It may have been the most “boring” game of the year, but the Jazz needed a win in a big way. Nice of the hapless Sixers to oblige. Check the ESPN recap and box score here. View the complete highlights from the game in the video below. I especially enjoyed Kanter mimicking the old Shaq Reebok logo at 4:20 and the jaw-dropping Jeremy Evans dunk off a behind-the-back pass from Jamaal Tinsley at 4:50.
With the Lakers continuing to look a gift horse in the mouth and losing again last night, somehow the Jazz are still only one game away from the last playoff spot. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing at this point, but it could very well happen. The Jazz might be the first team to ever successfully tank while earnestly trying to win.
I have a few things to say about Al Jefferson’s pump fake, his complete aversion to drawing fouls despite shooting a very high percentage, and the possibility that Al’s ACL injury changed his approach to the game. Thoughts forthcoming in a new post.
As long as we’re talking fakes, here’s BYU’s Brandon Davies sending the Cougars to Madison Square Garden in the NIT tournament with a nasty two-man fake pass and dunk–narrated by Bill Walton:
After the Jazz season ends — by way of either a horrible collapse down the stretch or a merciless four-game postseason — Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey will probably sit in his office and shift restlessly in a chair, much like guests on awkward dating game shows used to do in the late 1970s. Staring back at him will be about a dozen metaphorical closed doors; behind each, a different future.
One has a 32-year-old Al Jefferson starting at center, making nearly $20 million, another has a fully-formed Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter tandem giving opposing frontcourts nightmares (much like the Memphis Grizzlies do today). Behind another door sits a healthy, relaxed, confident, rich Paul Millsap making his first All-Star game appearance in 2014.
If Marvin Williams picks up his $7.5 million option next season — it’d be shocking if he turned it down — the Jazz will have $26.1 million in guaranteed salary on their books next season. Should they let Millsap and Jefferson go (unlikely), cap space will be more than plentiful.
For the purpose of letting Favors and Kantor develop and see the floor as much as possible next season, it’s probable that Millsap is the one Utah chooses to keep. He’s also due for a cheaper contract.
But instead of trying to weave our way through questions that Lowe already did a fantastic job of tackling, let’s turn our focus towards Utah’s greatest question mark, the point guard position. Here are five and a half helpful possibilities:
5. Pay Jose Calderon, Darren Collison, or Jarrett Jack much more money than they’re worth on a one-year deal.
The price tag on these players will probably be inflated, considering the lack of point guard talent in this summer’s open market. But if the Jazz can offer more money than just about anyone else (for one year) AND promise 82 games of starting point guard status, I’m sure at least one will be grateful enough to take the bait (most likely Collison), as opposed to playing elsewhere on a longer deal.
It’s a stop-gap situation, and would strictly be done to increase Utah’s probability of making the playoffs in 2014. After that the Jazz would likely find themselves back at square one.
4. Move Alec Burks and their own first round pick (or Golden State’s, to which the Jazz hold the rights) to a lottery team for the draft rights to Oklahoma State freshman point guard Marcus Smart.
Utah deals an inconsistent off-guard in the middle of his rookie deal—whose primary skill set overlaps Gordon Hayward’s—along with one of their two first round picks for the best point guard in the 2013 draft. Sounds simple enough. It’s why assets are so important.
3. Offer Jeff Teague a (near) max contract.
This option is fascinating, and comes with its fair share of risk. It would also primarily be done with the interest of forcing Atlanta to pay their point guard much more money than they’d like.
But in my opinion, Teague is the most intriguing restricted free agent point guard who wasn’t offered an extension earlier this season; a player who holds a slightly higher development curve than the other two options: Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings. (The group that was already locked up includes Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, and Jrue Holiday.)
A max contract offer would be for four years at roughly $61 million, and it wouldn’t be wise for Utah to offer something so outlandish on the hunch that the Hawks would match. But if the Jazz made a relatively more reasonable four-year, $50 million offer, would Teague be theirs? Do they even want him?
2. Trade for Rajon Rondo
If Utah is serious about upgrading the point guard situation, this is the surest way to get it done. Unfortunately, a trade will likely force either Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors out of town. But to obtain value in this league you have to give something up, and in return they’d be receiving a perennial All-Star who’s probably headed to the Hall of Fame.
