Staff Scrimmage: 2016-17 Macro and the Road Ahead

May 10th, 2017 | by Salt City Hoops

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

How successful was the Jazz’s season? What are the biggest things to watch going forward? How freaked out should fans be about Gordon Hayward’s potential exit?

We empaneled four awesome SCH writers to weigh in on the biggest questions about the year the Utah Jazz just wrapped up.

1. 51 wins, a seven-game first-round victory culminating in a dominant deciding game on the road, and a second-round sweep loss to the harbingers of death and destruction. Add it all up: how successful (or not) was the 2016-17 Jazz season?

Clint Johnson: A triumph. Any metric one chooses shows the Jazz had a stellar year. Tied for fifth in the league in wins (with Cleveland, don’t forget). Fifth in net rating (+4.7) and sixth in point differential (+3.9). A final four spot in the brutal West playoffs. The Jazz leave the season’s stage as one of the NBA’s best.

Clark Schmutz: This season was certainly a success in a vacuum. Winning a tough first round series and 50 games are really terrific goals for this team to accomplish and the development of both Rudy Gobert and Hayward are huge for the franchise.. Unfortunately, this season is only a positive stepping stone and a “success” if the Jazz are able to bring back Hayward and move forward and improve. If George Hill and Hayward leave and the Jazz win significantly less games next season, this season will probably be looked back on too similarly to the playoff run in 2011-12. This season was more fun though.

Matt Pacenza: By any objective measure, very successful. The team made a major jump to 11 wins, and not just made the playoffs, but won a series against a talented foe. With that said, fans can fairly have “what could have been” thoughts. Put it this way: if two of Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood and Hill had played 75-80 games at near 100 percent, how many games do the Jazz win? And aren’t they most likely battling the Spurs right now for a spot in the conference finals?

Dan Clayton: The reality is, the Jazz hit every watermark we would have used six months ago to define a successful season. It would have been nice to see the Jazz make Golden State sweat a little bit as opposed to dropping four straight double-digit losses, but the reality is, that’s not what this season was about. You have to work up to a point where you can go toe-to-toe with title favorites, and that involves getting back to the postseason and learning to play a version of the game that’s the same, but different. Importantly, they also made progress at figuring out which players are and aren’t likely parts of a contender’s core, which is just as vital at this stage of the process as the other stuff.

2. On whatever scale you use to measure such things, how confident/freaked out are you about Gordon Hayward’s return/departure?

Clint: Confident he will return. Utah offers him more money, an unquestioned alpha position in the offense, the next decade’s most imposing defense force to back him up, a chance to win a lot for many years to come, and a fan-base renowned for its adoration of stars who stay in Salt Lake. No other team nears that combination of attraction.

Clark: I’m 75% sure that Hayward will resign in Utah. But the 25% causes me a panic level of 8.7 on the Schmutz panic scale. That is equivalent to when my seat belt did not work on a roller coaster when I was 7. So…pretty panicked.

Matt: Speculation is not my forte, but I’m not freaked out. If it’s about basketball and winning, the Jazz have as strong a case for the future of their franchise as does any team in the NBA which has the cap space to make Hayward a max offer. If it’s about other issues – or if he just really wants to reunite with his college coach – well, then, there’s nothing we can do anyway. Might as well be positive.

Dan: The Jazz have done things the right way and helped transform Hayward into a special player who’s starting to get the recognition a guy of his caliber deserves. I fully expect him to take meetings with other teams, but in the end, I think the Jazz have a strong case. He’ll want to make sure they’re thinking along similar lines from a personnel standpoint, though, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jazz start moving pieces even before the July 1 start of free agency. They’ll want to present him with a plan that jives with his own inklings on what changes are needed to get the Jazz into the next tier.

3. In a year defined by injuries, which player’s health issues had the biggest impact on the Jazz’s season?

Clint: Derrick Favors. While Hill’s injuries were certainly pivotal, Utah’s defining question entering this season was the viability of playing Favors with Gobert together in the modern NBA. Had the answer been positive, the Jazz would have been truly unique. Health prevented the question from even being explored. Now, it may never be, removing a franchise-defining characteristic.

Clark: George Hill. I think Favors is the only other possible answer, but what Hill’s absence did to the rotation was more severe than what Favors’ absence did to the rotation.

