Player’s goals for improvement during the season are dramatically different than player’s goals for improvement over the summer. In-season growth is often about learning the system, understanding the game better, reading specific defenses or offenses, etc. However, off-season growth is pointedly different. The off-season is about elevating and refining individual skills. This advancement comes from players training in a weight room, or on the court – either alone or with a few other players/trainers.
Gordon Hayward is a good example of this type of growth. Last summer he increased his strength and bulk which has allowed him to drive, initiate contact, take fouls, and finish around the rim. This kind of muscle cultivation isn’t really a possibility during the season due to the rigorous game and practice schedule.
Another great example of off-season enhancement is former Jazzman Paul Millsap. He was infamous for developing specific skills each summer. One year it was his cross over and step back jumper. More recently he worked to extend his range to include threes (36%).
Unfortunately, not every Jazz player will improve the way Millsap has, but they all certainly have the opportunity to. Here is a breakdown of the opportunity areas in which each Jazz player could improve this summer that would most help the team next season.
Exum often demonstrates a seemingly fearless demeanor on the defensive end, yet he has lacked that same confidence on the offensive end. The root cause of this timidity is not a lack of experience; instead it is his lack of strength. In the rare event he does drive hard to the hoop, he gets tossed around like a USPS package. Dante is 6’6’’ and only weighs 190 pounds; to put that into perspective, he only weighs five pounds more than 5’9’’ Isaiah Thomas. But more of an issue than his weight is his underdeveloped muscle.
This summer Dante Exum needs to fully commit to improving his lower body and core strength. This will instill confidence and allow him to get into the lane so he can properly utilize his impressive vision and passing ability. Sure, his shooting needs work, as does his dribbling (especially with his left hand), but before any of that, he needs to get stronger to be able to compete in the lane.
Hood is a remarkably well rounded player, especially for a rookie. Unlike other players on the roster, such as Gobert or Exum, there isn’t one single aspect of his game that is significantly worse than the others.
Early on in the season his shooting struggled, but fans and coaches alike were not concerned. Snyder told Hood that the reason he is playing is to shoot the bleeping ball:
So while he isn’t shooting at an elite level, his greater weakness is evident when he is tasked with playmaking. In those instances, it is obvious he favors his left hand (which he does so while dribbling uncomfortably high). This summer he should practice driving and improving his handle. This will open up looks for both him and his teammates. It will also relieve some of the enormous playmaking pressure currently placed on Hayward.
Anything that is said in regards to Hayward needing to improve will be nit-picky. Hayward is playing incredible basketball, and as the Jazz saw last week, without him in the lineup the team really struggles. Having said that, there is always room for improvement.
Hayward has developed a wide-array of 1v1 moves in the previous year or two. He has a nice cross over, a killer step back, and a fluid spin move. These are all potent weapons for beating someone off the dribble. However, one thing he has not developed yet is a post-up game.
Gordon has put on strength and size and should certainly be able to post up some of the smaller forwards that are defending him. If he can add this to his arsenal over the summer, it will make him that much more deadly and provide situational opportunities for Snyder to take advantage of.
Similar to Hayward, it is difficult to critique Derrick Favors’ game: he is leaps and bounds better than he was last season. Other teams have taken note of this and are now quick to double team him. While this is a huge opportunity area for Favors (learning how to handle double teams), it is not one that he can easily address while training over the summer. This is more of an area that is addressed during pre-season, or during practices and games. Instead, Derrick should be focused on shooting.
Floor spacing has become an issue for the Jazz, and will likely remain one for a while. To counteract this, Favors has extended his range, and has done so quite nicely. Even further range extension and improved accuracy (from the floor and from the line) will create more gravity to Favors, opening up the floor. Once again, it sounds like a summer of free throws and jumpers for Favors.
Assuming Favors extends his range, more space will be created for slashing and for Gobert post-ups. However, at this point right now, Rudy isn’t a threat on the post for two reasons. Firstly, he is unable to maintain position down low as he gets pushed off the block. Secondly, if he does keep position, his ability to finish around the hoop (aside from thunderous jams) is visibly lacking.
These should be the two focal points for Gobert’s development this summer. Improving his lower body and core strength will help him gain and maintain good position both on the offensive end and the defensive end. Coupling strength training with endless hooks, layups, and tips will dramatically improve his offensive efficiency.
Due to Burks only having played 27 games this season, it is safe to say the priority for him this summer should be to heal up and strengthen his shoulder. If he has time, I think everyone would be pleased to see him improve his three-point shooting (career 35.6%).
It would be unfair to put “everything” here, so I will first list the things he doesn’t need to focus on improving.
Trey shouldn’t devote time to improving his free throw shooting, which on the season is 0.8% better than league average. He also shouldn’t bother practicing his dribbling, which he is notably skilled at. Despite those two areas that don’t require heavy attention, he truthfully does need to elevate everything else.
If only one thing could be improved this summer, it would probably need to be his shooting. Currently he is shooting 32.2% from three, which is 2.8% worse than league average and a measly 0.5% better than Enes Kanter. Meanwhile his TS% is sitting at 45.5%, which is barely better than atrocious shooters like Ronnie Price, Michael Carter Williams, and Ricky Rubio.
Elijah Millsap, Joe Ingles, & Trevor Booker
These are three players that all have multiple aspects of their game that need considerable improvement. However, when viewing their game through the eyes of the team, one area stands above all the rest: three point shooting.
Millsap, Ingles, and Booker all shoot below league average (35.0%) from behind the three-point line (32.4%, 33.7%, and 33.3% respectively). If they could improve a few percentage points each, this could dramatically improve the offensive spacing. These three players, as different and unique as they are, all need to pitch tents and campout on the arc this summer.
Dennis Lindsey has repeatedly said that he thinks much of the growth the Jazz will see in the coming seasons will be from internal development. Individual progress made in the off-season will be critical to the team’s internal development. Let’s all hope the Jazz have a great summer.