It's now March, and the Utah Jazz are 23-35. They have to win 2 more games to tie last season's mighty total of 25; and 7 more to make 30. Gordon Hayward has demonstrated that he is a more than capable 1st option, and the bigman logjam has been resolved somewhat. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are making life tough for all teams they defend. While Dante Exum hasn't really wowed anyone with his offense, his defense is becoming more and more dependable, as is Trey Burke as an offensive player off the bench. It's time to take stock of what we see, and time for another Utah Jazz Jam Session with some of your favorite SLC Dunkers!
1. Has the Jazz franchise turned the corner this season? Are our miserable days gone?
JuMu: After our Jazz bottomed out with a 9 game losing streak following the Oklahoma City "Wake Up!!!" game, our Jazz team has gone a tidy 18-19. I also have no reason to doubt that this Jazz team will manage to play .500 ball the rest of the way this season. We have officially turned the corner from being a miserable team to decent team. Hopefully we make the jump to playoff team next season.
YuccaMan: I believe that it has turned one corner, but another is needed. This year the Jazz have firmly established three All-Star caliber players (Hayward, Favors, Gobert) and established an identity (elite defensive team). The final corner likewise has a couple parts: 1) either have one of those All-Star caliber guys improve to All-NBA level, or have one more player play like an All-Star and 2) fill out the roster with effective guys who fill specific roles. I do think the darkest days are over.
UtesFan89: Turned a corner? Yes. The only question is which corner? Miserable days over? Man, I really hope so. The team seems pretty well built overall to end the miserable days; just gotta hope things don't fall apart and see us turn into one of those teams that has one "things seem bright" season every now and then while being miserable in between. We won't really know if the Jazz have turned "the" corner until next season comes around and we see continued improvement.
AllThatAmar: The "Miserable Days" are definitely gone, and as a franchise we now have a young team that is coached by a coach who is on the same page as the front office. And this team is beating the good teams (teams other Jazz teams just could not); and winning games on the road. Despite the lack of a 50 win season, this year the team is remarkable. I would say they have turned the corner all right.
2. Are you happier with the on court results this year, compared to last year?
JuMu: Absolutely, losses piss me off much more this season than last. That probably means my expectations for this team are much higher than than they were this time a year ago.
YuccaMan: Yes. The improvement has been pretty amazing, in my opinion.
UtesFan89: Yes. Last year I'd tune in, see how Ty was coaching, and turn away for weeks/months. This season, I keep coming back no matter how busy/stressed I am. It's not necessarily we're winning more - it's just so much more fun to see the youngsters get time to develop and see them start to bloom. And the same can be said for the coach!
AllThatAmar: Yes. Duh. This is a team that wins games against good teams, and wins road games. This is rare for a team with an average age 23.
3. What do you think is the largest factor in this difference?
JuMu: The continual purge of weak links on this team and replacing them with Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert.
YuccaMan: Rudy Gobert. He's on another level, in terms of impacting games. A Level 80 Paladin, if you will.
UtesFan89: Not having Richard Jefferson or Marvin Williams or any other veteran that is playing major minutes when he shouldn't be. We get to see the young guys play major minutes/key minutes (mostly because we don't really have that type of veteran left on the squad, but also because Quin knows what he's doing). Also, the unbelievable improvement that we've seen from Rudy (or maybe just the fact we're seeing Rudy at all).
AllThatAmar: Not having a Brian Shaw level coach as the head coach anymore. Wait, too soon?
4. Have you seen changes to the offense from year to year? Have you noticed any adjustments during this season? What have you liked?
JuMu: Yes, it's less iso-ball this year. We are also seeming to play less and less selfish the more the years moves on. Hayward playing like a capable first option, Favors playing more like an overall great big man instead of just a defensive one.
YuccaMan: I have seen a difference, the biggest being that the PG generally hurries up the court and starts the offense at the 19-second mark in the shot clock rather than the 13-second mark. One of the most amazing things to me is that the team's ORtg has improved quite a bit, even though so many players are extremely limited offensively. Well done, Quin.
