Salt City Hoops » Dan Clayton http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:12:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » Dan Clayton http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com FIBA Scouting Reports: Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Ante Tomic http://saltcityhoops.com/fiba-scouting-reports-rudy-gobert-dante-exum-raul-neto-and-ante-tomic/ http://saltcityhoops.com/fiba-scouting-reports-rudy-gobert-dante-exum-raul-neto-and-ante-tomic/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:38:06 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12792 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Photo from FIBA.com

Photo from FIBA.com

In a gym some 5,000 miles away from Salt Lake City, a Jazz reserve was the talk of the basketball community on Wednesday.

The FIBA World Cup marches on, with medals being handed out on Sunday. Four Jazz players — or players whose NBA rights are held by the Jazz — are involved, so we’re going to take a look at the good and bad each guy has shown, and where that leaves the big picture discussion on each.

And we’ll start with an in-depth analysis and video of the guy Fran Fraschilla called “my MVP” of the quarterfinal upset over Spain.

Rudy Gobert

The line: 4.1 points & 5.1 rebounds, with 2 games to go.

The good: Gobert was a defensive force against the tournament co-favorites, drawing effusive praise from Fraschilla. There are many good reasons for the coach-turned-commentator to gush. He has been a lot more engaged, he has grabbed a rebound for every three minutes played, and he’s running the floor.

It’s best to let the tape tell about some of his positives, which our Ben Dowsett did after the contest. Here are some additional looks at specific areas of Gobert’s game.

He’s been a lot more calculating about his off-ball movement — diving into the slot especially. In the case of this video, he gets free on the baseline and gives his guy an option for a pretty touch pass that results in an easy dunk.

But the real reason he’s been so impressive is defense. He had stretches where he completely dictated that end of the floor, including the stretch run on Wednesday. Here’s a video of him dominating defensively in the clutch:

  • He swats a ball away, then on the ensuing inbound he helps, gets back, boxes out and draws a foul.
  • He plays solid position D, denying the baseline and then when Gasol turns to go middle he blocks it.
  • This time Gasol tries to drive but Gobert cuts him off. Gasol tries to go right through him and gets stripped.
  • Another play where he make a deflection at the rim, followed by Fran gushing a bit more.

Spain’s elite offense came to a screeching halt, largely because of Gobert. It was a memorable defensive showing in one of the biggest FIBA upsets in recent memory.

The bad: Gobert still has his raw moments, even on defense. Here are a couple of almost back-to-back plays where he gets pulled far from the lane on pick-and-roll coverage and can’t get back. Teams consciously try to get him in the P&R. Sometimes he can let the guard through and stay home — or even better, help and then get back (as above) — but not always. Here we see that the best way to neutralize Gobert defensively is to force him to help hard 25 feet from the hoop and hope he can’t recover and/or doesn’t have help behind him.

And of course, he’s offensively still progressing. This is true of his own game outside the immediate basket area, but even his screening and passing. When you screen, you’re supposed to be as square as possible; Gobert often looks more like a parallelogram on his screens, leaning hard to one side. Luckily, he’s learned to hold the position for a beat so he’s getting fewer illegal screen calls. As far as his passing game, we’re talking about a guy who had seven assists all last season. In Spain, he literally has had moments when he awkwardly knocked himself over trying to find a passing angle, or times like this video when he should pass out of the trap but instead takes an uncomfortable sideways shot.

The big picture: Any way you cut it, it’s been a summer of progress for Gobert, who will have no difficulty claiming an important spot in the rotation if he proffers the kind of game-changing defense we’ve seen in stretches at FIBA, especially the fourth quarter vs. Spain.

 

Let’s also take a quicker look at the Jazz’s other three World Cup participants.

Dante Exum

The line: 2.7 pts & 2 ast.

The good: You’ve heard plenty of analysis of Exum’s WC showing, no doubt. He showed that elite quickness, as well as a point guard mentality. Whenever he got to the middle of the floor on offense he was always looking to pass first. But probably the most impressive thing was his pestering defense. He really got “up and under” some guys, to steal a Jerry Sloan term.

The bad: The biggest complaints — rightfully so — had to do with his lack of movement on offense and his overall passiveness. I wasn’t completely excited by Australia’s offensive creativity, so maybe his role was to stand weakside and watch… but I doubt it. I kept waiting to see him get more involved, but I think he’s young enough and rusty enough that he was waiting for an invitation to have an impact on the game.

The big picture: I get the sentiment that, if he’s truly a future star in the making, he should have been less invisible with the Boomers. But I also think it’s wrong to set arbitrary prerequisites on him. I am guilty of this, too. In last week’s post, I stated that I’d be a little worried if he didn’t have a rookie year at least in a Tim Hardaway Jr. range (2-3 WS). Since then, I’ve realized how silly that is. Do you know how many eventual All-Stars and even Hall-of-Famers started out with less than that? Kobe’s rookie WS was 1.8. Dirk’s was 0.8. Isiah Thomas was 2.3. We’re talking about Finals MVP-caliber players here. Karl Malone put up 1.9 WS in his rookie season. All that’s to say history isn’t as demanding on rookie Exum; he can start modestly and still have a chance at greatness, the precedent says. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes some pretty quick improvements in a couple of areas once he’s working out with the Jazz.

 

Raul Neto

The line: 7.6 pts, 2.3 ast.

The good: Neto had two stellar games where it was easy to find things to like, including a can’t-miss offensive zone against Argentina that helped the Brazilians put their neighbors away. Even when he’s not scoring like crazy, he has good control of the game, never looking outmatched or out of place. He understands spacing, so his off-ball movement helps preserve options for the team system, though sometimes subtly. He also knows how to get separation on his shots, and creates the right angles with good use of screens and side-to-side movement (he especially likes to step right-to-left into his jumper).

The bad: Not to be a wet blanket, but the Argentina game was an outlier and Neto was mostly fairly quiet, at least statistically. In group play, he had three straight games with just a bucket per outing until he got extra burn against a pretty bad Egyptian team and exploded for 14 & 10. His defense wasn’t perfect. He is solidly built, so he doesn’t give up ground easily, but he doesn’t always stay in front, nor does he become the defensive pest that Exum was at times. He got hung up on some screens, and other times, he tried to jump the screen early and got punished.

The big picture : Neto’s future role with the Jazz depends greatly on how the next few months develop, especially with regard to Exum and Trey Burke. If the Jazz decide those guys are the point tandem they’re going to ride into contention, then Neto might be more of a trade asset than a basketball asset. Then there’s the very related question of how Alec Burks fits in with that duo, and whether they have a positional preference as to how they deploy Gordon Hayward. Either way, Neto caught some attention this month.

 

Ante Tomic

The line: 10 pts, 7.2 reb, 2.5 ast.

The good: There were stretches — like the fourth quarter against France — where the offense almost entirely ran through him for long periods of time, and usually with positive results because of his touch and passing. It’s amazing how many of Croatia’s plays began with a Tomic screen-roll at angle left. He also defended solidly.  He’s so big that he’s hard for post players to move around, and his length clearly frustrates drivers.

The bad: Tomic didn’t look particularly quick on either end. Even his really nice moves kind of seemed like they were in slow motion. He also rarely gets any sort of elevation. For a 7’2″ guy, he plays almost entirely under the rim. He’s a crafty finisher so he makes due, but you have to wonder how he’d compete athletically with NBA bigs.

The big picture: With his heady play and great hands, Tomic showed exactly why some think he projects to be a decent third of fourth big in the NBA. But there’s no clear sign as to whether he and Jazz are in each other’s mutual future. Still, every good showing by Tomic at the very least increases the asset value of his draft rights.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Utah Jazz Yearbook: Most Likely To… http://saltcityhoops.com/utah-jazz-yearbook-most-likely-to/ http://saltcityhoops.com/utah-jazz-yearbook-most-likely-to/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 21:10:04 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12726 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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The next Jazz All-Star? (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

The next Jazz All-Star? (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

With a nod to yearbook staffs everywhere, we’re pulling out our own “Most Likely” ballot.

Which current Jazz players have a shot at being in the conversation for All-Star appearances, defensive awards or even MVP discussions someday? Maybe nobody, but that won’t stop us from asking the questions in the spirit of pimple-faced high-schoolers the land over.

These aren’t meant to be predictions. Rather, we’re answering the question: if we have to pick somebody that’s on the roster today to be part of these conversations going forward, who would it be? And we’ll even throw in some fun ones.

Current Jazz player most likely to become the next Jazz All-Star: Gordon Hayward.

If any two of these four things happen this year and the rest of his game stays fairly consistent, Gordon is going to be an 18-20 PPG scorer:

  • The Jazz go from bottom 5 to top 10 in pace, which would mean about 4 extra possessions per game.
  • Hayward returns even just to his career 3 point % of .365 or higher.
  • He gets back to taking a third or fewer of his shots in the 10-22 foot range (38.9% last season after two seasons at 32.1% and 31.8%).
  • Quin Snyder runs a lot of pick & roll through Hayward at the top and the elbows.

None of those four things are unlikely, so Hayward being an 18-5-5 player is seemingly not that far off, and 20-5-5 is at the very least realistic. If that’s the kind of output Hayward’s producing, then he’ll start hearing AS pub as soon as the Jazz start getting back to .500ish ball. Which won’t likely be this season, but who knows? I also subscribe to the theory that Hayward striving to stretch into his 2013-14 role will help him going forward.

…Most likely to make All-Defensive teams or compete for DPOY at some point: Derrick Favors.

Props to Rudy Gobert for at least making me stop to think about this one. Zach Lowe laid out the reasons this week that Gobert could someday make an impact like Tyson Chandler, a one-time DPOY winner. But Gobert is a ways off. The typical recent DPOY winner is someone who captains his team’s defense and has a more consistent, steady impact on his team’s defensive identity. They also play — without exception in the last 24 seasons — 33 minutes or more per game, so it’s just not an award that guys earn from bench roles.

