Staff Scrimmage: Jazz Predictions and Defining Success

October 2nd, 2017 | by Salt City Hoops

Melissa Majchrzak via

Jazz basketball is back in mere hours, which makes it a good time to put a stake in the ground on some weighty issues.

Welcome to the first “Staff Scrimmage” of the 2017 preseason, where five of our SCH contributors chime in on big questions about the Jazz’s personnel, expectations, and success.

Who’s the Jazz player that you think will be better in 2017-18 than what most people seem to believe?

Allen Schowengerdt: Thabo Sefolosha. I haven’t seen much discussion of him at all since his signing, but I think people will quickly realize how good he is on defense. Don’t be surprised if he ends up playing 25+ minutes.

Thatcher Olson: I think that Danté Exum will be better than most people believe. Exactly how good  depends on who you ask, but I believe he will take a huge leap forward. He showed signs of taking a step at the end of last season, he had a big summer league, a full offseason, and it’s a contract year. I expect a motivated and prepared Danté to have a huge season.

Matt Pacenza: Ricky Rubio. I think we forget how young he is (26) because of how long he’s been on the international basketball scene. The Jazz’s slow pace of play may not allow them to take full advantage of the speedy Spaniard’s gifts. However, everything else — his terrific defense, his chemistry on a roster filled with international guys, his badly needed playmaking skills, his fit with Snyder, his improvement late last year — fills me with optimism that the Jazz will be fortunate to employ Rubio during his most productive years.

Jarom Moore: Man, this is tough, I want to say a few names, Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles, Alec Burks and Exum, but i will go with Favors overall. He is so good. When I covered the Jazz, I thought his career arc was “taller Paul Millsap” where he would develop a little bit of everything. He talked about hitting 3s this offseason and if he can he’s going to jump back into the conversation of top-50 player. I think he could be rated higher. I saw a potential 20-10 guy and really what’s stopping him now is Gobert getting all the rebounds. He could put up near 20 points per game.

David Smith: Favors is poised for a major comeback. After battling through a difficult, injury-filled season, by all reports, the big man is healthy. Two years ago, he was legitimately a borderline All-Star, thanks to his stellar defense and much-improved offensive game. If he regains his explosiveness, there is no reason he couldn’t return to something like 15-16 points per game, 7-8 rebounds per game. That would be a huge boon to Quin Snyder and company.

Conversely, is there a Jazz player whose hype train is getting a little ahead of how good you think he’ll be in 2017-18?

Allen: The obvious answer here is Donovan Mitchell, and that’s exactly where I am going. Let’s be real, Mitchell is obviously talented and will carve out a role, but this league is really tough on rookies. He will have to earn it.

Thatcher: The obvious answer is Mitchell. While I think Mitchell will have a huge season, cementing his place in the rotation with stellar defense and enough offense, we have to realize he’s still a rookie. Rookies make mistakes, and Mitchell won’t be any different. While I believe he’s going to be a great player and an absolute steal of a draft pick, we have to give him time to grow into the lofty expectations many fans already have for him.

Matt: Joe Johnson. There may not be a big “hype train” surrounding Ageless Joe, but his late-game heroics against the Clippers last April were so fantastic that Jazz fans might hope for more of the same. However, let’s not forget that the 36-year-old’s numbers were down across the board during the regular season. We’d be wise to anticipate a further decline, reduced productivity and fewer minutes from Iso Joe this coming season — while also hoping for a few big moments.

Jarom: I’ll go obvious here: Mitchell. (/Quickly ducks to avoid the pitchforks. /Waits for the rotten fruit to stop being thrown.) Okay, here’s why, I think he may end up being the most talented guy on the roster, but rookies in the NBA aren’t very good. They just aren’t. He will get chances, but the 16-ppg projections I’ve heard are just too high, especially come February when he hits the rookie wall. (I also would love to be wrong about this.)

David: Rodney Hood will be a centerpiece of the now Gordon Hayward-less offense. While I think his game will progress, it may not be as big as some expect or hope. While his scoring should increase, he may experience a slip in efficiency. This will certainly be one of the fascinating story lines this season.

Of the veteran FA acquisitions, who will play the biggest role in 2017-18?

Allen: Sefolosha because he plays the position where the Jazz are most thin and has a special skill in his defense. I don’t anticipate very large roles for Ekpe Udoh or Jonas Jerebko unless Favors or Rudy Gobert gets hurt.

Thatcher: Sefolosha will play the biggest role for the Jazz this year out of the free agent additions. This is primarily because of his defense and versatility. Sefolosha can arguably guard four positions, and he is an excellent premier defender. If he can hit threes at an above-average rate (career 35% shooter) then he will receive big minutes as a rotation player for a large group of Jazz wing players.

