With Utah Jazz media day in the books and training camp going full steam, optimism reigns supreme1. That said, there should be a fair dose of realism, too. With this in mind, it’s time for my annual predictions. These are simply one person’s thoughts, so take them for what they’re worth. Some of these will be bold, while some will be the exact opposite.
Breakout year for Alec Burks: Given last year’s dismal season, not enough was said about the major improvements Burks saw across the board. He seems more confident (which is saying a lot for the swaggertastic Burks). His decision-making has never been better. Burks knew when to slash, shoot or pass. The numbers do the talking: career-highs in every major category; 15.8 PER (up from 11.5); 3.2 WS (up from 1.0); .449 FTr, 16.9 AST% (with a better 13.0 TOV%). Credit should also go to Corbin, who changed his position from back-up point guard to designated scorer off the pine. Quin Snyder will be the catalyst. It seems like the offense that is being implemented really plays to the strengths of a guy like Burks. In fact, he may be the one who benefits the most. Look for Burks to lead the team in scoring.
Utah will become a top 12 shot-blocking team: This would constitute a size able jump from the #20 spot. Few players have had a more productive summer than Rudy Gobert. If he enters his way into the rotation–which he will–that alone will propel progression here. Derrick Favors had an unexpected drop in this department (going from 2.6/36 min in 2013 to 1.8 last season. Likewise, his BLK% decreased from 5.7 to 3.8–the lowest since his rookie campaign). With his confidence growing as he moves forward as the team’s defensive anchor, look for a return to his elite form in this category.
Trey Burke will be a top 10 assist guy: First, a caveat: the #10 player last season, Jeff Teague, averaged 6.7 apg. Seeing as Burke doled out 5.7 dimes per outing as a rookie and finished 22nd in the NBA, this is quite realistic. While there are a lot of questions behind Snyder’s offense, the constant take of extra passing and playing with more pace can help Burke. While he was not always keen on pushing the ball last year, when he initiated some early offense looks, the Jazz offense was much more effective. Look for Burke to hit the 7 to 7.5 apg mark.
Rudy Gobert’s wingspan will still be 7’9″: Shocker, I know. We’ll also hear about cereal, video games and skateboarding ad nauseum.
No extensions come Halloween: It is encouraging that talks between Utah and their fourth-year players, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. There are simply too many unknowns in both situations. How will they be utilized in Snyder’s system, as opposed to Tyrone Corbin’s? Will Burks be tabbed a starter? How will Kanter’s green light to shoot 3-pointers affect his outlook? Despite valiant efforts, they will come away without extensions. One minor prediction: Mehmet Okur’s presence, whatever that may be, will be a boon for Kanter’s play.
Steve Novak will not play much: Given the front court depth, this prediction is anything but bold. With Favors, Kanter, Gobert and Trevor Booker most likely to earn the lion’s share of the PT, Novak will be used as a situational player–in case of foul trouble or injuries, to create the occasional mismatch and end-of-quarter plays. Novak has too many limitations. Plus, Jeremy Evans is still in the fold, coming off a career year.
Gordon Hayward’s shooting will return to his career marks: His dismal shooting last year was well documented–41.3 percent FGs and 30.4 percent 3s. Assuming a lead role, less surrounding talent and perhaps pressure from his unresolved contract situation all probably played a part. After a busy summer that saw him become richer, happier (with his marriage) and battling against some of the game’s best, Hayward should return to form. I’m thinking 45 and 37 percent, respectively.
Utah will open with 15 on its roster: In years past, the Jazz would start with 14 to help maintain roster flexibility. Dennis Lindsey does things differently2. It also helps that teams can add a guy while affixing a January guarantee date, thus making it a low-cost move. Someone out of the training camp invitees will impress and stick. Another wrinkle to watch: while a few guys have guarantees (like Felix and Ian Clark), what if a few of the free agents really stick out? Given their modest salaries, would Utah be willing to cut one of them if someone shows more short and long-term potential?
Jazz All-Star Weekend Representation: Burke will return to the Rising Stars no-defense game. Keep an eye on Gobert, too. With a less strong class of sophomores, the Frenchman could make a big jump amongst this group. Dante Exum will not make it there, but Rodney Hood will. It’s also safe to predict that Jack Cooley will not be a Slam Dunk Competition participant. No one will make the real All-Star team.
Rookie performances: Speaking of which, Hood will be viewed by many as one of the big steals of the 2014 Draft. He will be a rotational player from day one and will provide a spark with his fundamental play and much-needed perimeter marksmanship. Unlike most out there, I concur with Andrew Bogut about Exum: he won’t struggle as much as people are assuming. Yes, he will have a lot of growing pains. But his natural talent will be hard to keep off the floor. He will play more than the 15-18 MPG some are forecasting.
Snyder will turn a lot of heads: With the emphasis being more on development and systematic implementation, Snyder will have a great Honeymoon year. He will have the team playing hard and there will be a very fun brand of basketball put out there. While some other rookie coaches will see some immediate success–see Steve Kerr–he will surprise.
There are a lot more, but this will do for today. What are your predictions? Feel free to share any you may have in the comments below.