2016-17 Utah Jazz Season Preview: It’s Time for Opponents to Be Afraid

The Dunkyard’s NBA season preview continues, with the Utah Jazz.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 40-42 (9th West)
  • Offensive rating: 103.1 (17th)
  • Defensive rating: 101.6 (7th)
  • Pace: 93.3 (30th)
  • True shooting: 54.0% (16th)
  • Turnover rate: 14.2% (25th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 25.9% (3rd)
  • Defensive rebounding: 77.7% (7th)
  • Giveashitameter: 9th
  • Highest PER*: 21.6 (Favors)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

The Jazz lost Exum for the whole season and Gobert for 20 games and still managed to put together 40 wins and the league’s 7th best defense. Not bad at all for a team still finding its way.

In this respect, it’s about time the league took more notice of Derrick Favors, who was a consistent performer and easily the Jazz’s best player (how does the Deron Williams trade look now?).

On offense, the Jazz played at the league’s slowest pace by miles. Given their offensive limitations and lack of serious point guard talent, this was somewhat understandable. However, Jazz had some good athletic talent and they should have gotten out and run a little more.

Once the Jazz finally got the ball up the court, they struggled to get a shot up – posting the league’s 6th worst turnover rate at 14.2%. In other words, one in seven of their possessions were over before they even started.

From there the Jazz were more or less at the league average in terms of where and how much they shot it from each area of the court and their overall accuracy. That said, the Jazz were deceptively good at was getting to the line – posting the league’s 11th best free throw to field goal attempt ratio (FTA/FGA). Hayward was particularly effective with 477 free throw attempts (almost 200 more than Gobert who was next best on the team). All up, despite ranking only 24th in accuracy from the line, the extra free throws gave the Jazz just enough to keep their offense at or about the league average, ranking 17th overall.

When it came to defending, the Jazz were close to elite – but not quite. With Gobert and Favors, they were predictably great at defending the interior – ranking 3rd in two point attempts allowed and 10th in two point accuracy. When opponents missed, they were rarely given a second chance, with the Jazz having the 2nd best defensive rebounding rate (and best overall rebounding rate).

Elsewhere, the Jazz didn’t have any glaring weaknesses on defense. So while they weren’t anything special when it came to defending the perimeter (18th on three point accuracy allowed), steals (18th), blocks (12th) or forcing turnovers (17th), they were still able to hang around the league average. When combined with the elite rebounding and interior defense, it made things very difficult for opponents to score overall (7th).

Reasons to be optimistic

The Jazz loaded up on some solid veteran talent to help push their young crew along. While Hill, Johnson and Diaw aren’t spectacular, they will definitely add wins to an already dangerous team. Hill is the perfect place holder at point guard while the Jazz see what they have in Exum – and Johnson and Diaw make the bench a hell of a lot deeper.

Hood has proven to be quite a find for the Jazz with the no. 23 pick in the 2014 draft. He’s still only 23, already a capable starting shooting guard and looks set to improve further on last season’s PER of 14.2.

Exum is back. While he was quite awful in his rookie year and now has an ACL injury on his record, he’s still very young and an absolute hawk on defense. At worst, the Jazz will have a handy backup point guard this season. If he can find a way to contribute on offense and develop into a starting quality guard, then the Jazz will have a perfect succession plan over the next few seasons between him and Hill.

While it was only a pre-season game, Exum’s 18 points in 25 minutes of play against the Suns (12 October 2016) were very encouraging (as long as you ignore the three annonymous stink bombs he laid before that).

(NB: Exum’s career high as a rookie was 15 points in 35 minutes vs Milwaukee).

Gobert and Favors are absolute monsters on defense, they’re another year older and wiser and they now also have Hill’s added abilities. The Jazz already had the league’s 7th best defense last season, despite Gobert’s extended absence and will be truly horrifying for opponents this season.

The Jazz have a seriously deep roster that’s perfectly built to handle the rigors of the regular season: Gobert, Favors, Hayward, Hood, Hill, Johnson, Burks, Diaw, Lyles, Ingles, Exum and Mack (don’t laugh, he posted a PER of 13.6 last season).

Reasons not to be

Paying $11 million for a 35 year old Joe Johnson – who posted a PER of 12.0 last season – is an awfully expensive price to pay. At least it’s only for one year.

The acquisition of George Hill has some head scratching elements to it – with $40 million being committed over five years. Where does Hill fit in among Exum, Burke, Neto and Mack? At 30 years of age, he’s well and truly peaked and the Jazz may have been better off keeping their no. 12 pick in this year’s draft or trading it for some better help with creating offense (no, Joe Johnson will not solve this problem).

The Jazz will continue to struggle in finding reliable offense. The starting rotation has several players with usage rates at or well below the league average of 20.0% (Hill – 15.6%, Gobert – 14.2% and Hood – 21.5%), while Favors (23.9%) and Hayward (22.4%) don’t create enough to make up for the shortfall. Unless Hood or Hayward can kick it up a couple of notches, weaker opponents will develop a nasty habit of staying in games they should have no business in.

Major Ins 

George Hill, Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson.

Major Outs

The no. 12 draft pick, Trevor Booker.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Hill
  • Hood
  • Hayward
  • Favors
  • Gobert

Dave’s lowdown

With the additions of Hill, Diaw and Johnson, the Jazz feel like the NBA’s version of ‘The Expendables’ movie franchise – a bunch of old guys joining up in a last ditch attempt to stay relevant. Utah will be hoping they can all put in a better performance than Mickey Rourke.

Does that make Gordon Hayward the Rob Schneider of basketball? Hayward has been able to carry the Jazz about as well as Schneider was able to carry such cinematic disasters as “Deuce Bigalow” and “The Animal”. If Hayward could catch on to the coattails of a real star, as Schneider has with cameos in seemingly every Adam Sandler movie, he’d be right where he belongs as a really, really good supporting actor.

Forecast record: 51-31

The biggest problem for the Jazz last season was the ball handling – and they’ve made big inroads into solving this problem with the additions of Hill and Johnson.

With Hill, the Jazz look set to improve further on their already tough defense. Some slight improvement on offense should also occur via cutting back on the turnovers – and possibly improving the shooting ever so slightly through Hood and Hayward’s organic improvement.

While the offense will continue to hold the Jazz back from being real contenders, they should still comfortably make the playoffs, possibly even secure a home berth and be a downright scary out with their defense.

 

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