1. Do absolutely nothing, then offer Eric Bledsoe a max contract after next season.
This is the best-case scenario. Utah flounders in 2014 with no respectable production from the point guard position—boosting their status in the lottery—then take their rolled over cap space and throw as much as they can in Eric Bledsoe’s direction.
(This option is semi-related to number four, but instead of signing a quality player like Jack or Calderon, the Jazz would turn their focus on a lesser, much cheaper talent like Nate Robinson or Beno Udrih, still for only a one-year deal.)
Utah won’t be the only team interested in Bledsoe’s virtuous two-way potential, and there’s always the faint possibility that Los Angeles matches their offer. But no team would rival Utah’s ability to sell Bledsoe on their organizational youth and incredible upside. It’s a risk, but one that has enough potential to turn the Jazz into a versatile force to be reckoned with.
0. Chris Paul.
The only thing missing is the outlandish possibility that the Jazz make a run at Chris Paul. [Editor's note: Believe me, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I've heard it said by people "familiar with the thinking of the team." We'll see.]
The only way it happens:
The Jazz make a strong run to end the season, make noise in the playoffs, and somehow transform themselves into an exciting team.
The Clippers struggle down the stretch and flop (literally and figuratively) in the Playoffs.
With five players under contract next season — and only seven if you include Marvin William’s player option and a team option on Kevin Murphy — the Jazz could have a dramatically different roster next season and a lot of money to spend this summer. If they let Chris Paul play GM and pick the guys he wants, maybe he decides to take the money and try his hand at team building.
Again, not likely, but a possibility. Who do you want playing the point for the Jazz next year?
Michael Pina writes for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. His work has also appeared at The Classical and ScoreBig.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.
You know what we all need to cheer up in Jazzland a bit? New threads honoring the legends. We’ve got this fine Mailman t-shirt from the good people at Million Dollar Ballars and we’d like to give it to you.
Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all your hopes and dreams. Tell us a great story or something ridiculous. Tell us why you want the shirt. Anything. Let’s make this next edition of the mailbag memorable. We’ll pick our favorite entry and you’ll be feeling better in no time with some new gear.
“The Mailman redefined what a nickname could be,” explains owner Greg Beers. “It’s more than a nickname, it’s a catchphrase – the Mailman always delivers.”
As part of their Legends Give Back program, Million Dollar Ballers offers to donate a portion of the proceeds to charity on behalf of the Mailman.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe gives the Jazz his longform breakdown treatment and serves up some brilliant analysis and a few scathing reviews for the team he calls “the most interesting franchise in the league right now.”
Lowe addresses all the important issues surrounding this season for the Jazz: What happened before the trade deadline? What plans (if any) do the Jazz have for Jefferson and Millsap going forward? Should the Jazz continue to shoot for the Playoffs or slip into the lottery? Why do the Jazz play such terrible defense? Why are the minutes distributed with near-complete disregard for both the eye test and stats? Excellent stuff all the way around.
First, a little myth-busting about the conventional wisdom that the Jazz feel/felt forced to move Jefferson and/or Millsap before the deadline to avoid allowing them to walk “for nothing” in the offseason:
In other words, the Jazz aren’t going to cry if they lose Millsap or Jefferson for nothing in July. It’s an NBA cliché that losing an asset for nothing is bad, and that cliché is generally true; the Nuggets didn’t really want Nene, but they re-signed him anyway at a price they knew could move.
But a lot of GMs don’t view this as a universal rule, and it appears Utah is in this camp. Several front-office folks outside Utah framed the issue this way: Jefferson and Millsap are salary slots who also take a certain number of minutes. Letting one walk for “nothing” wouldn’t really net Utah nothing; rather, it would open up both salary and minutes Utah could fill with Favors and Kanter, and down the line with another signing — this summer or next. This line of reasoning holds special value for teams under the cap, because they can actually sign any players they can attract on the open market. Utah losing Millsap without replacement compensation is not the same as capped-out Chicago losing Omer Asik without replacement compensation.
