Christmas is a time for generosity. So, while it may be easy to focus on the negatives of an early 6 – 16 season, this post assumes the young Utah Jazz are securely on Santa’s Nice List. After all, there is quite a bit that is nice about this team if one looks for it: Derrick Favors’ star-level 22.8 PER; Rudy Gobert’s physics-warping presence on the court; wins against LeBron James’ Cavs and Tim Duncan’s Spurs; even an occasional smile from Dante Exum in spite of the whirlwind of jumping from Lake Ginninderra to one-on-one match ups with Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.
I believe Santa has some presents in store for this young team that sometimes puts in much more spirit than the success they receive in return. What those presents are none may say but the Jolly Old Elf himself – but we can make suggestions.
If we wore the boots and the big red suit, what would we give the Utah Jazz for Christmas?
Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake Tribune columnist: Consistency.
“This team is capable of playing very well in stretches, but suffers from too many lapses that cost the Jazz chances to win,” says Kragthorpe.
Case in point, thus far the Jazz have outscored opponents by 10 or more points in a quarter nine times, two of which they have outpaced the opponent by more than 15.1 That’s a fairly frequent display of good basketball.
The problem is that in turn opponents have blitzed the Jazz by 10 or more in a quarter 10 times, six of which were thrashings of 15 or more points. Too often, the Jazz have been dominated in early quarters and left their own stretches of domination for late in games where such effort is required merely to make the game a contest once again. Cutting down the frequency and severity of bad stretches of play would be an invaluable gift.
AllthatAmar, SLCDunk Managing Editor: Patience.
“Rebuilding takes time,” Amar reminds. “Don’t rush to any snap judgments.”2
To put the importance of patience with the young Jazz in context, consider the two franchise-building models discussed so frequently a few years ago: the Thunder Model and the Grizzlies Model.
Thunder model: Draft Kevin Durant then lose 121 games in two seasons, make the playoffs the season after, make the conference finals the season after that. That’s two horrendous years plus one more to the playoffs, and that’s after drafting arguably the best player in the NBA.
Grizzlies model: Part with your best player (Pau Gasol) then wait five seasons for your win total to climb, from 22 to 24 to 40 to 46 back down to 41 finally up to 56 and the conference finals. That’s six seasons to 50 wins.
Rebuilding takes time and patience. Thus, it is essential that franchise ownership and management employ patience even when media and spectators don’t. If there must be a little over-reacting occasionally, Amar advises, “Leave it to us fans!
Andy Larsen, Managing Editor at Salt City Hoops: A defensive mindset on-ball.
“Right now,” Andy assesses, “they’re far too willing to let their man beat them on the ball, turning into help opportunities that good offensive teams take easy advantage of, leading to the 28th ranked defense.”
This element of the Jazz’s struggles has been covered in-detail, such as how large a part of the issue stems from pick and roll defense. While not wanting to pile on, I will add that Trey Burke and Alec Burks are allowing players to get to the hoop and score far more efficiently than the league average:
Burke: Within six feet, he’s allowing his man to shoot 72.5% to a league average of 59.6% Within 10 feet, he allows 69.2% to a league average of 53.3%
Burks: Within six feet, 69.8% (league average, 59.4%); within 10 feet, 65% (league average 54.8%).
Needless to say, the Jazz could use a little help from Santa here.
Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops founder: A DVD box set of Jazz games from the 90s with a special pick-and-roll edition included.
“The cover will feature Quin Snyder’s famous Wake Up! face,” according to Spencer.
Actually, I prefer his ultra-evil preseason face even more:
What could possibly be more Christmasy than that?
Matt Pacenza: Access to the Fountain of Youth for the Jazz Bear.
“I think the poor dude is roughly my age (early 40s) and I’m worried about him,” says Matt, his voice cracking just a bit. “Riding down stairs, rappelling from roofs, climbing tall ladders – that’s all a young man’s game!”
If anyone deserves immortality, it is certainly Bear.3
David J. Smith: An unleashed Dante Exum.
“He’s playing very controlled,” David observes, “but I want to see him go out and make more plays – don’t be afraid about making mistakes.”
Of the top five players in the 2014 draft who have played,4 all have given their fan bases glimpses of possible greatness:
Andrew Wiggins last two games: 22 pts, 8 rebs, 4 asts on 46% shooting.
Jabari Parker’s best game: 22 pts, 8 reb, 3 asts 2 stls on 73% shooting.
