The season is, at long-last, finally here. Media day is in the books, two-a-days are going, and Saturday’s annual scrimmage will give the public the first look at the new era of Utah Jazz basketball. In less than a week, the first of at least 86 broadcasts will be on television sets and Internet streams everywhere. It’s like Christmas time for NBA fans.
There is a lot of excitement in the air. There always is at this time of the year, but there is more this season. The mix of anticipation, uncertainty, and optimism is palpable. The time has come for the Jazz to see what they have in their young guys. Given the fact that there has been so much roster turnover this off-season, some of the main storylines in Utah’s camp will be positional battles. Who will fit what role?
In a two-part series, I’ll break down my prognostications. The first half will focus on the starting five, while the second will outline the reserves.
STARTING POINT GUARD
Candidates: Trey Burke, John Lucas III
My friends Andy Larsen, Austin Horton, and Daniel Tate did a nice job dissecting this particular topic on last week’s Salt City Hoops Saturday Show. I too think there is little debate here: my guess is Trey Burke will show that he is the guy from the get-go. We can delve into history, but it really is a new day and mindset (while Jerry Sloan did opt for Keith McLeod and Milt Palacio over Deron Williams, he has since admitted that he should’ve gone with DWill from the start). With the emphasis on youth, Burke will be given the keys from day one and Tyrone Corbin and company will see what they have in their high profile rookie point guard. Side note: I love hearing about Burke’s (and Alec Burks’) time with legend John Stockton. That tutoring seems to be impactful already.
Prediction: Trey Burke
STARTING SHOOTING GUARD
Candidates: Alec Burks, Brandon Rush, Gordon Hayward
This could be the most intriguing and suspenseful battle going forward. By many accounts, Alec Burks has been one of the most impressive guys this off-season, including his hard work at P3. That bodes well for Burks, who could potentially see the biggest boosts in on-court production this season (seeing as he has proven the least thus far in his career of the young players). If he can come in and show his improvement in defense, ballhandling, and shooting, this spot may be his for the taking. Brandon Rush brings a lot to the table. A self-stated “3-and-D” guy, Rush’s combination of perimeter prowess and defensive effort could be a big boon for the Jazz. While he is cleared for full contact, the Jazz will probably (and wisely so) be cautious. One of Gordon Hayward’s biggest strengths is his versatility. While I personally prefer him at shooting guard, given the personnel at each spot, it makes more sense at the three. I see Corbin starting out with Burks in the opening five, but continually analyzing things as the season progresses. There may come a time where Burks’ offense might be more needed off the bench, while Rush’s skills could compliment the starters.
Prediction: Alec Burks
STARTING SMALL FORWARD
Candidates: Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson
Again, there seems little to question here. Gordon Hayward is the leader of the team now and should be the opening day small forward starter. The only scenario where this doesn’t happen is if the aforementioned prediction does not occur and Corbin slots Hayward in at shooting guard. If that happened, it would be a curious competition between two vets in Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson. Both can shoot from the outside, but if his health is there, Williams’ defense and familiarity would probably give him the edge.
Prediction: Gordon Hayward
STARTING POWER FORWARD and STARTING CENTER
Candidates: Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter
The decisions to not bring back Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap clearly paved the way for the Favors and Kanter show. There will be times where these two will be interchangeable at the power positions. It will be exciting to see how they can mesh together, given how relatively little they’ve been paired up in the their young careers. Defensively, they could be formidable. The offense, however, will be something to watch carefully. Can Favors become more consistent? Will Kanter’s offensively elite play as a reserve translate in a much more prominent role? One thing that will be a delight: these two should dominate the boards.
By the way, how wonderful was it to see images of Karl Malone working with not only this duo, but Jeremy Evans, Rudy Gobert, and Andris Biedrins? It gets me giddy.
Predictions: Derrick Favors at PF and Enes Kanter at C
The youth movement is officially underway.
Stay tuned for the second installment, covering the positional battles off the bench.