Sunday, October 14, 2012

Season Preview: Utah Jazz

Has there ever been a team that may have harmed their future by making a playoff experience?

Utah rewarded their fans by making a strong push at the end of the season and making the playoffs. The problem, outside of the eventual first round sweep, was the Jazz would have had two first round picks (Top 15) in the 2012 draft if they didn't make the playoffs. In what could turn out to be one of the deepest drafts in a while, it's clear Utah missed out.

Two of its biggest stars are in their final year of the contract and if both happen to leave, Utah will have zero ammo to attract potential free agents. The opportunity to build from within isn't lost but they missed an opportunity to be ahead of the curve, should worse case scenario happen.

As the current roster stands though, this Jazz team can pose a true threat to some teams in the Western Conference. A roster that can throw four low post options at a given team is a potent one.

Backcourt Production: The 'roller coaster ride' that Devin Harris was in this offense, is long gone. The Utah Jazz brought in two very solid combo guards in Mo Williams and Randy Foye. The Williams move may turn out to be beneficial, the last time he had complete PG role, he was an all star in Cleveland. Foye brings the dual threat of off the dribble shooting and spot up shooting. Both of them are capable of initiating the offense and both are capable of running 20 points off in a hurry. Corbin will surely enjoy the match ups he can now put together and almost guarantee his point guard play isn't as shaky as the prior year.

Gordon Hayward: Those who follow me know how much I admire the pace at which Gordon plays. Hayward finally started to put it together at the end of last season as he averaged 18 points in the final month. Offensively, this team will continue to run its sets through the post first but Gordon doesn't need a lot of touches to impact the ball game. What Gordon lacks in strength and speed, he makes up for in poise and IQ. To further expand on his stellar final month, those 18 points came on about 50% shooting. Gordon also was quietly a top defender last year defending opposing 3s. Looking forward to him building on that.

Al Jefferson: The most unheralded star in the NBA, Al Jefferson, is in the final year of his contract. Whether the circumstance is an extension in Utah or moving to a new team, the audition portion of it should be fun to watch. Jefferson averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds last year. With his vary of low post moves and an improving jump hook, without argument Al will continue to be the focal part of the offense. And with an added bit of financial motivation, we could very well see Al in the 23/11 range.

Perfect blend in frontcourt: alongside Big Al in the post, stands 'high effort' player Paul Millsap. Millsap, too, is in his final deal and I expect his auditioning to be a good one. Utah can't afford to let both of its low post stars walk away, I'd imagine Millsap will be the odd man out. While replacing a player like him is difficult, having Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, would soften that blow. Favors is an emerging defensive presence and should be very involved in the rotation in the 2012-13 campaign. Enes Kanter would be starting and would be a solid contributor if Jefferson wasn't in town. This unit is youthful but not short on playing experience and definitely not short on skill. They are easily one of the deepest units in the NBA and if Utah coaches stick to their guns and play inside-out, they will be tough out every night.

The Western Conference is deep so anything above a six seed would clearly be exceeding expectations. I personally don't see them advancing past the first round, if they get in, but a playoff appearance isn't a negative and won't be viewed the same way it was this past year. The Utah Jazz definitely have the talent to in be the tournament, it's just dependent on if that talent is intact at the end of the year.


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