As the season slowly, but surely winds down, the off-season draws closer. It will once again be another vitally important one–one that could affect the trajectory of the Utah Jazz franchise for many years to come. There are obviously many things that will need to be addressed:
Yes, it will be eventful, but as all Jazz fans are keenly aware of, the NBA Draft is the first item in the summer calendar. Everything else will be predicated upon what the team does in June. Utah has three picks: its own first-rounder, an unprotected first-round pick from the Golden State Warriors and its own second-round pick.
As a result, Jazz followers have been doing a lot of score and record watching with these picks in mind. Here’s a quick primer as we enter the last seven weeks of the season and how things can affect where Utah ultimately drafts.
First. here is a quick snapshot of where things fall for the league’s cellar dwellers. I took the liberty of changing the “Games Behind” to reflect how the teams at the bottom fare compared to the Milwaukee Bucks, who took what appeared to be a decent, but bizarre roster to tremendous low depths.
|Los Angeles Lakers||21||40||.344||8.5|
|New York Knicks||22||40||.355||9.0|
|New Orleans Pelicans||24||37||.393||11.5|
It is safe to say that the race for the NBA’s worst record is a two-team affair, with the tankalicious Sixers making a dramatic push for it, courtesy of a 15-game losing streak. It is also easy to assert that these two teams are not “catch-able.” Here is what these other squads have remaining on their respective schedules as of March 5th, including games against .500 teams and back-t0-back sets:
|New York Knicks||10||11||11||4|
|Los Angeles Lakers||12||9||15||5|
|New Orleans Pelicans||14||7||12||3|
Let’s start by looking at the teams with better records than the Jazz. The Cavs have few games against .500 teams, while the Pelicans have a home-heavy finish. Detroit has enough padding, so all three should end the season with a better record than Utah. The Kings spend a lot of time away from Sacramento, so that will be interesting to watch.
Of the teams with worse records, the Knicks could be the ones who win enough to fall behind the Jazz in Draft order (because their pick goes to Denver, they have little incentive to lose). The others will be the main competition.
Now let’s turn to the Golden State pick, which currently sits at #23. In fact, that is the lowest this pick could fall, as it would require a lot for the Warriors to surpass any of the teams with better records. The pick will either be in #13 or #14 or will be in the low #21-#23 range. Here are the teams within Golden State’s range:
|Golden State Warriors||38||24||.613||-|
Obviously the focus is on the other three teams battling it out for those last few seeds. Toronto and Chicago are included here because they could finish ahead of the Warriors–something that would bump the pick down a spot or two if Golden State is indeed among the Western Conference’s top eight. Here is what these teams for the remainder of the season as of March 5th:
|Golden State Warriors||13||8||10||4|
Just based on this information, it’s safe to say that the Warriors have the more favorable schedule–home-dominant and less .500 opponents. This is not what Jazz fans want to hear. The Mavericks also have a nice schedule. The Suns and Grizzlies might end up duking it out for that final berth, but both have tremendously difficult roads ahead–especially Memphis. It should be noted that the Raptors and Bulls have some fairly smooth sailing, especially with a slew of games against the lowly East’s most lowly teams.
If I was a betting man, I predict the Jazz go 6-16 to finish the year, ending with a 27-55 record and the sixth worst-record behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando, Boston and the Lakers. I can see Golden State finishing seventh in the West, with Toronto ending with a better record. This would give Utah picks #6, #21 and #36. Of course May’s NBA Draft Lottery could alter Utah’s pick (either moving up or down).
Yes, the games have be played and anything could happen–unexpected or dramatic injuries, some teams resting players down the stretch, etc. Jazz fans will be eagerly watching, holding onto hopes of finishing with a top three pick, along with a second Lottery pick. Stranger things have happened.
How do you see things shaking out? Feel free to share your predictions in the comments.