A Jazz Fan’s No-Man’s Land

December 27th, 2013 | by Laura Thompson
Derrick Favors - Joe Murphy - NBAE via Getty Images

Derrick Favors / Credit: Joe Murphy NBAE via Getty Images

Entering this season, as a fan I had braced myself for what many of the national experts had said was going to be one of the worst teams fielded in recent history. With Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye, DeMarre Carroll, and other veterans gone, the reins were handed over to an inexperienced young core. I figured I’d better hold on tight because this was going to be a bumpy road, but a bumpy road with a fantastic light at the end of the tunnel: one of the top picks in the spectacular 2014 draft, a kind of transformational player that’s exactly what a small-market team like the Jazz need in order to compete for championships.

The more I thought about that, the more okay with that situation I became. In fact, more than that, that’s what I wanted.

With Trey Burke injured to start the season and a 1-14 start, I was feeling good about our chances for a top pick and, thus, the future of the team.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, the Jazz are now 7-9 since Burke’s return come back. Yes, he’s been inconsistent: some night’s he’s been awesome, and the next game he’s awful. But I don’t think I realized Burke was going to be this good, this quickly, especially late in games. But as David Locke posted EFG% numbers this week when Burke is on the court or off, I think we’re seeing even more clearly than before (and we saw pretty darn clearly before) just how poor our point-guard play was without Burke.

In case you missed Locke’s tweet, here are the Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Richard Jefferson’s EFG% numbers with Trey Burke on/off the floor:

Favors: 59%/46%

Burks: 60%/47%

Jefferson: 57%/49%

I vacillate back and forth between wanting the Jazz to win every night because that’s inherently how I’ve been feeling ever since I was a Jazz fan in diapers, and wanting them to lose every night because I feel that the only way we have any chance of being a contender in the next decade is to land one of the top three picks in this draft, and that’ll take a serious piling up of losses to happen. What if, now that Burke is back, Favors is developing nicely offensively to pair with his defensive game, and Hayward is learning how to fill up the boxscore, we’re too talented for that to happen? Is that on Dennis Lindsey’s shoulders to fix the roster? Does Ty need to play John Lucas III more?

Sometimes I just don’t even know where to put my emotions.

Though, admittedly, I’ve been much more in the camp of “lose every single game, giving the young guys plenty of minutes, and get that top pick so you can become a great team instead of one that’s just solid and gets trounced out of the playoffs every year in the first or second round.” Also known as “Stop giving 36 minutes to Richard Jefferson. And give Enes the minutes to figure it out.”

I think we’ve been seeing enough glimpses from some of the young guys to be very excited for the future. But without a top-3 pick, in my opinion, we don’t go much further than we have in the last decade (the fluke of playing the eighth-seeded Warriors to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals was something that, in my opinion, set the team back for years because they “made it that far!”).

If we don’t get one of the top three or five picks in the 2014 draft, then what? Salt Lake City isn’t a hotspot for a superstar free agent, so trades would be the only other option for a superstar, and that’s pretty unlikely, too, given that we’d have to give up some great assets in order to land a superstar.

Then I was reading Adrian Wojnarowski’s article yesterday on how the Suns have gone through their rebuild. It was a very interesting article, complete with an admission from the owner that he held on to winning perhaps longer than he should have, and put off the rebuilding process by a couple years.

This paragraph from Woj’s article really stood out to me:

As McDonough sold his candidacy to Sarver and Babby, he described his years of watching Celtics GM Danny Ainge and Rivers work together – the trust, the transparency and the constant communication. For where the modern NBA coach is trending, Hornacek is the prototype: no ego, but a steely confidence. He holds players accountable without humiliating them. When McDonough had ideas for the coaching staff, including well-regarded defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi out of Boston, and player development coach, Irv Roland, Hornacek embraced the candidates. He didn’t need his guys; he needed the best available.

Mike Longabardi is one that has been suggested as a possible head coach for Utah (thank you, Peter J. Novak). But what’s interesting to me is how involved the GM was in assembling the coaching staff—they didn’t have to be Horny’s guys; they just had to be the best guys for the job. And what a job Phoenix has done this season, all while still racking up a lot of first-round picks in a stacked draft.

So, Jazz fans. How are you handling all this winning? Because, yes, playing nearly .500 since Burke has been back is considered “all this winning” when we were 1-14 to start and angling for a top pick in the incredibly loaded draft. Are you okay with it? Do you want more losing? More winning?

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson

I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson

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3 Comments

  1. Clint Johnson says:

    Based on the 1995 to 2010 drafts, a top five pick produces a 2.6% chance of drafting a player that leads you to a ring and a 9% chance of getting a player who leads you to the NBA Finals. In contrast, based on the performance of players drafted 3rd and 9th overall in the same span, there is a 21.9% chance that Favors, Kanter, and either Hayward or Burke ALL become All-Star caliber players.

    If I were the Jazz, I would make developing the young talent already under contract priority #1, #2, and #3 and try to up that 21.9% chance. It sure beats gambling on a 2.6% long shot that a top five pick will become the team’s savior.

    If the front office wants to trade away veteran pieces in an attempt to get a better chance at a prime pick, great. That’s exactly what I’d do. But the worst thing that could happen is for the Jazz’s current young talent to be bad enough to deserve the first overall pick. If the team were that bad, there’s no history in the last twenty years — literally none — of a player coming to such a team and leading it to a championship. (People who argue the Spurs fit that description are wrong. The Spurs had the 3rd worst record that season even with injuries to two established All-Stars in David Robinson and Sean Elliott.) Give the Jazz three All-Stars in the making and I’ll be happy with the team’s chances with pick 6-10, or their ability to pull off a blockbuster trade, or to entice a free agent gem into coming to SLC.

    Every win on the backs of young Jazz players is a good thing. If a high draft pick can be added to the mix, it’s adding onto strength. Creating a team of weakness to gamble on a lightning strike, on the other hand, strikes me as foolish in the extreme.

    • Michael Jewell says:

      I’m a lifelong Jazz fan and I wish they’d lose every game for the rest of the season. The only chance the Jazz have to really contend is a top 3-5 pick. I’m sick of a 5-8 playoff seed and early playoff exit. Star power is the only thing that moves the needle in the NBA.

      I don’t see Kanter developing into an all-star. Favors/Hayward/Burke maybe, but they are more like top-quality role players than stars. Maybe a better coach would be able to maximize their potential, but I think all-star reserve now and then is the absolute ceiling for each of those players. None of them will be a perennial all-star.

      Even if they do get a random all-star appearance, all-stars don’t win NBA championships. Superstars win championships. As far as the correlation between star power/top 3 draft picks and NBA championships, here’s what I see over the past 2 decades:

      Since the 90-91 season all 23 championship teams featured at least 1 top 3 draft pick. Every team, except the 03-04 Pistons, had a certified superstar. A top 3 pick doesn’t guarantee a superstar and, even if it did, superstars don’t even guarantee a Finals appearance – there are more superstars than there are spots in the Finals. There is only one guarantee that I can see and that is if you don’t have a superstar, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you won’t be winning an NBA Championship.

      The Jazz don’t have a potential superstar on the roster. A top 3 pick in the loaded 2014 draft is the best chance the Jazz will have to get a superstar-caliber player in the foreseeable future. It would be better for the Jazz to tank this year than be mired in mediocrity for the next decade.

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