- NBA Rank: 13
Conference Rank: 8
- Utah Jazz
You still stand watch, O human star, burning without a flicker, perfect flame, bright and resourceful spirit. Each of your rays a great idea - O torch which passes from hand to hand, from age to age, world without end.Karel Capek
The Jazz aren't tanking, and they aren't going to suck. It will still be a struggle to make the playoffs (we have it as a coin flip). If they do, their young roster is likely to be trounced by either a more experienced Spurs squad or a more talented Rockets squad. But they'll be competitive.
For a couple of years, the Jazz have had a problem: too many big men fighting for playing time. When you cannot play all of your best players at the same time because they play similar positions, then you aren't maximizing your win total particularly when one of those big men (Jefferson) was significantly overrated. This year, the torch will pass, as the team has let two starting big men go, freeing up playing time for younger players.
Many pundits and fans believe that the Jazz are tanking because they let their two top scorers go (Jefferson and Millsap Yay Points!) and it absorbed a huge amount of salary from Golden State in a trade where Utah gave up almost nothing in return. Why would a team let two veteran free agents go "for nothing", and then absorb a lot of salary and two aging players?
The answer is simple: they could afford to. The Jazz were in a unique position; they knew that no free agent signings were going to impact them this year (Dwight was not coming to Salt Lake City), and they knew that their young core was in a position to step up and more than replace Millsap's lost production. Why not use the opportunity to acquire a stockpile of assets while giving up virtually nothing in return?
|Al Jefferson ||2578||29||.077||4.2|
|Paul Millsap ||2375||29||.142||7.0|
|Randy Foye ||2249||30||.038||1.8|
|Mo Williams ||1418||31||.044||1.3|
|DeMarre Carroll ||1111||27||.185||4.3|
|Earl Watson ||829||34||.069||1.2|
Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.
As you can see, the three leaders in minutes have all left (they were also 1,2 and 4 in points scored). Although the bulk of the attention was spent on leading scorer Al Jefferson, it is Millsap who took the most wins off of the table. Millsap has always been underrated because he is "undersized" as a power forward. What's fascinating about this is how irrelevant it is. He records more blocks, steals, and rebounds then the average power forward, so clearly he isn't a defensive liability. His career TS% is also above average, so clearly he's able to get plenty of layups. Millsap is the classic example of how observers are swayed by their initial impressions; he looks too small to play power forward, therefore fans continue to believe he is, despite large amounts of evidence to the contrary. Atlanta got a steal at $19 million for 2 years (more on this in the Hawks post).
As you can see, the rest of Utah's major win producers were their younger players: Favors, Hayward, and Carroll. The big xfactor in their roster is the oft injured Jeremy Evans. For the third season in a row, Jeremy Evans played like a superstar whenever he got on the court, but didn't play enough minutes for us to tell if he really is one. I would so very, very much like to find out. We really hope for his continued good health . If Evans can get on the court, stay on the court and sustain his performance? The Jazz go to a whole other level.
|John Lucas ||1.0||2349||31||.019||.9|
|Brandon Rush ||2.3||1647||28||.142||4.9|
|Trey Burke ||1.0||1259||21||.076||2.0|
|Rudy Gobert ||5.0||835||21||.111||1.9|
|Andris Biedrins ||5.0||705||27||.119||1.7|
|Richard Jefferson ||3.2||550||33||.066||.8|
|Ian Clark ||2.0||414||22||.070||.6|
|Dominic McGuire ||1.0||387||27||.104||.8|
|Justin Holiday ||1.0||142||24||-.119||-.4|
|Scott Machado ||1.0||21||23||-.186||-.1|
Indicates that the player is new to the team.
So if Paul Millsap was so good, why doesn't his departure hurt more? The answer, of course, is that Derrick Favors was also pretty good, and this year he gets to play starter's minutes. Enes Kanter will also get a big minute bump, and not only is he expected to replace Jefferson's production, he's expected to improve upon it.
Gordon Hayward will also get more minutes now, as he becomes a featured player. This is definitely of the good because he is one of their best. And now that so many minutes have opened up, Corbin will almost be forced to let Evans see the floor for those precious 10-15 minutes a night that he deserves.
Furthermore, all those young players that are going to get more minutes are also going to get better, because that is generally what young players do. Utah has the biggest "wins produced from age and experience" in our projections this year. Hayward, Favors, and Kanter are the big beneficiaries.
Even the players from Golden State will have some positive impact. Jefferson is old but isn't awful -- he'll give Utah the same quality of minutes that Foye did (but thankfully he'll have a reserve role, which Foye should have had). Biedrins will offer some quality defensive energy as a reserve big man -- as long as Utah doesn't use him in the fourth quarter after the bonus. Andris will be an overpaid but perfectly respectable contributor. Brandon Rush should offer great relief on the wing as well. Honestly, the biggest problem Utah will have is that Alec Burks is getting too many minutes, but with any luck he'll score lots of points and become a great trade chip.
Overall, the media has been far too quick to scream "TANK!" whenever a team makes moves like the Jazz have made. A youth movement does not automatically equate to losing. Sometimes the departing veterans were just in the way of more talented bench players.
The "over" on Utah was our second-most profitable pre-season bet this year (behind the Knicks under). There are some real questions about minute allocation (Evans might never play again, Burks might play more than he should, etc), and we're lukewarm on Trey Burke but frankly this team is just way too talented to lose 55 games. I think this will be an exciting year for Utah, and Corbin is one of my picks for coach of the year, not because he deserves it, but because Utah will surpass so many people's expectations.
Second Opinion Arturo plays the sharp
One of the ways to get ahead in any business is to identify market inefficiencies and jump on them. The basketball world overvalues points and doesn't really understand progressive age improvement for players or the significant homecourt advantage from playing at Altitude. Once Utah let 3 of their top scorers go and replaced their minutes with young, productive but not flashy players it was a dead given that they would be undervalued. This team will win at least 41 games and if any of their young kids makes the jump (Favors, Kanter, Rush, Evans or Gobert) that number will be closer to 50 and they'll make the Thunder work for that division title.