Aaron Gordon’s best game: 17 pts, 6 rebs, 1 asts, 2 blks on 67% shooting and 2 – 2 from downtown.
Marcus Smart’s best game: 23 pts, 4 rebs, 5 asts, 2 stls on 50% shooting, including 4 – 8 from downtown.5
Exums’ best game is far from poor,6 but thus far he hasn’t had a night that allows Jazz fans to truly glimpse star potential. Moments, yes, but not a full game. When that comes, it will truly be a gift to everyone in Jazzland.
Laura Thompson: Their third-quarter mentality and grittiness in the first two quarters of games.
It’s obvious in the numbers. On average, the Jazz lose the first quarter 26 to 23.4 and the second quarter 28.3(!) to 23.1. That’s in stark contrast to the third, where they outscore opponents 26.4 to 23.1.
Dan Clayton: A little miniature Quin Snyder for each guy, to sit on his shoulder and yell “wake up” throughout the game.
“The difference between their usual intensity level and what happens right after Q goes into scary mode is large enough that it could only help,” Dan explains.
A lot has been written about the Jazz’s inconsistency and reasons for it, so I’ll add only one thought: Perhaps it’s because this young Jazz team is thinking so hard about doing the right thing, and trying to discern what the right thing is at any moment, that it often hurts as much helps.
Snyder talks frequently about habituation, and the Jazz aren’t there yet. “Waking up” may mean to compensate for skill and scheme failure with energy and enthusiasm, at least right now. That will change, but it will take time.7
Ben Dowsett: A healthy dose of off-ball awareness, on both ends of the court.
“They have to learn that what happens away from the ball is just as important, if not sometimes more so, than what’s happening on it,” Ben laments.
Read Ben’s excellent piece for more on this vitally important gift. The only thing I’ll add is that fans who typically watch only on-ball action can benefit from this as well. Next game, try to watch off the ball, be it your favorite player or the weak side of the floor or whatever. You’ll be surprised just how much of the game is easy to overlook when we focus only on that little orange orb.
Jimmy Bragg: A pretty good first half.
“Then hope that it’s the gift that keeps on giving all year,” Jimmy adds, fingers crossed.
A few of the other gifts have been of this same variety, but everyone knows Santa isn’t stingy. Also, the Jazz really could use help in doses in this area, given they allowing teams to shoot 50.9% and being outscored by 7.8 points in the first half. In the second, the Jazz rally by allowing only 44.4% shooting, good enough to allow them to outscore opponents by 1.9 points in the half.
Mario Alejandre: The right scenario for a blockbuster trade.
Take a look at Dan Clayton’s trade likelihood index for the realism of this gift. Fans always fantasize about the deal that just may bring Anthony Davis or someone similar to the Jazz, but Utah’s current context does make a major trade (not THAT major) a real possibility. For example, I wouldn’t mind a trade for Luol Deng, as the Jazz could use a cultural infusion of defensive and toughness.
Dakota Schmidt: A consistent shot for Trey Burke.
“As a distributor, Burke has been able to accustom nicely to Quin Snyder’s offense, but he’s struggled in other ways,” Dakota points out. “Burke having a better perimeter jumper would do a lot to help improve the Jazz rebuilding process.”
Perhaps no Jazz player is receiving more criticism right now than Trey Burke, much of it, frankly, deserved. That said, he is a 2nd year, 22-year-old trying to learn the most demanding position in basketball at arguably the era of deepest point guard play in NBA history. Also, consider that when Burke shoots 40% or better from three this season, the Jazz are 3 – 4 with two of the losses coming by a combined four points. When he shoots below 40%, the team is 3 – 12 and has lost eight times by 11 or more points.
I expected my own gift would already have been given, but remarkably it hasn’t been so I’ll join in the generosity. My Christmas gift to the Utah Jazz would be 14+ shots a game for Derrick Favors. Thus far this season when Favors has shot 14 or more times, the team is 4 – 2 with the losses coming by a combined seven points. Contrast that to when he shots 12 or fewer times: the team is 1 – 11.
It is impossible to know which gifts will settle in the Jazz’s stockings, be it this Christmas or later in the season. But some will. As that happens and the team improves, it will be Christmas time for Jazz fans no matter what time of year.
To the Utah Jazz, those who cover them, and especially all Jazz fans, Merry Christmas from Salt City Hoops!