Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Utah Jazz

UTAH JAZZ
25-57
Northwest Division
Coach: Quin Snyder
Power Ranking: 28



The Jazz are at a bit of a crossroads heading into this season.  They have plenty of talent on the roster, but it's yet to be determined if they have enough to ever contend for a playoff spot with this group.  Derrick Favors is solid, but he hasn't lived up to what some saw as superstar potential when he entered the league.  Enes Kanter is a solid rotational big, but he has yet to show that he can be more than a role player.  Trey Burke was okay as a rookie, but he struggled to score efficiently.  Alec Burks is a nice player, but is he good enough to be a starter on this team?  They matched a max contract offer to Gordon Hayward this off-season, keeping the promising young wing from leaving for Charlotte.  However, that contract will look like less of a good idea if he doesn't bounce back from a down shooting year in 2013-14.

Also still to be seen is how Quin Snyder will handle the role of NBA head coach.  Snyder has worked his way back to primetime after a somewhat disgraced exit from his role as the head coach at Missouri.  Although Snyder was never proven to have a hand in any major violations at Mizzou, the lack of control within his program ultimately led to his demise.  After working himself back into good graces in the D-League, Snyder has bounced around as an assistant in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Moscow and Atlanta.  Now, he's the head man in Utah and has a major task on his hands: assembling the spare parts and pieces into something useful.  That task should be made easier if Dante Exum is what draft analysts claim him to be.  The dynamic 6'5 guard enters the season relatively untested after emerging as a major name out of Australia via the Nike Hoop Summit and strong performances in international play.  How he fits in the backcourt with Burke and Burks is yet to be seen.  However Snyder chooses to use him, Exum will likely add playmaking and length to a roster short on both.


Click "Read More" for the rest of the preview...

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
100.6(25th) 109.1(30th) .271 .237 52.3% 25.5% 74.5% 13.9%

The Jazz were one of the league's worst offensive teams last year, thanks in large part to horrendous shooting both within and beyond the three point line.  Utah ranked 25th in the league in 3-point shooting (34.4%) and 2-point shooting (47.4%).  They played at one of the slower paces in the league, ranking 25th at 91.4 possessions per game.  Their .271 FTr and 13.9 TOV% ranked 17th in the league and their OReb% came in right at the league average.  With most of their main pieces back, aside from Marvin Williams, expect growth on offense.

As the league's worst defensive unit in 2013-14, there's nowhere to go but up.  The Jazz were a respectable rebounding team on the defensive end, ranking 15th in the league in DReb%.  They ranked 24th in opponent two-point defense (50.3%) and 16th in opponent FTr, at .293.  One oddity in the Jazz' defensive metrics is that they ranked 6th in the league in opponent 3PAr at .240.  However, Utah's opponents shot 37.6% (28th) from three, which indicates that the Jazz were possibly victims of catching a good amount of teams on hot shooting nights.  For reference, the teams that finished in front of Utah in opponent 3PAr finished 12th, 10th, 8th, 5th and 2nd in the league in opponent 3P%.  If the Jazz can maintain their perimeter defense at that level next year, expect improvement in overall defensive efficiency.  For that defensive efficiency to see a significant improvement, they'll have to force more turnovers, as they ranked 29th in opp. TOV% at a meager 12.1%.

STYLE OF PLAY

Coach Nick over at SBNation.com took a detailed look at what the Jazz did on offense under Snyder in the Las Vegas Summer League in July.  Nick starts by breaking down one of the league's more well-known plays "Loop", which you can also find a breakdown of in the Sixers preview.  Utah runs the play with a few wrinkles, however.  The main difference is that Utah runs the PG off of three screens to try and set up action on either a flare or a curl cut.  When the play breaks down, Utah falls into pick-and-roll action, allowing their young, talented players to play a more traditional game as the shot clock runs down.  This fairly simple play figures to be a staple of the Jazz offense in Snyder's first year.

Another play that Coach Nick thinks will factor heavily into the Jazz offense is one that he refers to as "Pinch-Post-Split".  The play was used heavily in the offense run by the 1960s Celtics, and should figure to create easy looks for the Jazz offense if run correctly.  Nick's clips don't show any successful runs by the Jazz summer league unit in this set, but you can see how the busy action can open up good looks if you have a big man who can pass and guards who are willing to make strong, aggressive cuts.  With Dante Exum's size and length, I think that he fits well into this system in the future as he gets bigger and stronger.

Nick also points out that the Jazz ran a wide variety of motion and pick-and-roll plays that saw a big man pop outside the arc for an open three.  However, considering Utah's personnel, he doesn't think that this action will be seen in the regular season.  Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Trevor Booker and Rudy Gobert are all fairly limited in terms of their range, so this play was either a way to get a young player some looks or a preview of changes that may be coming in Utah's personnel.  Seeing as they're locked into a lucrative deal with Favors, I believe that the former is the case.  No matter what they run, the Jazz will need to improve their timing and spacing if they hope to improve on last year's paltry offense.  By most accounts, Snyder will look to improve the team's pace above and beyond the 91.4 possessions per game they played at last year.  They have the personnel for this pace of play, so the change should bring positive results if they aren't a lost cause in the halfcourt.


PERSONNEL
Acquisitions: G Dante Exum (5th pick), SF Rodney Hood (23rd pick), PF Trevor Booker, G Carrick Felix, F Steve Novak
Departures: SF Richard Jefferson, G/F Brandon Rush, F Marvin Williams


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
PG: Trey Burke
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
12.8
12.6
21.8%
47.3%
29.4%
12.2%
Burke finished third in Rookie of the Year voting last season, but he will have to be much better going forward.  Aside from decent assist-to-turnover numbers, he was a black hole on offense.  He didn't get to the FT line often (.126 FTr), and as you can see from his TS%, struggled to shoot the ball.  I believe he'll improve on his 33% 3P shooting, but is he going to be able to find ways to score inside the arc (41.0 2P%)?

