After a quiet All-Star break for most of the players, the Utah Jazz will begin the final third of the season by taking on the Brooklyn Nets in Salt Lake City. Before the Jazz begin their swan song to this “rebuilding project” of a season, I would like to offer my opinions on the state of the team by giving letter grades to each position as well as the team as a whole. Note that these grades are based on my perceptions of the development of each player from past seasons, as well as their contributions to team growth this season. Wins and losses will not be heavily weighted criteria because of the nature of this season.
Point Guards: B
I’ve said it before: Trey Burke is a serious contender for rookie of the year honors. Burke can be inconsistent at times on the offensive end of the floor, but he has proven that he can hit big shots for his team when it counts. Burke’s field goal percentage (36.8%) can be improved but his three-point shooting (33.7%), free throw percentage (90.8%) and assists per game (5.5) are exemplary for a rookie.
Signing Diante Garrett from the D-League is paying decent dividends for the Jazz this season. Garrett has shown promise in his time backing up Burke, especially once head coach Ty Corbin promoted Garrett to the primary backup point guard position over veteran John Lucas III. Garrett can get hot shooting the ball when the bench is struggling to score and has great quickness in transition. Garrett is proving that he can be a decent point guard in this league.
The Jazz signed John Lucas III in the offseason to bring some veteran leadership to their young roster. While Lucas may have a veteran presence among the team and in the locker room, it hasn’t showed up much on the floor. Lucas’ lack of offensive versatility and size makes him a liability on both ends of the floor. Lucas was the starting point guard early in the season when Trey Burke was nursing a broken index finger and the Jazz cut Jamal Tinsley to sign Diante Garrett, his struggles became the team’s struggles as the Jazz limped off to a 1-14 start. I don’t believe it’s likely that the Jazz retain him next season.
Shooting Guards: A-
It’s no secret that the Jazz want to build a team around the leadership of Gordon Hayward. Hayward was thrust into a leadership role after losing players like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in free agency and he has embraced being the nucleus of this young team. Early in the season, Hayward struggled to put the team on his shoulders; once Trey Burke returned from injury and role players started to emerge, his job became much easier. Hayward remains the team’s “do it all” guy, scoring over 16 points per game and averaging over 5 rebounds and assists per game.
Alec Burks, in my opinion, has been the story of the season so far for the Jazz. The third year man out of Colorado has become the premier bench scorer for his team and his moves at the rim rival anyone else’s in the league. Burks’ athleticism creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses and he can explode for over 20 points on any given night. His free throw shooting (75.2%) and assists per game (2.6) can improve, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alec Burks win the sixth man of the year award one day.
Ian Clark, a rookie out of Belmont, has not played enough this season for me to do a proper evaluation on him. Clark has only appeared in 12 games this season, averaging three points per game and one and a half assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor. It’s surprising that Ty Corbin hasn’t given the rookie more playing time given the nature of this season; how can he know unless he gives him a shot?
Small Forward: C+
Everyone in the NBA knew the Jazz’s intentions when they took on the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins from the Golden State Warriors so that they could sign Andre Igoudala: tank completely. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) for the Jazz, the aging Jefferson has proven to be a strong leader both on and off the floor for the young Jazz roster. Jefferson is averaging 10 points per contest and is shooting an astounding 42 percent from beyond the arc. It seems that the reinvigorated Jefferson is out to prove that he can still be worth big bucks on the market this summer; I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jazz offered him a one to two year deal when the season’s done.
The only other small forward on the Jazz roster is Jefferson’s Warriors teammate Brandon Rush. So basically Jefferson is almost the only small forward on the Jazz roster when it comes to production on the floor. Rush has struggled to stay healthy in his time in the league, he came into this season coming off of ACL surgery which is probably why the Warriors were so eager to let him go. Rush has seen limited time on the floor because of minor injuries and inconsistency during play, he’s only mustered 2.3 points per game in 12.5 minutes. Rush has shown ability at times from the three-point line, but the injuries seem to loom around every corner.
