End of Season Roundtable

Photo: Fernando Medina NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Fernando Medina NBAE/Getty Images

The 2013-14 NBA season Utah Jazz season is over.  While half the league is playing playoff basketball, the Jazz are looking ahead to the draft and this coming offseason, planning ways to improve.

With that in mind, we thought the time had arrived to sit a few people down and get a roundtable discussion going about Utah’s season, and what to expect going forward.

Myself, fellow Jazz feature writer Sykler Hardman, and Scott Howard-Cooper participated. Scott is a writer for NBA.com, and has been covering the NBA since 1988.

What are your overall impressions of the season? Have the Jazz done about as you expected them to do?

Scott Howard-Cooper (SHC) - I thought they would finish somewhere near the bottom of the West. Hitting the actual bottom looks especially bad in a way that underlines the troubles of the season, but really isn’t much different than being 13th or 14th with the same record or two or three more victories that could have come if not for the terrible start. Your basic stumble out of the gate could have avoided 15th. Instead, the Jazz cut right to the face plant. That they didn’t go into the tank on the spot is a good sign. That they had so many troubling moments is not.

Skyler Hardman (SH) - The season was what everyone expected. After the first game was close against OKC, the Jazz looked like they might surprise some people by being competitive but in the end things went exactly like the world foresaw. The Jazz proved to have no-depth, struggling when any key-player was out, especially Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. As a lifelong Utah resident, this season was a bitter pill to swallow but the team didn’t dramatically under perform, they are meant to be a work in progress and will continue to struggle through growing pains for years to come.

Spencer Durrant (SD) – The season was about as much of a success as a 25-win season can be. Young players got time to learn to develop, especially Alec Burks. Burks showed that he has the ability to drive to the rim and finish amazingly well, and he has the propensity to become a go-to scorer in this league. His play was incredibly important this season, and a big surprise as well.

This season was supposed to be one to work on developing the young core the Jazz have – how do you think that development has gone?

SHC – Mixed. Trey Burke developed. The season was a step forward for Alec Burks. Enes Kanter had a good second half. Derrick Favors at 8.7 rebounds in 30 minutes is encouraging. But Gordon Hayward, if he is still considered, did not take the next step forward. His shooting percentage dropped for the fourth season in a row, all the way to 41.3 percent. And while he led the team in scoring, the per-36-minute average is also a drop from 2013-14.

SH – The development came along well but the Jazz didn’t have a player explode on the scene in the NBA this season. The bright spots on development had to be Alec Burks and Trey Burke. Burks proved that he has an elite NBA skill and that’s  getting to the rim. He’s also a fantastic finisher at the iron but his mid/long range shooting will need work this offseason. He grew a lot as a player and has the potential to be a go-to-guy off the bench in coming seasons.

Less developed than Jazz fans might like was Enes Kanter. After very limited play over the last few years, Kanter finally had a chance to be an impact player. The big man had many bright moments throughout the season but never came along defensively. It’s definitely not time to close the door on the Turkish baller, but it is time for him to up the rate of improvement.  Defensively as a whole, the Jazz couldn’t put it together. That is where the team really missed an opportunity to grow. Favors proved, in my opinion, that he can be a defensive anchor but the rest of the young corps haven’t figured it out. As the roster morphs this offseason, we’ll see how high of a priority that is for the jazz management.

SD – Derrick Favors showed strong, dominating play on both ends of the court, Trey Burke seems as if he’ll turn into a capable point guard, and Gordon Hayward, despite shooting poorly, stuffed stat sheets in ways that haven’t been done since Andrei Kirilenko. I already mentioned Burks as the bright spot, and his improved play has been my favorite development aspect.

Moving on, Jeremy Evans deserved more time, along with Rudy Gobert. Those two players have too much upside to have sat on the bench for as often as they did during the season. As for Kanter – his problems lie on the defensive end of the court. He posted great numbers during the season, 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but he was out of place defensively all season long.

Photo: Streeter Lecka via Getty Images Sport

Photo: Streeter Lecka via Getty Images Sport

Trey Burke was hyped a lot coming into the season. Did he live up to your expectations?

SHC – Maybe even surpassed them. I was not the biggest Burke fan coming out of the draft, wondering about the chances of success for a small guard who doesn’t have blow-by speed or other forms of elite athleticism. But he did well, especially considering his transition to the pros was slowed by the early finger injury. He was smart, tough and seemed mature — everything he was billed to be — and the ratio of 5.7 assists to 1.9 turnovers was fantastic for a rookie. It was very good for a player of any experience, actually.

