By now I expect that most every Utah Jazz fan has read the article that Zach Lowe dropped over at Grantland yesterday. It's about how the Jazz can make that leap from where they are to contender status. I advise you all to read it here, and there are many little things we can pick and choose to talk about. Lowe (2015) writes:
The Jazz are sitting at one of those juicy intersections that make it both exciting and terrifying to be an NBA general manager. They are 17-8 since February 7, and they have the best defense in the league — by a mile — since dealing Enes Kanter's slow feet and making way for Rudy "The Stifle Tower" Gobert to clown fools at the rim.
They're a young team learning the nuances of Quin Snyder's offense amid clunky spacing, but Utah has scored just below a league-average rate for the season — despite missing Alec Burks for almost all of it. The sample size isn't huge, and teams are figuring out new ways to attack the massive Derrick Favors/Rudy Gobert frontcourt. League executives like to joke that any trend that pops up in March and April, like Utah's rising defense, deserves extra skepticism, since so many teams are mailing it in.
Sill, the Jazz have something here. They probably don't have a 50-win team with the greatest defense in league history, but it's not unreasonable to see them pushing over .500 and chasing a playoff spot next season. Seven of their core rotation players are 25 or younger, and they'll continue to get better.
All that youth raises a question: Has Utah arrived at a moment when they should think about trading their first-round pick, currently slotted at no. 11, for an established veteran who could help them make a leap now? Most league executives expect Utah to quietly suss out the market, though the Jazz, as usual, are mum.
Yes, we can argue that the strength of schedule for the Jazz has been brutal almost the entire season and that our wins are legit wins. Especially the ones against the playoff teams. (Heck our our losses against the lotto teams count . . . then at least be fair.) And while Lowe does go about explaining why a team (not necessarily the Jazz) would want to upgrade certain spots, and he even lists a few veteran targets, the most important part of the piece is as follows:
"The timetable is important. The Jazz want to peak in two or three years, and not in 2015-16. Utah will not flip its pick for some 31-year-old who will be creeping toward retirement by the time the Jazz get really good. The ideal trade target is a mid-career guy not much older than Utah's foundational players and in the early part of a long-term contract. That's a tough ask."
There it is. And I talk about this a little later in the downbeat too, but there is no reason to rush to try to be playoff good, but not good in the playoffs. Right now if the Jazz switch to try to maximize how good they are in the short term could be pointless, and recreate another era where the team can't ever earn homecourt in the first round of the playoffs.
As a result I feel as though for the Jazz to "take that next step" they just need to grow organically, and develop the potential they have into on court talent. Adding smart, useful, non-self absorbed free agents will happen; but there's no need to find that starter right now from outside. There's no need to cash in how good they could be for the short term solution if being a little better next year.
I do feel that Lowe's assessment that the Jazz are ready "for a seat at the adult table" is a feel good statement. I don't think the Jazz need to do that right now though. Enjoy your youth Jazz. And Jazz fans, enjoy having youth on our side and a championship window that will be wide open when all the other West teams are all boarded up.
I love this Instagram pic from Randy Rigby (the President of the Utah Jazz) 's daughter -- who had dinner last night with Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, Brad Jones, and her dad.
This is my favorite: "The waitress asked if we were #UtahJazz fans." Via @hnrigby http://t.co/8RcIPnvNgb @utahjazz pic.twitter.com/KxJTRCCgmK— Spencer Ryan Hall (@saltcityhoops) April 4, 2015
(Shout out to Spencer Ryan Hall for this find!)
I find this adorable and hilarious. Also, people in the service industry probably meet LOTS of cool, famous people without even knowing it.
One of the players who has been consistently performing this year, though with inconsistent game-to-game results, has been second year point guard Trey Burke. I'm a big Burke fan, it is known. (I'm also a big Alec Burks fan too.) He's been asked to change his role with the team, and responded with some big shots off the bench. He got a chance to talk with Alex Kennedy of Basketball insiders, and with D'Joumbarey Moreau of Hoops Habit this week. You need to check out both pieces. But here are excerpts:
From the Kennedy piece:
"I'm much more comfortable," Burke told Basketball Insiders. "I'm starting to understand the very small things that will help me get to where I want to be in my career. There are some things you don't understand until you actually experience a year or two in the NBA. One of the main things was the schedule. Going from 30 games to 82 games is a big adjustment for really anyone who's coming from college to the NBA. That's something that I've definitely learned to cope with."
Being around the best players in the world for two years has also taught Burke quite a few tips and tricks. While he wouldn't name specific players, he said that he has studied and duplicated some of the moves used by veterans he respects around the league.
"I definitely look at guys I'm playing against and sometimes I do see certain things that I can learn from," Burke said. "Guys who are older and have been in the league obviously have more experience, and they do certain things you can take and put into your game."
When talking to Burke, it quickly becomes clear that adding things to his game is extremely important to him and that he aspires to be great. He doesn't seem like the kind of player who would be content with simply being an average role player throughout his career. He's competitive and has an incredible work ethic, to the point that he sounds giddy when talking about the upcoming offseason and the opportunities he'll have to improve his game while essentially being locked away in a Columbus gym.