Power Forward: B+
While this is very unlikely to happen, I think that Marvin Williams should be a finalist for comeback player of the year. Marvin came to the Jazz via trade with the Atlanta Hawks before last season as a high draft pick that hadn’t quite played up to his hype. Last season he struggled shooting the ball and the Jazz fan base thought they had just picked up another deadbeat. Williams came into this season hungry and ready to prove Jazz-nation he could ball. Williams has maintained or improved every statistical category from last season, including bumping his three-point shooting from just over 30 percent to over 40 percent. Williams also helped fill the void of veteran presence when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap bolted in free agency; he has become a secondary leader among his teammates and is more than excited about watching his young teammates develop into star players. According to Williams, if it were up to him, he would be in a Jazz jersey next season.
Jeremy Evans is making strides in his expanded role on the Jazz bench. The previous two seasons, all Evans was good for was making point guards Earl Watson and Mo Williams look stellar by flushing down their ally-oop lobs at the rim. In the 2012 and 2013 dunk contests, Evans earned the nickname: “The Human Pogo Stick”. While this made Evans a fan favorite in Salt Lake, he was ready to prove he could contribute in more ways than just dunking. Evans long arms and jumping ability make him a rebound magnet when he is on the floor; he averages just over five rebounds a game including two on the offensive end. Evans has also developed a pretty 15-foot jump shot to go along with his “at the rim” game. Finally, Evans is shooting over 50 percent from the floor this season (54.4%); most of his production is at the rim, but with the amount of jump shots he’s taking this year as well, that’s pretty darn impressive in my opinion.
I was cautiously optimistic when the Jazz signed their big man of the future, Derrick Favors, to a four year 49 million plus contract. I thought it would have been more prudent to sign Hayward before Favors, until I saw how the Jazz played defensively without Favors clogging up the lane. Favors is moving along splendidly as a defensive presence, unfortunately the offensive end of his game hasn’t decided to come on the trip with him. Favors’ size and athleticism have been the cause of most of his offensive output, but his lack of post moves and a consistent jump shot disappoints Jazz fans who thought they were getting the next Karl Malone. Avoiding the injury bug should be the biggest priority for the young big man, knee and hip problems have sidelined Favors more often than Jazz fans would care to admit.
We transition from the offensive woes of Derrick Favors to the offensive triumph of the young Turkish bull Enes Kanter. The Jazz, so far, have struck gold in their search of a scoring bench center. Kanter is averaging a shade under 12 point per game and just over six rebounds per game. Kanter, like his bench partner Alec Burks, has proven that he can explode offensively any given night and can be a dominant post scorer if he gets the right matchup. Kanter’s post-up game and great footwork can make his defenders look silly at times, unfortunately Kanter can also look silly on the defensive end of the floor. Kanter struggles when matched up against quick players and he can get caught up in screens and lose sight of his defensive assignment. If Kanter can sure up his defensive presence by next year, the Jazz could have another piece to make a playoff run.
The Jazz picked up the incredibly long Rudy Gobert out of France this past draft via trade with the Denver Nuggets. The 7-foot-1 21-year old has shown he can block just about any shot (except for maybe Carlos Boozer’s arcing rainbow) and is a solid rebounder when he gets in proper position, the problem is Gobert is extremely scrawny and can get bullied by thicker big men in this league; he has also shown that offense isn’t necessarily his strong suit just yet. Gobert has been demoted down to the D-League a couple of times this season, where he has excelled. I’m not ready to give up on the young Frenchman just yet.
There’s not much to say about Andris Biedrins, the time ravaged big man has only appeared in six games for the Jazz and is only averaging half a point in his time on the floor. It’s safe to say that of the three contracts the Jazz took over for the Warriors, this one was the most painful. Next year we’ll just forget this stint ever happened and hopefully he can find a nice little spot on an Eastern Conference roster where he might be able to do some minimal damage for a sub .500 team looking for a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs.
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