With half the preseason in the books, we are starting to get a better idea of what the 2015-16 Utah Jazz will look like. Not a clear picture, but better than two weeks ago. There have been some encouraging elements along with some concerning ones. Such is the nature of the NBA preseason. It will be exciting to watch how things play out these final four games, as rotations narrow, intensity picks up and the games that really count arrive.
Time for this writer’s annual Utah Jazz-related predictions. As always, we will revisit this in April to see how we fare. Accountability is a beautiful thing. Without further ado…
Quin Snyder will be a Coach of the Year candidate: As a rookie skipper, Quin Snyder turned a lot of heads. Not only did he propel the team to a 13-game increase in the win column, he was the driver behind many of his players’ development. Snyder will have more attention as a second-year coach and will continue to impress. He and his staff will help Utah continue its ascent as an elite defensive team, while making some modest improvements offensively. Thanks to his mentoring, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will grow even more into their leadership roles. Snyder will finish in the top five in Coach of the Year voting and will be viewed as one of the NBA’s top young coaches. And he will most likely have a few emotional episodes on the sidelines which will further endear him to the Jazz fan base.
Top five defense: It was not a mirage, or a short-term development: the Jazz’s defense will prove to be legitimate and will cause other teams great trouble. With Rudy Gobert manning the pivot, Favors playing his trademark stout D and a bevy of capable wings on the perimeter, Utah will sport an elite defense. They will lead the league in blocked shots. Jeff Withey only helps bolster things. With a year of Snyder’s system under their belts and the cohesion little off-season movement fosters, the Jazz will earn their keep by stopping their opponents.
Rudy Gobert will be one of the NBA’s big stories: The Frenchman knows he will be the man from day one, and he will show the NBA how very good he is. With his fierce competitiveness, Gobert will be a double-double guy, finish in the top three in blocked shots and will warrant All-Defensive team accolades. He will also finish in the top five in Most Improved Player votes. True, his energy level has been a concern in the pre-season, but again, it is early yet. Gobert is here to stay and will not look back. The Jazz are very lucky to have found him, a true cornerstone for the now and the future.
Bryce Cotton will nab the 15th roster spot: Neither Bryce Cotton nor Chris Johnson have seen a tremendous amount of playing time in the preseason, but the battle for the final roster spot will be between the pair of guards. The former will be on the regular season roster. While he will clearly be behind Trey Burke and Raul Neto, Cotton has too much speed, talent and modest upside for the Jazz to let him go. With Snyder opting to give more ball-handling responsibilities to Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, Cotton will not play much.
Utah likes Johnson, but given Elijah Millsap’s improvement, he figures to be on the outside looking in a the swingman rotation. Johnson will, however, be picked up by another team. The Jazz will eat forward Grant Jerrett’s guaranteed contract.
Alec Burks will top 18 PPG: As he has demonstrated thus far in the preseason, Alec Burks’ return is a huge storyline for this Jazz squad. Always such a talented scorer, the now-healthy Burks will emerge as an up-and-coming player, topping 18 PPG. While he will not be Utah’s top scorer — Hayward will maintain that status (perhaps reaching the 20.0 PPG barrier) — he will remove some of his teammates’ burdens on the offensive end. So will Rodney Hood, who will up his scoring to the low teens.
Back-up centers will rotate: Tibor Pleiss and Jeff Withey will take turns as Rudy Gobert’s primary back-up. There will be a lot of experimenting the first few months. By season’s end, Withey will have the slight nod. Pleiss will have an up-and-down rookie campaign, with some growing pains as he adjusts to the NBA game. He will have games where his definite potential shows. Withey will be a very pleasant surprise, providing some very solid minutes for the Jazz. While he will not be flashy, he will get the job done for Snyder.
Utah Jazz All-Stars?: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert will all merit All-Star consideration, but given the incredible depth of star power in the Western Conference, only Hayward makes it — as an injury replacement. His all-around game, coupled with Utah’s first-half performance, helps him earn his first appearance in the mid-season classic.
Rodney Hood and rookie Trey Lyles will represent Utah in the Rising Stars Challenge. No other Jazzman will take part in the All-Star Weekend events.
Trade deadline: The Jazz will consummate at least one deal on February’s trade deadline day, but it will certainly not be a blockbuster. As always, general manager Dennis Lindsey will keep his ear to the ground. Trey Burke will be involved, which means…
…Raul Neto will start. Sometime: Like a few others on the Salt City Hoops team, this writer feels that Raul Neto will eventually find himself in the starting five. He may have similar transitional moments like Pleiss, but once he gets more acclimated, Neto could surprise a lot of people. He has already shown his passing proficiency and his ball-hawking prowess. He also has shown how far his offense will need to come. Even so, his game might complement the starters better than Burke’s. By January, Neto will be the full-time starter. As the preseason has shown, however, there will be a lot of triple-wing lineups throughout the season.
Jimbo Rudding will get his chance at halftime act stardom: Of all these predictions, this might be the one people wish to see the most. One could also bet that his act would definitely not involve Jim Les. It will be glorious.
Postseason bound: Utah will indeed battle for the seventh seed, ultimately finishing in the West’s eighth slot. For the first time in a few seasons, the Jazz will be in the playoffs. To a man, that is one of this team’s big goals this season and they will achieve it. Not only will they make it, but they will give their opponent a battle.
Again, this is just one person’s thoughts. Feel free to agree or disagree. Please also share some of your own predictions below.
Let’s the (real) games begin.