As you’ve probably seen, ESPN.com will do 5-on-5s to talk about various events in the NBA schedule. We’re going to do one at SCH that talks about the end of the season. Thanks to newest SCH writer Aaron Hefner for having the idea and putting together the questions, and thanks to Aaron, Matt, Clark, David, and Laura for participating.
1. Using only one word, how would you describe the season?
Aaron Hefner: Tantalizing
Matt Pacenza: Encouraging
Clark Schmutz: Launchpad
David J. Smith: Optimism
Laura Thompson: Development
2. What was the biggest surprise of the season?
Aaron Hefner: Most people will say Gobert’s brilliant emergence, and they won’t be wrong, but I think I was equally surprised at Trey Burke’s lack of progression and development. In nearly every statistic he actually regressed. Just as shocking is the fact that the Jazz have succeeded in spite of Burke’s struggles.
Matt Pacenza: The defense. I think many of us thought that a change in coaching and added minutes for Gobert, was going to pull the Jazz out of last in defensive efficiency. But, realistically, I was hoping for a move up to the 22-25 range, which I would have been quite satisfied with. Instead, they’re 12th in the league overall and one of the best since the All Star Break? I’m not just surprised, I’m shocked.
Clark Schmutz: The fact that this team has been so historically good defensively for so much of the season. I was hoping for the Jazz to become an average defensive team this year, but they’ve become top 5. And with this roster 1 through 12, it’s especially surprising.
David J. Smith: The incredible post-All-Star success. Under Quin Snyder’s leadership and fiery passion, to say that the Jazz became a defensive force over the second half of the season is an understatement. What makes it even more impressive is the way it has transpired amongst injuries and D-League players playing rotational minutes.
Laura Thompson: Rudy Gobert. Jazz fans saw great potential with Rudy last year, but I don’t think any of us expected him to improve as quickly as he has. His progression and subsequent increase in playing time has completely transformed the team’s defense, allowing others to defend more aggressively, knowing Gobert can erase many defensive breakdowns.
3. What was the biggest disappointment of the season?
Aaron Hefner: Alec Burks getting injured. We got to see Hayward, Favors, and Gobert all make major strides this season, but due to his shoulder injury, Alec Burks didn’t get a chance to make that same jump. Instead of having to play the “if” game all season, it would have been great to see what the team would look like with him on it.
Matt Pacenza: Dante Exum. Yes, it’s early. Yes, he’s 19. Yes, he has very few comparables, in terms of the level of competition he came from. But, let’s be honest, you cannot find a guard who has performed so abysmally on offense in his first NBA season who turned into a useful NBA player. A PER of 5! 32 FTAs in over 1,700 minutes! Sigh.
Clark Schmutz: Coming into the season, Burke and Burks were the backcourt of the future. I’m a huge Trey Burke fan and was so happy we drafted him, but he hasn’t improved as much as I hoped he would this year. And before his disappointing injury, Alec Burks looked like he couldn’t grasp the new system. I hope for bounce backs from them next year.
David J. Smith: It was sad to watch the Enes Kanter era unravel. First, his trade demand and then the surreal drama surrounding his return to EnergySolutions Arena. It is too bad things transpired the way they did. He has earned himself the dubious title of Public Enemy #1 for Jazz fans – not something that many could have predicted a year ago.
Laura Thompson: Alec Burks’s injury. I was really looking forward to how he’d fit into Quin’s new offensive scheme, with his athleticism and ability to the get to the line, combined with his improving three-point shooting. Will he be a good fit? We have to wait until next season to find out.
4. What was your favorite single moment of the season?
Aaron Hefner: Rudy Gobert becoming the starter for the Jazz, or put another way, Enes Kanter being traded. I think most of us knew it was coming (because of production and future financial implications), but the moment Kanter was traded and Gobert took over, that was the highlight of the season for me.
Matt Pacenza: Hayward’s game winner against the Cavs. My 10-year-old and I snuck down from our upper bowl seats to about the 30th row (shhhhh) and so we had a perfect vantage point when Gordon rose and sank that jumper. Marcus cried with joy. It was special, a sweet father-and-son bonding moment. It was one of those rare moments in sports where it takes your breath away.
Clark Schmutz: The blowout road win over the Bulls. It wasn’t the greatest game, probably, but it was the first time that I started to think, “man, the Jazz are ready to take a huge step moving forward. They are (relatively) good now.”
David J. Smith: Gordon Hayward’s game-winner against LeBron and the Cavs, not just because of the incredible shot, but because of the reaction of Utah’s players, coaches, and fans. Hayward’s postgame interview full of raw excitement just added to the euphoria. That was a feeling Jazz faithful had not felt in quite some time. It instilled hope in the future.
Laura Thompson: Gordon Hayward’s game-winning shot against Cleveland. That moment capped what’s been an interesting road to becoming The Man for Hayward. Witnessing Hayward hit a tough, step-back jumper at the buzzer, demonstrate passion during his celebration, and show emotion during the walk-off interview, was special.
5. What are you most excited for next season?
Aaron Hefner: Clarity. I feel like this will be the first season in many years where there is a clear sense of direction after having answered major questions marks. Utah has 3 top 50 players and now just needs to add depth to the roster and fully implement Snyder’s system. The Jazz finally have an identity and are on a path to success.
Matt Pacenza: Better guards. Having Burks back, plus (fingers crossed!) adding a quality PG/SG via trade or free agency, can make a huge difference in 2015-16. I’m not sure most fans really appreciate the gap between this team’s forward’s and center (each a near All Star) and our guards (among the worst in the NBA for much of this season.) Improving the latter should boost the Jazz to playoff contention, easily.
Clark Schmutz: I want to see if we can be this dominant defensively all year. If the Jazz are a top 5 defense, it’s going to be almost impossible to not compete for the playoffs. And I might be unique, but I enjoy watching great defensive performances, as much as I like watching up and down the floor scoring.
David J. Smith: The way Utah’s young players and front office approach this offseason. What will young talents like Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Rodney Hood do to better themselves? Their development will be fun to watch. The Jazz brass also has an interesting summer ahead. What moves do they make to enhance this up-and-coming squad? Exciting times!
Laura Thompson: Continued development and growth. We’ve seen drastic improvement in such a short period of time defensively–what will next year bring? Will Dante be more aggressive and show more than just glimpses of what he can do with a season–and an offseason of weights and film study–under his belt? His development will be the biggest catalyst for the team’s growth, in my opinion.