Ed. This Downbeat is late because, well, later than usual, because I'm almost 100% convinced that I switched Downbeats with someone and then forgot entirely about it.
The mighty Utah Jazz have now played 35 games so far this season, in addition to the preseason games, and the handful of games in the summer back in Vegas. For the most part the team has displayed some growing pains, but enough positive signs for me to be compelled to watch the team as closely as I do. While it seems unlikely that the team will go for 35+ wins this season (as some of us theorized), the team is still going to win enough to to show the world that the Jazz are heading in the right direction.
Objectively, the major obstacle was supposed to be inexperience. It's a rookie head coach (Quin Snyder) teaching a completely new (to the players) system, while all but 3 of the major rotations players were still on their rookie contracts (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Trevor Booker are not; while Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, and Rudy Gobert are.) However, realistically the major obstacle right now is injury.
So for this very late Downbeat I am going to go over each of the positions, and do a little run down on where we are at so far this season.
Point Guards: Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Toure' Murry, (Ian Clark)
While this is far from being the most seasoned point guard crew in Utah Jazz history, this season would bring both youth, vigor, and versatility. Trey Burke is a traditional, slow it down, pick and roll point guard who looked superb at times as a rookie, winning Western Conference Rookie of the month three times, and really heated up as the season ended. The idea is that he was to take a solid step forward this year, and banish the worry of his poor shooting stroke.
Backing him up would be the new rookie, and possibly the future starter in Dante Exum, Exum is everything Burke was not, tall, athletic, and a gifted passer. While his shot would be a work in progress, Exum should do enough to push Burke for point guard minutes -- and be capable enough to steal some at shooting guard.
Toure' Murry was a rookie with the New York Knicks, and the combo guard had learned enough point to make it in the Big Apple, he would be a safety net for Trey and Dante. And Ian Clark, a short shooting guard, was getting point guard reps in practice and could be ready for a larger role.
These were some of the ideas we had. I know I felt like at least EVERY one of these concepts could come true this season. Trey looked really good at the end of last season, but didn't look good at all in Vegas. But he looked great in preseason. But then during the regular season his shooting went to heck, and did not make the jump we wanted.
Sadly, or thankfully, he hasn't been displaced. That's good for his ego, but bad for the team. Dante Exum was supposed to push Trey for the starting spot. I just haven't seen that this year. Dante is much more gifted, but is up against a number of extrinsic factors which make it hard for him to be fulling comfortable out there. First of all, he has never played pro ball before. Second, he's playing in another country. Third, he's playing in the NBA (it's not like he came to play in the NBA-DL). Fourth, he's in the Western conference, where all of the best point guards not named John Wall live. And firth, he's on a team with Gordon Hayward -- so it's not really a point guard dominated team. Dante's minutes are going up, but he found a way to start at point guard in his last game and finish with zero assists. This is a transition year for the #5 pick in the draft. There's a very good chance that he's going to one day become the guy we expect him to be. But he's just not that guy right now in the first 35 games of his professional career. (So, there's no reason to worry or panic; but there's no evidence right now that fully supports the idea that he should start over Trey if both are healthy.) (This is a lose / lose situation.)
The Jazz had no use for Toure' Murry, despite his beastmode in the NBA-DL. I understand that there was no time for him at point, but when shooting guards started to drop it was even more curious that he was waived. Ian Clark has shown his ability to spot up and score off the ball, but is not quite ready to defend point guards or shooting guards at the NBA level right now.
It has been a disappointing year at point guard.
Amar's Preseason Starter: Trey Burke
Amar's Starter if everyone is still healthy: Trey Burke
Who should start right now: Trey Burke, it's his spot to lose. But right now no one else looks like they want it.
Position Rating: 4 / 10, but with the hope if everything is clicking it could be 5.5 / 10.
Shooting Guards: Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, (Rodney Hood), Ian Clark, (Toure' Murry), Carrick Felix, Dahntay Jones, Patrick Christopher, Elijah Millsap, Elliot Williams
I don't even know where to start with this clown college. Alec Burks, finally a starter, would show the whole world what he was about. Joe Ingles, a last second addition, would use his vet savvy to help our second unit out. Ian Clark was money in the bank. Rodney Hood, a SF with ball handling skills, can spread the defense and shoot with the best shooting guards. Somehow we added and dropped Carrick Felix, Toure' Murry, and now Patrick Christopher. The team recently added Elijah Millsap, and will be adding Elliot Williams too. Originally talent led to depth, but injuries led to a revolving door.
Alec Burks wasn't killing it this year. In some ways he is WORSE than he was last season as a pure scorer. He is a much more confident outside shooter, and while he did take some shots I did not like (those 20 footers in a half court set, in iso), some of the time they would go in and he would be able to set up his driving game with that. Defensively he was neutral in my mind. He wasn't good enough to make a difference, or horrible enough for it to be noticed and exploited by the other team. A season ending chronic injury (somehow that only happens to Jazz players) means that he's done with only 27 games and 899 minutes. That's well below the 2k I think he was on track to surpass. But you can't have everything.
Or more specifically, you can't have anything when it comes to shooting guards. While Alec was leading the team in 3pt% (discounting garbage time players Jeremy Evans, Ian Clark, and Steve Novak), many other shooting guards were missing guards. Somehow Joe Ingles is shooting .413 / .265 / .556. I get that not everyone is a "shooting" shooting guard, but you'd expect the 27 year old pro to be doing better than 55% from the free throw line. Ingles is a great passer and understands the game. He also has the added talent of making life better for Dante Exum. That is invaluable. But when we're looking at just basketball, is he really better than Gordan Giricek? I don't think so, at least Giricek used to make his jumpers, and not hesitate to shoot when open.