"I'm really looking forward to this offseason," Burke said. "I'm working hard this summer to prepare for next season. This offseason, I would like to go to a stable spot, where I can just focus in and train. That will probably be back at home in Columbus, OH. The things that I'm working on this offseason are just really getting stronger, getting quicker, being more explosive, finishing at the rim and just continuing to work on my jump shot. I think those are the biggest things that I need to work on and I'm going to attack them this summer.
"I know that I have a high ceiling and have more potential to grow. Like I said, this summer and this offseason will be very big for me. I look forward to coming back even stronger and even better next season. Being a young player, I know that these offseasons are really important in how much I'll grow."
- Trey Burke talking with Alex Kennedy, Basketball Insiders, 2015
You need to read all of this though. Great stuff.
From the Moreau piece:
(On talking about head coach Quin Snyder:)
TB: He tells me to play confident. He tells me to go out there and pretty much run the offense and run the team. More importantly, he wants me to get after guys on defense. He holds everyone in the organization accountable including himself, to help the organization get better and to help the team grow.
DM: What's something you want to accomplish before your career is done?
TB: I want to be an All-Star, and winning championships. At every level, high school or college, I've won a championship. From AAU national championships, to state championships, to losing in the national championship game in college. I've always really been about winning, stats will come. I've always been a part of winning teams. Besides the last two years I've won on pretty much every team.
I know that's our goal with the Jazz organization to get into the playoffs and win, and someday hopefully we can compete for rings. We feel like we have the young talent to do so in the Western Conference.
I loved Trey's answers here. It partly shows a little more of his personality, and gives you something to latch onto. He's a real point guard. He has been a part of teams that won, and on those teams he's been there in a leadership capacity. Sure, we are used to the "strong silent type" of point guard like John Stockton who didn't get in the face of his players, but was peerless in on court performance. But we all can't have a John Stockton more than once in a lifetime. Trey is a leader, and I think that's why in some of our most impressive wins he's been the guy out there on the court in the 4th quarter doing things. And leadership isn't something I can find in the boxscore.
But it's just something some guys have, and some guys do not have. You can grow to be more confident in your abilities and be more comfortable taking a vocal role. Gordon Hayward used to bite his tongue every time down the court as a younger player on a team of vets; but he's grown to be more demonstrative and loud. Right now we see a baby Kangaroo (a Joey) in Trey Burke, but this team still needs leadership. That's one thing that Trey does bring every night, even if some nights he misses a lot of shots. (A lot of young players missed a lot of shots in their first two years too.)
Anyway, I found these two interviews worth while for reading a bit more about Trey, his thoughts on why the Jazz are doing better, and his sheer enthusiasm for this core group of guys and what they can accomplish if they stay together. Even if he's a bench guy, or a glue guy, you want people on your team who will fight for each other and want to win games. And that's just one of the reasons why he's on this team. The Jazz scouting department and front office have gone out of their way to get guys who will fit with one another, grow with one another, and want to win playing for each other.
Let's look back at Dante Exum 's 4:1 assist to turn over ratio game, or as you may better know it his 12 assist game:
We also love driving and, you know, attempting a shot. Furthermore, I really think you can't rush to try to and get somewhere with this Jazz team without first finding out just how good these young guys can be. Trey Burke has taken well to coming off the bench and having a role change with the team from year one to year two. Rudy Gobert has gone from being forgotten by his head coach to being the centerpiece of countless national articles because of his solid play from year one to year two. Even at the top of our talent chart Gordon Hayward has gone from being the best player on a bad team who gets stats because someone has to, but is now a legit All-Star snub on a team no one wants to play against.
It's just too soon to try to angle our team to be a contender, and just too soon to try to go into "win now' mode. And this is unpopular, but I don't think the Jazz make the playoffs next season. And really, they don't need to. There is so much for the Jazz to learn about our players, and so much for the players to be taught and learn about the game. Don't be in a rush guys. There is no need when guys like Dante, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Hayward, Trey Burke, and Rudy Gobert are all between the ages of 19 and 25.
Now more than ever in the NBA you need to match being good with where other teams are in their success cycle. Why be in a rush to fight against the death throes of the Spurs, Mavericks, and other West teams as their windows close -- be smart like the Rockets were and be the best when the road is easier. That's how you win rings. By being smart and picking your spots. That's why the John Stockton and Malone Jazz busted their head every year from the Magic Johnson / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar version of the Los Angeles Lakers to the Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant version, and finished with no rings. They were great, but not focused on greatness during the most opportune time.
Dennis Lindsey knows the clock and knows where our guys are on it. And he's poising our ascent for when there's opportunity. And that means we have to be patient.
Happy Good Friday! Happy Mahavir Jayanti! Happy Easter! Hoppy Easter! Happy Passover! Happy Dawn and recognition of the pre-Christian European Goddess Eostre / Ostara day! Which former or current Utah Jazz player would you want on your team to hunt Easter eggs? I'm pretty sure that Dee Brown or Greg Ostertag lead to successful strategies.