Truly last season the light at the end of the tunnel for the Utah Jazz was a train. And that train ran into our team and derailed a lot of nonsense that was going on. As a result, the brass made a lot of changes, let Dennis Lindsey do his thing, and construct the team he wanted. (Exhaustive roster breakdown here) Today the upcoming season is not one of dread, but excitement for the approximately 1.8 billion Jazz fans in the world (I may be off by a few decimal places). Some national fans, bloggers, reporters, and analysts may be sleeping on this 5-2 team right now. And I get it, we're young, un-hip, and destined for the lotto again. And it's just the preseason still.
Yes, it's the preseason, and this team will be at least a season or two off from making the playoffs. But this young team is anything but un-hip. If you factor in their time zone, scheduled opponents, and their play style you can argue that they are a sleeper League Pass team. But let's go into it a little bit.
1. This Utah Jazz team is the youngest Jazz team ever.
This is the natural benefit of having a number of draft picks over the years, and Utah will reap the rewards this season. Of the 15 players still under contract 12 of them are 25 years old or younger; 8 of those 12 are under 24; and 5 of those 8 are under 23 still. The average age is 24.12 years old by October 31st (the traditional idea of when the NBA season starts); and a huge part of that is Steve Novak. Novak, at 31.41 years old, is the only guy over 30 on the team.
Crazier still is the fact that our two YOUNGEST players are our two point guards. Furthermore, among the 10 normative rotation players a whopping eight are the youngest eight players on the roster. If you charted the age groupings you don't get a standard distribution.
And the Novak stands alone . . .
Green. Very green. Eleven of the players are 25 or younger. No one has an excuse to be tired, and this is a team that can play at a quick pace for a long period of time. And that's precisely one of the foundations of Quin Snyder's offensive game plan as well. Re-tool the defense, get stops, then get out and run.
Some people think youth is a hindrance. But not these guys. These guys are too young to even know fear. And as a group of fearless kids with everything to prove this is going to be a really fun team to watch and root for.
It's just so sad to look at that first table and do the math and recognize just how many of the Jazz players I am old enough to be the father of. (Which compounds just how awkward it is for a dude 12 years older than me trying to pal around with these guys, like they are buds.)
2. This team is almost explicitly the Jazz model of roster balance
During the free agency period I talked a bit about my own roster balance model (...which puts a lot of trust in the bigmen by going with only five PFs or Cs in a 15 man roster, and going for four full time ball handlers . . . just in case of disaster). A few days back I actually looked at the last 16 Jazz rosters, broke down the season-to-season turn over, and figured out what their roster philosophy actually is. TL;DR -- the Jazz usually go with 3 point guards, 6 wings, and 6 bigs.
What's the deal with this season's squad? It's almost exactly the actual averages.
(N.B. The second string of numbers, 3.38, 5.94, 5.75, is the actual averages from the last 16 seasons.) Yes, too many bigmen by 4%. Too few guards, but it's 93%, 98% and 104%. That's very impressive and most likely just a co-incidence with how the last 16 seasons went (with injuries and so forth). If Brock Motum is cut then the bigmen group goes to 100%, but we'll adjust that when it happens.
This point isn't that interesting, I get it. But let's move on . . .
3. This Jazz team is a strange mix of players from the South, Midwest, and outside the country
Among the places I grew up in, I've lived in both Los Angeles, and under the New York media bubble. The coasts thing that they are the only important part of the continent. And that's a shame. This Jazz club has zero representation from those self-aggrandizing regions.
Yes, I draw the lines a little different from other places, but I will never, ever put Kentucky in the Midwest.
People from NYC think they are the best players in the world. People form Cali do as well. People from Seattle / Portland have a chip on their shoulder and expect to be able to play against anyone. The Jazz didn't bring any of those people to the locker room this year.
Utah is traditionally a tough sell, or it used to be before people had wireless internet and DVR's to entertain them at home. It was hard to keep good talent because Salt Lake City was unattractive. As a result the Jazz had to either go with players from a specific genetic phenotype or European dudes. And yes, this year's Jazz squad does have four guys from outside the US, but two of them are technically Oceanic, another is Muslim, and the 'real' European dude is a black guy. (In your face, preconceived notions!)