UtesFan89: I can't answer this question really well, so I'm not going to say anything. Though the offense definitely seems less "selfish" than previous seasons (which is a good thing, obviously) - but maybe to a fault. It feels like late in games, no one can decide who is going to take a shot (maybe they're too busy trying to find the open guy) and it leads to an awkward last second shot. But then, maybe it only seems like a lot of games because I haven't seen all that many. Either way, passing the ball to look for an open guy is almost always a good thing.
AllThatAmar: I like how the ball movement doesn't stop, and if a primary pick and roll does not lead to an overt opening the play does not then quickly devolve into an isolation at this stage. Instead, a secondary ball handler then initiates a pick and roll, sometimes from the three point corner, and the team tries again. Basically, people keep moving with and without the ball, and the team doesn't give up if there's nothing there on the first try.
5. Have you seen changes to the defense from year to year? Have you noticed any adjustments during this season? What have you liked?
YuccaMan: Everything changes with an elite defensive C.
UtesFan89: Changes? Yes. Why? Rudy. Just having him there makes things so much easier for the entire defense to be strong.
AllThatAmar: Having Dante Exum and Elijah Millsap play defense is a huuu-uuuge step up from the Mo Williams / Randy Foye pairing, or even Trey Burke / Gordon Hayward from last season.
6. Rank our rookies in whatever way is most significant to you: Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Elijah Millsap, Grant Jerrett, Bryce Cotton, Jack Cooley
JuMu: Rankings of how much I like them this season:
1st Place: Elijah Millsap
2nd Place: Exum or Hood I suppose, maybe Ingles
Rankings of how much I have hope for them being major contributors in future seasons:
1st Place: Exum
2nd Place: Hood
3rd Place: Millsap
4th Place: Ingles
5th Place Jerrett
YuccaMan: My favorite rookies:
1. Joe Ingles
2. Elijah Millsap
3. Dante Exum
4. Rodney Hood
5. Jack Cooley
6. Bryce Cotton
7. Jack Cooley
UtesFan89: Ranked based on which name I would most want to use for a character in a mystery novel.
1. Bryce Cotton
2. Joe Ingles
3. Dante Exum
4. Jack Cooley
5. Elijah Millsap
6. Rodney Hood
7. Grant Jerrett
AllThatAmar: Rankings based on anagrams of their names:
1. Senile Jog (Ingles)
2. Maxed Tune (Exum)
3. Cola Jockey (Cooley)
4. Try Bent Coco (Cotton)
5. D'oh! Drone, yo! (Hood)
6. Hip Salami Jell (Millsap -- or Llama something)
7. Grant. Jerrett. (Jerrett. And a Lisa Simpson reference)
7. What is most important to add to this team: a stretch big, another wing scorer, or a guard who plays defense? Why?
JuMu: Other- An efficient distributing guard with well-rounded offensive skills and passable defensive skills, Has anyone figured out a way to clone John Stockton yet?
YuccaMan: 1. A PG who can set up good shots for others and score effectively himself
2. The third big ... ideally a Paul Millsap clone
3. Wing scorer. Honestly, I think that we may already have what we need here among Burks, Hood, and Millsap
UtesFan89: Honestly, I have no idea. We have 2 young PGs that haven't really found themselves yet (or maybe Burke has?)... so not really sure what we have there. Wings - we have Burks & Hood & Hayward (assuming no injuries lingering for Burks/Hood), which is a trio I'm comfortable with ... IF they're healthy. Favors/Gobert is obviously a solid front court. Guess we need another player to rotate behind them? Maybe a wing because we can't trust the health of our current guys? Maybe a PG because Burke is never going to be that solid, pass-first PG we seem to need? I think the secret is to just let the youngsters play together/develop and see where we are at the end of the season, and draft BPA that Quin will actually use. Add the talent, figure out how to make it fit together after that. No more of this "we're going to draft who we think is best, whether you play him or not."