SH – He was hyped, but according to where he was drafted, he surpassed expectations. The young guard would jump several spots if last summer’s draft were to happen again today. He is talented and already understands the game very well. His detriment, now and probably throughout his career, will be his size and defense. Those two drawbacks are unquestionably linked but I think he’s proved himself good enough to be a starting PG on a playoff contender. He even broke through the rookie wall like a champ. Anyone who expected more during his rookie season were probably hoping for a little too much.

SD – Burke met my expectations exactly. He’s a smaller guard, so he’s had a steep learning curve on the defensive side of the ball, but he took his finish-at-the-rim game from college and found a way to decently do that in the NBA. His shooting was solid, for a rookie, and should only get better as he grows up in the NBA Burke did something for the Jazz that hasn’t been done in a long time, though – he spaced the floor from the point guard position. He’s a solid threat, and defenses have to respect his shooting touch. This helped open up the paint for Favors to do some work, an Burke was great at finding entry passes and running the offense. He looked calm and collected as a floor general.

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler

The Jazz made a statement by giving Derrick Favors a 4-year contract extension. Now that the season is finished, does it look like Favors was worth that extension?

SHC – I’ll go with a yes. It is not an easy answer, though. But 6-10, 250 pounds, athletic, 22 years old, hitting the boards in a way that shows he will be a double-double regular with more than 30 minutes — some team would have paid big to get him as a free agent. That Jazz can afford this a lot more than they could afford that.

SH – The statement was, “He’s our guy.” It turns out that was the right statement to make. The Jazz were forced to play nine games without their stud center and they won exactly zero. He’s perhaps a little undersized to ever be the best rim defender in the NBA, but he’s also not going to get paid like the best defender in the league. His presence changed the team’s attitude defensively all season. Without him patrolling the paint the Jazz probably wouldn’t have gone 0-82, but the season would have been even uglier – D-Fave was worth the extension.

SD -Absolutely. Favors is a central piece that any team wishing to contend needs to have. He’s a defensive stalwart, smart, quick, and able to pull down rebounds at solid rate. His presence on the defensive end can’t be overstated. It if wasn’t for him, the Jazz may very well have given up 110 points a night, or more. Add to that a solid offensive game that’s coming along, and the makings of a true star are present in Favors.

What should people expect from the Jazz next season? Depending on the draft, should they finish with a better record next season than this season?

SHC – It’s tough to know what to expect without knowing the roster. Or whether they will finish with a better record. Is Hayward still with the Jazz? Have they made any major trades? Is the lottery pick spent on someone who can make an immediate impact or will require patience? There are too many unknowns in April to say how good they can be in October.

SH – Regardless of the draft, the Jazz should finish with more than 25 wins next season. The young core of the team will most likely remain intact. If Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward both return to Salt Lake, there is no reason to think Utah won’t be a better team in the 2014-15 season. I’m not calling for a playoff berth, but depending on the off-season moves 28 wins would probably be a reasonable estimate.

SD – I predicted 25 wins for the team before the season began, so seeing them match that was great. I’m going to go with the optimistic pick for next season, and say the Jazz win 35 games. I say this for two reasons. First, the young core will be back, and they’ll have a season of losing close games under their belts. Countless times this year, Utah was leading or right in the  thick of things heading into the fourth quarter. As soon as the final 12 minutes of play began, things would unravel for the Jazz. That’s a sign of youth, and a season of experience will be helpful for this team.

Second, a top-five pick in this draft, of which the Jazz are almost guaranteed, will contribute greatly. Don’t think the player will just come in and change things, though; remember, he’ll be younger than any of the guys on the team. But he’ll still be a solid player, and that’ll add depth and more scoring for Utah.

Aside from a solid draft pick, what do you think the most pressing need for the Jazz is during this coming off-season?

SHC – Resolution. Whether Tyrone Corbin is the coach for the long-term. Whether Favors-Kanter is a good fit as the big-man tandem for the future. Whether you can strain the salary cap to spend the kind of money it will take to keep Hayward coming off four consecutive years of a decline in shooting. There are a series of huge decisions to be made just on issues within the current team, in addition to the same decisions every team will make regarding the draft, free agency and trade.

SH – Defense. Obviously the NBA isn’t like the NFL where a team can invest heavily on one side of the ball and barely impact the other. But if the Jazz want to be successful, they will have to jump into the top-20 in the league in defensive rating. This year the worst defensive team to make the playoffs was 21st in defensive rating, the Jazz were dead last at 30th.Whether that happens with tweaking the coaching staff or bringing in different players, it should be a top priority this summer.

SD – I have to agree with Skyler on this one – defense. No matter which direction the Jazz decide to go in terms of a coaching staff, there needs to be an added emphasis on becoming a good defensive team next season. The Jazz finished as the worst defensive team in the league, allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions. For a team looking to move into contention as soon as possible, defense is imperative. Utah would do well to bring in free agents who are notable for their defensive prowess and have the ability to make a difference for the Jazz.

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