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SLC Dunk Mailbag: Can the Utah Jazz sneak into the Conference Finals?

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What will the Utah Jazz do this offseason? What will the team’s playoff rotation be? Can it make the conference finals?

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the Utah Jazz pound the New York Knicks into oblivion, now seems as good a time as any for another mailbag!

Without further ado, let’s dive in head first and answer some of your questions.

@j_d_cummings: Should AK be considered for the HOF?

Let’s kick off today’s edition with a little NBA history.

Here are the first five years of Andrei Kirilenko’s career:

  • 13.8 PTS, 6.5 REB, 2.6 BLK, 2.6 AST, 1.6 STL and .119 Win Shares per game
  • 17.5 PTS, 8.2 REB, 3.3 BLK, 3.3 AST, 2 STL and .151 Win Shares per 75 team possessions
  • 6.7 Box Plus-Minus, .570 True Shooting Percentage

That Box Plus-Minus is particularly impressive. Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Chris Paul and Magic Johnson are the only players in the three-point era who had at least 5,000 minutes and a better Box Plus-Minus through their first five seasons.

Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan were the only players over those specific seasons (2001-02 through 2005-06) who topped Kirilenko’s Box Plus-Minus.

Based on those advanced numbers, he was on track for a uniquely impactful career. But, from that point on, his counting numbers really tailed off.

Even still, Kirilenko is 18th in NBA history in career Box Plus-Minus, 50th in career Wins Over Replacement Player, 15th in career Block Percentage and 39th in total blocks.

Unfortunately, his Hall of Fame resume would be based more on those first three numbers than the last one, and counting stats carry far more weight than advanced ones for Hall of Fame purposes.

Right now, Basketball Reference pegs AK-47’s Hall of Fame Probability at 0.4 percent.

@jazzfandanman: Do you think the Jazz should keep Derrick Favors?

Those who’ve followed me on Twitter or read my writing here for much time are aware that I’ve been pounding the “combo 4” drum for a while.

I was all-in on Otto Porter before the trade deadline and I’m now feeling that way about Danilo Gallinari for this offseason.

But Derrick Favors has been ridiculous this season. So much so that I’m starting to maybe, possibly, potentially rethink my position.

If you sort every player in the NBA with 250-plus minutes this season by the average of their ranks in 10 catch-all metrics (five rate and five cumulative), Derrick Favors comes in at No. 33. If you only used the five rate stats, Favors is No. 27.

Now, there are some reasonable concerns that a couple of the numbers in that formula (Win Shares and Box Plus-Minus) may artificially boost bigs, but I think we can still say Favors has been a top-50-level player this season.

Having that player under contract and willing to play such a unique role (ceremonial starts, while getting most of his minutes as the backup 5) is valuable.

Still, on the season, Utah is just plus-1.3 points per 100 possessions (62nd percentile) when Favors and Rudy Gobert share the floor, as opposed to plus-7.6 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile) when Gobert is on the floor without Favors.

That makes this a tricky question. On an individual level, bringing Favors back seems like a no-brainer. In terms of fit, a combo 4 still seems like the ideal type of player to put next to Gobert.

And that brings me back to Gallinari. In the same average rankings reference above, Gallinari is No. 28 this season. And the Los Angeles Clippers may be willing to move him for next to nothing to create cap space this summer as they chase Kawhi Leonard.

If Utah can get a player who can make a similar individual impact while also being a better fit, it might be time to move on, as difficult as that would be for those of us who’ve watched Favors develop into the monster he is today.

@jazzlifer: What kind of asset is Dante Exum at this point? Negative slightly positive neutral?

Unfortunately, the answer to this might be negative, meaning I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jazz would have to attach a sweetener (a draft pick) to unload his contract.

As mayor of Exum Island, it hurts to type that.

But all the injuries, in combination with his contract ($19.2 million over the next two seasons), make it hard to imagine many teams would be jumping at the fact to take him on.

That makes the trade deadline all the more puzzling. There were reports that the Memphis Grizzlies wanting Exum was possibly the hangup that prevented Mike Conley from being a member of the Jazz.

Quin Snyder and Dennis Lindsey generally seem to be in lockstep, but Exum is one area where there might be some disagreement. Those trade discussions showed that Lindsey clearly valued Exum’s long-term potential. The way Snyder’s had Exum on the team’s shortest leash for three years suggests he may not.

Those two have probably had plenty of conversations about Exum over the years, but 20-20 hindsight sure makes it feel like Utah missed a major opportunity to get an All-Star-level point guard.

