NBA Graveyard 2016: A Jazz Funeral (For Now)

It’s April and the season is over for 14 NBA teams. We have one last team to examine – the Utah Jazz, who were eliminated on the final day of the regular season. For a breakdown of the other 13 teams click on the “NBA Graveyard 2016” section.

The Utah Jazz, man, somehow, managed to die at the impotent hands of the 2016 Rockets and 2016 Kobe Bryant

jazz_grave

Postmortem: The Jazz were straight-up abused this year. Many jokes have been made about their role as the Washington Generals in Kobe’s 60-point explosion in the final day of the regular season. But the Jazz – who found out just before the Kobe game that they were eliminated from the playoffs – were victims of oppositional brilliance all season. In NBA Countdown’s video of the top 10 plays of the 2015-16 regular season, four of those plays came at the expense of the Jazz. In a 30-team league what are the odds that 40 percent of the best plays (admittedly subjective, but still) of a season would occur against one team?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Utah finished last season 19-10 with the top-ranked defense post-All Star break. With monster rim protector Rudy Gobert and front court partner Derrick Favors owning the paint and big, rangy guards causing havoc on the perimeter, the Jazz built a stifling defensive identity. All signs pointed to a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. But injuries would be a theme as would a lack of elite scoring on the offensive end. Gobert and Favors suffered injuries at the same time over a stretch of games in December and January. Utah could have probably weathered the storm had those injuries been staggered, but losing both in addition to 6’6″ point guard Dante Exum for the entire season made it impossible to batten down the hatches.

Gobert sprained his MCL on Dec. 2 and missed 18 straight games. Favors hurt his back, costing him 16 games. In the 27 games covering the span when Gobert went down until Favors returned to the lineup, Utah went 11-16, leaving the Jazz in ninth place in the West.  Even in a weakened West, these setbacks were too much to overcome and Utah ultimately finished the season ninth. They did rally down the stretch, improving their record by two wins year over year but were eliminated on the final day of the regular season. Despite the disappointing playoff miss the future is still bright, as they’ve shown an aptitude for drafting solid players late in the Lottery and their young core will all be back next season. In what seems like a common refrain with these non-playoff teams, so much hinges on their ability to stay healthy as a group.

Low Moments: The Jazz were another unfortunate team that saw a key player’s season submarined before the first game tipped off. Fresh off his rookie season, Australian point guard Exum tore his ACL in international competition on August 4, forcing him to miss the entire 2015-16 campaign. Recent reports state that Exum is back to running sprints eight months after surgery and won’t play for Australia in the Summer Olympics unless he’s 100 percent. The Jazz should be wary of the possibility. Though Exum had a rough rookie season by the numbers, such as a paltry 5.7 PER, he showed marked improvement after the All Star break on the defensive end, pestering smaller point guards with his length.

Utah entered April 11 a game back of Houston in the loss column with a home game against a beaten-up Mavericks team and a road game at the hapless Lakers. They owned the tie-breaker over Houston. They were poised to make their move. Fate intervened, as Gobert lasted just 12 minutes before spraining an ankle. The Jazz broke under the weight of another star injury and played an uninspiring game. They dropped the game to Dallas at home 101-92, losing every quarter. The writing was on the wall for their season’s abrupt end.

To add insult to their many injuries, Utah allowed a rejuvenated Kobe to rally the Lakers back from 10 down late in the fourth to beat them two days later, punctuated by Bryant notching 60 points in his final game.

Bright Spots: Gordon Hayward continued to distinguish himself as the face of the franchise. He made highlight reels with a step-back game-winner over Zaza Pachulia to beat Dallas in overtime on Feb. 9, propelling Utah to a seventh-straight win. He put in 19.7 points per game, improving his scoring average for the fifth straight season. Hayward is the embodiment of Salt Lake City basketball.

Rodney Hood made a leap in his second season as a pro, filling in beyond expectations for injured shooting guard Alec Burks. Hood sank a buzzer-beater himself in that game against Dallas Feb. 9 to send the game to overtime.

Hood can improve his overall efficiency but is prone to go off on any given night. As he did on March 28 with 30 points on eight threes in the first half of a 123-75(!) thrashing of the Lakers.

