The Best Way to Rebuild

Photo: Layne Murdoch Jr. NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Layne Murdoch Jr. NBAE/Getty Images

Trey Burke played his first NBA minutes Wednesday night in New Orleans against the fearsome Pelicans. After watching him get his first few reps as a pro, it got me thinking about where this team really is heading in their rebuilding efforts. The first few weeks of the season have been rough, with a very shallow backcourt due to Burke’s injury. While the spotty point guard play has hampered the development of the younger players on Utah’s roster, I’ve still seen some steady improvement from Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks.

But where does this team stand now on the road back to contending? What direction should they try and head in? With Hayward’s future in Salt Lake City up in the air, and a loaded 2014 draft class, the Jazz have a couple of different options. They could try and get one last player in the draft, hopefully snagging a superstar  – this is commonly called the Oklahoma City model. Or, Utah could keep on the path they’ve been walking this season, by playing their young guys as many minutes as possible, all in the name of player development – let’s call this the Golden State model.

While it’s no secret that Utah will probably get a great draft pick this year, picking a superstar in the draft is really a one-in-a-million shot. The Thunder got lucky, taking Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden all within a short time of each other. Then Thunder GM Sam Presti worked his magic, and somehow managed to sign both Durant and Westbrook to extensions that they were happy with, while maintaining the cap room to bring in role players that could play on a championship-caliber squad. Even though Oklahoma City’s playoff run was cut short last season when Westbrook suffered an ACL injury, the Thunder is still a team to be reckoned with in the West, and probably the team to beat for a matchup with Miami or Indiana in June.

The point is, the Thunder went from being a really, really bad team, to a championship contender in a few short years. Granted, the presence of a generational talent in Durant has helped them immensely, and an enormous amount of luck has been on their side, but trying to build a team by emulating their model isn’t a half bad idea.

The only catch to trying to follow the Oklahoma City model is finding that superstar in the draft. The 2014 draft is the place to do that, though – it’s being heralded as the best draft since LeBron James entered the league.

If Utah wants to put all their eggs in the draft basket and hope that they can keep whoever they draft, along with Kanter and Favors, happy money wise, I’d say that’s a far more risky idea than following the Golden State model.

For years, the Warriors have toiled in the bottom of the standings, and their fanbase has been through the wringer. (Bill Simmons wrote a great piece about how the Warriors have really just messed things up over the years. Read it
here).  Now, though, the Warriors are sitting in the thick of the always-tight Western Conference race. So how did they get here?

Golden State drafted Stephen Curry, the player around whom they’ve built their franchise, in 2009. Entering his fifth year in the NBA, Curry has made a name for himself as a speedy quick guard with an incredible three-point shot and a deadly ability to scorch teams on the perimeter. To compliment Curry’s shooting, the Warriors added Andrew Bogut, a center who demands a defensive presence in the post. With Bogut, defenses can’t focus entirely on Curry on the perimeter, or on Bogut in the paint. The Warriors drafted well again in 2011 when they selected Klay Thompson with the 11th pick.  Throw in some key free agent additions and a stellar trade to land Andre Igoudala and Golden State is legit from top to bottom. Opposing teams have to give respect to both aspects of Golden State’s offensive attack, and this is what’s made them so deadly offensively.

In fact, Golden State’s offensive rating is 103.9  which is the best offensive rating in the league among the top eight teams defensively. The Warriors have found a way to get work done on both ends of the court, and that’s why they’ve become such a dangerous team.

So how do the Jazz emulate the Warriors’ example?

To start, the Jazz need to decide which player they want to build around. Favors has received a big extension, while Kanter and Burks will be available for extensions next season. I think the Jazz have already started their rebuild efforts around Favors, though. Utah worked incredibly hard to get Burke to Salt Lake City during the draft,and Burke is honestly the best compliment to Favors at this point. Favors is a great big, and has learned the pick and roll much better. He’s also learned how to pass out of a double team and when to not force bad shots in the paint. With Burke as his running mate, Favors finally has a point guard who knows the timing of a pick and roll, and this will only help Utah’s offense once Burke is fully healthy and inserted into the starting lineup.

Utah should continue to focus on what’s worked for them in the past – an offense built around a point guard and power forward. With Favors and Burke, the Jazz have that potential going forward. If they play their cards right, bring in the right role players, and keep their core together, I can see the Jazz back in the thick of the playoff hunt soon enough.

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