Hood has been a roller coaster, he impresses, then exceeds our expectations, and then has to sit out games due to injury. While his shooting will come around (we hope, he's shooting .316 / .277 / .727), I am in love with his ability to drive, make great passes in traffic, and create his own shot from a variety of ranges. He is a less post / rebounding version of Antwan Jamison, or at least I see a lot of his game there. But more on Hood for the SF spot.
Everyone else are not even worth talking about. Some aren't even on the team yet, others are off of it without touching the floor.
Amar's Preseason Starter: Alec Burks
Amar's Starter if everyone is still healthy: Alec Burks
Who should start right now: Dante Exum, what else do we have to lose?
Position Rating: Incomplete, but a healthy Burks would have pushed us to 5 to 5.25 out of 10
Small Forward: Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, (Joe Ingles), Steve Novak, Kevin Murphy, (Dahntay Jones), (Carrick Felix), Jordan Hamilton, (Elijah Millsap)
I felt like Gordon Hayward would improve from last season to this season, but I did not expect G-Time to be good enough to go all the way into "Legit All-Star Snub" category this season. The USA Basketball short lister is having a great season: 19 points, 5 rebounds. 4 assists, 1+ steal, while shooting much, much, much, much, much better than last season. Furthermore, he is making things happen by getting by his man (one on one, or pick assisted) and into the paint for free throws. He's not at that Elite level yet, but he is exceeding my expectations for him.
Rodney Hood teased us all in Vegas -- some games he would look explosive, other games he would look 22 years old. Inconsistency has been his game in the pros, and I know he is young, but I expected him to at least shoot a little better than he is shooting right now (see Beat #2 for the numbers). I like what he does on the court, but he's not on the court a whole lot. He has played in 22 of 35 games so far this season with zero DNP-CDs. He's injured again right now. That sucks. With Alec Burks out he looks to be the guy who benefits the most. But he's out at the same time, so no one benefits.
Ingles is a solid point forward, maybe I should just list him as such instead of shoe-horning him into a guard role? That's food for thought for the next time I try to do this.
Kevin Murphy, Dahntay Jones, Carrick Felix, and Jordan Hamilton are all gone. Fare thee well.
Amar's Preseason Starter: Gordon Hayward
Amar's Starter if everyone is still healthy: Gordon Hayward
Who should start right now:Gordon Hayward
Position Rating: 8 / 10, but it could be 8.5 out of 10 if we saw a little more from the bench
Power Forwards: Enes Kanter, (Derrick Favors), Trevor Booker, Jeremy Evans, Steve Novak, Brock Motum, Jack Cooley, Jordan Hamilton
Enes Kanter shooting threes is no longer a theory, as his 32.3% is better than a number of our guards. Trevor Booker's 37.5% from three is even better than Enes! And Jeremy Evans is at 50.0%! Of course, Evans has only shot one three, but the other two guys are displaying the necessary range to be called stretch bigs who can space the floor and open up the paint for guards, wings, and post up bigs.
For the most part everyone has done their job, and done it well. Kanter's defense isn't as good as we want, but I think his offensive ability (spot up shots, setting screens, post up ability, one on one moves) is much better than we thought it was. He is a dynamic scorer, which is something I never thought I'd say about a 6'11 guy who is like 270 pounds. Trevor Booker's energy has been a Godsend this year. He can also create his own shot, and sometimes it looks like he has made up his mind and will spin his way into the land and take the shot no matter what, it seems to work more than it fails. Quin Snyder trusts his defense more and Booker has finished a number of games.
Derrick Favors has moved to the four right now because of injuries, and it's clear that he can and will score on PFs all day long. He also has a face up game, but it's two seasons away from being starter level. He, of course, starts because of everything else he does well. But more on that in the center section.
Jeremy Evans is always effective when he plays, but there's no space for him right now. There's not enough space for all the bigs. But at the very least, this is a more entertaining logjam.
Amar's Preseason Starter: Enes Kanter
Amar's Starter if everyone is still healthy: Enes Kanter, for floor spacing
Who should start right now: Derrick Favors, D-Fav has to start period; and Rudy is really hot right now. With the injury situation as it is and with the idea of testing things out I say keep starting the FaGo (Dudy?) group in the paint.
Position Rating: 7.25 / 10 -- It's good, but not great. Everyone can do a little something, but right now I have a hard time suggesting that our PFs are better than this rank.
Centers: Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, (Enes Kanter), (Jack Cooley)
I expected Derrick Favors to look a little better, and Rudy Gobert to look awesome in short stints. Instead we have OMGWTFBBQ all over the paint because Favors occasionally goes for a Karl Malone like 27+ and 10+, while Gobert blocks other teams back to the stone age. Sure, there's no Mehmet Okur in this group of centers, but down the road these two players could one day become two of the top 10 Utah Jazz bigs of all-time.
They're both not foul prone, and are okay at free throws. Rudy is more consistent, but for whatever reason, Derrick seems to make his when the game is on the line. I'm not complaining. I do wish they had more respect from the refs, but that will come with time. Rudy is only 22, and Derrick is 23. That's not a mistake.
Amar's Preseason Starter: Derrick Favors
Amar's Starter if everyone is still healthy: Derrick Favors
Who should start right now: Rudy Gobert, it's now time to experiment a bit more, and Rudy's passing ability and overt defensive impact has been very important over the last few weeks. Kid needs more minutes.
Position Rating: 8.25 / 10 -- no one is playing at All-Star level like Gordon is with the SFs, but the quality and depth here is too much to overlook.