Stocking up on guys from the South is a smart move, especially the smaller town guys. Guys like Rodney Hood grew up in so much obscurity that being regarded and loved as a Jazz player in a medium sized city (and smaller market) will go a long way. Having a shared culture helps, and with the majority of the team being from the South you can tell the camaraderie in the locker room is already there.
The next largest region is the midwest, but that's just a lot of states. Though, Trey and G-Time are both born and raised in the same neck of the woods. Steve Novak is a little bit more north, but he's not going to shy away form the Utah winter.
And speaking of that, Carrick Felix has basically lived his entire life in this Mountain time zone / environment, by being from Nevada, going to high school in Arizona, and then college in Idaho and Arizona.
This is an interesting mix of players from 'chip on the shoulder' parts of the nation where players are often overlooked. And they are already building chemistry together through their shared cultural heritage, and can adapt to what Utah has to bring quite easily. Heck, Derrick Favors -- a guy born and raised in Atlanta -- already lives in Utah 12 months of the year. This is really crazy.
4. Their player name anagrams are ridiculous
Most normal people sleep. I don't. As a result I had to figure out what their names can spell out.
Dante Exum is sweet music, so obviously, he's a maxed tune. Trey Burke is still fighting his last coach, so, he's gonna rebuke t(r)y. What about Tourre' Murry? I guess somewhere in his family tree he has some Genghis in him.
But seriously, Gordon Hayward as Hardwood Angry? (Is this some high concept Blacksploitation film with a Caucasian guy in the lead?) Alec Burks and Bra Suckle? I get it. We've all seen his tongue action. I also appreciate Ian Clark as "Air Clank" like "Air Jordan", but missing a shot. If you've seen him shoot this is obviously an ironic nickname. If you've seen the ladies he likes, Barbi dolls, it makes sense to call Enes Kanter "Eastern Ken". I don't know what to make with Acrid Fervors though. Those are two words I know, but just not in conjunction with one another.
By far the best on is Jeremy Evans . . . the former dunk champ naturally makes "Jam seers envy" him.
Are you also a crazy person? What are your anagrams?
5. No Jazz team has had this much talent on it
The best Utah Jazz teams in franchise history were built around a #13 and #16 draft pick. The third best player was a second rounder. I'm talking about Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Jeff Hornacek. The romanticized Jazz team was usually a collection of players who fit the system, and were able to become something greater than their own flawed parts. Jerry Sloan became a legend the season he took Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, and Raja Bell to a 42-40 season. Jazz teams 'made do' with obvious limits.
This team seems to have no limit. There are three Top 5 picks, six Lotto picks, and nine 1st rounders on this team. It's never been this stacked.
There are three undrafted players (Toure' Murry, Ian Clark, and Brock Motum). There are three second rounders (Steve Novak, Carrick Felix, and Jeremy Evans). And then everyone else is a 1st rounder. This may be normal for other teams, but completely novel for the Jazz -- a team that ALWAYS made the playoffs and were usually picking at #27 or lower every year.
If you group the players by draft position you get this:
That is a nice balance between draft positions, but if you group the players by cumulative draft position you get this:
If you look at the information the majority of the Jazz' rotation will be not just 1st rounders, but lottery picks. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, and Dante Exum should play the most minutes this season. They'll be shored up by Trevor Booker, Rudy Gobert, and Rodney Hood.
I still can't believe at just how crazy this team is, as the 15 man roster which includes three undrafted players, has an average draft position of 27.8. There were some times when Jerry Sloan took a team that had 9 players who were second rounders or went undrafted to the playoffs. The hand Quin Snyder has been given -- though young and untested -- has so much potential it's hard not to get excited about it.
This season the Jazzz will bring a Top 5 pick off the bench, because the entire starting lineup of Lottery picks under the age of 25 are better than the rookie.
Let that sink in.
This is a crazy roster and a crazy year. A young, hungry, somewhat chip on their shoulder-y roster of overlooked players from smaller markets . . . that are your Utah Jazz this year.
So even if the traditional media overlooks the Jazz, Jazz fans are in for a treat this year.