Position-by-Position Analysis of the Utah Jazz

May 25th, 2011 | by K.Malphurs

The great question every time the NBA draft rolls around is whether to draft the best player available or the player that fulfills the biggest need? Most teams today follow the Best Player Available philosophy, a direct result of the Portland Trail Blazers famously passing over one Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. After Akeem Olajuwan went first to the Rockets, the Blazers took center Sam Bowie because they already had two solid shooting guards in Jim Paxon and a young Clyde Drexler. No team wants to make that mistake again.

Picking the Best Player Available, however, has always been a very subjective and error-prone affair.

In 2005 the Atlanta Hawks had Josh Childress, Al Harrington, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith as four wings who were 6-8/6-9 in height. Their point guards were Tony Delk and Tyronn Lue. Going into the draft they had an obvious need at point guard, but choose 6-9 small forward Marvin Williams. The Hawks must have thought that Williams was the Best Player Available because the next two draft picks were point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul. In this case, the Hawks not only missed out on filling a need, they also missed out on better players available.

This year’s draft class is full of unproven, inexperienced players like Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight. It’s hard enough to statistically evaluate any one-and-done player, but what to do with a player like Kanter who had a non-season at Kentucky?

Given the difficulty in finding best player in this year’s draft, let’s highlight the biggest needs for the Jazz. I took a look at the players, contracts and production per position and ranked them in order of team strength. In the rankings I include the PER difference by position as found on 82games.com. This shows us the Jazz player production by position compared to their opponents. Below is a ranking of the team’s strengths, so to find the team’s biggest needs we take the inverse ranking.

1. Power Forward: +2.1 PER difference.

  • Paul Millsap (2 years/$7M per year)
  • Derrick Favors (4 years /$5.8M per year)
  • Jeremy Evans (1 year at $788K).
  • Analysis: This position is full of young, talented, players, and all three are signed to team-friendly contracts. The Jazz are stocked with power forwards that they should build around.

2. Center: +2.4 PER difference.

  • Al Jefferson (2 years/$14.5M per year)
  • Mehmet Okur (1 year at $10.9M).
  • Analysis: It was a little bit of a surprise to see the center position ranked ahead of the power forwards with a +2.4 PER difference. Still, I can’t rank the center position as a bigger strength than the power forward position because of a few factors: age, salary and growth potential. Jefferson and Okur are older, more expensive and don’t  have as much room to grow as the Millsap/Favors/Evans group. Even though this is a position of strength it doesn’t mean the Jazz couldn’t use help there. Neither Jefferson or Okur are known for their defense, and it would be extremely valuable to have a defensive presence at the 5 position. A defensive-minded center would do wonders to improve the 24th ranked defense. Did you ever think we’d reach the day when Jazz fans are nostalgic for the Greg Ostertag Era?

3. Small Forward: +0.9 PER difference.

  • C.J. Miles (1 year at $3.7M)
  • Gordon Hayward (4 years/$3.3M a year).
  • Analysis: Both Miles and Hayward could be considered shooting guards, but I went with the position that they played the greatest percentage of minutes. This also happened to the position of Andrei Kirilenko, who is a free agent this year after his max contract finally expired. Kirilenko’s status is still up in the air, but my guess is that he won’t be with the Jazz next year. Still, this position isn’t terrible, especially considering the assumption Miles (still only 24) and Hayward (21) will improve with age. I have my doubts about both players, even considering some of the great games both had at the end of the year.

4. Point Guard: -2.2 PER difference.

  • Devin Harris (2 years/$8.9M a year).
  • Analysis: Was it really only a year and a half ago that the PG spot was most solid position on the team? The Jazz had a long-term star in Deron Williams and a capable backup with Eric Maynor. Now that the dust has settled on the implosion of last year’s team, all that’s left are two expensive years of Devin Harris (and draft picks!). Neither Ronnie Price or Earl Watson are signed with the Jazz for next season and really, does it matter if either one comes back? The Jazz desperately need a backup (or replacement) for Harris, especially considering his injury history. More likely they will use this draft to find a more capable, long-term solution.

5. Shooting Guard: -4.7 PER difference.

The biggest shortcoming of the Jazz’s shooting guard rotation (which also included Ronnie Price as part of a small second-team lineup with Earl Watson) was inaccurate shooting. Despite attempting a combined 7.3 3-pointers a night, the three players shot just 32.8 percent from beyond the arc, well below league average (35.8 percent). Since Bell — under contract through 2012-13 — isn’t getting any younger, Utah will likely exercise the team option on Miles’ deal and hope he can grow into a starting position.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that shooting guard is the biggest position of need. The Jazz need someone on the wing to knock down open shots and also somebody who can defend enough to keep the Kobe Bryants and D-Wades of the NBA from circling the calendar when they see Utah. Easier written about than accomplished, of course, but the Jazz absolutely must improve in all aspects at this position.

Use these numbers as your guide as you play armchair GM.

K.Malphurs

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10 Comments

  1. Tyson says:

    We need to draft Kanter or Williams with the #3 and then trade Millsap for another player! Then we would most likely draft a point guard or shooting guard with the #12

  2. Hunter says:

    The jazz should draft brandon knight at number 3. Hes the only for sure option available. Williams and kanter could potentially be busts. Get a 2 guard at 12. avoid jimmer fredette he is screaming athletic concerns and not starting material. Let the pacers deal with him

  3. J says:

    We really have Raja for two more years?! I guess I knew that but was trying to block it out of my mind.

