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
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.
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.
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.