Rookie stretch four Trey Lyles (12th overall pick) proved to be a diamond in the rough, averaging 19 and 11 rebounds per 100 possessions. His ability to shoot threes (38%) gives the Jazz much-needed spacing. Look for him to grow into a much bigger role next season.

Assets: Utah’s talented young team is almost entirely under contract, without any player or team options, through next season. A whopping 14 players from this year’s team will be back with the Jazz for sure next season, barring trades or cuts. They also get another Lottery pick to add to their roster or to barter with. Here’s how I rank their assets:

  1. Hayward – The team’s biggest star, Hayward continues to improve. He’s only under team control through next season but I find it hard to believe he’d leave Utah.
  2. Favors – A two-way workhorse on a bargain deal through 2017-18, Favors had a 21.6 PER and averaged 1.5 blocks per game.
  3. Gobert – The Stifle Tower needs to put together a full healthy season and add to his offensive game, but he’s a game-changer defensively protecting the rim. His dirt-cheap $2M per year contract expires next season. They will need to pay up.
  4. Lyles – At 20 years old, 6’10”, on a rookie deal, expect him to be a big part of Utah’s future.
  5. Exum – Still just 20 years old, the ACL injury is a huge setback to his development, but he carries immense potential. If he can make strides offensively this will be a dangerous team. Under team control through 2017-18.
  6. Hood – His rise has made the more expensive Burks expendable. His rookie deal is peanuts through 2018.
  7. Shelvin Mack – Performed admirably at starting point guard after being acquired at the trade deadline. He provides needed insurance behind Exum next season
  8. 2016 1st Round pick – Will be at the end of the Lottery, the same range that netted them Lyles, Burks and Hayward. The front office has an eye for talent in the draft. Hood was selected No. 23 in 2014.
  9. Burks – On this team of bargain contracts, his stands out as the only potential bad deal. Burks has the team’s largest guarantee at $41M through 2018-19. He has value as a 41 percent three-point shooter, scoring around 13 points per game. But Hood may have passed him by, thanks to his missing 51 games due to injury this season. I’m a big fan of Burks as he is one of the few Colorado Buffaloes in the NBA, but injuries have really hurt his ceiling.
  10. Raul Neto – Provides solid point guard depth. Was thrown into the fire after the Exum injury and did fine, but is not a starter at this point in time.
  11. Trey Burke – One of the few recent Jazz draft busts, Burke has never recaptured the magic he had at Michigan. He’s the fourth point guard on the depth chart, so look for the Jazz to shop him aggressively.
  12. Tibor Pleiss – Intriguing prospect at 7’3″ out of Germany, but he only played in 12 games his 26-year old rookie season. May be destined for the D-League.
  13. Joe Ingles – A nice player and a fellow Aussie for Exum to pal around with. He’s under contract for one more year and is the kind of guy you want filling out the back end of your rotation.
  14. Jeff Withey – Big man depth at just $1M next season. He got some time due to the team’s front court injuries, but didn’t do anything spectacular.

Free Agency prospects: Utah has never been a free agent destination and with so many players under contract it’s hard to imagine them being very active this summer. Additionally they will need every ounce of cap space next summer to re-sign Hayward and Gobert. They’ll be better off sitting free agency out, unless they can acquire a shooter on a decent contract. Exum does bring uncertainty to the point guard spot and likely will have a bumpy road ahead returning from ACL surgery, but the team is committed to developing him and they have a capable backup in Mack. Trevor Booker is the lone upcoming free agent on the roster that they may want to re-sign for the right price.

Resurrection Scale: 80% (Premature Jazz Funeral) – Despite its inability to get over the hump and into the postseason, Utah is poised for a strong 2016-17, with oodles of talent and a great young coach in Quin Snyder. I fully expect them to be in the playoffs next year and possibly make a run. Health, as always, will be the key.