For his part, Favors’ tape is kinder than his numbers are. Game film shows he’s already got a solid defensive understanding that doesn’t show up in the numbers. He rarely makes mistakes within the team defense, but was surrounded by one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year. As the personnel around him improves, people will start to see what I’ve been saying since late in the JefferJazz era: that Favors is better at D than we’re giving him credit for.

…Most likely to be a serious MVP candidate at some point: Dante Exum.

This one probably deserve some explaining.

It’s a tad unfair to pin this one on a kid who is barely clinging to his rotation spot at the World Cup. But it is what it is. If anybody currently on the roster is going to sniff the top of some MVP ballots some day, it’s going to mean someone made the leap to bona fide star. I’m not sure if anybody on this team has that in his future, including Exum, but really good players don’t just turn into MVPs. It’s the whole reason the Jazz had to swing for the fences on June 26. Hayward could make multiple All-Star teams and average something crazy like 22-6-7 and still not really have a historical precedent to get him into the conversation.

So far, only two modern MVPs have scored fewer than 23 points per game in their MVP seasons: Steve Nash and Magic Johnson. That’s further evidence that it would be easier for Exum to scale the mountain than some others; elite point guards seem to have alternate criteria and can get away with scoring less as long as they’re also dishing like crazy. But whether Exum  — or anybody — works his way into the conversation, it will be years away. That’s because only two modern MVPs have led a team that won fewer than 54 games, and the average team of a modern MVP won 61 games.

There’s no telling when the Jazz are going to be good enough to have a serious candidate, but if it happens in the next 5-7 years, it’s probably because Exum hit the top of his range as a prospect.

…Most likely to win All-Rookie honors: Rodney Hood.

So is it a contradiction to say Exum is the only guy with a realistic shot at an All-NBA peak but that he might not be the best rookie on his own team this season? Not at all. Hood plays a position where minutes will be available and has a skill set Utah needs help with. And, as people around the globe can now attest, Exum has some road in front of him.

(Not that I’m super concerned about Exum’s summer. Yeah, it was disappointing to see his aggressiveness disappear after the first LVSL game. And yes, a guy with purported star potential should probably be able to stay on the floor with his NT for more than 8.5 minutes a night. But I see a lot of low-hanging fruit relative to Exum’s development. I think the Jazz’s staff can get him back on track in a hurry, and to the Australians’ defense, that’s just not their priority right now. They’re in the midst of a competitive tournament, so the coaches don’t owe Dante anything necessarily. I think he’ll be more of a priority the second he lands back in Utah, and that means working on some big early gains relative to his conditioning, his off-ball play, his use of screens, etc. All areas where they can make some fast progress.)

…Most likely to be in trade rumors this season: Enes Kanter.

At some point this season I’ll revisit my full ranking of least-to-most likely to be traded by the deadline. But here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Hayward, Favors and Exum aren’t going anywhere unless an offer is overwhelming. A decent amount of the roster is unproven talent on minimum deals that will fetch little value. So in terms of players who could ostensibly headline an important deal and would actually be available, the list is pretty limited.

On that remaining list, Kanter and Alec Burks are the names that have some value around the league, and Kanter is a bit more marketable given that he’s a big man. Nobody’s entirely safe, though, on a team that at this point is mostly a collection of assets. The operative question with any of these guys will be: is he worth more to us as a trade asset today than he will be as a basketball asset in 2017?

…Most likely to establish himself as a locker room voice: Trey Burke.

Burke has already established himself as someone who will speak frankly, and who wants to be a leader. Hayward has a ton of credibility, but is still not fully comfortable as the rah-rah guy. Favors is getting a bit more comfortable there. But I think Burke will be an important vocal leader for Utah, starting right away.

…Most likely to get RJ/Raja level disdain from fans: Trevor Booker.

I don’t think Steve Novak will play enough to draw ire from Jazz fans, which means the vet backlash is probably going to be headed toward Booker. Which is too bad. He’s only 26, and a 4-year vet. Moreover, I think there’s a chance he could have a nice impact on this team. But for him to play, he’ll cut into someone else’s frontcourt minutes, like fan favorites Jeremy Evans or Gobert. I could even see him supplanting Kanter in certain lineup situations, which won’t go over well with a number of fans.

…Most likely Core Fiver to come off the bench: Burks.

While we’re on the subject of things that would anger many fans…

Burks is poised to take another important step this year, but there are a lot of scenarios where I could see him being asked to make that contribution in a reserve role. He’s really well suited to that bench attacker role, and I could see situations where either Hood or Exum starts some games at the two so that Snyder has some balance and isn’t stuck with a bench full of question marks.

…Most likely to land in Twitter jail: Gobert.

This one isn’t even close, really. Now that Kanter’s online persona has been tamed, the sometimes salty, sometimes sarcastic and sometimes confrontational Frenchman has to be the highest priority on the social media watch list.

…Most likely to play a smaller role in ’14-15 than people suspect: Novak.

I know they said the right things in terms of basketball reasons for that acquisition, but I’m not sold. I think they like what Booker and Evans bring. Novak’s whole career has been as a fringe rotation player.

…Most likely to play a bigger role in ’14-15 than people suspect: Exum.

Even after a lackluster summer, I think Exum is going to get a lot of opportunities to play this year.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Examining the Utah Jazz Bench http://saltcityhoops.com/examining-the-utah-jazz-bench/ http://saltcityhoops.com/examining-the-utah-jazz-bench/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:53:20 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12670 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Jeremy Evans and Rudy Gobert will play important bench roles for the Jazz. (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jeremy Evans and Rudy Gobert will play important bench roles for the Jazz. (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

The key to how good the Utah Jazz can be in 2014-15 probably lies in the developmental leaps by key players such as Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. The key to how bad they could be might be on the bench.

The reality is, with no true impact signings this off-season, the Jazz won’t crack 35 wins — or maybe even 30 –unless Hayward plays like he’s truly a top 5 wing and others in the Jazz core make big steps forward. Presuming for a second that the penciled-in starting lineup going into camp is the Favors-Hayward duo with Alec Burks, Trey Burke and Enes Kanter, that group will largely be responsible for determining the Jazz’s ceiling.  Projections are giving Utah something like 28 or so wins. If the starting five take big leaps forward this year, maybe they surprise some people.

But the floor? If you look around, most prognosticators’ biggest question about just how much the Jazz  could struggle are based on questionable depth. The Jazz have had a solid off-season, but haven’t yet answered the question of how much quality they have on the bench. The potential promotions of Burks and Kanter to the starting five leave the second unit a bit vulnerable.

So what do the Jazz have in their bench unit? Let’s break it down.

The X (like xenopus) Factor

It seems likely that rookie phenom Dante Exum is slated as a reserve at this point, but I also keep hearing that the Jazz are planning to give him as many minutes as they can justify with a straight face. For that and other reasons, the Australian guard is one of the hardest players to project.

On the one hand, he’s the most likely of anybody outside The Five to crash the starting lineup. It’s not hard to imagine him having a Tim Hardaway Jr. type of rookie season: 20+ minutes, a green light to create his own shot, and 2-3 win shares on the way to an All-Rookie season.

On the other hand, we’ve all seen him suffer lulls in his play where he was out of step or just invisible. He needs to get better at playing away from the ball, as right now the opposition doesn’t really have to factor him into their defensive thinking unless the ball is in his mitts. His shot is also a bit of an adventure, and he’s struggling with screens. Those could all be rhythm issues from having an extended basketball sabbatical, or they could be real developmental hurdles he has to work over.

So while the long-term possibilities are tantalizing, there’s no telling right now what exactly the Jazz can count on from Exum in the immediate term.

Rotation candidates

Exum has the highest long-term ceiling, but it seems increasingly likely that Rodney Hood will be the Jazz’s best rookie in ’14-15.

I know what all the stat models say, but there’s room to be bullish about Hood despite predictive formulas. For one thing, if you look at some of the quality draftees that the stat community has missed on, a lot of them were overlooked largely based on their age. Hood is an older rookie after playing a year at Mississippi State and then waiting a year for his transfer eligibility at Duke. But guys like Chandler Parsons, Damian Lillard, Taj Gibson and perhaps most notably Brandon Roy were also older rookies who outplayed their projected WARP, proving that the age knock isn’t iron-clad.

(Tangent: The age correlation in predictive models probably deserves reexamination. It’s undeniable that a broad correlation exists, but that could be simply because extremely talented prospects are less likely to spend 3-4 years at the NCAA level. This might be an area where we assume as a rule that A leads to B, when in fact it’s just that A and B often coexist because they’re both caused by C — a Freakonomics principle worth thinking through as it relates to the predictive value of age.)

Anybody who has watched a lot of Hood’s games knows that he simply understands the game. He’s a natural scorer, he reads and reacts well, and there will definitely be some minutes for a big SF with some scoring capability. He was a leader at Duke, and a good character guy.

I’ve already written about how Rudy Gobert could improve this year, so I won’t belabor the point here. In a nutshell: he seems certain to be a rotation regular this season, and could possibly be play his way to decent minutes with game-changing defense.

Trevor Booker looks like a quality addition that will help the bench. He’s played well in that energy role before, and he is effective at defending down low without fouling a lot.  He continues to improve as a midrange threat on offense, which helps justify keeping him out there for his defense and energy.

Of course, Booker’s presence complicates the role of the oft-overlooked Jeremy Evans, but I expect he’ll find his way into some minutes this year, too. After three years of being this anomaly of a player — highly effective in only spot minutes — he finally got a taste of rotation minutes last year. He still posted an above-average PER, but his rebound rate is pretty mediocre for an NBA four.  Previously an at-the-rim-only specialist, he saw a lot of his volume move to 10+ foot jumpers: 37.6% of his attempts, by far the largest percentage in his career. But he still managed to be a net positive player, and probably deserves more mention than he gets as a cog in the Jazz’s rotation.

