A 2010 scientific study found the saying "Good things come to those who wait" to be fact and the Utah Jazz are about to become the latest piece of evidence to support the claim.
There’s no question Jazz staff and fans have been patiently waiting for good things as falling just short of the playoffs has been as consistent and predictable as the fall foliage at Salt Lake City’s Alpine Loop in recent years, but that looks all set to change in 2016-17.
The 2015-16 season was the encouraging, yet somewhat disappointing season Jazz fans have been forced to grow accustomed to since the departure of playoff regular coach Jerry Sloan in 2011. Just once have they made it back to the playoffs since - the lockout shortened 2011-12 season where they lost in the first round.
The Jazz (40-42) were just two wins out of the playoffs last season and had a few different things gone their way, we might have been discussing their return and ultimately how deep they run into the 2016-17 playoffs. Instead, two extra losses writes a whole different story.
Injuries, but more so their lack of cover, to big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, played a role which alongside a decidedly average bench, proved too much for the Jazz to make the leap over the eight placed Houston Rockets (42-42). As a team that fights, grinds, protects the rim and steals close wins, they fell just short of where many expected them to be.
After a summer of wondering what could have been, fans in Salt Lake City overwhelmingly expect their team to make the playoffs this season.
The performance curve of their young players as well as the team as a whole is trending upwards, while the curve of two or three 2015-16 playoff teams ahead of them is threatening to take downward turn. This has created an unwavering belief amongst the fanbase that playoff basketball isn’t only expected, but the season would be a disaster without it.
With basketball being played in late April seemingly on the horizon, it’s already time to look to the future and what sort of path they travel to the peak of the NBA mountain.
The shape this team is taking based on 2015-16 analytics and the fact they are in the Western Conference looks strikingly similar to the 2010-11 Memphis Grizzlies as they started their current reign as playoff regulars (6 consecutive seasons).
The Grizzlies over the last six years have established themselves as a team that grinds out regular season wins, plays tough defense, and worries any team preparing to face them in a playoff series.
That’s not far off what Jazz coach Quin Snyder will be instilling in his young team this offseason; "guys have to understand that the team’s most important and winning is the most important thing...I think our group is committed to winning" he told Jody Genessy of Deseret News Sports.
Now that age has caught up and the championship aspirations are optimistic at best, the Grizzlies are no longer "the team nobody wants to face" as Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale had them in 2014. The Utah Jazz are poised to fill that vacancy going forward as they gain the reputation as a defensively strong and resilient team ready to grind out the toughest of wins every night.
David Kay of The Sports Bank previewed the Grizzlies six years ago, a preview that could almost be re-released today for the Jazz. Outside of the obvious defensive reputation the Grizzlies have - and the defensive reputation the Jazz are quickly developing - the 2016-17 Jazz look to be on a similar path to the 2010-11 Grizzlies.
While the Gay, Mayo, Conley trio wasn’t one of longevity, it did kickstart the Grizzlies into becoming a Western Conference force and now, the Jazz have a third year trio of their own in Hayward, Favors and Gobert (minus Rudy’s 45 game, 9 minutes per game rookie season).
Hayward is the Conley of this core trio and like Conley, he’s the one the Jazz rely on, build on and ultimately do their best to keep. Despite a player option for next season and rumours he will opt-out already circulating, it seems unlikely Hayward would move on given the Jazz are capable - and equally as willing - to give him a big money, maximum contract heading into the future.
That being said, he is going to be a highly sought after player should he ever make it onto the free-agency market. If the Jazz appear to stall in their growth as a team and youngsters fail to show positive signs of development, Hayward would be silly not to shop himself around Kevin Durant style.
The Grizzlies heading into the 2010-11 season were considered a young team "With four of their five starters younger than 26 years old, there is still room for growth and improvement." stated Kay.
While possible Jazz starters George Hill (30) and Joe Johnson (35) are well north of 26 years old, the premise of growth and improvement remains. The core group of Hayward, Favors and Gobert are 26 and under while Rodney Hood (23), Alec Burks (25), Shelvin Mack (25), Trey Lyles (20) and Dante Exum (21) fill out the youthful contributors of the immediate future.
The mix of young and old, like what the Grizzlies had in Shane Battier and Jason Williams, is something Snyder sees as an opportunity for that growth and improvement; "Hopefully the interplay is something that will benefit some of the veteran guys and some of the younger guys, the youthful enthusiasm and the veteran savvy. It’s a good thing I think for our whole group."
SB Nation’s Grizzly Bear Blues also had some current Jazz relevant thought’s about their squad, back then, heading into its first playoff making season in five years acknowledging "the Grizzlies best trait is definitely their offensive rebounding".
The Jazz are also at their best when Gobert (3.4 ORebs per game), Favors (2.7) and Trevor Booker (2.1) are regularly pulling down offensive rebounds creating the opportunity to score the 13.5 second chance points they averaged per game last season (8th highest in the NBA).
The Jazz also ranked 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage for 2015-16. The Grizzlies in 2010-11 when they began their push to become playoff regulars? 6th.
Like the 2010-11 Grizzlies, the Jazz looks set to be playoff regulars for seasons to come. They have the youth, a splattering of veteran leadership, an impressive culture within the franchise, and an attitude that translates into winning basketball.
They should embrace their growing reputation as a team that works hard to grind out regular season wins, but make sure it doesn’t define them in six years time as it has the 2012-13 Conference Finals peaking Grizzlies.
Grinding teams win regular season games other teams wouldn’t, unfortunately, regular season wins don’t equal playoff series wins.
The Jazz are on the rise and could get as high as fourth or fifth in the Western Conference this season should everything go their way. Although they have created high expectations for themselves that could be crippling on a young team should injuries hit and pressure mounts, they will be one of the teams to watch in 2016-17.
While a scientific study might not be the most welcoming justification amongst Salt Lake City locals who have so far been waiting 43 seasons for their first Jazz championship banner, good things appear to be on their way.
They might just have to hang in there and wait a season or two more.
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