3 thoughts on “NBA Graveyard 2016: A Jazz Funeral (For Now)

  1. The Jazz(and most the league’s media, due to the propaganda of the Jazz Having to pretend Hayward was a star, since they had no one else to pretend about) just don’t get that Hayward is just an average player, and that’s why they’re so mediocre despite having above average Everything beside him! Hayward is actually Below just the average NBA player. He scores 1.09 points per shot+FT possession, when league averageis1.05, yet he takes Every single tech and must-foul FT when the average player does not do that, and while Hayward’s not the Jazz best FTshooter so he hurts them in getting that portion of his points. So his scoring rate is exactly average after you take out those free points he gets that don’t help his team whatsoever. Per 36 min, he grabs just 4.9 rebounds when league SF average is 6.0, so he loses the Jazz 1.1 points that way, since average points per possession is 1.02(I realize I said it’s 1.05 per poss.for scoring- that’s without turnovers, which we’ll get to). League SF average is 3.1 assists per 36 and Hayward gets 3.7, but league turnover average is 1 per 12 points +1 assist. Hayward turns it over 0.3x more than average for his totals, so he throws away nearly All the positive he does passing-wise, and that was the very Only area of anything that he was above average in! The steals/blocks NBA SF average is 2.1. He gets just 1.5, and because steals often cause fast breaks, each possession gained or lost in that way is worth 1.4 points. He loses the Jazz another 0.8 points per game that way. League average is to give up 102.8 points per 100 possessions defensively. Hayward gives up 113 when Favors and Gobert aren’t out there to save his terrible D! That’s not an error! I said he gives up -10.2 worse than league average on D without those two excellent defenders. They lower his total rating all the way to 105, so that he doesn’t look as terrible as he is, and since the Jazz play 72 possessions per 36, that means in all he’s very lucky to only lose his team -1.6 points per game that way. So Hayward is -3.2 points worse than just the average NBA player in total game. Each point is worth 3 wins on average over the courses of 82 games, so Hayward loses the Jazz 9.6 games each year that they would win if they replaced him with just any random average SF. That’s why they have such dominant big men, an above average SG, a slightly below average PG and a slightly above average bench, yet still don’t dominate most everyone with such talent across the board. In truth, Hayward is not very good.

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  2. Also, the Jazz will Not be in the playoffs next year. Every Single Utah writer whined all year long about the loss of EXUM, and Burks, as if that was why the Jazz weren’t “as good as they really should’ve been”. However, the All Always seemed to forget to point out that Exum is THE Worst player in the entire league, and Burks is below average in total game! So those two would have COST them a Whole Bunch of wins, rather than turned their losses into wins! Exum’s offensive rating is THIRTEEN points below league average, and defensively he was terrible too, even though Utah’s media tried to pretend he was a good defender since he was SO bad at everything else that that was the only area they could even pretend without sounding completely ridiculous! Exum gave up -6 worse than average on D as well….Burks is -3 in total game, mostly from poor defense too. Had those two been healthy, it would have cost the Jazz over 10 wins. Those two would’ve ruined more than 10 of the wins the Jazz did get singer they were gone. Not only that , but the Jazz had Unbelievable luck in the way of opponent’s injuries that no one cared to point out. THAT much luck going For them could not continue into next year- the odds just wouldn’t allow it. AND, the Jazz set a Record for most wins Ever off of buzzer beaters from all quarters. For instance, they throw up a half court heave that banks in to end the 1st, and then go on to end up winning by 2. That couldnt continue for two years straight! So the Jazz are going to be worse next year than they were this year, with those two filling tons of minutes with terrible play! Even with the improvement of all the young guys next year, all those things I mentioned gave the Jazz 15 or so more wins than they would’ve had in normal circumstances, so they’re going to end up 5 games back when things even out. When they aren’t luckier than Any team in the history of the league!

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  3. Wow, I dig your passion but can’t help but find some flaws in your arguments. Hayward is a minus defensively for sure, but he’s top 10 offensive SF, and this Jazz team needs all the offense it can get. You also say they are great everywhere else besides Hayward, but they have a glaring hole at PG, which was finally raised to mediocrity with the acquisition of Mack. Exum did have a terrible rookie season by the numbers. His PER was single digits. I get all that. But he also was a 19 year old who played all his formative ball in Australia. He’s the type of player that could have used a year or two at a D1 school. But he was +10.5 in March 2015 and improved his DefRtg each month. So there were good signs, plus his size is a potential game-changer at 6’6″. He has a LONG way to go and the ACL injury really set him back. But he could be a Shaun Livingston type which would be a nice outcome.

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