Utah Jazz Ceilings and Floors, Part II: Bigs

September 16th, 2015 | by Ben Dowsett
Melissa Majchrzak NBAE via Getty Images

Melissa Majchrzak NBAE via Getty Images

Yesterday in this space, I looked at each guard and wing likely to make Utah’s 15-man roster through the lens of their potential floor and ceiling as an NBA player. I ranked the group in reverse order of ceiling.

Today, we move to the Jazz’s bigs. For a full description of the methodology or to check out Part I, click here. Let’s get straight to it. As a reminder, we’re counting in ascending order based on ceiling — the higher the ceiling, the later on the list they’ll appear.

5. Tibor Pleiss

I’ve written at length about Pleiss recently, and his summer continues to provide nuggets suggesting he’ll be at least a moderately useful NBA player in the right situations. He’s already 26, though, and from a Jazz perspective the only area he’ll likely look to attain new heights in will be his distance shooting.

His floor and ceiling aren’t that far apart – neither are particularly sky high. He pretty much hits his head on the ceiling if he becomes a legitimate NBA 3-point shooter, and bangs into the floor if he doesn’t plus struggles with strength and speed concerns.

Ceiling: Pleiss gets off to a hot start from deep in Utah and quickly develops a reputation as a threat, forcing teams to guard him out there and opening up the floor for the Jazz while he plays. He grasps Quin Snyder’s scheme quickly and uses an NBA-level strength regimen to make up some of his disadvantage there.

Floor: Tibor can’t shoot at all, never bulks up, and is bottled up in his bread-and-butter roll man game when teams realize he can’t make the next pass if they crowd him on the catch. He’s back to Europe within a few years.

4. Trevor Booker

Booker is intriguing for the Jazz, not because he has new skills left to develop (he likely doesn’t at 27 years old) but because an alteration to his points of emphasis could go a long way to changing the way he’s viewed by opponents. From this perspective, his ceiling is indeed still a bit higher than what we’ve seen thus far.

And really, it’s hard to imagine his floor being all that low based on what we’ve seen. Trevor can be a hot and cold player at times, but his general baseline for full-season production is well established and would only see a drastic drop-off with injury or creeping age down the line. He’ll continue to be a reliable option for the Jazz as long as he’s around, with the potential for a moderate uptick if he ups his shooting volume with good results.

Ceiling: Booker doubles or even triples his three-point attempts without hurting his accuracy, becoming a legitimate floor stretcher for the Jazz. He stays in town on a bargain deal and functions as a vital change of pace piece for Utah in matchup-oriented playoff series.

Floor: He’s not able to increase his volume without drastically hurting his efficiency, and stops shooting 3s altogether. His off the bounce game dries up as teams play him that way, and Trey Lyles nabs his de facto third big spot within a couple years.

3. Trey Lyles

Lyles might be second on the Jazz roster behind only Dante Exum as far as the potential gap between his ceiling and floor. There are outcomes where he’s a legitimately dangerous playmaking 4, a knockdown shooter with excellent ball skills who has the chops to defend both the interior and the perimeter. There are also plenty where his jumper flames out, he spends all game driving into guys who are prepared for him to do so, and he’s such a liability as a rebounder that he can’t even stay on the floor in many matchups.

At the very least, Trey’s advanced handle and excellent agility at the 4 should make for a guy who can be used in creative ways offensively, much like we saw in Summer League when he acted as ball-handler in a number of 4/5 pick-and-rolls with bits of success. If he can supplement that to some degree and commit himself to defensive rebounding, it’s unlikely his floor is much of a concern.

Ceiling: Lyles proves Jazz brass correct, lighting it up from deep early in his career and establishing himself as a shooter, a perception that sticks. The Jazz use this and his lateral mobility to make him into a Kevin Love lite-style offensive fulcrum at times. He adds strength down low and becomes a solid rebounder, completing a versatile defensive package that allows him to add to a switch-heavy culture while he’s on the court.