Those five guys could really be the key to the floor not falling out on the 2014-15 Jazz.

On the other hand, if Utah is forced to rely on the eight below, it might mean they’re having a tough year.

Deep bench

A case could be made for Steve Novak to be grouped with the possible rotation guys above. Novak is certainly capable of filling in admirably should someone need to spend some games on the shelf.

But I’m confused at the fan speak that treats the Novak pickup as a difference-making move. This is an 8-year vet who has topped the 1,200 minute mark exactly once in his career, and that was the wacky Linsanity season in New York. His rebound rate is borderline unacceptable for an NBA big, and his defense isn’t much better. He does one thing really well — space the floor — and that’s why he’ll always find some minutes here and there. But if he’s one of Utah’s top three or four bigs, somebody else probably isn’t doing their job.

Ian Clark is another guy with a definite specialty, and what complicates his case is that he hasn’t even done that one thing all that well in games. He’s essentially a shot maker who doesn’t always make shots. The experiment in Vegas was to see if they could shoehorn him into some point guard minutes. I’m not entirely sure if that will work. Ultimately, he has to shoot better than 38.8% (TS 48.5%) to wrest minutes away from the other backcourt players.

Some are excited about the pickups of Carrick Felix and Toure’ Murry, but let’s not rewrite history to make them seem like impact signings. Felix was ranked 57th in the ’13 draft class by Chad Ford and had the 86th best WARP projection. A year earlier, Murry was ranked 96th by Ford and was so far out of the draft picture that he wasn’t even included in the WARP projections. Neither has shaken off those low expectations thus far — they both posted 0 win shares last season.

That doesn’t mean they were bad pickups. Remember, the Cavs gave Utah enough cash to pay Felix’s salary and then some, so they get to try him out for free and essentially get a pick just for taking over on the formality of actually signing the paychecks that Cleveland is funding. And with Murry, they were just looking for a third point guard option who could give the club some insurance, and they got one for just $250K in guaranteed salary, per rumors.

Now, it’s possible that any of these four could surprise us. Every year, guys in the NBA come from out of nowhere to achieve relevance. But there probably aren’t great odds of these four dramatically altering Utah’s win total.

Battling for roster spots

So far we’ve talked about 14 guys with a chunk of guaranteed salary ($250K or more), which means Brock Motum, Jack Cooley, Kevin Murphy and Dee Bost are likely fighting for one remaining roster spot. Chances are good that most or all of them will see a lot more of Boise than of Salt Lake City this year. Although again: same disclaimer about surprises could be made here.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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How Ready is Rudy Gobert? http://saltcityhoops.com/how-ready-is-rudy-gobert/ http://saltcityhoops.com/how-ready-is-rudy-gobert/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 20:52:24 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12468 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Could Rudy Gobert really be about to lap Enes Kanter, as SCH's founder predicted? (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Could Rudy Gobert really be about to lap Enes Kanter, as SCH’s founder predicted? (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you like bold predictions, then the recent throwback installment of the Salt City Hoops podcast is right up your alley.

Among other gutsy calls, SCH founder Spencer Hall said he expects Rudy Gobert to play his way past teammate Enes Kanter on the Jazz’s depth chart during this upcoming season. There’s no dearth of excitement about Gobert’s tools and talent, but Spencer’s specific boldness seemed unprecedented enough to invite a conversation.

Could Gobert be ready to leapfrog his friend and go from fringe rotation player to major minute guy? What would it take? Today, we read the tea leaves relative to the battle for big man minutes.

Why it could happen

At first blush, you see things to make you think Spencer’s not that crazy. Several of Gobert’s numbers are closer to Kanter’s than you might think: they both shoot 49% from the field, and in terms of total value, Gobert adds .045 WS per 48 to Kanter’s .050. They certainly add that value in different ways, but viewed at the broadest possible level, you realize Gobert is already close in terms of per-minute value.

Gobert is already an elite rebounder, with the 7th highest total rebound percentage of any player with at least 100 minutes. His block percentage is amazing, too: 7.4% of what opponents put up while Rudy is on the floor gets sent back by the big guy. That number is second only to Cole Aldrich. Rebounds and blocks are two numbers that generally hold up OK on a per-minute basis when playing time is increased.

If Gobert works his way ahead of Kanter in the short term, it will likely be because of his defense. It’s hard to find a statistically significant category where Gobert isn’t much better defensively. He gets baited into more shooting fouls, but that’s to be expected from a rim protector.

What held Gobert back on that end was defensive understanding. Too often he freestyled, jumping out of system to do what he thought was the right thing, and leaving four teammates out on a limb. But I’m encouraged by what we saw on the court and what he said off of it in his time at the Las Vegas Summer League. Getting him to understand team defense and be in the right places appears to be a focal point. When he’s tuned in, he can absolutely dictate what’s going to happen on the defensive end for long stretches, and not a lot of players can do that.

Gobert’s defensive FG% at the rim was 10 percentage points better than Kanter’s and the best on the team. In fact, he was 8th in the league in that stat among players who defended at least one such play per game in at least 40 games last season. That tells us that, if the discipline is there, he might not be far from being an elite defensive player already.

Top 10 rim defenders w/ at least 40 GP and 1 rim FGA defended per game. Source: stats.nba.com

Top 10 rim defenders w/ at least 40 GP and 1 rim FGA defended per game. Source: stats.nba.com

 

Why he might not be there yet

While their shooting numbers overall are closer than one might expect, the composition of Gobert’s offensive game is very different from Kanter’s. The latter is an able mid-range threat, with healthy portions of his used possessions coming at that range, and with pretty good results for a big man. Not so with Gobert.

A whopping 99% of Gobert’s attempts — and literally all of his points from the field — came from inside 10 feet. Even in the 3-10 foot category, Gobert hit just 13% of his shots, so we’re basically talking about a guy who’s not an offensive weapon if he’s not within arm’s reach of the hoop. And while his Summer League performance was encouraging in overall terms, it wasn’t a departure from this script. Of his 19 Summer League field goals, 18 were in the immediate basket area — the other a short jumper created off a teammate’s drive.

There’s something to be said for knowing who you are, and the fact that nearly 80% of his attempts come around the rim shows that Gobert understands his limitations. But it’s hard to play 4-on-5 on offense, and unless Gobert is sitting on the rim, that’s essentially what the Jazz have to do with him out there. The sub-.500 free throw shooting doesn’t help things much.

Passing is another area where Gobert is wanting. He had a total of just seven assists last season — all season!  It doesn’t look good even on a per-minute basis; if Gobert played 24 minutes per game, he’d have an assist about every third game. And it’s not just assists – he doesn’t pass a lot, period. According to the NBA’s player tracking, he had fewer passes per minute played than any other Jazz player (although Kanter was close).

 

What he’d have to improve to move up on the depth chart 

More than anything, Gobert has to address his free throw shooting if he’s going to spend 20+ minutes per night on the court. You can’t shoot 49% from the line and be on the court in any kind of pressure situations.

There’s a chance that in improving his technique relative to free throws, he might even develop a nice touch for short jumpers. If so, that’s gravy. He doesn’t necessarily need that; you can play big minutes in the middle for a good team even if your offensive range is limited. But any improvements in his offensive ability would help justify his minutes enough to unleash the havoc of his defense on other teams.

He also needs to get better at effectively and legally screening. Especially since he’s already a less-than-ideal P&R partner given that he can’t pop off the pick, it is extremely important that he not further diminish his effectiveness on the screen with offensive fouls or bad positioning.

And, as mentioned, he must improve as a ball mover. I wish we had player tracking from Vegas to see if he’s understanding and embracing Quin Snyder’s hot potato ideology. He and Kanter were the only Jazz men last year to pass the ball less than once per minute played. Again, seven assists in a season is just not enough.

 

But for now… it’s Kanter’s to lose

Gobert has a lot going for him, especially in terms of physical tools. But for now, I think Kanter has the inside lane on this one. In terms of skill areas, Kanter is far enough ahead that I think he really controls his own fate. If he does the little things, the things that require focus and discipline, I can’t imagine him surrendering too many rotation minutes to Gobert of anybody else.

Put another way: it’s easier for a highly skilled player to improve overnight in terms of effort and energy than for a raw player to improve overnight in terms of skill.

Of course, this isn’t about pitting players against one another, and the Jazz would do well to help both Kanter and Gobert realize their full potential. And either way this particular discussion turns out, the Jazz should gain from a developmental standpoint. If Gobert does indeed lap Kanter, it means he has developed enough offensively and figured out how to channel his unique, elite defensive abilities. If he doesn’t, it means Kanter has improved his focus and habits, and is doing the little things it takes to win.

When you win 25 games, nobody’s job is guaranteed, so I’m sure everybody will have to come to camp ready to earn things. But as of today, I think Kanter is penciled pretty heavily into that second big slot.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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World Watch: Utah Jazz Guys Tuning Up With National Teams http://saltcityhoops.com/world-watch-utah-jazz-guys-tuning-up-with-national-teams/ http://saltcityhoops.com/world-watch-utah-jazz-guys-tuning-up-with-national-teams/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 19:13:48 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12476 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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A hoopless August? No way.

A few Jazz players are keeping busy this summer in preparation for FIBA’s World Cup of Basketball in Spain. And even though that tournament doesn’t start until the very end of August, the exhibition lead-up has some Jazz guys lacing up starting this weekend.

Consider this your guide to when Jazz players suit up for their national teams, representing four different continents.

The whole basketball world is waiting to see more of this guy. (Photo from @ESPNAusNZ.)

The whole basketball world is waiting to see more of this guy. (Photo from @ESPNAusNZ.)

Australia

Dante Exum’s Australian Boomers begin a three-week exhibition tour this Friday. They have eight games scheduled in three separate weekend tourneys as part of their tune-up process for the World Cup. Then they begin the Cup with group play in a somewhat forgiving group. Lithuania will be their biggest challenger. Australia came out of the 2013 continental championships ranked 9th in the FIBA bwin World Rankings.