And then the brutal assessment on coaching:
The team is probably already playing Jefferson too much, which brings us back to Corbin. Here’s a remarkable thing: Utah’s five most-used lineups this season have been outscored. Ditto for 17 of its 18 most commonly used three-man groups, and usually by margins much larger than Utah’s overall negative scoring margin.
Only two of the 80 teams that have qualified for the playoffs in the last five years have done so with their top five lineups being outscored: the 2008-09 Bulls, and … last year’s Jazz. This is very strong evidence that Corbin is basically just playing the wrong guys and wrong combinations in the wrong minutes distribution. His better defenders and all-around guys — Favors, Kanter, DeMarre Carroll, Gordon Hayward, et al. — deserve a larger chunk of the time going to Jefferson, Mo Williams (now back from injury), and others. Lineup data can be pretty noisy over short sample sizes, but the noise is getting really loud at this point. [emphasis mine]
With fire in his eyes and a feisty tone, the third-year Jazz coach shared a message about that before Monday’s tipoff. It’s one he’s been giving his team, which had lost four straight and seven of eight games before the schedule mercifully pitted the Jazz against the Detroit Pistons.
“I tell the guys, ‘You can listen to criticism, but most of the people that’s criticizing don’t have any idea of what you’re going through,’” Corbin said in his pregame media interview. “They probably haven’t never did anything at this level in their life. They can talk. Talk is cheap. We’ve got to go out and do what we’ve got to do.
For a change, the Jazz did that.
To be clear, I don’t think anything about Corbin’s comments is anything more than a team facing a tough test trying to stay together. I don’t think he deserves to get skewered for it, either. If that’s what the Jazz need to finally get motivated, then they should get speeches all the time. Corbin has always hated to answer questions. I think he just finally got sick of it and popped off a bit. His coaching strategy is very “work harder” and “get better,” very gut-based, so it frustrates him to give reasons for choices.
Regardless, it will be interesting to pay attention to how the team addresses the questions highlighted in the Grantland piece over the next few months.
Most Jazz fans – if Twitter is an accurate measure – were disappointed that the team made no trades prior to the 2013 NBA trade deadline.
Fans itching for a trade weren’t so much hoping the team would acquire a jewel of a player – that seemed unlikely – but rather wanted to move Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap for any decent asset to free up minutes for the team’s talented young bigs, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
The team’s current playing time allotment frustrates many of us. We believe that building the next great Jazz team requires that Favors play more than 22 minutes and Kanter more than 14, their current averages. We believe that the team is failing to do what other forward-thinking teams do: Give their stars of the future sufficient playing time to improve.
That’s the story we grumpy Jazz fans tell ourselves. But is it true? Are Favors and Kanter playing less than other promising young bigs have?
To answer the question, let’s examine centers and power forwards chosen in the top 5 picks in the 2004-2011 drafts, excluding the most recent draft, so each player has at least two seasons of data. Those are arbitrary cut-offs, but it leaves us with 17 modern NBA players to consider – a reasonable number.
How much did they play in their first few seasons? How well did they play? What other circumstances (such as the team’s record) help explain their playing time?
Let’s start out with the two young Jazzmen, focusing just for now on minutes and PER. Remember, PER is a widely-accepted statistical measure of a player’s contribution to the team, adjusted for per-minute production (but isn’t a reliable measure of defense). 15 is average; 20 is a near All-Star. Above 25 an All-NBA candidate.
The numbers tell the story all Jazz fans know well: Two young guys already performing above average are playing backup minutes. Perhaps most maddeningly, their minutes-played have barely budged even as their performance has improved.
The 17 players analyzed below break neatly into four categories: Studs, Duds, Incompletes and Comps. Let’s move through the first three categories quickly before turning to those bigs that compare well to Kanter and Favors.
Not much point comparing these current All Stars to Favors and Kanter. Each was, nearly immediately, well above average. They deserved starter’s minutes immediately – or certainly by their second years – and got them.
A trio of cautionary tales: the athletic shot-blocker who has struggled in every other facet of the game. The undersized center from a major college program. And the next Dirk, except he doesn’t shoot particularly well.
Again, not much point in comparing these to Kanter and Favors: These three were lucky to get the minutes they did, compared to the Jazzmen’ solid starts.
