Utah wiped the slate clean this summer by getting rid of five noteworthy players: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, DeMarre Carroll, and Randy Foye. That leads me to believe Utah, like Phoenix, is planning for the future with it’s extremely young core. When healthy, four of the five Jazz starters are 23 years of age or younger. Let’s take a look at my expectations for the Utah Jazz’ this season:
Guards (C+): Jamaal Tinsley, Gordon Hayward, John Lucas, Alec Burks, Trey Burke (IR)
Some would say Trey Burke was a steal, being picked at #9 (by Minnesota then traded to Utah). Regardless of him being a steal or not, Utah definitely got it’s man. Trey Burke is a perfect fit as the team was desperate at point guard. Judging Burke from his time with Michigan, we know he isn’t afraid to take the big shots and try to carry his team to the promised land. Burke will likely miss the first two months of the season with a broken finger. The sharp-shooting Gordon Hayward is capable of playing both, the two and three. However, it appears Utah will move forward with Hayward as it’s shooting guard. Hayward immediately gained the reputation of being a great outside shooter. Teams must step up on him as he can torch you if you give him any space. Also beware of athletic two guard Alec Burks, who should end up being a valuable asset to this young squad.
Forwards (C-): Richard Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Brandon Rush, Jeremy Evans, Marvin Williams (IR)
After a couple years of being a benchwarmer, it appears as though Richard Jefferson will get his shot to be a starter again. Although he isn’t what he used to be, he still knows how to play the game and should benefit the young players with his veteran leadership. With the loss of Paul MIllsap in free agency, Derrick Favors will take over as the starting power forward. Since being picked third by New Jersey in 2010 (and later traded to Utah as part of the Deron Williams deal), Favors has been in his shell as he hasn’t been able to earn much quality playing time. Favors’ patience paid off as he is now expected to be a key component in Utah’s future. Favors has a very effective post game as well as an excellent NBA body.
Centers (B-): Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, Andris Biedrins
I can definitely see Enes Kanter as a top candidate for Most Improved Player this season. Much like Derrick Favors, Kanter was stuck behind Al Jefferson until Jefferson recently left for Charlotte in free agency. Still, it’s unclear if Kanter is ready to be a starter in this league. Kanter has a lot of work to do on his raw offensive game but that is expected to steadily improve. On the other hand, Kanter provides an upgrade over Al Jefferson on the defensive end. Rudy Gobert, 7-1 center out of France, will serve as Kanter’s backup.
Defense (C): As a team that has a lot of maturing to do, learning defensive schemes will be very important. Both Kanter and Favors have the bodies to become great defenders in this league. In his limited playing time last year, Favors proved his worth by working relentlessly on the defensive end. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 2.8 blocks, 1.5 steals, and 12.2 rebounds. Favors moves extremely well for his body mass and is great at being in the location where the ball bounces off the rim. The other three positions may struggle just a bit on the defensive end.
Shooting (C+): As I mentioned earlier, Hayward is one of the strongest outside shooters in the league. Trey Burke did an excellent job in college getting off his shot but it’s sure to be a lot tougher in the NBA for the small guard. Still, I don’t think Burke will show much fear in providing his team with buckets and I see him averaging around 15 points per game when he returns to action. Richard Jefferson used to have a very smooth mid-range jumper. We’ll see if he can get his old rhythm back.
Experience (D): Again, Utah is one of the league’s youngest squads. The two main veterans are Richard Jefferson and Jamaal Tinsley. But for the most part, the young guys will work together with Coach Corbin to develop an adequate understanding of how to be successful in the NBA.
Standing – 14th West: Utah is going to let the young players go out there and play. I’m sure they’ll produce at a decent level. They just aren’t yet experienced or talented enough to be a playoff team out in the wild West.