Among the most common and often divisive topics of basketball debate is the theme of player ceilings and floors. It’s fun in large part because it’s such an inexact science – attempting to look years into the future and decode typically indecipherable factors like coaching, mentality, role and skill optimization is a surefire way to get one side or the other red in the face as they argue elements they almost certainly can’t predict with any legitimate accuracy.
We’d better dive straight in then, am I right?
In all seriousness, there’s a reason these terms are part of the NBA lexicon, and it’s not so frequent Twitter users can test out their mute button. A guy’s physical profile can often be a guide to his potential. There’s value to teams in accurately assessing the baseline and high water mark they should reasonably be able to expect from a given player, even if that’s only part of the battle and determining how likely a guy is to end up on varying ends of the spectrum is often more vital.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the Utah Jazz, possibly the most entertaining test case in the entire league for a prolonged discussion of ceilings and floors. The Jazz have youth at every position, in many cases guys years away from reaching their developmental apex. They also boast a head coach quickly developing a reputation for player development in Quin Snyder1.
What follows is a rough approximation of the ceilings and floors of each of Utah’s primary pieces2. If the ceilings sound ridiculous, that’s because they often are; these are extremely unlikely scenarios where absolutely everything goes right. Conversely, it’d be a large disappointment if any of these guys couldn’t do much beyond their floor. We’ll remove injuries from the conversation3 – this is almost always the worst-case scenario.
In Part I we’ll talk wings and guards, and in tomorrow’s Part II we’ll look at the team’s frontcourt. We’ll work in ascending order based on best-case scenario – starting with the lowest-ceiling guys and working our way to the highest. Let’s get started.
All the time we’ve spent this summer detailing how Trey’s weaknesses may be overstated in certain areas can’t change the fact that his overall template has a pretty low cap on its maximum value. His size disadvantage would be more manageable if he had better agility and a few more secondary skills; he doesn’t at this point, and has compounded issues with his well-noted shot selection.
It’s not that Burke can’t improve – he can and almost certainly will. Even if he refines his shot choice and becomes more efficient all around, though, his physical profile limits the heights he can rise to.
Ceiling: Trey devotes himself to playing more within his means, eliminating offense-killing shots and raising his own confidence level in the process. His good form finally produces positive results as a shooter. He continues to embrace the team system defensively, and adds a few more savvy habits to help mask his physical limitations. He develops as a passer as a natural result of these other improvements.
Floor: We’ve honestly come pretty close to seeing it these last couple years, perhaps with the exception of the final couple months last season. If things get a whole lot worse, he’s out of the league.
Neto is probably the hardest guy to fully pinpoint among Utah’s perimeter players, mostly due to his lack of comparable experience.
What we do know about Neto suggests his ceiling is marginally higher than Burke’s – both would seem to be roughly similar shooting-wise (not very good), with Neto boasting an advantage as a passer and likely defensively. His tape all but assures he’s quicker laterally as well.
Ceiling: Neto is everything advertised defensively and more, supplemented by enough on the other end to allow him to stay on the floor for big chunks. His iffy shooting numbers in the ACB are a thing of the past when his shots come in a more predictable form. He has special vision even at the NBA level and becomes a useful two-way piece.
Floor: No part of his physical profile translates whatsoever. Neto is swallowed by the speed and physicality of the NBA game, unable to stay on the floor except in the perfect matchup. He’s a disaster shooting the ball and teams play him to pass to the extreme, suffocating the offense while he’s on the court.
That’s right, Cotton by a hair over the other two. The reason is simple, and is the same one I used to make Bryce’s case as a potential starter: shooting, shooting, shooting.
Of the three in-house candidates, Cotton simply has by far the longest track record as an effective shooter at every level he’s played at. The link above contains much more detail on all the ways his other perceived weaknesses are often overstated. And on a team with multiple other bona fide creators, Bryce’s superior touch plays as a trump card of sorts among a limited group.
Ceiling: Cotton’s extensive sample as a shooter in college and the D-League holds at the NBA level on mostly open system jumpers, creating space for a starting unit that needs it. His pace paves the way for a more productive offense while a strong defensive culture makes him viable as a high-volume guy. He seizes the starting role this season and continues to provide energetic and effective minutes at a cheap price even when Dante Exum returns.
Floor: Bryce’s shooting drops of a cliff against NBA-level competition, and his offensive efficiency goes with it. His size is a more severe concern; he can’t get a pass off over better, bigger athletes, and is targeted successfully on defense to the point where he can’t stay on the floor. He struggles to find a rotation spot in the NBA.
I wrote about Utah’s two “veteran” presences earlier this summer – neither has a whole lot more development in their future, but both have adapted well to Quin Snyder’s scheme and could continue to make small improvements of a similar nature. They’re reliable depth pieces.
Ceiling: A hot start to the year from 3 for Millsap might be the only tangible difference that’s both moderately conceivable and noticeably helpful. His defense is such an asset that a bit more spacing from him could have a big effect on his overall impact.
Floor: Mostly injuries, or a trip into the tank offensively from either guy. Ingles in particular could lose appeal quickly if his range deserts him.