SG: Alec Burks
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
14.0
15.8
23.9%
54.7%
16.9%
13.0%
Burks took advantage of a huge minutes increase in his third season in the league, posting career highs in just about every category.  2013-14 was his first year above league average in the PER department, boosted by solid scoring efficiency in a moderate usage role.  Burks isn't a great outside shooter (35.0 3P%) or scorer (48.0 2P%), but he gets to the FT line with regularity (.449 FTr).

SF: Gordon Hayward
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%3P%
16.2
16.2
23.1%
52.0%
24.1%
30.4%
Hayward signed a max contract offer sheet with the Hornets in the off-season, but is back in Salt Lake City after Utah decided to match it.  He wasn't superb last season, but that was mostly due to struggles beyond the arc.  Hayward was a career 40 3P% shooter entering last season, but as you can see above fell well below that mark in 2013-14.  He's a very good player when shooting the ball well, including excellent play-making for a SF.  I expect Hayward to have a big year in 2014-15 as his outside shooting bounces back.

PF: Derrick Favors
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
13.3
19.0
20.8%
55.6%
16.7%
1.8
Favors, if nothing else, is a solid, consistent big man who does most things well.  He's an okay rebounder, a good finisher (52.3 2P%)  and he will block a shot or two every night.  Despite entering his fifth season in the league, he's only 23 years old, so there could be more room for growth.  Favors has improved with every season, so it's not outrageous to think that he could improve significantly on last year's numbers.  For the Jazz to be competitive, they'll need Favors to continue on his upward trajectory.

C: Enes Kanter
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%2P%
12.3
15.6
23.3%
52.3%
16.1%
49.2%
Kanter has shown less of a solid track record for steady improvement, as he regressed a bit in his third season in the league.  Kanter shot 54% from the field as a sophomore, falling to 49% in 2013-14.  He also saw his FTr decrease, and even saw his rebounding numbers suffer a bit.  Having played twice as many minutes as he did in 2012-13, perhaps Kanter's struggles are related to conditioning.

BENCH
G: Dante Exum (No relevant stats)
I like what I've seen of Exum on YouTube and at the Nike Hoop Summit.  He has the body, athleticism and talent to be a superstar in the league with some seasoning.  Depending on how quickly he comes along, he will likely be starting alongside Burke at some point this season.

SG: Carrick Felix
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%MP
2.7
13.3
23.2%
60.3%
18.2%
38
Felix was acquired as part of the Cavaliers' salary dump before they signed LeBron James.  He'll have competition from Dahntay Jones, Kevin Murphy and Tour'e Murray for this roster spot and playing time.

SF: Rodney Hood (college stats)
PPGRPGAPGFG%3P%2P%
16.1
3.9
2.1
46.4%
42.0%
49.4%
Hood was selected 23rd overall as an insurance policy in case the Jazz decided not to bring Gordon Hayward back.  With Hayward back in the fold, Hood will serve as his main backup.  He's a strong shooter and could prove to be a reliable scoring option, but he won't do much else.  Defense may be a major issue.

PF: Trevor Booker
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
6.8
15.0
14.4%
56.3%
14.1%
.189
Booker had a solid season last year despite seeing his FTr tumble to a level almost half of what it has historically been.  He overcame that by converting over 55% of his FG attempts.  He's not a great rebounder and is a bit undersized.  However, he makes hustle plays and should add some leadership and toughness to a young frontcourt.

C: Rudy Gobert
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
2.3
12.9
14.2%
50.7%
20.6%
3.4
Forget Gobert's numbers from last season, he looked extremely improved in summer league play.  In Utah's four LV Summer League contests, Gobert averaged 11.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG on 73% shooting in only 23 minutes per game.  Not to mention the fact that he looked like a much more coordinated, smart player.  In the FIBA World Cup this summer, Gobert played a much smaller role, but still managed 4 PPG, 5 RPG and 72% shooting.  He should make for an excellent backup in time, possibly as soon as this year.


SEASON EXPECTATIONS

There is reason to believe the Jazz have the right pieces in place to make improvements on last year's 25-57 showing.  They have drafted well in recent years, adding pieces up and down the roster.  They have upside at every position.  However, Trey Burke looked like he was in over his head at times last season and Dante Exum looks like a hit-or-miss prospect.  Utah will need those two to prove that they're starting caliber players in the near future for this core to show its true promise.  The Jazz are also in a very competitive division and will have the poor fortune of playing 8 games against OKC and Portland.  Even Denver and Minnesota figure to provide good competition for another 4 games each this year.  If Utah were in the Eastern Conference, say, the Atlantic division instead, they just might look like a team with an outside shot of winning 35 games (are they really that much worse than Detroit or New York?).  However, they're stuck in the West, so I'm expecting another season of approximately 25 wins, with my bet being that they finish a little bit below that number as Burke doesn't make the necessary improvements and Exum looks as raw as people are expecting.

SUMMARY

The Quin Snyder era is upon Utah, and with one of the league's youngest rosters (average age of 24.7) the expectations should be tempered for a year or two.  The good news is, they have quality at every position and with Rudy Gobert (or even Enes Kanter) and Rodney Hood they may have starting caliber young players on their bench who prove to be strong trade chips in the future.  For the present, the team will likely frustrate its fans with immaturity and the inability to finish close games despite their exciting talent level.  There should be more answers about just how good this core can be come April.


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