The All-Star break is the symbolic halfway mark of the NBA season, even though the Utah Jazz only have 29 games left to play. With the season rapidly coming to a close, storylines are aplenty. Utah has an incredibly bright future, but they have so many different options on how exactly to chase their championship dreams; but a team with options is a team in control, and the Jazz are definitely in charge of their future moving forward.
The entire theme of this season has been development – from head coach Tyrone Corbin to rookie guard Trey Burke, Utah has been entirely focused on improving their personnel. Really the question is, have they been successful at doing so?
That question will be answered more fully when next season rolls around and we’re able to see differences in players after another off-season of development. For example, last season Alec Burks ended last season with a lot of question marks – would he be a point guard, could he shoot well enough to be an efficient player, and would he be able to work his way into the rotation?
All of those questions have been answered in the affirmative, and Burks’ situation illustrates the point that it takes time to develop NBA players into effective, efficient NBA players. We’ve also seen great improvement from Jeremy Evans. Evans was a dunking phenom last season who didn’t show much else. He showed a good jump shot every now and then, but nothing on a consistent and efficient basis.
This season, though, Evans has also found himself playing consistently and doing it well. He still has work to do on the defensive end, but Evans’ offensive performance has been above and beyond what he contributed last season.
Burks and Evans illustrate what can happen when teams are patient with younger players, and they’re also products of good coaching and great leadership from veteran players. This ties directly into where the Jazz stand this season – Burke and Rudy Gobert are the newcomers, and they both bring different characteristics to the table.
Burke is obviously the point guard Utah has been looking for since the departure of Deron Williams. His rookie season has seen a positive performance overall, but has also exposed some areas of his game that need attention.
Defense is one aspect where Burke has struggled. He’s undersized, even for a guard, and has a hard time finding the best way to defend the bigger and quicker guards of the NBA. However, defense is one part of an NBA player’s game that takes the longest to develop. While offensive efficiency is usually talent coupled with learning how to play within an offense, defense takes a sharp, quick mind and the ability to adjust on the fly.
Burke has worked hard this season, undoubtedly. He’s made big shots in tight minutes, and if he can put in the same amount of work during the off-season as he has to this point, he’ll come back next year even better.
But with less than 30 games remaining and a playoff picture to figure out, the Western Conference is going to get even tougher. While being a lottery-bound team isn’t always the best scenario, Utah is in a unique situation because they’re now going to be playing against teams jostling for a place in a tight playoff race. This means the games are going to be more competitive, and the Jazz will have to adjust their play accordingly.
Opportunities like this are great growing experiences, especially for young teams. The level of competition in the NBA is already the best on the planet, and when playoff seeding is thrown into the picture, NBA basketball just gets better.
Think back on all the close games this season – Chicago, Miami, and Oklahoma City come to mind readily. All of these games were ones that the Jazz honestly didn’t have much of a chance to win, but pulled it out anyways. Learning how to out-work and out-hustle good teams is great for any player, and situations like that are going to be even more abundant down the stretch of this season.
Corbin, a young head coach, also has a chance to improve himself. While he’s been unfairly criticized this season, finding fault with him at this point is hard. The young players are getting minutes, showing improvement, and the Jazz are showing to have a great future.
Corbin now gets the opportunity to once again shepherd a team down the last months of the grind that is the NBA season. Last year at this time, Utah was in the race for a spot in the playoffs. This year is drastically different, but the players won’t be the only ones who improve due to the increased competition level of late-season basketball.
Coaching is almost like playing chess, and Corbin will surely get more late-game situations where he’s going to have to work lineups around until he finds something that works for the Jazz, all while keeping development in mind as well. Corbin doesn’t have an easy job by any means, but he looks to be getting even better as a coach.
Utah’s future looks bright. These last few games are going to be a rush of development and improvement before the offseason arrives. Before we know it, we’ll be back here in Salt Lake City for another season opener, waiting to see how these players have improved.