AllThatAmar: I am thinking Inside/Out, and with the removal of Enes Kanter, and the "I'm not sold on yet" status I have for Trevor Booker and Grant Jerrett (and at this stage, Jeremy Evans?) I think that for the further evolution of the offense we're going to at some stage need a stretch big. I'm not crazy of the specialist type like Steve Novak, but very few teams ever get a Rasheed Wallace stretch big who is also a post up threat, a good defender, and a guy who can get blocks and rebounds. But I have a hope that Dennis Lindsey will find someone who can do more than just be a stretch big.
8. Who has made the biggest improvement this season?
JuMu: ....*erhem* (clears throat for a minute straight)
YuccaMan: This question is, honestly, really hard for me to pinpoint. Gobert, Hayward, and Favors have all made huge strides from what they were contributing last year. In the end, I'm going to go with Favors. He's posting career high FG% at the rim and in his mid-range shot, which has turned him into a legitimately dependable scorer.
UtesFan89: Rudy Favors.
AllThatAmar: My man from Michigan, Trey Burke. His improvement is with his understanding of the game, his place within it, and with some of his flaws. My second choice would be Gordon Hayward -- it's hard to improve from being good to great, and he has done that. But Trey still gets it for me. He has taken the benching as well as possible, and since the get go has been supportive of the "Trey and Dante" experience, and not one or the other. He has become a much more effective player with an improved offensive arsenal with floaters, contact layups and so forth. Eventually the easy shots (the open ones) will fall as well. Lots of people haven't noticed his improvements on the glass either, which is a shame. Trey is closer now to being a complete NBA rotation player than he was before -- and he's only going to keep correcting his weaknesses with each season. He's still only 23 -- a year older than Rudy.
9. Do you trust in the direction the front office has the team pointed in?
JuMu: Absolutely, I'm curious how high this team will go, but regardless of how high it is, it is already looking like it will be better than our first post-DWill rebuild.
YuccaMan: Yes. I think this year has shown that they both have a plan and are able to adjust their plans according to new developments (in this case, the emergence of Rudy Gobert, Basketball God)
AllThatAmar: For sure I do. No Jazz front office has kept me so busy as the Lindsey one. I dread draft night each year because I know interviewing guys is now pointless because about 40% of them are traded or something crazy like that. (Hyperbole.) Making moves doesn't mean you are in the right direction. But the main difference between the KOC era and the DL era is that KOC tried to get the best out of every move in a vacuum -- DL is playing chess here where the moves are made with an overall goal or plan. Sometimes you lose a knight to a pawn, but the long play has you winning the game -- not every individual trade or whatever. I'm on board.
10. The Jazz franchise used to have an overall mentality, personality, or attitude. This was a hallmark of Jerry Sloan teams. Has Quin Snyder instilled his temperament upon this squad, or is this team still searching for an identity?
JuMu: The identity is still fluid but appears to be converging with one that is in line with Coach Q's vision:
Playing with a pass on the offensive end, and being downright suffocating on the defensive end (especially within 10 feet of the basket when Rudy and Favors are in the paint).
YuccaMan: I don't think Snyder has fully established a personality for the team yet, but I see signs that it's developing. Hopefully this will become very clear by mid-next season.
UtesFan89: I'd say they're still searching - but Quin has them going in the right direction. I figure within the next season, we'll know for sure.
AllThatAmar: The identity is forming, but it's one that actually embraces the Three Ds, instead of discards it for short term wins. This is a team that doesn't give up in games, and there are way fewer blowout losses than last year. This is a team that makes good teams fight for their wins, and sometimes those good teams go down. And this is a team that wins games on the road -- I cannot stress enough how out of character this is for the franchise. A defense first team that plays smart money-ball and doesn't back down? It's like an advanced version of what Frank Layden so awesome back in the day. I'd love for this squad to be a little more mean though.
Thanks again squad for bearing with a 10 question e-mail. And thanks for sharing your ideas!
What do you think, readers? Who do you agree with the most? (You are allowed to disagree with me. I encourage it!)