This is the time of the year that most Utah Jazz fans dread. The part of the year that bridges the draft and free agency with training camp can be downright rough. The one saving grace is that each passing day brings us closer to having the Jazz back in our lives more fully.
If anything, it is a fun time for predictions. I mean, everyone’s doing it. Many out there are using the summer doldrums as a time to share a broad range of predictions. For example, ESPN thinks the Jazz will finish 13th in the West, while Trey Burke will come in second for the Rookie of Year award (Chad Ford actually has Burke finishing seventh). It does make for some interesting reading. It is enjoyable to consider what might be.
So, in the same vein, here are a few of my Utah Jazz predictions. Some will be bold, some will be the opposite. Heavens, some will even be fun. Let’s get started:
Gordon Hayward will lead the team in assists: But just barely. I think Trey Burke will be able to come in and help direct this young team very well. That said, I think Hayward will have the ball in his hands a lot, especially as a (if not “the”) focal point of the offense, and as a result, will compile some strong assist totals from the wing positions. Hayward’s abilities to see the court and deliver the ball are perhaps his biggest strengths. In past seasons, it was evident how much smoother the offense flowed when Hayward was in the game.
Hayward will also lead the team in scoring: While all four returning young guys will see a big jump in production (I suppose that’s a prediction right there), Hayward is the heir apparent as the leading scorer. Not only does he have the better body of evidence, but he also has the most varied offensive repertoire. He can shoot the three-pointer, can take it to the hole, frequently gets to the line, and is working on his mid-range game. Alec Burks, whether he starts or comes off the bench, will finish second.
Utah will be represented well at All-Star Weekend: Summer league struggles are summer league struggles. It would take a lot for Trey Burke to not play in the Rising Stars Challenge no-defense game. In fact, I do feel he will be the second Jazz player to win the Rookie of the Year award (Darrell Griffith being the first). Burke, due to his huge collegiate popularity, will also participate in the Skills Challenge. I think Jeremy Evans will return to the dunk contest. Hayward will be an All-Star game snub, since the Jazz’s record will be a factor.
The Jazz will honor Jerry Sloan this year: Now that Coach Sloan is back in the fold in an official capacity, this will be the year where a jersey honoring the Dean of Coaching will be hoisted to the ESA rafters. And Jerry will get emotional.
The Jazz will be a top three shot-blocking team: Utah ranked fifth last year (6.3 bpg), so a slight uptick is very feasible. While losing Al Jefferson’s 1.14 and Paul Millsap’s 1.03 averages will hurt, they have the personnel to do the job. Derrick Favors playing a more prominent role will automatically help. He averaged 1.69 in just 23.2 mpg last season, which translated over to 2.62 per 36 minutes. (Another quick prediction here: Favors will earn some All-Defensive team mentions, but won’t make it this season.)
Beyond Favors, the Jazz have many others who will help the cause. And no matter how the minutes fall, they could each contribute. Rudy Gobert may have some struggles offensively, but he has the abilities to be an immediate defensive presence. Andris Biedrins was able to swat 0.79 shots in a mere 9.3 mpg (let’s not dwell on the fact he had 42 blocked shots compared to a mere 24 points last season…). Based on last year’s rates, Jeremy Evans could get a block per 15 minutes of PT. Kanter should be able to get one or two. And don’t underestimate Hayward and Brandon Rush adding to the mix (0.9 bpg during Rush’s last full season).
A lot of teams will be beating themselves over not drafting or signing Ian Clark: One of the reasons Clark chose the Jazz was because he knew he’d be given an opportunity to not only make an NBA roster, but to contribute. Given his ability to shoot the ball, I can see Clark becoming a rotation player. It may not be right away, but by December, Clark will be playing some valuable minutes.
Dennis Lindsey will orchestrate at least one notable mid-season trade: Utah has a litany of assets at their disposal: a bevy of draft picks, $31 million+ in expirings, and young guys with lots of upside. While the Jazz have not made many deals involving expiring contracts (last February being a prime example), there is a new sheriff in town who may be willing to swing such a transaction if it brought back an impactful player or perhaps even more future assets. For example, I can easily see Marvin Williams playing a bigger role this year. He might be someone who could be attractive to a contender needing SF help come trade deadline time.
Despite the growing pains, this will be an exciting team for Jazz fans to rally around: Optimism is very high, despite the fact that expectations are the opposite. At a minimum, Utah will be able to determine what they have in each of the young guys, and even the expiring veterans. We all remember that overachieving squad the year after #12 and #32 left. I’m not saying that this team will finish .500 like that team did, but in similar fashion, their hustle, effort, and personalities will win over Jazz fans. The Jazz will go 30-52 and the season will be viewed as a success.
Now some quick ones:
Feel free to share your own predictions, whether big or small, serious or humorous, in the comments. Share them with the Jazz world!
And if it took you five minutes to read this, congrats. You’re now five minutes closer to the 2013-14 season.