Valanciunas is intriguing: In his first year in Toronto, after a year in Europe, he’s putting up some decent numbers, despite how raw he is.
What’s easy to forget about the oft-injured Oden is how excellent he was in his limited minutes. He will attempt a comeback next year. Given how well he played in the few games he did stay on the court, he will have plenty of teams vying to give him a shot.
Eight players left. Time to add more data: How good were their teams? It’s one thing for a guaranteed lottery team to let their kids play, another for a borderline playoff team like the Jazz.
And now it gets illuminating. The guys we can actually compare to Kanter and Favors. Young bigs, picked high in the draft, who played pretty well right away.
Let’s state the obvious first: They all played a lot more than Kanter and Favors, with one exception: Thomas, who we will get to in a moment. This article’s premise is borne out: Promising young bigs – even those on decent teams – have tended to get starter’s minutes. Every single one of these players, except Thomas and the two Jazzmen, were playing 30 minutes by their second year.
But were they on teams that had nothing to lose? Four clearly were: Thompson, Cousins, Bogut and Okafor. All remained firmly in the lottery during their first years, except for the Bucks during Bogut’s rookie year.
The Bucks made those playoffs as an 8 seed, like the Jazz last year. That Bucks team had some decent players – most notably Michael Redd – but their other bigs weren’t clearly better than Bogut, even as a rookie. Jamaal Magloire played a few more minutes than Bogut, but his PER was only 11, so the former Ute was likely a better choice. The team’s third and fourth bigs, Joe Smith and Dan Gadzuric, actually had PERs of 17 and 16, but had largely undistinguished careers.
The next good comp is Al Horford, who as a rookie joined a talented and young Hawks team led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Bibby that soon become a fixture in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, the team’s talent was on the wings: Horford immediately was the most productive big behind Smith, easily beating out Zaza Pachulia, Salim Stoudemire and the afore-mentioned Sheldon Williams for minutes.
And finally we get to Tyrus Thomas, who at a glance is the closest single comp to Kanter and Favors: a promising high lottery pick who put up decent numbers but played limited minutes for competing teams. His rookie year, the Bulls won 49 games and Thomas was the first big off the bench, behind starters Ben Wallace and PJ Brown, who were aging but remained solid defensive players.
The next year Brown left, but Thomas continued to play limited minutes behind not just Wallace, but newly-acquired Drew Gooden and Joe Smith (him again!). The team struggled, though, winning just 32 games.
His third year, Thomas started much of the season and his minutes jumped up to 28 a game. Wallace had left, but Gooden and Brad Miller played similar minutes, as the Bulls won 41 games the Eastern Conference’s 8 seed.
So why did Thomas struggle to get minutes his first couple years? Perhaps a better question is: Why did the Bulls continue to trade for and sign veteran bigs like Gooden, Smith and Miller when they had Thomas and his reasonable productivity on hand?
His player capsule in my “Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10” begins with the following description: “At times, Tyrus Thomas looks like one of the best young players in the NBA. Other times, too many of them, he looks wildly undisciplined.”
Neither Kanter nor especially Favors are “wildly undisciplined,” although both still make mistakes. Both commit fouls and turn the ball over at above-average rates, but not so much so that they demand a benching.
On one hand, this study can be interpreted to reinforce Jazz fans’ frustrations: Our talented young bigs are playing much less than virtually any other similar player in recent years. It is very unusual that Enes Kanter in his sophomore season plays just 14 minutes and Derrick Favors in his third just 22.
However, on the other, no team with two young promising lottery picks has ever been quite in this situation: Not just a borderline playoff team, but with players as productive and young as Jefferson and Millsap blocking their paths. It’s fair, as many of us do, to blame the Jazz front office for not freeing up those minutes. But the situation they face has been downright unprecedented.
After the historic loss on Monday to the visiting Houston Rockets (no link provided. We’ve all agreed to forget about it), the trade fervor is at an all-time high.
Countering several calls to simply trade every single Jazz player and fire every coach, Slam Magazine proposes a very rational trade: Jose Calderon and Chandler Parsons end up with the Jazz, while Utah ships out Paul Millsap and Marvin Williams to the Rockets and Raptors, respectively.