Exhibition (times shown in EDT):

  • Friday 8/8, 9:15 a.m. – Finland… Update: Australia won 100-95, led by Brock Motum’s 17. Exum had 2 pts & either 4 or 5 assists.
  • Saturday 8/9, 9:15 a.m. – Ukraine… Update: Australia won 75-60, Exum with 14-3-3. Motum w/ 4 pts, 3 reb.
  • Monday 8/11, 12:00 p.m. – Lithuania… Update: Australia lost 78-91, Exum with 5-4-1, Motum with 10 (5/6 FGs).
  • Tuesday 8/12, 12:00 p.m. – Finland… Update: Australia lost 81-87, Exum with 10-1-2, Motum with 12 & 4.
  • Friday 8/15, 12:00 p.m. – Ukraine (in Nice)… Update: Australia won 74-65. Exum with 4-3-3 in 18 reserve minutes, Motum with 11-5.
  • Saturday 8/16, 12:00 p.m. – Phillipines… Update: Australia won 97-75, Exum with 8-5-6 in 21 reserve minutes, Motum w/ 7 & 12.
  • Sunday 8/17, 2:30 p.m. – France… Update: Australia won 76-74, Exum with 2-1-2 (1/8 shooting) in 15 reserve minutes, Motum w/ 6 (no rebounds).
  • Friday 8/22, 2:30 p.m. – Finland… Update: Australia won 80-57. Exum with 0-4-4 in 20:39 off bench, Motum 7 & 4.
  • Sunday 8/24, 1:00 p.m.- France… Update: Australia lost 50-73. Exum with 6-0-1 in 20 bench minutes, Motum 4 & 3.

World Cup Group Play (8/30 through 9/4):

  • Slovenia, Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, Angola

How much of a role will Exum have? The Patty Mills injury means it will largely be Exum and Matthew Dellavedova manning the point. And since Australia likes to have two handlers on the floor at all times, I imagine that means both these guys will see a ton of minutes. This could be a real coming out party for Exum, who hadn’t played for close to a year until Summer League, but now gets a minimum of 14 games to find his conditioning and comfort zone again.

How much of a role will Brock Motum have? The Jazz aspirant will probably be the 4th or 5th big man in the Boomers’ rotation. I would expect he’ll see a bit more burn during the tune-up matches than in Spain.

Rudy Gobert will be a part of France's second unit. (Image from FFBB.com.)

Rudy Gobert will be a part of France’s second unit. (Image from FFBB.com.)

France

Rudy Gobert’s national team likewise has a full schedule of tune-up games coming up this month. Like Australia, France will spend the next three weekends at tournaments, played throughout France. Then they head into group play in Spain. They come in with a #8 ranking, but got a really tough draw in terms of groups. Spain, Serbia and Brazil are all top 11 teams. This group is rough.

Exhibition (times shown in EDT):

  • Update: As Audiris points out in the comments, France began exhibition with a win over Belgium on July 29. Gobert had 16 & 6 w/ 2 blocks. I hadn’t included anything that happened previous to the original writing of this post. For more on that game, check out Audiris’ comment below.
  • Friday 8/8, 2:30 p.m. – Croatia… Update: France won 81-71, Gobert w/ 7 pts & 5 reb in 18 minutes.
  • Saturday 8/9, 1:00 p.m.  – Greece… Update: France won 81-73, Gobert w/ 13 & 10 in 20 minutes.
  • Sunday 8/10, 2:30 p.m. – Serbia… Update: France lost 69-79, Gobert w/ 6 & 4 in 13 minutes.
  • Friday 8/15, 2:30 p.m. – Philippines… Update: France won 75-68, Gobert w/ 2 & 0 in 6 minutes.
  • Saturday 8/16, 2:30 p.m. – Ukraine… Update: France lost 56-63, Gobert w/ 8 & 5 (4/4 FGs) in 14:30 as starter.
  • Sunday 8/17, 2:30 p.m. – Australia… Update: France lost 74-76, Gobert w/ 0 & 1 in 5:25 off the bench.
  • Saturday 8/23, 2:30 p.m. – Finland… Update France won 74-69, Gobert w/ 2 & 4 in 10 minutes.
  • Sunday 8/24, 1:00 p.m. – Australia… Update: France won 73-50, Gobert w/ 2 & 7 (4 blks) in 15 minutes.

World Cup Group Play (8/30 through 9/4):

  • Brazil, Serbia, Egypt, Spain, Iran

How much of a role will Gobert have? There aren’t a ton of large bodies after that. Gobert will probably play a decent role off the bench, and he may see the court even more during the exhibition matches.

 

Hayward hopes to lock up a Team USA spot. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hayward hopes to lock up a Team USA spot. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA

Team USA has a shorter slate of friendly games than the other two, and then they’ll head into a group that includes only one other real power, and Turkey is a bit decimated due to injuries. USA still ranks #1 in the bwin rankings, which were last updated after last year’s continentals.

Exhibition (times shown in EDT):

  • Saturday 8/16, 9:00 p.m. – Brazil… Update: USA won 95-78, Hayward DNP-CD.
  • Wednesday 8/20, 7:00 p.m. – Dominican Republic… Update: USA won 105-62, Hayward w/ 4-1-1 and 2 stls in 14 min.
  • Friday 8/22, 7:00 p.m. – Puerto Rico… Update: Hayward with another DNP, after which he was released.
  • Tuesday 8/26 2:00 p.m. – Slovenia… Update: Who cares?!?! Just kidding, see below.

World Cup Group Play (8/30 through 9/4):

  • Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, Ukraine

How much of a role will Hayward have? Update: After being on the Team USA roster for three exhibition games (and playing in one of them), Hayward was part of the team’s final cuts ahead of their trip to Spain, being officially released early in the morning on August 23, hours after the exhibition win over Puerto Rico. Per ESPN’s Marc Stein, Hayward was the first of those final four cuts to learn his fate, because he had seen the writing on the wall and had asked about his status. Therefore, Hayward will not make the trip to Spain with the rest of Coach K’s crew.

 

* * *

Note: I left Enes Kanter off this list because, last we heard, he was not planning to play  with the Turkish National Team. He is, however, still on their official FIBA roster, which needs to be trimmed from 21 to 12 at some point. My guess: we won’t see Kanter in Spain. Update: Kanter no longer appears on the roster page at the TBF website.

Here are some national teams that include players whose draft rights are held by the Jazz. Keep an eye on these teams as well.

Brazil

Raul Neto and his countrymen will look to provide some small degree of consolation for what happened in that other World Cup. Brazil is currently ranked #10 by FIBA, but they did not get an easy group once FIBA play starts. They’ll have to run a gauntlet of good programs to get into bracket play.

Exhibition (times shown in EDT):

Details of Brazil’s exhibition schedule are spotty, but I do know they start play Friday at the 3 Nations (or Nacion3s) tournament in Argentina and then have the ESPN-televised exhibition in Chicago against Team USA. If you know more details, let me know and I’ll add it to the page.

  • Friday 8/8, 8:30 p.m. – Argentina (3 Naciones tournament)… Update: Brazil lost 80-85, 3 points for Neto.
  • Sunday 8/10, 6:00 p.m. – Mexico (3 Naciones tournament)… Update: Brazil won 68-56, 7 points for Neto.
  • Saturday 8/16, 9:00 p.m. – USA… Update: Brazil lost 78-95. Neto with 6 pts, 4 ast, 3 reb.
  • Thursday 8/21 – Lithuania… Update: Brazil lost 61-64, Neto with 2 pts and 2 ast.
  • Friday 8/22 – Slovenia… Update: Brazil won 88-84, Neto with 4 pts and 2 ast.
  • Saturday 8/23 – Iran… Update: Brazil won 92-52, Neto with 10 pts and 3 ast.
  • Tuesday 8/26 – Mexico (in Granada)

World Cup Group Play (8/30 through 9/4):

  • France, Iran, Spain, Serbia, Egypt

How much of a role will Neto have? Neto has moved into the starting lineup for Brazil. At the South American Championships that concluded last week, Neto averaged more than 25 minutes per contest, best on the squad. I imagine he’ll continue to have a big role for Brazil across the Atlantic.

 

Croatia

You may have forgotten about Ante Tomic, but as long as the Jazz hold his rights, I’ll be keeping track of the ACB star. Croatia has slipped to #16 in the FIBA world rankings, but has a solid squad with a lot of NBA talent. Their group includes two of the top five teams, Argentine (3) and Greece (5).

Exhibition (times shown in EDT):

  • Friday 8/8, 2:30 p.m. – France… Update: Croatia lost 71-81, Tomic with 6 & 3 in 21 minutes as starter.
  • Saturday 8/9 – Serbia… Update: Croatia lost 83-84 (OT). Tomic did not play.
  • Sunday 8/10 – Greece… Update: Croatia won, 68-66. Tomic with 4 points.
  • Wednesday 8/20 – Spain… Update: Croatia lost, 64-82. Tomic with 7 points.
  • (Unclear whether there are additional exhibition games scheduled — if you know of any, let me know.)

World Cup Group Play (8/30 through 9/4):

  • Philippines, Argentina, Senegal, Greece, Puerto Rico

How much of a role will Tomic have? Tomic starts and plays big minutes for Croatia. Croatia hasn’t made final cuts and is still traveling with 15 players, but Tomic is a lock to play and a near lock to start.

 

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Can the Utah Jazz Escape the Hamster Wheel of Losing? http://saltcityhoops.com/can-the-utah-jazz-escape-the-hamster-wheel-of-losing/ http://saltcityhoops.com/can-the-utah-jazz-escape-the-hamster-wheel-of-losing/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:10:00 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12283 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Wall's Wizards might be the most applicable example for Jazz to follow if they want a winning season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wall’s Wizards might be the most applicable example for Jazz to follow if they want a winning season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Eighty-two percent of recently bad teams have some tough news to share with Jazz fans: getting off the lottery hamster wheel is tough work.