Matt: Jerebko. This Jazz team badly needs scoring and the sweet-shooting Swede can come off the bench and nail a couple 3s per game, spreading the floor. His lackluster D shouldn’t be a huge problem against second units and on a team filled with plus defenders. While Johnson and Ingles are also suited to play the stretch 4, Jerebko may surprise us and end up paired with Gobert in that role in late game situations.

Jarom: Thabo. All should get a good amount of time, but Thabo will fill the Joe Ingles role of last year where he comes off the bench to play different spots and hit 3s. He may not be as good as Ingles at that role, but he’ll make a huge impact.

David: All three will contribute on and off the court for Utah. Of the trio, Jerebko might have the most opportunity to show his skills. As a shooting big who can help open things up, Jerebko could be integral. Udoh will be very solid, but is playing behind an All-NBA center in Gobert. Sefolosha is part of a very competitive wing corps. While there will be times when he finishes games, he will be battling with many versatile teammates there.

Where do you find yourself on the “can Favors and Gobert play together” question?

Allen: I am 100% on the “yes they can” train. Even with an injury-riddled Favors, the tandem was still elite defensively. A newly healthy and focused Favors will be dangerous, and we already know what Gobert can do. Offense might be spotty, but it doesn’t matter if the other team can’t score.

Thatcher: I find myself on the do-or-die side of the argument. Favors is in a contract year, and all signs point to him being healthy and motivated. Favors and Gobert posted a 96.5 defensive rating last year, a figure that would lead the league. The Jazz have to see if this can work with a healthy Favors, especially if they want to retain Favors.

Matt: I’m skeptical that it’s a successful long-term plan, but I also think it’s not a huge problem. Let’s say Gobert plays 35 minutes per game at center, a slight uptick from last year. That leaves 13 minutes per game for Favors as the second-unit center, a role he should do very well in. Depending upon matchups, then, Favors should play roughly 12 to 18 minutes paired with Gobert. Those ratios offer the Jazz at least three distinct frontcourt looks — always with a solid defensive presence in the middle.

Jarom: 100% in the pro. The question I ask is “how much?” Late in games, it might not work with matchups, but if Favors is healthy he’s athletic enough to guard any big, and if he can stretch out his shot a little more, the Jazz will have a go-to scorer.

David: The eye test vs. analytics argument has been a Twitter topic this offseason. While there are occasions when this duo may not look as fluid for others, the in-depth number show they can play together. Defensively, they can be a nightmare for opponents. Two years ago, Favors was almost automatic from midrange. If he can stretch things out even just a bit, I think that pair can work really well together.

What does success look like for the 2017-18 Jazz?

Allen: If forced to pick a single answer, I would say finding out that the Jazz have the guard rotation of the future set. Exum has a lot to prove. Mitchell has fans excited. Rodney Hood has a ton of expectations placed on him. If two of the three prove they can be the exciting players the Jazz need, this season is very successful.

Thatcher: To me, success means health and development. While the Jazz aren’t rebuilding, this is a transition year where they have to see what they have. Favors, Hood and Exum are all in contract years. Gobert and Ingles just signed new contracts. Mitchell, Rubio, Sefolosha, Udoh and Jerebko are all new to the team. It is important to integrate all these players, see player development, and be competitive in a tough Western Conference.

Matt: Making the playoffs is the obvious, but best, answer. In the always loaded West, finishing in the top eight the year after losing Hayward sends a strong signal that the young Jazz aren’t going away. My second measure of success is to see a significant step forward for at least two of Hood, Exum, Burks and Mitchell. The Jazz more or less know what they have from Gobert, Favors, Ingles, Johnson and Rubio and their cadre or role-playing vets. It’s the health and growth of their young guards which will determine how well they do in 2017-18.

Jarom: It’s the playoffs. This isn’t a franchise built on morale victories, they want to get back to the top and that’s a success. Also beating the Celtics. And Favors and Burks playing in the area of 70 games would be a real plus.

David: There are multiple ways that this team could be labeled successful. Should the Jazz be in the mix for the 5-7 seeds, that would be a very positive sign in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. If players like Gobert, Hood, Ingles and Exum can move their respective games up a notch or two, it would again speak to their hard work and the coaching staff’s prowess at developing their players. Lastly, it would be stellar if Favors and Burks not only started the season healthy, but would maintain that throughout the campaign.

Thanks to our panelists for weighing in on these big questions. Stay tuned for much more from these and other SCH writers as the regular season approaches.


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  1. Pingback: Staff Scrimmage: Pecking Order of Jazz Player Value | Salt City Hoops

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