Rockets Receive: Paul Millsap, Landry Fields Jazz Receive:Jose Calderon, Chandler Parsons Raptors Receive:Donatas Motiejunas, Terrance Jones, Tony Douglas, Cole Aldrich, Marvin Williams
Financial Details: This one’s a doozy. The Rockets aren’t sending out nearly as much as they’re bringing back, but they have some cap space, which absorbs the difference. Meanwhile, the Jazz move about $17 million in contracts and bring in $11.5 million—a nice bonus for a small-market team. The Raptors move roughly $16 million and acquire roughly $16 million.
Here’s what’s in it for the Jazz:
The Short Answer:Missing pieces. The Long Answer:They key to this trade is that Millsap and Al Jefferson are headed for unrestricted free agency. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter developing behind those two, there’s no way Utah splurges to sign both impending free agents.
They’re going to lose one for nothing if they wait until the summer to figure things out, so moving one before the deadline makes all the sense in the world. Gordon Hayward has developed into a very solid wing player, but they still need one more. Parsons fits the bill perfectly. More importantly, they have a humungous opening at point guard. Mo Williams was playing well before his injury, but at this point he’s better suited to come off the bench in a Jamal Crawford combo-guard role.
They’d also have a really nice roster to build on top of. They’d enter next season with Calderon, Hayward, Parsons, Jefferson, Kanter, Favors, Mo and Alec Burks. They also have the Warriors 2013 pick via the Deron Williams trade as well as their own and the $10-16 million to spend. Top free agents this summer include Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Manu Ginobili, OJ Mayo, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. An already-good team with money to spend could do very well in that market.
The trade makes a lot of sense for all the reasons mentioned. It would pain me to see Paul Millsap go, but I think the writing is on the wall. I’m not convinced the Raptors would pull the trigger on this trade, but they’ve made worse decisions. Here’s hoping our Canadian neighbors decide to help out.
After posting the NBA Point Guard Shopping Guide yesterday, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the spectacular performance Jamaal Tinsley put on against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. Watch it again now, if you haven’t already:
There’s a reason Tinsley is a streetball legend. It’s honestly been a joy to watch him redeem his career and put on a show for Jazz fans the last two seasons.
The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away. Most expect the Jazz to make a move, to flip a talented big for assets. It’s the best path, most agree, to take the promising young team one step closer to contending.
Who should the Jazz pursue? Of course it depends who’s available, but a point guard is by far the most logical target. The team has young talent up front, and on the wings, but the three point guards on the roster – Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley – are 30, 33 and 34 years old.
It may surprise you the degree to which point guard has been by far Utah’s worst position this season. Let’s take a quick look at the advanced metrics, which have their limitations, but which tell a fairly clear story.
Let’s start with data from 82games.com: PER, which summarizes the offensive production the team is getting from each position – and defensive PER, the production of their opponents. Subtract the latter from the former, and you get a quick assessment of overall productivity.
While the data has flaws – a player doesn’t always guard his counterpart on defense, for example – the numbers do roughly reflect what our eyes see: The Jazz are strongest in the frontcourt, especially on offense.
The data also clearly shows the team’s most glaring weakness: Point guard, where the team doesn’t produce enough on offense and is regularly torched by opponents. While the Jazz centers are also over-matched on defense, they make up for it by being among the best offense players in the league.
So, clearly, point guard is a position begging for improvement. And, unfortunately, while the Jazz have several likely-mid-round 2013 picks, it’s not considered a particularly strong draft, especially for guards.
So that leads to what might be the most important question for the Jazz over the next month: What point guards could be available via trade?
The following is a list of who might be available: It makes no sense to pine for Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard, for example. Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul aren’t going anywhere.
Point guards other than the eight on this list may very well be available, but don’t seem worth pursuing. Some are clearly past their prime (ala Jameer Nelson or Andre Miller) or just not very good (Jerryd Bayless or DJ Augustin.) Once you start listing names such as those, it’s easy to argue the Jazz should just be patient, hope for Mo Williams to return in time for the playoffs, and worry about PG in the offseason.
But each of the following players has the potential to be better than that – this year and beyond — and could be available. And the Jazz, as much as any team in the league, have a wealth of trade assets: productive players on expiring deals (Millsap, Jefferson, Foye), young, cheap assets (Kanter, Burks) and draft picks (their own and Golden State’s). They can put together a decent deal at basically every salary level.