It’s easy for teams to get stuck on the treadmill of multiple losing seasons. The experience other teams have had trying to get out of the NBA’s basement can certainly inform our expectations for a Jazz team that keeps adding young talent but ultimately wants to begin its ascent back to relevance.

The last 15 NBA seasons have included exactly 100 teams to win 30 or fewer games, which makes for tidy math. Here’s what we can learn from the previous 100 teams to traverse these waters.

The main lesson: winning doesn’t happen overnight. Here are some stark data points from those 100 teams and the seasons they had after dipping down to 30 levels (or .366 in a lockout year).

  • Only 18% of those teams had winning seasons the year after, meaning 82% were stuck to some degree in a cycle of losing.
  • More than half (53%) remained at or below 30.
  • A quarter of teams didn’t improve at all, and 19% actually got worse.
  • Having said that, the other side of that number is that 76% of teams to win 30 or fewer games did show some kind of record improvement the following year.

The next logical question is: did those 18 successful teams follow a template that is remotely applicable to the Jazz? As we analyze the Jazz’s chances in 2014-15, do the moves that rapidly rebuilt those teams seem congruous to what the Jazz are doing, or will Utah’s road be a longer one?

To begin to answer those questions, let’s look at the teams who went straight from 30-minus to contender. For the sake of argument, we’ll call “contender” the 50-win level. There were five teams in the last 15 years to do that just one year removed from the basement.

2007-08 Celtics: From 24 wins to 66. This team also won the championship.

From basement to banner. This story, though, has the least to do with the Jazz’s rebuild. The Celtics did the opposite of the Jazz, flipping all of their future assets to compile a  just-add-water contender. They didn’t build through the draft, actually trading their pick and some nice young players to land Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They surrounded those two and Paul Pierce with filler free agents in support the win-now model, not with youth.

  • Did they quickly bounce back in a way Utah can emulate? No, unless the Jazz have plans to trade for two superstars in their prime.

2004-05 Suns: From 29 wins to 62. Went to the Western Conference Finals.

Like the Celtics, the Suns did the opposite of what the Jazz are doing… mostly. They traded their pick and otherwise dumped salary so they could pursue free agent Steve Nash, who would quickly become MVP material. Those cap-clearing moves cost them future pieces as well, including the pick that would later become Gordon Hayward. Also, Amar’e Stoudemire blew up that year. Probably largely due to the Nash signing, Stoudemire went from being a 4.4 WS player (role player levels) to an elite breakout year. He his a 26.2 PER and 14.6 WS, both elite levels.

  • Can Utah emulate? It would take adding a free agent on the cusp of a major improvement, and then having one of their own young stars explode to elite levels. The former is almost impossible at this point, the latter is unlikely.

2001-02 Nets: 26 wins to 52. Went to the NBA Finals.

This team’s boldest move en route to doubling the win total was trading its best player to land Jason Kidd. Kidd was a 9-10 WS player at that point, which is All-star level, and better than what they were getting from Stephon Marbury. They did add a draft pick, but it wasn’t exactly a tank-your-way-to-a-star approach. They actually traded backwards to land Richard Jefferson along with role players Brandon Armstrong and Jason Collins. Then they added more veteran role players.

  • Can Utah emulate?  If they trade for an All-star (not happening) and play in a weaker conference (definitely not happening).

2003-04 Grizzlies: 28 wins to 50. Went to the playoffs but lost in the first round.

Here’s another team that quickly retooled without the help of the draft. They actually traded both picks away that summer for bench help. Other than that, they really just added decent players via trades (Bo Outlaw, Jake Tsakalidis) and signings (James Posey). They also got Mike Miller back from injury, which helped modestly (3.9 WS). Even Pau Gasol didn’t have a breakout year, scoring, rebounding and playing slightly less than the year before. Honestly, Memphis’ 22-win turnaround is a bit of a head scratcher on paper. They made minor tweaks and were a well-coached, but really their biggest addition was Posey.

  • Can Utah emulate? The recipe here is a little unclear, but for the Jazz to follow the Grizz’s model, they’d have to have nailed their rotation pick-ups and they’d need COY-level coaching from Quin Snyder, a rookie himself.

2009-10 Thunder: 23 wins to 50. Also lost in the first round.

The Thunder’s improvement had something to do with the draft, but this was actually the end of a sustained, youth-focused rebuild, so it would be tough to say that drafting James Harden accounted for 27 wins. Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green also stayed at roughly the same level, and they added only supporting pieces. The story of this turn-around is all about a transcendental player cracking the code. Kevin Durant exploded from the fringe All-star level (7.9 WS in 2008-09) to an elite superstar (16.1 WS and ridiculous scoring efficiency).

  • Can Utah emulate? The Jazz would need somebody to explode to top-three superstardom. That’s not happening this year, and it will be a while before we know if they have anyone of that ilk.

These five teams’ roadmaps don’t offer much to the Jazz. Let’s assume, then, that 50 is out of the question. Let’s see, in shorter form, if the other 13 teams who went from 30-minus to 42-49 wins can proffer some models. In this group, we do see some teams who got instantly better at least in part because of an instant contribution from a high draft pick and/or a well-timed coaching change.

Four of these teams got back to winning records largely because of a marquee trade.

  • ’13 Nets (27 to 49): Traded for a secondary star (Johnson), added role players (Stack, Blatche), changed coach.
  • ’14 Suns (25 to 48): Traded for Bledsoe, breakout year by Dragic, drafted Len, changed coach.
  • ’05 Wiz (25 to 45): Trade pick (Harris) + players for Jamison, got healthy (Arenas).
  • ’11 Knicks (29 to 42): Traded for Stoudemire, added Felton + pieces, mid-season Melo trade.

For two, the main ingredient was getting good players back healthy (Curry, Wade).

  • ’09 Heat (15 to 43): Got Wade back, drafted Beasley & Chalmers, added Magloire, James Jones, etc., new coach.
  • ’13 Ws (29 to 47): Got an AS (Curry) and elite defender (Bogut) back from injury, added Landry, Jack, Barnes.

For one, it chiefly had to do with an impact free agent (and, importantly, a new system).

  • ’14 Bobcats (21 to 43): Added Jefferson, Neal, Ridnour, etc., drafted Zeller, new coach.

Those seven probably don’t have much to offer the Jazz in the way of applicable rebuilding advice, because the Jazz probably aren’t making marquee trades or adding impact free agents, and we don’t have a star-level player to bring off the injured list. The other six, though, might represent templates Utah could follow: they added more young talent to developing rosters, and signed the right veterans.

  • ’05 Bulls (23 to 47): Drafted Gordon and Deng, added role players (Nocioni, et al.), career year from Curry.
  • ’07 Raps (27 to 47): Drafted Bargnani, traded for Ford, added role players (Garbajosa, Anthony Parker, etc.).
  • ’14 Wiz (29 to 44): Drafted Porter, traded for Gortat, nice leaps by Wall (4.5 WS to 7.9, 1st AS).
  • ’03 Rox (28 to 43): Drafted Yao, traded for Posey, Francis healthy.
  • ’04 Nugs (17 to 43): Drafted Melo, signed Miller, Boykins, Barry, Lenard, etc.
  • ’04 Heat (25 to 42): Drafted Wade, signed Haslem, Odom, Alston, etc., new coach.

The teams of Wade, Melo, Yao, Bargs and Gordon/Deng got enough immediate juice from those guys, and added the right supporting pieces around them. There’s no telling yet if Exum can have that type of first-year impact, though.

I also like the approach of this past year’s Wizards, something of a hybrid. Their best player made another step forward, they drafted a player who was solid-but-not-yet-great as a rookie, Beal continued to progress modestly, and the addition of Gortat gave them an identity inside along with Nene. If Gordon Hayward is ready for his next step, Exum produces something like 4(ish) WS, Favors provides the interior scoring and D, and the other youngs continue their forward progress at even a modest pace, the Jazz could start the climb just like the Wizards did.

But if this exercise shows us anything, it’s that even if the Jazz take steps forward, there’s a strong historical precedent suggesting they might not make it back above .500 next year.

 

The last 100 teams to win 30 games or fewer, and how they fared the following season.

The last 100 teams to win 30 games or fewer, and how they fared the following season.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Salt City Stigma: An NBA Veteran Tells All http://saltcityhoops.com/salt-city-stigma-an-nba-veteran-tells-all/ http://saltcityhoops.com/salt-city-stigma-an-nba-veteran-tells-all/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:38:42 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12289 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Who wouldn't want to live here? (Photo from saltlakecityutah.org)

Who wouldn’t want to live here? (Photo from saltlakecityutah.org)

If you’re following NBA free agency, you’ve no doubt heard mention of the difficulty the Utah Jazz have in attracting top free agents. It’s sort of a built-in part of the discussion, mentioned now without attribution or substantiation because it is so widely accepted as fact.

Those are the indirect mentions. Then you have Rony Seikaly famously failing to report to Utah after terms were reached on a 1998 Jazz-Magic trade, or Derek Harper telling reporters sarcastically, “You go live in Utah.”

Granted, those harsher examples were pre-Olympics, and Salt Lake City has improved a lot since then, in terms of infrastructure, amenities and, importantly, perception. But there still appears to be a belief that a stigma endures among NBA players about going to Utah.

Salt City Hoops was able to speak exclusively with a longtime NBA veteran about just how real that stigma is. Now retired, this is a guy who was around the NBA long enough to have heard several players’ unfiltered takes on city preferences. He never played for the Jazz, but played in small and big markets, cold and warm climates, and for good and bad teams. I guaranteed this person anonymity so I could allow him to speak freely on the topic.

Right off the bat, when I asked about this stigma, he said, without stopping to think about it, “It’s real.” We spent some time talking about why, and here are some themes, both from that conversation and from other discussions on the topic.