@TmanKy: Could the Jazz forgo another star and stock up on elite role players in FA? Bojan B, Pat Bev, ‘insert favorite stretch-4’, etc.

They might have to. Utah’s just not a free agency hotbed. And Utah could have the flexibility it needs to possibly land both those two players you mentioned.

@camyoung512: Would you rather upgrade this Jazz team with an expensive PGs (Conley, Holiday, Kemba, Brogdon, etc) and keep our PFs like crowder ...or... upgrade with an expensive SF/PF (middleton, porter, harris, Bojan, etc) and keep our current PGs like rubio?

Again, my ideal target is Gallinari, who would have to be acquired through a trade. If the Clippers’ sole motivation is cap space, Utah can help. So, my answer of course is a combo forward.

Even if Exum still isn’t physically right by the start of next season, or he gets injured again, I’m very confident in the 2019-20 potential of a Donovan Mitchell/Royce O’Neale backcourt.

That, with Joe Ingles, Gallo and Gobert up front would be a nightmare for opposing teams. How do you cover a Mitchell/Gobert pick-and-roll with Ingles, O’Neale and Gallo spacing the floor around it? Or, how about the possibility of 4/5 pick-and-rolls with Gallinari and Gobert?

@Jeffersoniandoc: What will the going rate be for Malcom Brogdon and Bojan Bogdonovic this summer, and do you think the Jazz aggressively go after one of them?

Lots of Jazz fans are drooling over the idea of Malcolm Brogdon joining the team. And I get it. He’s really good, probably underrated and might find another level with a bigger role in Utah.

I just don’t see him leaving Milwaukee.

Even if the Bucks allow Brogdon to get to restricted free agency, I would guess they match just about any offer he signs.

Bojan Bogdanovic feels much more attainable. He’s making $10.5 million this season and will almost certainly get a huge raise.

On the season, he’s averaging 17.8 points and shooting 41.9 percent from three. Since Victor Oladipo left the lineup with an injury, he’s averaging 21.2 points and shooting 39.3 percent from deep.

A 6’8” combo forward who shoots that well from three will get some competitive offers. The two things that could keep the price reasonable are Bogdanovic’s age (already 29) and defense (not terrible, but not great).

@LamoraLoch: Odds of resigning Rubio in off season? Who may replace him? What do you think of Brogdan as replacement? Finally, what will Jazz do about Favors & power forward position in off season?

Since I’ve already answered questions about Favors and Brogdon, we’ll focus on the Ricky Rubio portion of this question.

Unless it’s on a very team-friendly deal, I don’t think the Jazz can re-sign Rubio. His lack of shooting seems to suffocate the offense in the worst moments. And the turnovers, oh the turnovers.

Rubio has had some great moments in a Jazz uniform, but the ideal lineup around Gobert is one that’s mostly position-less and loaded with shooting. Rubio is one of the only one-position guys left in the NBA and he can’t shoot.

@cliftenp: What would be the Jazz ideal matchups/scenario to make the Western Conf finals?

This seems like a crazy thing to say, given the way the San Antonio Spurs have been playing lately, but I feel like facing them and the Denver Nuggets, in some order, would give Utah its best shot at the conference finals.

Both of those teams are really good, but I could see Gobert dominating a series with LaMarcus Aldridge, and the Nuggets’ lack of experience could catch up to them at some point in the postseason.

@thisguyisdlimit: Will Royce O’Neale see minutes in the playoffs and how does the rotation look like?

Royce O’Neale will absolutely be in the playoff rotation. His time got a bit of a boost because of Ricky Rubio’s injury, but he averaged 23.5 minutes per game in the 2018 postseason and he’s played nearly 20 a game this season. He’s a key cog.

And I imagine the entire rotation won’t look a whole lot different than it does right now. Rubio, Mitchell, Ingles, Favors and Gobert will start. Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and O’Neale will get most of the reserve minutes, with Raul Neto and Thabo Sefolosha getting some run as well.

@jazzXfactor: What’s one thing you believe the jazz are missing to truly make them a title contender?

Most people think Utah needs a bona fide third star after Gobert and Mitchell. That might be true.

But if Mitchell’s ceiling truly is the Dwyane Wade/Damian Lillard hybrid we’ve been talking about for a couple years, getting there might be enough. He just needs to do that before Gobert starts to regress. There’s potentially a good three or four years till that happens.


Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass or ESPN.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for SLC Dunk and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewDBailey) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Dan Favale.