Without further ado, here’s the list. We’ll go in order of increasing excitement: from the “hmmmm” ones to the “holy crap, we can get him?” players.
For each, we’ll offer a few numbers: Age, their per-36-minute traditional stats, PER (15 is average. Above 20 is excellent) and their DRtg (100 is average: higher is worse.)
8. Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors
The struggling Toronto Raptors have been long-rumored to be interested in dealing one of their point guards. Both have value, and would be a significant upgrade for the Jazz. Two factors make the productive Calderon less intriguing: the first is his age (31) and the fact that he’s on the last year of his deal. The Jazz would have to make a three- or four-year commitment to an aging guard to retain him.
However, as you can see, Calderon is a solid offensive player who would immediately boost the Jazz: He’s an efficient if low-volume scorer, a terrific passer and can shoot the 3. His defense isn’t great, however, and that isn’t going to improve as he ages.
Calderon is likely quite available – and if the Jazz main focus is boosting their roster for the 2013 playoff push, he’d be solid choice, if hardly a long-term solution.
7. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings
If Utahns have heard of Thomas’ name, it would likely be as the guy who took Jimmer’s minutes. An undersized, second-round draft pick, Thomas was a huge surprise for the Kings last year: a genuine offensive threat who both earned plenty of free throws and shot well from the outside.
In his second year, Thomas has both taken a step back and seen his minutes go down. He still scores – if less efficiently — but his assists are way down and his defense, according to the metrics, is abysmal. Both those measures are the worst of any player on this list.
The Jazz would have to hope that Thomas has failed to thrive due to the dysfunctional Kings’ organization – and that in a stable organization, he could build upon his rookie year’s promise. His size (5’9’’) makes it unlikely he’ll ever be a plus defender, however. Out of everyone on this list, he would probably come cheapest, although his absurdly low salary (he’s signed for less than $1 million next year) mean that if he’s available, the Jazz wouldn’t be the only team interested.
6. Jarret Jack, Golden State Warriors
Jack has played well this year as the sixth man for a surprising Golden State team. He’s a well-traveled vet, who has been on five teams in eight years (a red flag, perhaps.)
Jack and Calderon offer similar positives and negatives: Each would be a significant upgrade, but each is in the final year of his deal and would need to be re-signed. Jack is two key years younger than Calderon, however, and would be more likely to play well through his next contract.
Jack’s strengths are his mid-range game and distribution skills. He rarely shoots 3s, but shoots 2s at a high percentage and takes a decent number of free throws. According to Hollinger’s ESPN Insider profile, he struggles to guard quick point guards (as does everyone on the Jazz’ current roster), but does quite well against bigger 2s.
Golden State has played so well that it’s not clear they want to trade anyone. Jack doesn’t start, but finishes most games, averaging nearly 30 minutes. However, given that he has an expiring contract, and the fact that the Warriors are thin up front, they might just be willing to deal him for the right offer.
5. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
Knight has objectively been a disappointment for the Pistons over the past two years. However, he’s very young and has incredible athleticism. To give up talent for him, the Jazz would have to believe Knight could improve significantly: Perhaps the Pistons haven’t used or coached him properly.
His poor PER is largely a reflection of a mediocre shooting rate, relatively few free throws and middling assist numbers. On the more positive side, he shoots 3s at around 38 percent, and has the athletic tools to improve on defense.
21-year-old lottery picks that struggle can take a leap and improve dramatically. Or they remain disappointments. It’s impossible to know what Knights’ career path will be, but he would certainly be an intriguing talent addition for the Jazz.
Trading for Knight might be difficult: The Pistons’ have talent up front – Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond – and if they’re willing to trade Knight, would probably want a pick or two, plus a promising wing. The Jazz might need to involve a third team for this trade to work.
4. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Jennings is a quick, young point guard who can score at will – so why isn’t he higher on this list? Unfortunately, the promise he showed in moments such as the magical 55-point game from his rookie year has largely failed to materialize.