Market size

The first thing he told me was comforting in a misery-loves-company sort of way. “It’s not just Utah,” he said. “A lot of guys don’t want to play in smaller cities.”

Salt Lake City is the 33rd largest TV market. The only NBA teams in smaller markets are (from large to small) the Bucks, Spurs, Thunder, Grizz and Pelicans. But the Jazz and those five clubs aren’t alone. Really, you hear “small market” complaints from about half of NBA cities. The top 12 cities account for 14 teams, and Toronto would be on that list if they were in the US. Outside of those 13 cities (15 teams), you frequently hear people in markets like #15 Minneapolis-St. Paul or #19 Denver talk about how their NBA realities are different.

It’s unclear why. The standard explanation is that living in New York or Los Angeles increases your endorsement potential. But year after year, endorsement deals confirm that star power — not zip code — determines a player’s market potential. Forbes’ released a list earlier this year of the top shoe deals for NBA players. The top player (guess who) played for the team with the 17th biggest market, because people far outside the Miami area care about LeBron James and his shoes. Kevin Durant was third on the list despite playing in the third smallest NBA market.

The former player I spoke to said he saw that while playing for a good team that happened to be in one of those 15 non-prime markets. “There were times we couldn’t get guys to come work out for us,” he said, somewhat incredulously.

Weather

It’s not just small cities. Some guys don’t like the cold.”

That was the next cold, hard reality the retired vet shared. Salt Lake’s average high falls to 38 Fahrenheit in January. That is indeed colder than LA’s 64, Houston’s 63 and certainly Miami’s 74.

But do people complain about New York hitting 36? Or Chicago’s bitter 31? I get why people would rather commute to their practice facility by helicoptering in from Malibu beach than by throwing chains on their tires to traverse the fresh powder, but there does appear to be a double standard where certain cold cities are concerned.

My other rebuttal on weather: NBA players don’t spend that much time in those cities. October through April, plus playoffs but minus road trips and All-star break. I did a quick scan of Utah’s schedule and would estimate that the average Jazz player spent something like 110 nights in Salt Lake City between October 1 and April 17, and only about 50 of those nights were in December, January and February, the three coldest months in an average Salt Lake year.

Are those 50 days of layering up really so bad that somebody would think twice about signing in Utah? Apparently it has come up.

Night Life

The  lifestyle factor came up as I was talking to this retired NBA veteran about why he thinks it’s harder for some teams to attract major free agents.

Post-Olympics, Salt Lake has been rejuvenated a bit. There’s a much better downtown these days, and private club laws have been relaxed just enough to make the after-hours scene feel less… weird. But it’s still not an easy place to find something to do at 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday.

Many of the NBA players who have publicly embraced Salt Lake or similarly quiet NBA markets are the ones who are past the party-every-night stage of their lives. People frequently talk about how great a place it is for NBA players with families — which is probably very true, although it’s hard as a Utah native not to take that as a bit of a backhanded compliment at times. Yes, SLC is relatively quiet, extremely safe, and family-friendly. But in a city with over a million people, you can often find whatever it is you’re after.

And again, if you’re only in town 110 or so nights a year, does it matter that much how many different clubs there are? You have games on 45-50 of those 110 nights, too, so exactly how many nights are we talking about?

Here are some other topics that frequently come up when market comparisons come up in the context of NBA free agency.

Tax hit. According to even some very recent reports, players and their reps are very aware of what living in a particular state means to their net earnings. The reality is that a $5 million contract in Texas is worth more than a $5 million contract in California. How does Utah stack up? With a flat 5% income tax, at least Utah multimillionaires aren’t paying a premium. Fifteen states have a lower income tax rate in the highest bracket, including seven states with NBA teams. But FL and TX have multiple teams, so there are 10 places a free agent can go and get a better net salary, all things being equal.

Race. This deserves its own analysis at some point, because it’s probably no small factor that Utah’s population is 86.1% white as of the last census, basically the demographic inverse of the NBA. And sure, the fact that Utah doesn’t have the same complex racial history as parts of the country might make it a less charged place in terms of race relations, but there’s still certainly some racial ignorance that exists in a place that just barely crossed the threshold of 1% African-American. ONE PERCENT! To me, Salt Lake has always felt like a very accepting place, but I have heard stories from friends who experienced awkward moments (or worse) from living in a part of the country where they stood out from the homogeneity. In fairness, the retiree I spoke to didn’t really comment on this aspect, even though I brought it up.

Here are some arguments on the flip side.

Cost of living: Real estate, gas, food… it’s all cheaper in Salt Lake. And if you don’t believe me, you’re welcome to join me next time I go grocery shopping in my Brooklyn neighborhood. If income tax is taken into account when figuring out how far a player’s buck goes in one city versus another, it should also be factored in that you can get a pretty swanky house in the Salt Lake Valley and pay less than, say, a prime Bay Area apartment.

Surroundings: No, NBA players aren’t skiing the Greatest Snow on Earth. Even if they had the time to do so, high-risk activities are often expressly prohibited in player contracts. But players quite enjoy the scenery and views, and some even find excuses to get out to the gorgeous Wasatch Front wilderness. In John Stockton’s book, the retired Jazz legend speaks fondly of his drives around Utah’s canyons.

Finite number of jobs: The retired vet agreed with my assessment that this pickiness is more relevant to top free agents than to guys fighting for a rotation spot or clinging to their NBA life. “I guess beggars can’t be choosers,” he said. There are 30 roster spots available in the New York metro, another 30 in LA. Add 15 for Miami, 45 for no-tax Texas. The point is, there are only so many places to get a paycheck, so unless you’re LeBron, at some point it helps you to consider all your options.

Safe and quiet: Again, I always feel a bit patronized when the nicest thing somebody can think to say about my hometown are euphemisms like “it’s quiet” or “it’s a great place to raise kids.” But it is both of those things. There are, I’m sure, a lot of NBA players who aren’t looking for “quiet,” but some might be. For me, SLC is a perfect-sized city. Large enough to still have a lot of events and offerings, but small enough that it’s not run down and it’s easy to get around.

Nice, passionate, knowledgeable fans. Salt Lake is known around the country for its hospitable and kind people. Even a longtime Utah foil like Phil Jackson thinks so. But they’re not just nice people: they’re passionate supporters of what was, for a long time, the only pro game in town. Do well here and the people will revere you, name streets after you, declare holidays in your honor, and just generally adore you. The vet I spoke to acknowledged that Utah fans are known around the league as some of the most rabid, although I’m sure that has tailed off some now that the Jazz aren’t contending.

Whatever the arguments are on either side, the stigma is real: NBA players don’t line up to play in the Beehive State. It’s a gorgeous place, and home to a really good organization, but according to a guy who’s been in and around NBA circles for a long time now, there’s still some trepidation out there.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Dante Exum: Quote Machine http://saltcityhoops.com/dante-exum-quote-machine/ http://saltcityhoops.com/dante-exum-quote-machine/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:12:29 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12281 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Dante Exum the Prospect was tantalizing and mysterious. Dante Exum the Jazz Draftee was exciting. Dante Exum the NBA Player has shown nice flashes.

But Dante Exum the Quote Machine is just sublime.

It seems that for about a month now, any time the Australian phenom hasn’t been touching a basketball, he’s been in front of microphones. And that’s great news for the rest of us. Exum is a breath of fresh air as a pro interview. He’s honest, speaks with absolutely zero pretense and flashes that demure smile. He seems simultaneously embarrassed by the attention and yet glad to soak it all in. And, of course, there’s the awesome Aussie accent.

Some of his best quotes have an extra quality to them, an endearing naivete that would make you say, “Aww, that’s adorable!” if he weren’t, you know, an adult making millions of dollars.

Today, SCH brings you the most quirky, funny, endearing and exciting things this young man has uttered since dawning a Jazz hat late last month.

“I was freaking out, I thought it was spirits… Yeah, like ghosts.”

This is from a great TrueHoop sit-down with both Exum and fellow Jazz rookie Rodney Hood. They asked him about experiencing his first earthquake, early one morning when an LA quake shook his hotel room while he was watching Netflix. How cool is this line? So his room began to shake, so naturally he assumed that he’s being haunted by ghosts. Awesome! He goes on to tell Kevin Arnovitz about how he jumped up on his bed and “froze” in fear. “I didn’t know what to do.”

“X like xenopus… it’s a genus of frogs.”

OK, this might be a tad unfair: since this came from a Foot Locker commercial, it was probably scripted and therefore not technically an Exum quote. But that entire series of commercials is great, and “X like xenopus” has become shorthand (well, longhand really) for expressing my excitement about Exum. For example, when Exum had that sweet, spinning, hesitation, stop-on-a-dime, crossover move that broke poor CJ Williams’ ankles, I turned to my fiancee and said, “X like xenopus.” And, what’s more, she knew exactly what that meant.

“I think just, the thing with Australians is we’re very competitive. We want to win, and we’d do anything for our teammates. That’s one thing I’m trying to bring to the Jazz… It’s not that people should fear us, I think it’s just that attitude we come in with (to) the game.”

This also comes from the Arnovitz sit-down, and was nice to hear, mostly because we’re all looking at this super-nice kid and hoping that someday we see the killer instinct that the greats have had. As Arnovitz said in his ramp-up to the question, Aussies are really nice. If you’ve ever been to Australia, you know that the people there are famously laid-back. The unofficial national motto is, “No worries, mate.” Then, on the other hand, we’ve heard that Exum tested off the charts in psych evals that measure, among other things, competitiveness and the desire to see your opponent die a slow, painful death. While I’m absolutely a fan of the charming, almost naive, smiling Exum we get in interviews, I’d love to see more of that competitive fire, especially after a couple somewhat passive LVSL outings.

“That’s the future. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to do what I can now so I can get to that caliber… But I’m just going to work hard every day and see what happens.”