Most of Alec’s remaining development will come between the ears. He’s proven a capable and engaged defender on the ball when healthy, but serious focus and scheme issues away from it have kept him from realizing his full potential on this end. Meanwhile, just a 27-game sample in Quin Snyder’s system – at the start of last season, no less, when basically no one on the roster had fully grasped the particulars – leaves important questions about how he’ll adapt to a more team-oriented outlook than he might prefer.
Burks’s potential is still quite high. He shot 38 percent from deep last season, and his own suggestion that this is the first time in his entire NBA career his shoulder has been 100 percent could conceivably mean another uptick. If he fits with the scheme and commits mentally on both ends, watch out.
Ceiling: Burks returns to his lethal ways as a slasher, but refines his selection and fits within the motion scheme as a spot-up shooter as well. He’s locked in at all times defensively and becomes a versatile two-way threat, one also capable of spearheading the offense with bench units. He’s good enough to allow Utah to play him as a de facto point guard alongside Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood for large stretches, and draws token All-Star conversation (only from people like me).
Floor: Alec’s surgery has more of a negative effect, undercutting his willingness to absorb contact and messing with his jumper. He never fully buys in on either side of the ball, continuing to space out defensively and insisting on short-circuiting the offense to pursue isolations.
What a pick by the Jazz. Hood looks to have a legitimately high two-way ceiling – he’s already shown range both as a spot-up guy and off the dribble, has serious pick-and-roll chops and is a significantly better defender than anyone expected coming out of Duke.
His biggest question mark is his play as a distributor. The Jazz will need Hood to improve as a passer if he wants to continue to see time as a lead ball-handler; 2.8 assists per-36-minutes isn’t cutting it in this sort of system. Teams will get hip to too heavy of a score-first attitude in a hurry.
Could Rodney be an All-Star someday? Listen, it’s not likely, but this is about ultimate ceilings, and that’s within his. A 40+ percent 3-point shooter who can run pick-and-roll and defend at a better than average level gets in those conversations, and none of those things are unreasonable for Hood based on what we’ve seen if he can stay healthy.
Ceiling: Hood becomes one of the premier shooting wings in the league, a guy capable of punishing defenses for going under his picks just as easily as nailing spot-up Js. He adds some incisive passing to his patient pick-and-roll game and combines with Gordon Hayward as a devastating one-two punch on the wing.
Floor: Nagging injuries don’t just rob Hood of games, but also of any ability to develop a rhythm and rapport with his teammates. He never improves as a passer and his shooting is up and down. He tops out defensively early in his career and is never above average.
Hayward realized much of his long term potential last season; all that’s left now are bits of refinement and continued chemistry improvements. Leaps from Hood or Burks (or Dante Exum down the line) could lessen his overall burden offensively and perhaps allow him to put a bit more energy into being the plus defender he’s capable of, but the time for new skill development is likely close to over.
The exception here could be in the post. Hayward has the profile of a guy who could operate from the block – a nifty turnaround J, good fundamentals and some hefty muscle he added last summer. But for some reason he’s never had any real interest in being there; the presence of two non-shooting bigs in many of his lineups can’t help. Still, it’s not out of the question for Gordon to make this a bit more of a point of emphasis, especially when teams put guys on him who can’t match his physicality.
Ceiling: Hayward busts out a LeBron-esque mid-career post game (to a lesser degree, of course), using his solid fundamentals and heady passing skills to add an entirely new element to his diverse offensive game. Slightly less pressure as the team’s only creator rubs off elsewhere and allows him to shoot a hair more accurately and defend a bit more intensely, and he makes multiple All-Star games as the Jazz become one of the West’s elite.
Floor: The cast around him never improves enough to ease his load. Hayward plateaus offensively, eventually wearing down and damaging his shooting. He’s too exhausted to be anything but a placeholder defensively, and the 14-15 season ends up as his best.
Frankly, I’m just glad I get to write a full segment about Dante where I can focus only on the future and not begin sobbing uncontrollably.
The tip top of Exum’s ceiling, however unlikely based on what we’ve seen, could represent one of the more singularly unique players in NBA history. He has the athletic potential to legitimately be one of the best players at his position on both ends of the ball, a nightmare penetrator who can also check up to three positions on the other end effectively.
Of course, the gap between his ceiling and floor is almost certainly the largest on the team and one of the widest in the NBA among guys his age. It’s just as possible Dante sees residual effects from his injury, remains timid, and tops out as an above-average defender who brings basically nothing on the other end.
Ceiling: Exum returns from injury stronger and more confident, building on the brief but impressive performance we saw from him over the summer in Utah. He becomes a 3-point shooter who merits consideration from defenses, and starts drawing fouls and hitting his free-throws at a much higher rate when he realizes that creating contact is, in fact, a good thing. Meanwhile, he becomes the top point guard defender in the entire league, capable of switching in tons of scenarios and bothering even the game’s best with his lightning recoveries and 6’9 wingspan.
Floor: Dante is a shell of himself after the injury, failing to even reach the mostly pedestrian level we saw last season. He remains terrified of contact and getting into the lane, never develops as a shooter whatsoever and even loses a step or two on defense while afraid to fully engage his body after a non-contact ACL tear.
Agree with my order? Disagree? Leave your comments below. Check back to Salt City Hoops tomorrow to see Part II, featuring the team’s bigs.