Back in late October, I made a list of 10 predictions for the upcoming Jazz season. Some were more outlandish than others, but each almost certainly prompted some percentage of my readership to think to themselves, “I can’t wait until April so we can laugh at how moronic Dowsett’s predictions were!”
Well, here’s your chance. Let’s run all 10 back and see just how clairvoyant I was.
1. The Jazz will go from a bottom-five pace team last year to a top-10 one.
So…perhaps not the start I was looking for. My first prediction was likely my largest overall whiff, as far from becoming one of the league’s 10 fastest teams by pace, the Jazz slowed down even further and were its very slowest.
I’m certainly not the only one who initially found this development unexpected, at least to this degree. In fact, Jazz coach Quin Snyder recounted some of his own surprise at the trend before the team’s final home game last week.
“At the beginning of the year I felt, as you guys know, that we were going to play faster than, ironically, it turned out,” Quin said. “My initial reaction to that was, ‘Gosh, we’re failing in some way by not playing faster.’”
There were extenuating circumstances, both good and bad, that factored into the result here, and Snyder qualified these following his initial surprise. He noted that personnel played a big role, particularly Utah’s preferred two-big rotation that only got bigger once Rudy Gobert began to play more. The relative inexperience of Utah’s guards, particularly backcourt ball-handlers in Dante Exum and Trey Burke, also contributed – Quin noted that as the year went on, he chose to prioritize areas like on-ball defense in practice with his young charges, and he’s certainly not one to bite off too much at one time when it comes to player development. In general, he assumes there will be a natural progression here with more time to school his young guards.
“I think our bigs will continue to run better once we have guards that push the pace more,” he said.
I looked last week at how upstart Bryce Cotton might set a developmental template for the rest of Utah’s ball-handlers, and it’ll be interesting to see how aggressively Snyder pursues it over the summer. Utah needs some more pace, particularly following opponent misses or turnovers, to goose an offense that eked out league average numbers this year despite frequent periods in the muck. This theme will almost certainly be present in next year’s 10 preseason predictions as well.
2. Enes Kanter will make fewer than 25 3s this season.
We’re on the board with this one, though it may count as something of a softball in all honesty. But my reasoning mostly held true, so I’ll take the point – Kanter generally had a green light from distance both in Utah and Oklahoma City, but simply didn’t find enough attempts available given his typical role. He made 16 on 45 attempts (35.6 percent is surprisingly good), but as I noted in the initial piece, there are just so few bigs who play a style conducive to racking up big 3-point totals.
3. The Jazz will collect over 51 percent of all available rebounds, and will move up at least 10 places league-wide here from last year.
Nailed this one. The Jazz were 21st in total rebounding percentage for 2013-14 due in large part to Ty Corbin’s preference for a small starting lineup, and leapt all the way up to first overall in the NBA this season with a renewed commitment to size. They grabbed 52.8 percent of all available boards, aided in large part by a 29.1 percent rate on the offensive glass, also tops in the league. Don’t expect them to finish anywhere outside the top five in either of these categories in the near future so long as Gobert and Derrick Favors remain the starting frontcourt.
4. Trey Burke’s assist-to-turnover ratio (3.02) will decrease, but his efficiency, both shooting and overall, will improve markedly.
At least I got the first part right! Burke’s assist-to-turnover figure did indeed decrease to 2.65, which was nearly a foregone conclusion after a somewhat ridiculous number here last year.
That’s where my predictive powers hit a wall, however. In yet another shining example of the way preseason results can at times be misleading, Trey gave us all the impression of a player who had turned the corner during his appearances in early October, only to fall flat in a fairly huge way when the games began to count. His usage rose, but nearly every measure of efficiency either stagnated or slid back – his TS% dropped about two points, his assist percentage declined noticeably, and his PER was identical to his rookie season, all this despite spending half the year as Utah’s backup point guard. It was a disappointing season in all respects for Burke, who now enters what will be a pivotal summer for his NBA career.
I’m not even taking half a point for the first section, since the spirit of the prediction was so wildly off target.