Floor: Lyles can’t shoot at all but thinks he can, torpedoing the offense while he plays. He never places an emphasis on improving as a rebounder and is a big liability against size. He does more damage than good, bouncing around between the D-League and the NBA for multiple seasons before eventually flaming out.

2. Derrick Favors

Utah’s future potential could be tied in small part to how much upside Favors really has left. He’s already a fantastic player, the Jazz’s most balanced guy with above average skills nearly everywhere.

Can he go from good to great (or from great to elite) in a few more areas? It’s certainly not out of the question. Favors’ accuracy from midrange spiked up last season even as he took a higher share of his shots from there than ever before; could he take it out to the 3-point line at some point? He’s barely 24, which remains sort of insane. There’s still room for improvement around the edges and within the team scheme.

A potentially big question: Can he guard out to the perimeter on a more regular basis if teams downsize against the Favors-Gobert frontline? It’s Rudy who stays inside in these scenarios, and Favors has shown a mixed bag here in a limited sample. Opponents will be searching for ways to mitigate the duo’s numerous advantages – you can bet they’ll try spacing them out.

Ceiling: Favors extends his range out beyond the 3-point line and cracks 75 percent from the charity stripe. He perfects his footwork and timing on the perimeter, and proves capable of checking smaller 4s for big minutes without losing his ability to dominate them down low. Everything else crests as he hits his physical prime, and the Jazz have two of the league’s top five big men for several years in a row.

Floor: Last year’s uptick from midrange was a mirage, and Derrick reverts back to being mostly a non-threat beyond 10 feet like he was earlier in his career. Teams start to go small against Favors-Gobert with too much success by stringing them out, and they never develop enough offensive punch when teams realize both are only truly effective as roll men. A Jazz fan base expecting the world starts taking sides and demanding one be traded1.

1. Rudy Gobert

Gobert is already perhaps the most destructive defensive force in the world at barely 23 years old, and if we’re talking optimal outcomes only he tops the list. He’s also already becoming one of the league’s better roll men in the two-man game; the addition of incisive passing and a bit more touch around the basket last season and this summer has made him into a versatile option teams can’t simply load up on down low without consequence. He’s been working on a floater throughout the offseason2, and even has a couple baseline moves in his bag from the right block.

If each and every one of these elements continues progressing, or even if God forbid he ever develops a reliable 10-to-12-foot jumper and can sniff 75 percent from the line, his ceiling is almost limitless. The biggest crux here is whether he improves enough on the block to consistently punish teams for downsizing against him, something we’ll see more of this season, but he easily has the physical profile to do so.

Ceiling: Rudy develops real touch in the post and starts toasting smaller guys, forcing teams to leave him in big-on-big matchups where he always has a large edge. He has a workable jumper, hits 75 percent or more of his free-throws, and even further refines his versatile defensive game to become head and shoulders above any other player on that end. He’s a fringe MVP candidate in one or two seasons during his prime.

Floor: Gobert’s development offensively hits a wall. His stroke never improves and actually regresses as it saps his confidence, and he becomes a liability from the free-throw line. He remains slightly rough around the edges defensively – still bites on too many pump fakes and over-pursues too often. Worst of all, he can’t punish smaller guys when teams go tiny on him, and he’s even played off the floor at important times.


Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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  1. Curt says:

    Fabulous job, Ben. In terms of raw athletic ability, I think of Wilt (who really only had two shots — dunk, fall-away jumper) but still scored 100 points in a game; and Bill Russell (who had a limited offensive arsenal but dominated anyway).

  2. This team is amazing. I’m so excited for the season to start.

  3. Ryan says:

    I’m very excited for this team. I like your list but would swap Favors and Gobert in the 1 & 2 spot because of Favors offensive potential. Goberts impact on the game will continue to be huge but he’ll be lucky to ever avg. more than 12 points a game unless, like AK, he’s forced to be the #1 or #2 option in a rebuilding scenario. Favors is going to be a 20 and 10 player. He could be that guy this year if he sees 35 min. a night.

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