The Much Improved Utah Jazz Roster

After two consecutive seasons finishing just under .500, the Utah Jazz are poised to take the leap into the playoffs in the Western Conference. The additions of multiple savvy veterans will help the emerging young core already on the roster. The Jazz should be much improved in 2015-16. Utah hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010 when Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams were the faces of the franchise. Expect the Jazz to end the six-year drought this season. The possibility of earning homecourt advantage in the first round is also not completely out of reach.

The Much Improved Utah Jazz Roster

The Young Core

The Jazz have built their team around a trio of young stars – Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert – who are 26, 25, and 24 years old, respectively. It can be argued that all three of these players are underrated considering the lack of media attention the Jazz receive playing in Salt Lake City. After averaging 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game last season, an All-Star appearance is right around the corner for Gordon Hayward. He’s a high character individual who can do it all on the basketball court, the type of player any coach would want on his team. Ever since the team traded then-superstar point guard Deron Williams in 2011, the keys to the franchise have slowly been handed over to Hayward, whom the team selected 9th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Derrick Favors

Speaking of the Deron Williams trade, that deal netted Utah the former Georgia Tech standout and 3rd overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, Derrick Favors. The strong and agile power forward was always considered a raw talent, and after six full seasons in the league, it seems as if Favors is finally putting it all together. He averaged 16.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game last year. Favors’ freakish athleticism has always been his best asset, which has helped him develop into one of the league’s better power forwards. He hasn’t fully lived up to his draft slot quite yet, but Favors still has plenty for room for growth and should be a key factor for the Jazz as they try to improve off of last year’s 40-42 season.

Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert, also known as the “Stifle Tower,” is one of the most intriguing talents in the league. The 7’1” Frenchman has only been in the NBA for three years and is still extremely raw on offense; however his strength and size make him a tremendous asset on the defensive end. He averaged 11.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game last season, which were seventh and third in the league, respectively. Utah is a gritty, slow paced team (they were last in the NBA in pace last season). They are reliant on a stifling defense to win games. Gobert’s dominance on the defensive end should anchor the Jazz once again.

Last year they had a defensive rating of 101.6, good for eighth in the league. They will look to improve that mark in 2016-17. Gobert figures to be a huge part of their success on that end of the floor. Oh, and not to mention he is an exceptoinal finisher around the rim. Gobert averaged 9.1 points on 56% shooting from the floor. Two years ago he shot an even better 60% from the field. It’s important for Gobert to return to that efficiency level this upcoming season.

Veteran Additions

The Jazz made a trio of under the radar transactions this off-season that allowed the team to acquire George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. Ever since Williams left in 2011, Utah has been starving for a serviceable starting point guard. The Trey Burke experiment didn’t work, and Dante Exum is still just 21 years old and is coming off of a year missed due to a torn ACL. Trading for George Hill was a smart move, even if they had to part with the twelfth overall pick in this year’s draft. The Jazz have plenty of late lottery talent already on the roster that they need to develop. Adding yet another player drafted in the late lottery wouldn’t be necessary.

Hill’s best year came in the 2014-15. He averaged 16.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game on 48% shooting for the Indiana Pacers. The 30-year old experienced a pretty significant decline last season. His per game averages slipped to 12.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 44% shooting from the field. Hopefully he can regain his previous form this year with Utah. His veteran presence at the point guard position is much needed by the Jazz. He will serve as an excellent mentor to Dante Exum.  This is key, as Exum can really develop into a star in this league.

Joe Johnson

With Joe Johnson, the Jazz get a classy vet who still knows how to score the basketball. “Iso-Joe” often gets a bad reputation because of his mega-contract that he signed with the Atlanta Hawks back in 2010. Even though he probably didn’t deserve to be the highest paid player of the 2010 free agent class – which included the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh – Johnson has still been a great scorer the past few years. His leadership and scoring ability will be a solid addition for Utah, even though the 35-year old is well past his prime.

While Hill and Johnson will likely start, Boris Diaw is set to come off the bench. Any type of leadership or mentality that Diaw can bring over from Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs will likely be more valuable than his production on the court. Diaw will be given the task of mentoring Trey Lyles, the second year forward from Kentucky. The two have often been compared to each other, and the addition of Diaw could really help stimulate Lyles’ development.

Young Role Players

Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, and Trey Lyles were all former first round picks of the Jazz, and they all should be significant factors both this season and in the future. Hood burst onto the scene last year, averaging 14.5 points per game while starting in all 79 games he played in. If he takes the next step as a reliable, high-volume scorer, the Jazz could have something special.

As for Burks, time may be running out for him to prove he can be a part of the team’s success in the future. He’s been in the league for five years and his development has been stagnant the past three seasons. He doesn’t shoot well from the floor, and Hood looks like a much better option as the team’s long term shooting guard. If Burks wants to prove he’s more than just a backup guard, the time is now.

Dante Exum

While the team may not be so patient with Alec Burks, it certainly will be with Dante Exum. He struggled mightily two years ago as a rookie. Burks averaged just 4.8 points per game at a horrific 35% clip from the field. However, the Aussie still has tons of talent. He has a legitimate chance to become the team’s starting point guard of the future. With Hill on board, Exum should slowly be eased back into the swing of things. This should help both him and the team in the long run.

Trey Lyles is a versatile forward who has the potential to be a nice player for years to come. He didn’t play too much last year as a rookie, and he may not play that much more this season. Expect Lyles to join Boris Diaw as the primary backup power forwards to Derrick Favors.

Outlook for Next Season

Ever since Rudy Gobert entered the starting lineup two seasons ago, the Jazz have been a formidable defensive team. They play at the slowest pace in the league, and they pride themselves on locking in on the defensive end. Their defense will still be great. The additions of Hill and Johnson – combined with the improvement of Rodney Hood – will shore up the offense to help them take the next step.

Even though the Golden State Warriors are the heavy favorites at the top of the conference, the West isn’t nearly as formidable as it was a few seasons ago. If all goes as planned, Utah should be right in the thick of playoff discussions. After the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers, the West is wide open. Who will snag the fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round? The preseason favorites will probably be the Portland Trail Blazers; but the Jazz could easily surpass them with the talent currently on the roster.

It could be a fun season for the Utah Jazz; one that is highlighted by both winning and the development of their young players.

 

 

Main Photo

TORONTO – NOVEMBER 9 – Toronto Raptors vs Utah Jazz in 2nd half action on November 9, 2013, at the Air Canada Centre. Raptors won 115-91. Utah’s Alec Burks is fouled as he drives hard to the hoop with Tyler Hansbrough in front and Terrence Ross behind.        (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)