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NBA Preseason: Utah Jazz Impressions

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Preseason 2012-2013

Utah Jazz Impressions

I guess the big thing we have to now do over the next 5 days is try to evaluate what we have with this team. We need to compare them to what we had at the beginning of last season. We need to compare them with what we had had the end of last season. And we need to compare it against our own expectations.

It's also super important to figure out if the preseason even means anything. I guess the preseason, and the importance of the preseason, isn't a static thing for each team in the league. The Los Angeles Lakers finished the preseason without a win and kept a number of their biggest stars out of a number of games. For them, their talent will help them get wins where cohesion takes a back seat. (Also: #KobeSystem) The Milwaukee Bucks? They need all the on-court time they can get to try to figure out how to coax success from the back court of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (a combined 4-25 last night, 1-9 from three, 2-3 from the free throw line, 11 points off of 25 shots, 6 assists and 6 turn overs).

For our Jazz I think the preseason is more important than not. Does performance within the preseason mean anything though? Can we take something from the preseason? Ideally: yes. Logically: no.

So, this being a Utah Jazz fan blog: yes *and* no.

No, really, go on . . .

I'm someone who embraces the quantitative frame of reference that statistics give us. But I'm going to hold off on that right now. Not everyone is a stats fan. But we all are Utah Jazz fans. I'm going to give a few impressions about our team . . . and I'd love for you all to give your own in the comments section as well. There is going to be a metric ton of posts I need to get out the door before the season starts; so let's start the discussion early!

  • The big story from the playoffs was that we couldn't defend the bread and butter guard plays in the NBA, and couldn't keep the other team honest with anything close to a passable three point attack. So during the off-season all of our bigs were sent to P3 to work on (among other things) their quickness; and our front office went out and brought in four three point shooters in Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye, and Kevin Murphy.
  • The on-court results after 8 preseason games give us mixed reviews. Our pick and roll defense is still shakier than the North Korean rocket program, but we seem to have constructed an amazing group of shooters. The Jazz went 45 for 105 from deep. Yes. I know. Stats. Sorry. The Jazz shot waa-aaay better from deep over the small sample size of 8 games. They took more threes. They made more threes. And this is going to help us moving forward. Teams will still dare us to take it, as it takes like 2 months before teams change their long-term scouting reports on a franchise that has been the laughing stock from deep. If the Jazz are consistently dared we consistently need to make the three ball. I think we can now. I don't think our preseason shooting from deep was a fluke -- that said, I don't anticipate the Jazz averaging 40% for the entire season. But, we are better. At least, that's the impression I get from watching the games I did (7 of 8), and keeping detailed notes in excel.
  • Mo Williams performed much better than I was expecting. I was happy to have Mo back because I felt he would mesh with Al Jefferson better than Devin Harris did. It seems like the Jazz front office thinks so as well. And their on and off-court synergy appears to be legit. Mo hasn't shot the ball well overall, but he's more of a streak shooter who can get hot. That said, it's hard to find fault in a dude who is shooting 90 ft% and 60 3pt%. He has impressed me more with his on-court leadership and control of the game. He's a veteran, and he knows how to run a team. He's not a pass first point guard by any stretch of the imagination; but he is still a dude who averaged 6.0 apg this preseason in 24.6 mpg. He's also averaging over 11 points per game as well. I'm confident that Mo will have a good season here, and mesh better than Devin did. I'm also pretty sure that Mo will get an opportunity to finish his career here after this contract expires.
  • I think Gordon Hayward is growing into his role better, now in his third season in the NBA. He's somewhat exiled from the other young guys because he's a starter -- but he's taking some of his natural game from how he plays with them to the starting lineup. This is a necessary step for him, putting his game and his talents ahead of some seniority based pecking order that existed last season. It's also the necessary step for the team, as an active, take charge Hayward is the one that led his college team to a few millimeters from the NCAA title. Gordon is shooting better from range, but I haven't seen a lot of great passes for him. I'm beginning to suspect I think he's a better distributor than he is. And that's my fault. I'm not sold on him at the 2 just yet, and part of that is numerical. I'd like my starting shooting guard to average more than 2 assists per game and shoot better than 75 ft% from the line. I hope he gets there during the regular season though. Jeff Hornacek has really spoiled me.
  • Holy Moley Marvin Williams! When the trade went down and I went into Synergy to watch how he scored off of cuts I felt very happy and confident that he would fit in here. I didn't know he also had a post game, and was shooting the ball so confidently from deep though. He said it best, with the Atlanta Hawks he had a specific role to play, and because of the other guys on the floor with him -- he wasn't asked to do everything he could do. I hope that we get the Full Marvin Experience (FME) on offense. He seems like he can do a lot. He's older, yes; but he still has some athleticism that can't be over looked. I haven't been crazy about his work on the glass, and I would to see more blocks from him -- but on offense he is nearly flawless so far for what we need him to do.
  • Paul Millsap was decidedly 'meh' for me this preseason. It's only preseason, and I'm used to seeing him play at such high levels . . . I would presume that he understands this is only preseason though. He has to go to war for another 80 games, so he could be keeping stuff in the tank. That's really how I see it though. If you give him normal minutes, Sap averaged a double double in the preseason. He did it unremarkably though. This could just be some sort of bias on my part. In the games he's handling the ball more in transition, and in the box scores he's averaging 2.2 steals in 22.0 minutes per game. So I guess he is doing some things even better than last year. I just don't know how much stock I can put into what he has and has not done in the preseason, he's a long-time vet playing for the same team. I think we know what we have with Sap. So my impression is that he's better than he played, and for us to be a force this year, we still do need Sap to be Sap.
  • Al Jefferson got better as the preseason went on, and the closer to the real games we got, the better he played. I see the progress Jefferson is making. That doesn't mean he's going to be an All-Star. And that doesn't mean he's Eddie Curry either. He started off this preseason playing very poorly, and only a few special people would go out there and say his 1/8 shooting night with 3 total rebounds against an Andrew Bogut -less Golden State Warriors team was a $15 million dollar performance. Seven games later he had 15 and 9, with 4 assists. See? He's playing better. He's doing some things quite well for his position. In a non-centerless world where positions still matter he's one of the best 5s in the league. He has shown me that he has worked on his game, and he's not the same guy he was 2 seasons ago. That said, some concerns remain. I think they are valid ones, but perhaps that falls on me for expecting All-Star production from someone clearly not an All-Star.
  • As a unit, these starters are okay. Interior defense / switching has not looked crisp. Not even against the 'bad lineups' they have faced (no Bogut, no Dwight Howard, no Kendrick Perkins, no Blake Griffin for one game, no Pau Gasol for one game, no LaMarcus Aldridge for one game, etc). When they push the tempo they are capable of getting easy baskets in transition -- which was a point of diminishing returns over the last few seasons. So that impressed me for sure. I honestly didn't know that Ty would attempt to get us to run. So kudos to him there. I thought that we had reloaded to be a half-court only team. Glad to know that is not the case.