    Malph, what are your major concerns with Hayward? I was skeptical about him in the beginning of the year but must admit, he grew on me a bit. I thought he progressed nicely throughout the year and would rather commit to him than to CJ. I think he has a better shot, plays better defense, and really has more star potential. Hayward is better utilized in the 2 than the 3. The last Laker game in LA was a pretty good indication of where I think Hayward’s potential lies. His defense against Kobe was great and when he took him off the dribble I seriously said “WOW” out loud!

    CJ had a few good games early in the year and when he scored 20+ we won, but that rarely seemed like a sure bet. We’ve had CJ for 5 going on 6 years now, while he is athletic, he is a liability on defense and his shot has not come along the way we would have liked to have seen. If we were to give Hayward the same time frame to progress, there is little doubt who would be the better player.

    I also see Big Al as a natural 4, further congesting our strength at power forward and limiting our team potential on defense. Pairing Okur and Big Al as our centers just seems to be a losing proposition. I would like to see the Jazz re-sign Fesenko and continue polish up the rough edges. You just can’t teach heart and height, and Fez has both. If the guy could learn to keep his head, he could prove to be an asset.

    The Jazz have a lot of big decisions to make this off season and none of them are going to be easy. The draft and the CBA are going to be very interesting in how they impact the Jazz of the future.

  4. JT says:

    Similar to what J says but maybe taking it a step further.

    I think there is a major flaw in the logic that Center is the Jazz’s second strongest position. Okur and Jefferson are both natural 4s and certainly are not rim protectors. You could almost say that the Jazz don’t have a starting center at all, they just have decently talented PFs trying to play there.

    I do think that Favors has the length and athleticism to play the 5, and if the Jazz are planning on doing that, it would change my opinion on this greatly. Favors has almost identical measurements to Dwight Howard, and obviously has Howard type athleticism as well.

    I think Center is arguably a bigger need than even SG, surely at least equal with PG, and certainly a bigger need than SF.

  5. Al says:

    In addition to what JT said about Favors-Dwight size and athleticism comparisons,
    one can argue very similar stats too. Sounds surprising?? Take a look:

    DH rookie season:
    12 ppg 10 rpg 1.7 bpg .520 FG%

    DF rookie stats: (I chose to look at his stats with the Jazz, and not with the Nets, because A) he now plays for the Jazz, so it’s more relevant and B) because the Jazz run a much better offense, leading naturally to better results)
    8.2 ppg 5.2 rpg 1.2 bpg .529 FG%

    Doesn’t look similar? Now let’s account for the minutes played differential. DH played 32 mpg his rookie season, while DF played 20 mpg with the Jazz. If we adjust the stats and assume he keeps his averages up at starter minutes, which isn’t trivial, we find:
    13.2 ppg 8.4 rpg 1.9 bpg .529 FG%

    Something to get you thinking… (and hoping)…

  6. Kevin Malphurs says:

    One note on the center position is that it was graded on a curve. There just aren’t many good centers in the NBA right now, and Al Jefferson (despite being a natural 4) is decent center option. I agree that the Jazz need help there, but I thought their needs at the guard/wing positions were higher. The Jazz were dreadful from the shooting guard position last year. Maybe that can be fixed by playing Bell less and moving his minutes to Hayward, but something needs to change?

    My major concerns with Hayward are that the few good games he had were outliers, and that the rest of the year was more of a predictor of the type of player he will be in the future. I think that he could be an adequate spot up shooter, who is a liability on defense and sometimes gets lost on offense. Keep in mind that his PER was 11th on the team and his WS/48 was 9th. He is only 21 years old, so those number should improve, but I have serious doubts that he will ever improve into a really good player. My ceiling on Hayward is an average NBA small forward. As a Jazz fan, I hope I am wrong and everyone else is right.

    It is fun thinking about the potential of Derrick Favors. For example check out his rookie stats next to Kevin Garnett’s. Thanks for pointing out the Howard comp. If Favors can even be 75% of Howard, and they can get production from the 3 pick, then they will win the Deron Williams trade. That is also not counting for Devin Harris or the Golden State pick for next year.

    I enjoyed the comments. Thanks.

  7. Mike says:

    The SG may be our weakest position but that isn’t getting fixed in this draft class. There aren’t a lot of options and the best ones will probably be gone before the 12 pick.

    Personally I would take Kanter and trade one of the other PF’s on the roster for a wing. Favors is the only big I wouldn’t be willing to move (unless something crazy came along).

    Milsap, Bell, our two first round picks next year and/or our 12 this year should bring back something good. I love ‘Sap but he’s probably our best trade chip; good player and really cheap.
    AJ probably has some good value (teams like post scorers)
    Memo has value since he’s an expiring contract but I would only trade him if he agreed to it. He tore his achilles trying by pushing too hard to help us win a playoff game; that should count for something.
    Harris has a lot of interested teams and is a former all-star for low cost, lots of value there.

    A lot really depends on how much Favors improves over the summer. The best players always come back better. If Favors really improves he becomes our franchise, if not we need to keep looking.

  8. WTF says:

    Write a new article or close the website saltlakecitysluggards

  9. fourlife says:

    Hayward is your starting 2 guard for the future.

  10. CJ in Brooklyn says:

    I like Jefferson, will he ever fit in this offense? I say gamble on Favors and Kanter – then trade Al for some needed pieces.

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