5. After posting the league’s 13th-highest turnover ratio last year, the Jazz will enter the top 10 this year.
Book this one as well, as the Jazz jumped up to fourth for turnovers per-100-possessions. They made the most passes in in the league on the year, but did so while accumulating the second-fewest assists – it’s not hard to see how their giveaways took a leap. Turnovers are tied to some of the same underlying causes as prediction one above, and the Jazz will hope they move in the other direction next season as all the prominent offensive pieces have yet another year under their belt.
6. Alec Burks will score over 75 percent of his points through a combination of free-throws and points in the paint, with over a 50 percent share to the latter.
A bit of an incomplete case since he played only 27 games, some of which came while battling the shoulder injury that eventually took him out for the rest of the year. That’s not enough of a confounding factor to absolve me here, though – Burks was barely over 60 percent combined before going down, with just over 32 percent of his points in the paint, way down from 45 percent the year before. He should get back to his more aggressive ways when at full health next year.
7. Rodney Hood will make the All-Rookie 1st or 2nd team.
These haven’t yet been announced, but I’m taking the point; most real and hypothetical ballots I’ve seen have Hood on the 2nd team, and one or two even had him on the first.1
Interestingly, much of my rationale for Hood over the higher upside guy in Dante Exum was the assumption that Hood could see more court time if Utah had any injuries on the wing…until Rodney became one of the casualties himself. But despite 32 games missed, his impact was such that he deserves the spot, particularly for his showing over the latter part of the season. I will issue a Twitter apology if Hood falls short on the real-life ballot.
8. The Jazz will finish the year outside the league’s bottom five for net per-possession rating.
This seemed like a bit of a free point at the time, and that certainly didn’t change whatsoever. Seeing as the Jazz finished 16th overall for net rating, including a top-10 mark over the final half of the season, I’ll take this one as well – even had I raised the threshold of my prediction a bit, anything within the realm of realistic possibility would have been a number the team exceeded.
9. Gordon Hayward will again lead the Jazz in steals per game, and will finish in the NBA’s top 15 here also (rotation players only).
Hayward did indeed lead the Jazz in steals per game with 1.4, but he didn’t quite approach the league-wide threshold. Despite Utah’s defensive ascension over the final few months of the year, they weren’t particularly adept at forcing opponent turnovers, causing a bottom-10 figure on the year. They weren’t far from their 2013-14 number, so it makes sense that Hayward would remain at the same level; his leap came on the other side of the ball.
This is determined by far more than his steal count, of course, but a big part of Hayward’s true value relative to his contract moving forward will be whether he’s reached his peak as a defender. While also far from a complete picture, his numbers from such sites as Synergy Sports indicate a guy who stagnated here this year, and the eye test mostly backs this up. He raised his awareness off the ball, something Snyder has noted more than once, but it’s understandable that Gordon isn’t able to expend intense energy on the defensive end given all his responsibilities on offense. It’ll be intriguing to see how things develop over the next year or two as Utah’s offense hopefully improves and takes some of the burden off of Hayward.
10. Official Big Picture Predictions:
Jazz Record: 30-52, 13th in the West, ahead of the Lakers and Timberwolves
Jazz Offensive Ranking (25th last year): 19th
Jazz Defensive Ranking (30th last year): 24th
*Bonus Prediction: If the Jazz sit within three to five games of .500 by the end of November, Quin Snyder receives very early COY buzz. If they break out like some have suggested and eclipse 35-37 wins, he finishes in the top five. If they somehow crack 40, he wins the award.
I didn’t nail any of these directly, of course, and likely most I wasn’t optimistic enough for this Jazz team. I was in the building on their offensive output, though they got there in very different ways than I had expected. And of course, I was miles off on their defense, which finished in a three-way tie for 12th with Philadelphia and Boston after obliterating the league since January. If a single person saw that coming, please give them my email; I have some investment questions I’d like to toss their way.
My bonus prediction regarding Snyder was a bit over-zealous, but one point that’s worth noting here is the way awards like these tend to display an early-season bias. If things had been reversed and the Jazz had gone on their strong run to begin the season before tailing off later on, it’s entirely likely Quin’s name would have at least been mentioned among serious candidates for the award.2 He’d never have won with Utah missing the playoffs, but it would have been nice to hear him at least enter the margins of conversation. I had him fourth on my imaginary COY ballot3, and truly don’t think it’s a homer pick to too large of a degree.