If I was giving out a grade I would give our starters 3.5 / 5 right now. Depending on their play during the season I think they can either lose that half a point or gain that half a point. These five guys will never make you think you're watching the Charlotte Bobcats, but you're not going to think Miami Heat either. We have a complete starting unit where all five guys can score. That is a point of novelty in Utah still. (Hi Greg Ostertag!) Defense remains a problem -- but floor spacing should not be. Baby Steps.

  • Enes Kanter has exceeded all expectations for where I thought he'd be at this stage of his career. It's beyond projections and "what ifs", he physically produced a double double over 8 games in the NBA Preseason. He was hyper efficient in doing so, got to the line, and owned the glass. He's 20 years old and played 21 MPG and beasted on offense and defense. My impression is, sadly, that we're not going to get him on the court as much as we'd like. Even worse, whatever minutes Jeremy Evans was going to get will now be eaten up by Kanter -- who really is forcing the hand of the franchise. He wasn't supposed to be this good this early. He has worked on his post game, conditioning, explosiveness, and basketball IQ. That doesn't mean that he's Hakeem posting up, Robert Parish running for 40 minutes, or a rookie Shaq finishing fast breaks above the rim. No, it doesn't. But to deny the obvious leaps and bounds he has improved by would be silly. I really didn't like the Kanter pick. I'm eating a lot of crow now. The big question was "is Kanter good enough to be your 3rd big, thus making it okay to move a guy ahead of him?" The answer has to be yes. Unless, of course, the preseason doesn't mean anything. Then the answer is "no, of course not, the preseason doesn't mean anything! Send him to the bench!"
  • Derrick Favors did the opposite, he was below my expectations for where I thought he'd be at this stage. He's in his third year, is naturally gifted athletically, but remains to be more of a work in progress right now. Favors is still the #3 guy, he's still ahead of Kanter. Why? Because Favors is still our best post defender. And he is. He gets the blocks, but he also gets the stops. Kanter gets the boards -- but Kanter gets the boards a lot on shots Favors defends. They work well together, and I'm glad they play on the floor together. I'd love to see more line-up variety; but going forward our paint will be anchored with both of these guys. Favors does not look like a better basketball player than what we saw in the playoffs. Perhaps, I dunno, someone like him needs some coaching or something? Favors is built to get easy baskets, while Kanter is built to bruise. Karl Malone was the king of running hard to get easy scores. Favors needs to run more -- and so far in the preseason we're seeing indications of that being part of the game plan.
  • Jeremy Evans also does not look like he has worked on his game. He has a better body, and capable of even more amazing highlights -- but he didn't come into camp with a jump shot or any dribbling ability. Right now Marvin Williams is more likely to take his time at the 4 than Jeremy is likely to take any playing time at the 3. Which would be fine, you know, if Evans wasn't the 5th big, and 3rd big prospect in a 4 bigman rotation. Evans is in his third year as well. I love him, and I am really high on him because of his activity level and defensive potential (he showed me a lot of stuff in Orlando this year). He's just not going to see a lot of the floor unless something happens.
  • Darnell Jackson, aka "Bruh Man" from Martin, is amazing. He played in 6 of our 8 games, and averages 10.9 fouls per 36 minutes. That's pretty much the high score of All-Time Jazz preseason forever, because Kyrylo Fesenko 's fouls per 36 was "only" like 9.6. I would have loved to see him make the roster because he's a banger who has that old school mentality. That said, Tyrone Corbin would have started him at some point in the season -- just to eff with us.