Matt: Hill missed 33 games in the regular season and three in the playoffs. And for perhaps 10 to 15 of the games he did play, he clearly wasn’t at his best. But when he was at full strength or near to it? Hill was exactly what the Jazz needed: Efficient, tough on defense, steady and smart. If he had played 75+ games at his best, plus the entire playoffs, I’ve no doubt the Jazz are still alive.

Dan: The issue with both Hill’s and Favors’ injuries was that their impact became more acute based on what Utah had available behind them: a revolving cadre of mostly inconsistent guys. But I think Favors stings worse because the Jazz were on the verge of discovering if they could use the forward’s defensive versatility to play big while still being able to defend in a variety of schemes out in space. Favors’ absence — and his limited mobility when he did play — kept the Jazz from being able to answer a fundamental strategic question about themselves.

4. What’s the trend from this season that most excites you going forward, and/or the one that most worries you?

Clint: I’m ecstatic about the progression of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Quin Snyder, and Dennis Lindsey. Hayward is better than I ever thought he’d be and has yet to plateau. Gobert’s growth has matched his voracious ambition. After only three years together, Snyder and Lindsey are one of the best brain trusts in the league. There’s elite talent at every level.

Clark: As long as the a healthy Gobert is in a Jazz uniform, the Jazz are going to have an elite defense.  If the Jazz can figure out a way to improve offensively, I think they can take a big step forward. Replacing average to bad offensive players with good ones, could jump this team into the top 5 or 10 in offensive efficiency and into contender status.

Matt: Let’s do one of each: I’m most excited by the continuous improvement from Gobert and Hayward. It’s such a blessing to have two young players, both All-Stars, who are so clearly motivated to keep getting better. I’m most worried by player health. My fear is that the Jazz will make a costly, long-term commitment to a player – let’s say Favors or Hill – who is never able to stay healthy. A near max deal to an oft-injured star can cripple a team for years

Dan: The stagnation of basically their entire 25-and-under1 crowd has to be the most disappointing thing about the season. Trey Lyles became unplayable when his offense dried up alongside his generally wanting defense. Hood regressed modestly and then mostly disappeared in the postseason. And Dante Exum had some good statistical indicators coming back from from injury, but struggled to consistently do the things Snyder demanded of him to stay on the court. If any one of those guys bends his career arc back toward the top of his realistic range, the Jazz could be in crazy good shape. Luckily, Hayward and Gobert were both SO good that the Jazz survived what were underwhelming years from most of their youngest guys.

5. Which player are you hoping has a Haywardesque type of offseason leap, and why?

Clint: Dante Exum. Only 21, he offers transformative potential on both sides of the ball. He has the tools to become an all-league defender as well as Utah’s best pick and roll ball handler since Deron Williams. Adding that specific type of player to Hayward (26) and Gobert (24) could turn a 50-win team into a title contender for years.

Clark: Dante Exum. Of the Jazz players that could be an answer to this question, Dante has the most tools to work with. I’m not sure Hood can learn to draw free throws at the rate he needs to, and Exum could make some major strides by developing his strength, handle and any kind of mid range game. Maybe it’s time to call Kobe again.

Matt: Dante Exum. I’ve written skeptical things about the Australian since he struggled in his rookie year and the beginning of this past year. But his performance from early February on gave me hope that the very young guard might have turned a corner. The ingredients are there for a player who at a minimum can be a strong rotation guard who plays terrific defense and doesn’t hurt you on offense – and quite possibly more. In addition to seeing how he improves this offseason, the obvious question about Exum is: why was Snyder so often hesitant to give him minutes these past few months?

Dan: Looks like we’ll be unanimous here. Hood’s another guy who I hope subscribes to the Hayward plan of locking himself in a gym all summer and demanding more from himself. But a pronounced leap by Exum could make the biggest difference to Utah, especially since there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to afford Hill going forward.

 

One Comment

  1. The Other Spencer says:

    In Question 2, Dan talks about the Jazz possibly moving pieces to show Hayward that the organization is still moving in the right direction. I think this topic deserves its own column! I’d love to see some speculation on what sorts of things the Jazz may be looking at. They have, what, 4 draft picks in the upcoming draft? Will they use them, or leverage their value in some sort of trade? What do they need to do for cap room issues? There’s plenty to talk about there.

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