Today I got asked for 5 reasons to be excited about the Utah Jazz. I came up with 8 and could go for more. Here are the 8 I came up with.
1. Engagement. The franchise needed players who are engaged in the future of the franchise. It needed a group of players who viewed themselves as the franchise and view themselves as the core group moving forward. When we played the Rockets last year it was clear Harden, Parson, Lin and Asik felt they were building something for the future. When we played the Warriors Curry, Lee and Thompson were clearly engaged in the their future as the Warriors. The Jazz have told Hayward, Favors, Kanter, Burks and Burke it is their franchise. They will bond and beginning the building for the future. It is their time to lead and their time to establish what is acceptable and what isn’t in this franchise.
2. Fan Engagement. As much as the players needed engagement so did the fan base. The last few years for many fans felt like we were in a holding pattern and as classy and professional as many of our players were you knew in the back of your mind they were likely gone, now the fan can engage in the future pieces of the puzzle.
3. Defense. Young teams are not usually good defensively but as the Jazz build the core of Jazz 4.0 (the Jazz next generation) this will be a group capable of defending. Favors and Kanter can anchor the middle. Burks and Hayward are active on the wings and Rudy Gobert in years could be a major defensive force in the NBA.
4. Over the last three season’s Gordon Hayward has gone from 5 pts a game to 11.8 pts a game to 14 pts a game. Now it is time to see if the member of the USA Elite Team is ready to become a leader of a franchise. Let’s get a little geeky, last year Hawyard used 24% of his possessions to shot a three (hitting on 42%) and he got to the line 12.7 of his possessions. The two most efficient ways to score are shooting a three and going to the line. Only 3 other players in the NBA who played more than 10 minutes a night did what Hayward did last year – James Harden, Danilo Gallinari and Gerald Wallace and none of them shot the three better than 37%.
5. More Gordon Hayward. Last year Gordon Hayward averaged per 36 minutes on the floor 17 pts, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The players who have done the same playing on the wing in the last 20 seasons are Le Bron James, Carmelo Anthony, Richard Jefferson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Antoine Walker, Grant Hill, Juwan Howard, Anfernee Hardaway and Jamal Mashburn. Solid company.
6. Trey Burke. At age 14 Burke’s AAU team was the national runner up, at age 15 Burke won the AAU U16 national championship, at age 16 Trey Burke lead his high school team to the state championship title in Ohio. At age 17 his high school team with Jared Sullinger was #1 in the country. At age 18 Burke was Mr. Ohio Basketball. He went 97-5 in high school never losing a city league game. At 19 he was the Big 10 Freshman player of the year and set the Michigan all time assist record for a freshman and at age 20 he was the national college player of the year and the runner up for the NCAA title. In his first ever post-season college game he dropped 30 on Minnesota in the Big 10 tourny for a new career high. His run in this year’s tournament is legendary.
7. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Both of these players are still very young but the prospects are very exciting. Favors has a chance to be the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He will have to learn a lot about how to play entire games. His workouts with Karl Malone has been awesome and hopefully can allow him to develop a basis for an offensive game. Enes Kanter got a two chances to start against lesser teams, Cleveland and Toronto, and he killed it averaging 21 points and 15 rebounds. In the 16 games Kanter played 20 or more minutes he averaged 13 pts and 8 rebs while shooting 59.7%. He has a legitimate chance to be a go to offensive player in the NBA. Neither of these players are completely ready, but now is the time for them to develop and learn how to become better NBA players.
8. Lastly, I will steal a note from former Jazz great and now Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. When a player comes to the arena and knows he is playing 20 minutes a night no matter how much he tries to avoid it he is not as engaged as he is when he knows he is playing 30 minutes a night and the team and fans are relaying on their performance. We get to see how Hayward, Favors, Burks, Kanter and Burke react when they come to the arena knowing it is on their shoulders and I am very excited to see that.