Three X Factors for the ’13-14 Jazz

July 26th, 2013 | by Dan Clayton

During a great discussion on last week’s Saturday Show where we dissected Dennis Lindsay’s comments about the current roster, I suddenly started to see players grouped in a completely different way than how we always view them.

Particularly during roster transitions, fans frequently discuss rosters in terms of who will start, who will be the best players or who will improve the most. But on Saturday I suddenly found myself looking up and down a roster trying to imagine which ones would make the difference between, say, 25 wins and 35 wins.

This year, as I thought about it, is mostly about getting guys used to doing in 30+ minutes a night what they were previously doing in 15-25. There are three guys who I believe have a pretty wide range in terms of how they’ll impact Utah’s win total this year. But first, let me explain why the list is only three.

May improve but probably won’t dramatically swing the Jazz’s win total

Enes Kanter is the poster boy for the argument above. Kanter has pretty consistently seen 13-15 minutes a night over the course of his career and has done really well against mostly B-teams. With a PER of 17.6 last season and good overall offensive/defensive numbers on Synergy, Kanter has mostly made good use of his limited minutes.

Now figure that he’ll be playing 30 mpg or more this season. Taking his efficiency, defense and per-minute production and stretching it over twice the time is a huge request, to say nothing of the fact that his competition level will go up decidedly.

My point is not that Kanter won’t have a strong year or that he won’t rise to the challenge. Only that there may a harder ceiling on his impact as he doubles his minutes. As such, I think his focus this year will more about maintaining his production.

Similar story for Alec Burks, although in his case his advanced numbers weren’t that hot to begin with. He was an extremely inefficient offensive player last year and his defensive synergy numbers were 10% worse than Randy Foye’s. He has a bright future and a nice set of tools, but right now he’s working from an 11 PER and an EWA that is in line with a replacement-level player.

So take Burks’ situation and apply the math from my Kanter example: Alec will need to go from 18 minutes per contest to something in the 25-30 range, while not just maintaining his 2012-13 performance levels but actually remediating them to some degree.

Several other guys come with caveats. Jeremy Evans has played almost exclusively against third units for his entire career, Brandon Rush will be getting his stride back after missing 81.5 games and I’m not expecting an against-all-odds career resurgence from Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins. I’m not sure there will huge roles there for Ian Clark, Jerel McNeal, Rudy Gobert or even (to a degree) John Lucas III.

An interesting case is Derrick Favors, but I ultimately left him here largely because I think his present impact is so completely understated. In short: I think he’s already producing at an elite level on one end that it’s hard to imagine a huge swing from where he’s at.

Favors was 47th in Defensive Win Shares (or top 10%) last season. DWS is a flawed stat to begin with because it doesn’t take into account certain nonquantifiable defensive behaviors — like how we saw Favors directing the D last year and showing the vets where they were supposed to be. But if you look at the 46 guys ahead of him, only Lamar Odom played fewer minutes. I think once we see regular minutes out of Favors, we’re going to realize how elite he already is defensively. In fact, he had the 19th best D-Rating of any player with 1700+ minutes.

So what’s Favors’ range for next year? I’d argue his floor is pretty high given how good he already is defensively. His ceiling will probably be determined on offense, where I think we can expect some new tools, but some similar challenges as far as maintaining efficiency with a big jump in minutes and touches.

That leaves us three guys who have a pretty wide range between best case and worst case scenario for 2013-14.

Three guys I think will really determine the Jazz’s win total

Gordon Hayward

In the best case scenario, Hayward makes this his team and becomes a quasi All-Star this season. Already averaging a 17/4/4 per 36 minutes. He’s likely to benefit from an offense that is increasingly tailored around his strengths, and he’ll have the ball in his hands to create a lot more. He’ll have some efficiency battles with his increased minutes, too, but he already made a major minute jump two seasons ago, and the jump from 30 to 36 isn’t as harsh as, say, 18 to 30.

On the flip side, there isn’t a ton of encouraging history for players making a fourth-year leap. If you look at Hayward’s three-year comps based on Win Shares, you’ll see a LOT of guys who have had a near identical career so far: one year of having not much impact at all followed by two years in the 4-5 WS range. Very few of those guys ever became bona fide stars if they hadn’t by that point. Probably the most encouraging case in his comps is Danny Manning, who after a similar three-year start when on to be an All-Star and maxed out at 9 WS. Everyone else stayed in the 5-8 WS range (at best) for the rest of their career.

As I mentioned on air last week, very few of those guys in his comps were handed the reins to their franchises after year four, so maybe those comps mean nothing. But the difference between a Jazz team with a just-OK Gordon and a fully unleashed Gordon is pretty wide, which is what lands him here.

Marvin Williams

I’ve already written this summer about how weird the offense was these last couple of years in terms of both pace and shot distribution. Those might have been trends that worked directly against Marvin, a player whose size and slashing was wasted by hiding him in the corner like a Shane Battier-style spot shooter. A refreshed Jazz offense might bring out the version of Marv we all hoped for when he arrived last summer. This, combined with a quietly elite wing-defense game could be a nice ace in the hole in Utah’s wing rotation.

But on the flip side, Williams will be coming off injury and may not even see the court until 20-30 games in. At that point, if he struggles to get rhythm back or if the rotation is set, his impact could be severely limited.

Trey Burke

The rookie guard’s range of possible performance is all over the map. On the one hand, you see a guy that pre-draft analytic projections weren’t terribly kind to and who didn’t exactly buck those criticisms in Orlando. On the other hand, you’re looking at someone who is an early favorite for a starting spot and is even getting ROY mentions based on his expected role as a rookie.

