever have been.  This will allow them to play with a tougher mindset once everyone is healthy and allow them to go on a winning streak with a team at full strength.

Or there's the negative part to it.  The Utah Jazz wear down before the cavalry arrives.  They're stuck waiting on an island without a rescue party in sight.  They have survived the hardest part only to let their mental fatigue finally take over.  They'll start losing winnable game just because they're mentally exhausted.  Gordon Hayward is shouldering a load that is incredibly heavy.  Jeff Withey hits the athletic wall of his abilities.  Trey Lyles hits the rookie wall before a veteran is able to fill in for when he struggles.  Trevor Booker tries to do too much to compensate.  Raul Neto hits the rookie wall and is detrimental to the team.  Trey Burke tries to shoulder some of the load albeit successfully but has no help.  Rudy Gobert re-injures his knee trying to rush his return.  Derrick Favors re-injures his back trying to return to quickly.  Rodney Hood trying to shoulder the load becomes frustrated and plays out of his game.  A lot of these things have started to happen.  It's not really the players' fault per se.  They are playing beyond their capability which is amazing.  Quin Snyder has pushed them to their limits.  But ... everyone has a limit.  The question for this season is not going to be "When did the Utah Jazz give up?", it's going to be "Did help arrive in time?".

Let's end this on a positive note, shall we?  Let's assume that Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are able to return back to the lineup for 30+ mpg this season.  The Utah Jazz will have back in their lineup 4/5 of their defensive monster from last year.  That lineup is able to get into the playoffs and give the young Utah Jazz team a taste of what it takes to go far in the playoffs.  Dante Exum then returns from injury in the summer.  He more than likely won't see a minute in a Summer League game.  He returns to full health.  The Jazz then have a bench of Trey Burke, Raul Neto, Alec Burks, a developed Trey Lyles, a more developed Tibor Pleiss, and others.  They finally take the plunge and go for that specialist free agent for outside shooting, giving Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert the spacing they so richly deserve.  In essence, the Jazz are on track for where they expected to be.  If we told you that the Utah Jazz would be in the 8th spot of Western Conference playoffs at the beginning of the season you would have been ecstatic.  Likewise if we told you they would end the year with a losing record you would have felt the Utah Jazz missed the mark.  Now that we see the final result that they are with a losing record WITH a grip ton of injuries, we can understand the mixture of emotions it's causing you.