In some ways, Jennings isn’t really a point guard: He’s an indifferent distributor and mostly looks for his own shot. The good news is he’s a genuine offensive threat – going to the rim and pulling up for 3s. He rarely turns the bull over. His defense, while not sterling, actually measures fairly well.
Whether Jennings is even available is open for debate: He shows up on some lists of possible trade targets, given that he is a restricted free agent after this season. The Bucks have just fired their coach and might be looking to start over, building around their cadre of freakishly athletic bigs. Jennings’ game is quite redundant with the also productive but even more one-dimensional Monta Ellis, but Ellis is considered virtually untradeable, so they might have to move Jennings to bring back talent.
Of all the players on this list, Jennings is the one that inspires the most mixed feelings: Yes, he’s way more gifted than any PG currently on the Jazz roster. But, despite his youth and the potential for improvement, he might just remain the kind of player with decent stats that doesn’t push a team to win.
3. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns
Dragic has played well this year and was signed to a reasonable deal this past off-season (4 yrs, $30 million). He’s one of the few above-average Suns. He only comes available, it would seem, if a team makes a great offer – or, perhaps, if the Suns (which just fired their coach) are in blow-it-up mode.
Dragic’s strengths are that he’s big, finishes well at the rim and shoots a lot of free throws. He’s improved significantly as a passer. While his steals numbers are decent, his defensive numbers overall have been a little weak, and his outside shooting uneven. Three years ago in Houston he shot 51 percent from the 3 – making nearly 3 a game – but this year he’s below 32 percent.
Overall, the Jazz would likely be thrilled if they could land the Slovenian: He’s signed for three more years and is in his prime. The question is how dear the price would be.
2. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
And now we take a big jump up in quality. Lowry would seem to be the perfect target for the Jazz: He’s in his prime, he’s signed for next year as well at just $6.2 million and he has a reputation as an above-average defensive guard, which the Jazz badly need. And, as we note in the Calderon comment, the Raptors are desperate to shake things up and have an extra point guard.
One potential problem is that Lowry has developed a reputation as a difficult character, a label which the Jazz tend to shun. How true that is, who knows, but by the numbers, Lowry would be a massive upgrade – and give the Jazz a dynamic, productive athlete at the point guard.
Statistically, it’s hard to find a hole in Lowry’s game, although his defensive numbers aren’t as strong as the reputation. He shoots at a high percentage, including from 3, and is a terrific rebounder and a solid distributor. He’s actually has the fourth-highest PER in the league among PGs right now, behind only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. That certainly overstates his value – you won’t find anyone on Earth that would prefer him to Kyrie Irving or Jrue Holiday or Rajon Rondo – but he’s a very productive and efficient player the Jazz should work hard to obtain.
1. Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s drool time. Bledsoe has had an eye-opening season as part of the Clippers’ vaunted second unit, but he’s still only playing 19 minutes a game. He’s easily the best defender on this list, and observers such as Bill Simmons regularly write about how opposing point guards often struggle to simply bring the ball up the court because Bledsoe is so athletic and relentless.
Until this year, the knock on Bledsoe was his offense: He turned the ball over way too much and couldn’t shoot at all from the outside, which kept his PER down around 11. However, his numbers are up across the board this year: He shoots a ton of free throws and is actually shooting 36 percent from 3, suggesting his outside shot will become an effective weapon. And, of course, he’s very young – with room to develop better shooting and passing to go with the world-class motor and finishing skills.
So why in the heck would the Clippers trade him? He’s productive, young and cheap – and virtually certain to get better, maybe a LOT better. He’s also in the final year of his deal. ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote this week, “The problem is there is almost no chance that Bledsoe is wearing a Clippers uniform next year. A restricted free agent in the summer of 2014, he will get a major offer from a team under the cap, and the Clippers already know they won’t be able to afford to match it.”
Maybe a great trade offer would force the Clippers to act. They’re thin up front and have title pretensions, so maybe a Millsap or Jefferson plus Burks (who would replace some of Bledsoe’s offense off the bench) gets it done.
Probably half the league will make an offer for Bledsoe if he’s available. However, he’s shown such a huge boost in performance this year, it’s possible to project him as an All-Star – one of the best wing defenders in the league, with an offensive game opponents have to respect.