  • I am better than Brian Butch at basketball. Well, maybe not. But Butch finishes preseason having played in 2 games, and was cut after 5. He did not score. That doesn't mean he didn't TRY to score. He did. He was solid on the glass, but played in only garbage time and did not contribute anything else to the cause. He also shot the ball more frequently than Randy Foye did. And somehow made less shots.

Our Bench bigs are a 5 / 5 for sure. This is an easy impression to have, as two of our bench bigs could start on other teams. What is underrated about DF and EK is that as underrated bigs who are young -- they both have that implicit respect from the refs to get to the line. That's something Carlos Boozer didn't have. That's something Paul Millsap still doesn't have. And that's something Al Jefferson also doesn't have. It's important, historically and also in my own books, for your bigs to get to the line. It's strategy to get the other teams' bigs in foul trouble -- not because you put a bad FT shooter (a big) to the line. No. It's important because you slowly weaken the other teams' ability to play active / aggressive defense. Which makes it EASIER to play against. That's why fouls are important. The fact that our bench bigs draw fouls is not something to over look.

  • Earl Watson did not play in the preseason, and he's still rehabbing.
  • Jamaal Tinsley had the strangest preseason ever. He'd have games of 6 or 7 assists, and then miss games for personal reasons and dental surgery. He hardly shot, and that's good, because he shot atrociously. I think he's good on the floor for spoon feeding our younger players; however, with more veteran / experienced guys his capabilities are wasted. DNJ was the only PG on the roster (not named Chris) who was anywhere CLOSE to having a 3 : 1 assist to turn over ratio. Over all, I like Jamaal. He's a great mentor right now who is trying to stick on in this league. He's just not a very complete player and we'll be in trouble if he is ever pressed into a significant role.
  • Randy Foye shot worse than Jamaal did, but Foye has the rep of being a shot maker. That rep was not confirmed by any data in the 159 minutes Foye played. Or, if you will, the 61 shots Randy took. (Jamaal only took 26) I'm comfortable with the ball in Jamaal's hands, but I'm not certain he's capable of being a half a game type of player. I'm certain that Randy is going to play like half the game this season, but I'm absolutely against him being a ball handler. I used to think "Combo Guard" meant a Jeff Hornacek type who could and did play both SG and PG. Today I now see that "Combo Guard" means short shooting guard. That's what Randy is. All that negativity aside, no one said that Foye was the most consistent player. His talent lies in his ability to really get on a roll. And last season after the All-Star break -- he was on one of the greatest shooting streaks in NBA history. I guess that inflated his averages a bit, and as a consequence, inflated my baseline expectations for him. I didn't think he was going to make ALL of his shots. But I did not expect him to a) shoot less than 30%, and b) continue shooting. Sadly, the primary impression I have of Foye isn't even as a gunner with no conscience, or a dude who's going to take Alec's minutes. It's that we, the Utah Jazz, will be the ones to blame for his crappy year; and not him. Foye is a guard, but he excels at being a spot up jump shooter. Trying to play him as a Howard Eisley distributor is "square peg in round hole"-ing him into a very futile year for all parties involved. The Los Angeles Clippers used him correctly. I fear that we will fail to do what even they were able to do.
  • Chris Quinn, CQ if I may, we had some great times. We had our moments. I'll never forget that time you stole the ball and hit a long two before the end of the quarter against OKC. I'll also never forget your 7 assists to 1 turn over ratio this preseason. But you and I know that this relationship can't go on. I put all of your stuff out in a box. I totally spaced and it's trash day, so if you want your stuff you better get here before the garbage man does. Hug, Hug, Kiss, Kiss.