See, this is what I mean about him talking about himself in a rather humble, unassuming way. This was in response to my question on Draft night about whether he can be the franchise player some think he is. This is definitely the right answer for that setting, and one that reminds me of the Gregg Popovich line about drafting/signing guys who “have gotten over themselves.”

“Yeah, I was nervous at the start, but you know, it was just about getting out there and getting a run.”

This is from the walk-off interview on NBA TV, moments after Exum had concluded his first semi-official basketball game since last year. This makes the early Exum quote list because it hits several of the points above, but also because it reminds me of a hilarious line from those old Da Ali G promos they ran on TNT several years ago. In a spot starting at 3:00 in this video, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character tells erstwhile TV analyst Steve Kerr, “It’s about going out there, having a laugh, and getting some exercise most importantly.” That line has become a running joke with several friends and coworkers, so hearing Exum say something so close to that was hilarious. Just out getting a run.

Here are some other oft-recycled lines from those commercials that still make me giggle:

  • “Well there’s air in this room, how come this room ain’t bouncing?”
  • “Phone call over!”
  • “You don’t even speak English, so shut up… Can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re speaking in Canada.”
  • “Let’s agree to a degree.”

“It’s my twin sister’s birthday as well, so that’s even better.”

Wait, your twin sister and you share a birthday? What are the odds?! (Also from the NBA TV postgame interview.)

“I’m just a kid from Melbourne, Australia looking to come into a program and work hard.”

This is from his Draft-night one-on-one with Jazz radio’s David Locke. This goes back to that deferential, aww-shucks approach he has when talking about himself.

“So…”

This is from… oh yeah, every interview he’s ever done. Have you noticed that most of his answers end with him trailing off into an elongated “so”?

“If I want them here, they’ll be over in 20 hours.”

This line drew a laugh from the assembled media at Exum’s introductory press conference, chronicled here by the intrepid Jody Genessy. I guess it’s all about perspective, because for Exum, there was nothing odd about saying, essentially, Hey, they’re only 20 hours away. It’s nice to know that Exum’s support system is on call for when he encounters those rookie bumps, although he said in another great quote, “I don’t really get homesick.”

“Just call me Dante.”

Exum had this line for assembled LVSL media who wanted to help him find a worthy nickname. This is more evidence of his low-ego approach, but it’s also, of course, totally unacceptable. For a player of Exum’s buzz, likability and potentially franchise-shaping talents, we’re not going to simply call him by his first name. By definition, name and nickname are not the same thing.

In his Draft-night convo with Locke, he did give permission to the media to find an appropriate nickname, so let’s get on it. Here are some thoughts:

  • I don’t remember who first floated it, but “Inferno” is a cool literary reference and could be indicative of the seven levels of hell Exum may be subjecting opponents to soon.
  • As described above, X like Xenopus has quirky nickname potential; it’s the type of thing I could picture myself screaming on Spanish radio after a big play. A bit of an inside-joke type of nickname, but fun, right?
  • I floated the idea of Triple Exum™ after a three-point basket.
  • The Australian Blur (or Blur from Down Under, like the Jazz used on some of his post-draft videos) has a nice throwback quality.
  • Some fans are getting behind FedEx “Express Delivery” as a nod to his lightning speed and the new-school iteration of the rich Mailman lore of Jazz history. That one feels like it needs a little too much explaining to stick, but I like the sentiment.

“During the winter it gets cold, and I don’t like to be in that mud.”

Exum explained to The Starters after his first Summer League game why he chose to play basketball and not Aussie football. Lucky for the Utah Jazz, Melbourne has winter highs in the 40s and 50s, so he picked up basketball. Here are a couple of other good quotes from his spot on The Starters:

“I’ve never been in the snow, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Just wait, Dante. Just. Wait.

“Do I get to take this cake?”

Yes, Exum. You take that cake.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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The “After” Math: Hayward’s Offer and the Jazz Cap Sheet http://saltcityhoops.com/the-after-math-haywards-offer-and-the-jazz-cap-sheet/ http://saltcityhoops.com/the-after-math-haywards-offer-and-the-jazz-cap-sheet/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 22:23:47 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12176 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Time to rework some numbers.

A Tuesday BonnellBomb told us that restricted free agent Gordon Hayward is getting paid by somebody, and that we need to update our spreadsheets.

By now, you know the basics. The Charlotte Horcats committed to a $63 million offer sheet with Hayward. Once signed tomorrow, Utah will have until 7/13 to decide whether to sign the checks themselves or let Charlotte do the honors. Multiple outlets are reporting that Bailey’s Moving & Storage will not be needed at the Hayward home, as Utah is expected to match.

But what does this mean to the Jazz’s financial position? Here’s the new math on the dollarific details behind Hayward’s offer sheet and what it could mean to the Jazz, starting with the most obvious.

Are the Jazz going to match the offer?

Yes.

Should the Jazz match the offer?

Yes. (Wow, we’re really cruising here.)

Why?

I’ve written and spoken already about how Hayward is probably underappreciated when you look at his skill set relative to other young wings around the league. Even in what was admittedly a rough year for him, he still put up 16-5-5. With a better cast, a more spread system and a quicker pace (meaning more possessions on both ends), it’s not a stretch to imagine him getting to 18-6-6 pretty quickly, which would put him in pretty elite company. Granted, a max offer to Hayward today is based on the hope of him filling out the top of his projected range as a prospect, but I like the chances. As Zach Lowe opined, “[T]he brains and skills are there, and they’re developing.”

And there are broader reasons to bite the bullet, too. First, it would set the whole rebuilding project back, which I think costs the Jazz more capital — literally and figuratively — than just signing on the dotted line. Plus, there’s something to be said for showing people the Jazz will pay for talent. Think about it: in the past 4 years, the Jazz have let nearly all their key players walk: Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

I don’t want to rehash those individual decisions, but how does it look if once again, the first time that one of the Utah’s young core approaches an opportunity to get paid or walk, the guy they’ve made the franchise face is gone? To rebuild, you eventually have to decide to, you know, build on some of the pieces. Continuing to usher talent away would send a bad message to potential free agents — not to mention the rest of Utah’s young core. Want Dante Exum to believe in what he’s building in Utah? Show him that the team is willing to reward good players and move forward.

But you came here for a cap breakdown, so let’s move on…

If the Jazz match, are they done spending?

No. Depending on exactly where the cap falls, the Jazz will have about $9 million left under the cap, with another $4M or so they could free up by waiving non-guaranteed contracts. They could use that to sign players, absorb salary in trades, or make lopsided deals where they package smaller-salaried players for an impact player another team wants to clear from their cap. Or, they could opt to operate as an over-the-cap team, retaining the free agent rights to their own guys, and then using exceptions such as the MLE to fill out the rotation.

I heard Hayward’s cap hold is just $8.6M. Can we use that lower figure to fit in some signings during the 72-hour waiting period and then match the $14.8M offer sheet?

Turns out I was wrong on this, even falsely correcting the hard-working David Locke. For the RFA’s original team, the cap hold amount until the match notice is sent is the greater of the RFA’s cap hold or his QO – in Hayward’s case, that’s his $8.6M cap hold. For the team submitting the offer sheet, the new salary amount counts right away.

So yes, the Jazz have an extra $6.2M of cap space up until they match the offer. My apologies to those I steered wrong before double checking the CBA document.

Does the player option or trade bonus make Utah less likely to match?

I don’t think so. The trade kicker slightly dings the value of Hayward-the-trade-asset, but I think they like Hayward-the-basketball-player enough that it’s not really about that. The player option is discouraging because it means he could be an unrestricted free agent as early as 2017, but I don’t think it changes their math. They’ll either get him for 4 years and $63M or for 3 years and $46M. Either way, I think they want him back.

Did the Jazz mess up by not extending Hayward last fall?

It certainly cost them some money, sure. But I don’t know if they “messed up,” and it’s hard to say without knowing exactly what was on the table in October. You could also make the argument that the Jazz simply wanted more of a sample size on Hayward — particularly as a team leader and core guy — before making the decision. If that’s true, then maybe they’re more comfortable investing $63M based on what they know today, versus investing mid-50s based on what they knew 9 months ago. If that was their logic and they made a conscious decision to pay for some extra evidence, it’s hard to say they made a mistake. But the extra data points definitely came at a price.

Will the contract hurt Utah’s flexibility later?

It could, but it’s important to remember that the cap and tax threshold are both expected to climb sharply in the next few years. Gordon’s 4th year salary ($16M) sounds like a lot in today’s salary construct: about a quarter of the cap. But if the cap has done what it’s supposed to by then, that may only be on fifth of the cap, or the equivalent to a 12M salary in today’s NBA economy. Either way, this shouldn’t be a huge issue as long as Hayward earns this salary by being one the top three players on a good Jazz team during this contract. Look at the salary construct of good teams: you can afford to pay eight-figure salaries to your best 3-4 guys, especially when you still have a lot of rookie-scale salaries on your roster.

But can they still extend or keep Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke and Dante Exum?

Two-part answer. First: yes, they can. The Jazz will have Bird Rights to all of those players, as well as the ability to secure matching rights with a qualifying offer. I’m also not sure that any of those guys outside of Exum will command the type of price range Hayward did. Most in the NBA are project Kanter, Burks and Burke as really good rotation players or part-time starters, but the Jazz won’t be in a position where they have to pay all six guys (plus Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, Jeremy Evans when his contract expires, etc.) eight-figure salaries.

Second: no fan likes to hear this, but the reality is that not every one of these players is going to be a part of Utah’s indefinite future. If the Jazz are contending any time in the next 5 years, it’s going to be because they’re figured out which 3-4 of these guys are truly the core, and then they’ve cashed in assets to surround that core with complementary impact players. I actually keep thinking we’re close to the point where “asset accumulation” turns into spending mode, and somebody gets parlayed into the right kind of impact glue guy. Wouldn’t surprised me if that trade is coming sometime in the next 12 months. Having a dozen good players is nice; to compete, though, you need 2-3 guys who are at least in the All-NBA conversation, as well as a really strong top 6-7.