For his career, Al Jefferson only commits 2.8 fouls per game, so his trouble isn’t that he fouls too much; it’s that he doesn’t get fouled enough. Specifically, let’s look at how Jefferson’s lack of free throw attempts affects the team.
Perhaps Utah’s most important player whenever he’s on the floor, Jefferson deserves credit for his consistent contributions. At this point in the season, he’s posting 16.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, and has contributed about a steal per game — all near his career averages. For better or for worse, he’s a huge part of the Jazz offense and defense.
It’s the odd free throw numbers that are alarming about Jefferson’s time on the floor.
[Editor's note: Jefferson's tendency to shoot jumpers and avoid contact while shooting is well-documented. As a reminder of what Jefferson does well before we re-visit his low free throw rate, let's check Hollinger's player card [Insider], with analysis from before the season began:
Jefferson discovered the joys of passing out of double-teams and had a career season as a result, unfathomably leading all centers in pure point rating (yes, this really happened) with the help of a historically low turnover ratio.
His ability to create shots without turning the ball over is truly phenomenal. Jefferson had miscues on only 4.7 percent of his possessions last season. Nobody in the history of the NBA has had a usage rate this high and turnover ratio this low. Nobody.
Yes, there were some drawbacks to this approach. Jefferson took a lot of midrange jumpers and half-hooks and rarely attacked the rim, so he had one of the lowest free throw rates at his position. As a result, his true shooting percentage was ordinary. But creating league-average shooting with virtually no turnover risk is a great bargain, and despite his penchant for ball-stopping it gave Jefferson genuine offensive value.
As for defensive value, we’ll get back to you on that. Jefferson blocks shots and is a good rebounder, but primarily he seems concerned with avoiding fouls that might take him off the court. Only seven centers fouled less, and it wasn’t because Jefferson was in such exquisite defensive position that he didn’t need to gamble. The Jazz gave up 1.9 points per 100 possessions more with him on the court last season, and that was his best mark in the past three years; Synergy also rated him below the league average.]
At 85.9%, he’s a very good shooter from the charity stripe. But that percentage matters less when you consider that Jefferson attempts fewer than three free throws per contest.
Jefferson leads the Jazz in shots attempted by far this season (512; Millsap is second with 389). Per 48 minutes, only 11 players in the league shoot more often than Jefferson. He attempts 15.1 shots per game and only shoots 2.9 free throws.
Most of this can be explained by Jefferson’s shot selection. 73% of his field goal attempts are of the jump shot variety, accounting for 9.2 of his 16.8 points per contest. This partially explains the dramatic difference in his rebounding rate on the offensive end vs. the defensive end, as shown in the table below:
[Ed: Jefferson is a very capable rebounder, but because his offensive game takes him away from the basket, the team is at a disadvantage when rebounds are available. Also, as a very good free throw shooter, Jefferson misses opportunities for free points. Teams would be terrified to put Jefferson on the line in a Hack-a-Jefferson scenario, but opponents are never forced to make that choice.]
In the effort to put some context into Jefferson’s FTA figure, here’s a list of the same statistic from other Jazz players (minimum 250 field goal attempts):
Gordon Hayward: 418 fg’s attempted, fouled on 58, 13.9% foul drawn Paul Millsap: 466 fga, fouled on 77, 16.5% foul drawn Derrick Favors: 279 fga, fouled on 55, 19.7% foul drawn Randy Foye: 332 fga, fouled on 15, 4.5% foul drawn Mo Williams: 280 fga, fouled on 10, 3.6% foul drawn
On that list are two players who have shot at least 250 field goals and currently carry a lower foul drawn rate than Jefferson. Both of those players put up a heavy majority of their field goals as jumpshots (92% jump shots for Foye, 84% for Williams).
Al Jefferson, at least among forwards, has one of the game’s best pump fakes. He’s no Dwyane Wade, but who is? Jefferson needs to use that skill to get easier shots close to the rim. Meanwhile, Wade makes a living on his particularly tempting pump fake. Wade has been fouled on 85 of his 497 shots, drawing a whistle on 17.1% of his shots.
When a legitimate NBA talent like Jefferson has a pump fake this good, he should take the Dwyane Wade approach and repeatedly punish defenders for their involuntary jitters.