First off, I don’t think it’s a lock that Burke is starting in Game 1. Second, I think the size and summer league knocks on him are fairly silly, given history. Having said that, I’m not sure any one player can impact the Jazz’s W-L as much as Burke. If he really plays like a ROY, Utah may wind up way ahead of schedule on their rebuild and might push into the 35-40 win terrain. If he has a hard time with the pace, size and physicality of this big boy league, the Jazz’s lack of option could put them in trouble — and the basement.

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton

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10 Comments

  1. Dallan Forsyth says:

    I think you are underestimating Kanter’s value. We have seen him play well and frankly dominate the best Centers in the league. It is not his fault his coach valued low efficiency offense and horrible defense in favor of him. We have seen him against Bynum, Howard, Perkins and Ibaka and some of the other young bigs in the league. He has not had a problem with anyone and if he does he adjusts quickly

    • Dan Clayton says:

      I actually didn’t say much at all about his “value”… just commenting on his variance. The difference between his worst/best case this year is probably pretty narrow. If he takes his per-15 production and spreads it across 30+ mpg, he’ll be an elite big man already.

      As far as having seen him “dominate the best centers in the league,” you’re just flat wrong there. The Jazz have closely limited the minutes he plays against first-tier dudes.

  2. T. says:

    I don’t think Kanter has been undervalued at all. Did you see him being eaten alive by Carlos Boozer, because he was afraid to be physical with Boozer. If Kanter needs to improve anything it’s his defense, otherwise he will be another Al Jefferson and we all know how that story ends.

    Also, I think this article is off base a little bit, the author was correct regarding Hayward, I’m not knocking Hayward, but I think he’s as good as he’s going to get and will never be a number one scorer and if that’s who the Jazz are expecting him to be next year, then there won’t be very man W’s in their future next season. The two spot is where the Jazz need the most help. I was actually hoping the Jazz would’ve gone after Danny Granger after drafting TB3, and put Hayward at the two and Granger at the three or vice versa. Hopefully Ian Clark or Brandon Rush can stabilize that position and become go to scorers for the Jazz aside from Hayward.

    I’ve been really disappointed in Evans development and his work ethic and I don’t think he will be anything more than a tall kid/man who can jump high and dunk a basketball, but not much more. If Gobert can develop some offensive moves and some weight, he’s going to be an awesome.

    • Dan Clayton says:

      I think you missed the point, as I’m not talking about overall quality of players. I’m talking about the range of reasonable expectations for their 2013-14 performance. In other words, I’m not saying unequivocally that Hayward is “as good as he’s going to get”; I’m saying there’s a chance he’s as good as he’s going to get and there’s a chance he plays at a near All-star level, and the difference between those two probably is what determines if the Jazz win 20 games or 35 games.

      Same with Burke – the difference between his best case (ROY winner, Lillard-type immediate impact) and worst case (undersized guy who struggles to transition into the league) represents a serious W/L difference for the Jazz. And for Marv, I could see him contributing 0 wins to the Jazz total or I could see him revitalizing himself in a way many thought would happen last year.

      One final thing: it was Favors whose impact I said is undervalued, not Kanter’s.

  3. Geoff says:

    Good article. I predict Kanter has a great offensive year, I wouldnt be surprised to see him hover around the 20 ppg mark all year. Im not sure what Favors has shown fans to make them think he should be our #1 post option this year. Frankly I would be surprised to see his per 36 numbers improve here. He’s a beast on d and I love him, but I think Kanter has shown much more offensive “potential”.

  4. I’m just happy to finally see Kanter, Hayward and Favors play without anyone in their way. I can see a future Bird/McHale/Parish combo arising.

  5. Justin says:

    “I’ve been really disappointed in Evans development and his work ethic” – Pardon but what clue in the universe do you have regarding Jeremy Evans work ethic?

    “It is not his fault his coach valued low efficiency offense and horrible defense in favor of him” – Yeah, like the darkside of Jazz Nation would not have called Corbin a moron for benching Al Jefferson and like we would ever attract any free agent again if Corbin had. I love my Jazz but dang if there aint a lot of “fans” who whine just to whine.

    • Dallan Forsyth says:

      Um.. I never said bench Al and never play him. But could he have lost 10 minutes and we would have been a better team? Yes.

  6. Ben says:

    Are we, as Jazz fans, really expecting Hayward to make a leap? Doesn’t it kind of seem like 5-8 WS is just “who this guy is?” I’m all about tempered expectations. I would have gone even farther than you did in your section on Hayward; I’d have predicted, “Gordon Hayward will probably never be an All-Star; deal with it.”

  7. Clint Johnson says:

    I believe Favors has the greatest ability to be a difference maker. While I agree he is already defensively elite, there is a huge ability for him to create or cost wins through his offense and fouling. I haven’t given up the belief that he can become a good post scorer, at least as good as Dwight Howard (especially if he shoots free throws respectably, which he should). And his ability to defend at his best without fouling will determine whether he controls the game defensively or only influences it in fits and starts.

    A Derrick Favors who serves as a solid first option in the post and controls the game defensively for 34+ minutes a game will result in a lot of wins.

    A Derrick Favors who gets his points off of the perimeter work of Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke and spends a lot of time either playing cautiously on defense or sitting on the bench with foul trouble will mean a lot of losses.

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