  • Alec Burks didn't blow me away this preseason. I can admit that as a huge Burks fan. He absolutely destroyed all the other wings on the team not named Marvin (there's some evidence that he did better than Gordon, but we can't really mention that). But even that may not be enough to shake the foundation of the 'set in stone from July 2012' rotations Corbin seems to have made. Kanter helped himself by forcing the hand of the team to see that he's ready. I don't know if Burks can really do that, because the expectations for him are just so messed up. Even the closest people to the team have all kinds of reservations about Burks -- a guard who shot the ball 7 times a game, but shot 50.0 fg%, 63.6 3pt%, and had 1.37 PPS. He clearly fails my own criteria though for not shooting above 75 ft% or getting more than 2 assists a game though. He does rebounds well, hardly gets an assist, but is a handful inside and out with his ball handling, transition play, and now spot up three point shooting. Burks was very impressive, and my impression is that he will be a star in this league if given an opportunity. From listening to David Locke, and the coaches, it seems like he didn't do anything to earn more playing time though. At least, that's my impression of what they are saying. I know Foye is going to play like 24 mpg this year, and he shot almost HALF of what Burks did.
  • DeMarre Carroll is the only guy on the team who made it easy on the coaches. He was an energy guy who didn't take a lot of shots and defended last season. He started last season, but in that specialist garbage man / Adam Keefe role as someone to hustle. He did that well last season, and he did that well in the preseason as well. He also spent a lot of time this off-season working on other parts of his game. And the easy part is . . . that those parts of his game are still works in progress. He didn't do anything to make us have to re-evaluate his role on the team. He was highly inefficient scoring the ball, so we're not going to restructure our offense to run through him anytime soon. I love his hustle. I love his positivity. I love his motor. I guess I also love how he is a limited player who plays within his limitations, and that makes him easier to a) find time for, and b) not have to worry about is there isn't a lot of time to be had.
  • Randy Foye gets mention here -- because I think his true position is as a wing, and not a ball handler. I like the theory of him and Burks on the court at the same time. I just think the current execution of them on the floor at the same time is reversed. Burks needs to handle the ball, and Foye needs to spot up. I think we've all come to that conclusion independently.
  • Kevin Murphy impressed me with his play. He didn't "kill it", but he looks like an actual NBA player -- which is rare for a late 2nd round pick. If he can adapt his game to being the 4th or 5th option, and he continues to work on his defense, he can make it in this league. I don't think there will be a lot of minutes for him though. Which is critical, because young players play best with confidence. And confidence only comes from "having past experiences where good things happen on the court" to fall back on during bad times. And if you don't play, you will be unconfident when you do play. Or at least, that seems to be the rule of thumb for some of the guys we happen to draft who don't come into the league with chips on their shoulders.
  • Raja Bell is doing the right thing by staying at home. His market value would go down if he was playing, or causing a fuss. He gets full marks from me this preseason.
  • Oh man, Trey Gilder played poorly . . . he and Brian Butch came from that Stormtroopers school of shooting. Combined they took 11 shots in 31 minutes, and made none of them. I really wish the Jazz brought in that crazy haired guy from the summer league instead . . . he would have been more fun to talk about in camp. What was his name? Crash? Smash? Bubba Washington?

Gordon and Marvin are a solid 4 / 5 if you are isolating just for starting wings. Neither of them are All-Stars, but both do everything. They are solidly better than average. Our bench wings though? Burks / Foye looks a lot better on paper than they have on the court. DeMarre is very limited but tenacious. No one else is worth mentioning. Our bench wings and bench guards leave a lot to be desired -- especially when they seem to overlap so much in futility. Burks is going to be a star, so I will give these guys 2.5 / 5 mainly because of him.

I have not been impressed with the coaching, but my impression is that he was trying to play everyone (Summer league rules). I'm withholding judgement here. As for my own work, I give it a 0.5 / 5. I gotta step it up. Kanter is doing so well right now that if he started a blog right now he'd be kicking my butt too!

These are just my impressions. More actual quantitative analysis later. Please, as always, feel free to add your own opinions below!