Is Hayward really a “max” guy?

I’ll concede that this contract has a lot more to do with potential than where he’s at today, but Hayward really is undervalued for the unique skill set he brings to the table. Also, remember that there are many levels of “max,” so him getting $63M isn’t tantamount to saying he’s as good as LeBron James. There are certainly some things Hayward needs to improve upon, and he knows that. His defense, his rebounding and of course the perceived engagement issues from last season come to mind. But again, the tools are there.

What if the Jazz don’t match?

Then they’ll be sitting on about $38.7M in salary, more than $24M under the cap and about $18M below an amount they’re going to be forced to pay anyway. Not sure what they’d do with that $24M given the realistic free agent targets out there. They’d probably get filler guys, or maybe perform some more cap-dump trades for assets. But one thing’s for sure: they’d have a big hole to fill on the basketball floor, too.

Don’t the Jazz have to spend a certain amount anyway? What happens if they don’t?

Every team is guaranteed to spend $56.76M in salaries, one way or another. If they don’t reach that level, the NBA adjusts its players’ salaries upward proportionally. So there’s really nothing wrong with falling short — but the Jazz are going to pay at least that much no matter what happens. Even with a Hayward match, they’re not quite at the floor.

The Jazz's cap sheet, post Hayward offer sheet. Figures are estimates, compiled from a number of online sources.

The Jazz’s cap sheet, post Hayward offer sheet. Figures are estimates, compiled from a number of online sources.

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Why Our Gordon Hayward Comps Are All Wrong http://saltcityhoops.com/why-our-gordon-hayward-comps-are-all-wrong/ http://saltcityhoops.com/why-our-gordon-hayward-comps-are-all-wrong/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 20:45:00 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12086 Author information
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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Do Team USA mates Hayward and Thompson really have similar games? (Getty Images)

Do Team USA mates Hayward and Thompson really have similar games? (Getty Images)

Before you jump off the Gordon Hayward bandwagon, there are some things you should know.

Particularly if your discomfort at the idea of matching a max or near-max offer sheet for the versatile wing has to do with the-devil-you-don’t-know type logic, pull up a chair. I’ve got numbers.

Don’t get me wrong, $60+ million is a lot of money, and if that’s really what Hayward’s offer sheet comes to, the Jazz will wince for about a half a second right before they sign the damn thing and go out for an ice cream cone to celebrate. Why? Because none of the players you think compare to Hayward actually do what he does.

Grass often seems greener elsewhere, the saying goes, so it’s getting more common to hear a response like, “Just let him walk and go get So-and-so instead.” The problem is, in just about every case I’ve heard so far, So-and-so isn’t as complete a player as the Butler product.

For example, Chandler Parsons’ name comes up a lot as a guy who is roughly equivalent to Hayward. It’s easy to see why. The two check all the boxes for the lazy man’s comp: same size, body type, position and complexion. But they also have pretty similar raw numbers. Per 36 minutes, they both averaged almost exactly 16 points on roughly 13 shots. But does that mean their games are comparable?

“Parsons plays in an optimal spread floor system. His stats might be a bit juiced,” ESPN’s Ethan Strauss tweeted while defending a comment that Hayward is better than Parsons. In other words, he’s saying that Parsons raw numbers, while comparable to Hayward’s, have a lot to do with how he’s used and that he plays next to two All-NBA players.

Hayward also gets lumped in statistically and stylistically with players like Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and even teammate Alec Burks, who seems to have surpassed Hayward on some fans’ boards as favorite Jazz wing.

The problem with all these comps: they don’t work. None of those guys do everything that Hayward does. To underscore this point, let’s look at each player’s possession identity to understand their profiles.

Possession usage

Source: mysynergysports.com

Source: mysynergysports.com

Per Synergy, Hayward had 1406 possessions that he “used” for an attempt, a drawn foul or a turnover, not counting the times when he used a particular play type to generate offense for someone else (more on that in a minute). For starters, the only player in this group who had more possessions allocated to them was Thompson, and that’s largely because he just never surrenders the ball. So already we can see that Hayward more central to what his team is doing than the others.

Hayward used 492 of those possessions as the P&R handler or in isolation, meaning plays where he’s responsible for creating. The only guy who came close to that number was Burks (17 fewer) and the other three were somewhere in the 200-300 range. They’re just not expected to create their own shot in the half court.

Where Leonard, Parsons and Thompson are getting the lion’s share of their offense is on play types where other people are creating for them. For each of those guys, 300-400 of their possessions were spot-ups, meaning go stand on the wing while Tony Parker, James Harden or Steph Curry forces defenses to collapse. Hayward was second-to-last among the group in spot shooting possessions, so he didn’t have the luxury of playing off of other guys. He was also dead-last in possessions used off the cut.

The transition column is interesting, too, specifically as it relates to the validity of the Parsons comp. Playing for the pedal-to-the-medal Rockets, Parsons got about 25% more transition possessions than Hayward. I was surprised to see Burks’ transition number so low relative to this crowd, especially since fan perception is that he’s an athletic, dangerous finisher in open court.

Leonard and Thompson are the only ones on this group that use a significant amount of possessions. This is probably because they’re punishing teams that try to cross-match those guys’ elite offensive teammates or aggressively switch on screens, another tactical advantage Hayward doesn’t benefit from.

Finally, Parsons and Leonard also get a lot of high-efficiency second looks, probably because they’re full-time threes, while the others in this group play interchangeably at the wing positions.

So far we’re painting the picture that the other guys on this list are largely system players who have elite teammates creating many of their opportunities. But this is just on possessions “used”; what about the possessions where they pass the ball?

Facilitation

wing facilitation

Source: stats.nba.com

Hayward has the ball in his hands a lot more than his peers in this group, and this is reflected on this pair of graphs. He’s touching the ball a great deal more than the others – close to 70 times per game.

Again, Thompson is a funny outlier here. Where the other guys all pass the ball on 80-90% of their touches, 42% of the time Klay touches, he keeps it, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. And he’s not keeping it to hold it, because his time of possession is also the lowest of all these guys despite having the highest usage. Basically, he catches and then quickly “uses” — takes a shot, draws a foul, or loses the ball — the play.

That’s very different from Hayward, who creates 25% more teammate points per game than the next guy in this group, and 2-3 times as much as the others. The 50 passes per game means that not only is he creating more of his own offense than these other supposed comps, but he’s doing far more facilitation for everybody else, too. Keep that in mind before making a casual comp to someone who reminds you of Hayward.

20/6/6

In an ideal world, you could get this type of complete performance from Hayward but add better talent around him, thus fully unleashing his unique abilities that make him stand out from this crowd. If that happened, it wouldn’t take much for Gordon to reach impressive statistical levels. I threw out that I think his ceiling is as a do-it-all, 20/6/6 guy. Let’s see how realistic that it.

First, scoring. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon didn’t take a noticeably bigger chuck of shots last season, at least on per-minute basis. His per-36 or per-possession FGA numbers were essentially flat from 2012-13. He’s a guy who, pretty consistently now, is going to take 13 shots and 5 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. He did that the season before with the vets still in Utah and he did it last season as the supposed #1 option.

The problem was the much-discussed efficiency drop. He had career lows from the field and downtown, but that’s only part of the story. In his first three years, he was getting 27% of his attempts at the rim, 29% from three, and 33% on two-pointers from farther than 10 feet out. Last season, he dropped to 21% of his attempts coming around the basket and 27% from three while his mid- and long-range 2s went up to 39% of his shots. Having higher-quality teammates and a more spread system might allow Gordon to get the types of shots he’s comfortable with. If he were to maintain his minutes and attempts from last season but return to his previous eFG%, he’d be averaging 17.6 with no other changes.

Then you figure that Snyder has promised more running. The Jazz played at the fifth-slowest pace in the NBA last season, and they scored just 12 points per game on the break. If Snyder wants to run more, the chief architects of the Jazz’s transition offense are going to be Dante Exum and Hayward. It’s not hard at all to envision Hayward adding an extra bucket a game in the open court if the Jazz make a team-level focus on that, and suddenly he’s right at or near 20 points.

What about assists? Hayward had 5.2 assists on 11.2 assist opportunities last season, which means six times per game he put someone in position to score but that player missed the shot. I have no mathematical proof that it will happen less this upcoming season, but if the Jazz put more legit NBA talent around him, it’s more likely that those shots fall. Enough to cover a 0.8 per game gap? We’ll see. Also, if the offense is going to be more pick-and-roll based, Hayward is currently the Jazz’s best P&R handler, so that could led to more assists as well.

From a rebounding perspective, the addition of Exum and probable departure of Richard Jefferson means we’ll see Hayward spend more time at small forward. More possessions also means more rebounds, so even if he doesn’t see a positional bump to his rebounding percentage, a slight uptick in pace could help him on a rebounding front. Even a 3-possession increase to the league average means six more total possessions (three each team). Let’s assume based on minutes that Hayward is on the court for five of them (on average). His rebounds-per-100-possessions number would suggest that he could see a +.4 bump in rebounding average from that one factor alone.

Now, if the Jazz are contending in the next few years, it’s because Exum, Derrick Favors and others have improved, too, so at that point the Jazz may not be as Hayward-dependent and his numbers might be back to something like 17/4/5. But in the short term, 20/6/6 is a real possibility, and would put Hayward in pretty elite company.

For Hayward to join that group would make him an elite-level, Swiss-army utility player that could be the Robin to someone’s Batman on a very good team. And even if he doesn’t quite reach that zenith, the comp exercise above shows he’s already got a better worst-case scenario than players like Parsons, Thompson and others who only do for their teams a portion of what Hayward does for the Jazz.

 

Author information

Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton
Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
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