Ok, so technically the NBA season is over 50% complete. Still, there’s a different feeling in the air pre and post All-Star break – a sense of urgency for teams that want to secure optimal playoff positioning, and a whole different kind of urgency for a few teams who will undoubtedly begin their shameless campaigns of tanking. In the midst of this falls the trade deadline, wherein league front office’s look to bolster their team for that final push, to cut salary in preparation for the offseason’s free agency, or to accomplish a plethora of other goals.
So, with this imminent change in atmosphere and short break in play, it seems like a good time to analyze the Jazz’s season thus far. So sit back, keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, and let me be your guide – like Shaq in Kazaam. Here are the season’s most notable facts and occurrences:
For me, it’s got to be Randy Foye. The Jazz knew they needed shooting, and Foye has brought that in spades. He’s a couple games away from decimating Okur’s record for total threes made in a Jazz season with a large chunk of season to go, and he’s doing so at a 42% clip. He’s hit big shots at pivotal moments again and again. On top of that, he’s reportedly a great teammate and driven competitor. He’s not without his weaknesses, but rarely is that for lack of effort.
We knew Randy could shoot the trey, but I don’t think anyone expected him to do so this prolifically. As a Jazz fan, that’s extremely refreshing after failed experiments like Gordan Giricek and Josh Howard.
To me, personally, it’s been the sporadic playing time surrounding Alec Burks.
If you take a look at Alec’s game log, It’s not as though Alec had consistent minutes and subsequently underperformed. Instead, his playing time is spastic from the get-go. I recall Coach Corbin saying multiple times that Burks deserved more minutes and he hoped he could get them for him. This isn’t a knock on Corbin as much as a defense of Burks – with Hayward, Foye, and Carrol playing so well, it’s just a tough situation.
Yet it comes as no surprise that when injuries strike and Burks starts getting consistent playing time, he answers with some very promising performances. The kid is fearless, and I have no doubt he’ll overcome each and every hurdle that comes between where he is now and where his potential lies.
Opinions vary greatly on whether the Jazz would be better keeping or letting go of Al Jefferson. On one hand, Favors and Kanter seem ready for more. On the other hand, Big Al has been our undisputed go-to guy all season long. Yes, he has defensive qualms, but without him this team would probably struggle scoring more often than not. He’s had arguably the most efficient year of his career and has assisted on 12.1% of total team possessions while on the floor – a career high.
I’m not necessarily of the opinion that Jefferson is a great long-term solution for the Jazz, but I respect his attitude, his will to win and his absolute clutch on offense. He’s a no B.S. kind of guy who’s reacting well under constant scrutiny and the inherent pressure of the ever-present possibility of being traded.
Most Improved Player
This is a tough one, because statistically there isn’t a player that was here last year that’s doing immensely better this year. That said, my nomination goes to Gordon Hayward. I’ll defend my position on this further in a future article. For now, it suffices to say that Gordon’s per-game stats only look average when you completely ignore the fact that he’s getting only about 26 mpg. His fan-appointed arch-nemesis Paul George, on the other hand, is enjoying about 36 mpg in Danny Granger’s absence. If you adjust Hayward’s stats per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 18 ppg and was shooting the lights out before his ill-timed shoulder injury.
The Jazz are sitting squarely at six games over .500 with a 30-24 record, 3rd in the Northwest division and 7th in the conference. They’ve struggled immensely on the road and have been inconsistent both offensively and defensively. On the other hand, they’ve struggled through some key injuries and have come together for huge wins over Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio and others. They made it through the road-heavy part of their schedule and have taken advantage of the home stretch they’re currently in the midst of.
However, due to the fact that they haven’t seemed to have improved much since last season and the fact that they rank toward the middle of the league in most statistical categories thus far, I’d give the Jazz a generous C + pre All-Star break.
An Eye Toward the Future
Things have the potential to change significantly for this team. The trade deadline approaches and Hayward and Mo Williams should be returning from injury. There’s a lot to look forward to when you consider what some are calling the “core 4” (I’m still hesitant to ascribe that title) in Hayward, Favors, Kanter and Burks. I would be most optimistic if the Jazz can find a way to move up in the draft and secure a top point guard prospect. Really, how you personally grade the Jazz this season is contingent upon your expectations. Things may not presently be all roses, but I can’t wait to see what the near future holds for the Jazz.