With a nod to yearbook staffs everywhere, we’re pulling out our own “Most Likely” ballot.
Which current Jazz players have a shot at being in the conversation for All-Star appearances, defensive awards or even MVP discussions someday? Maybe nobody, but that won’t stop us from asking the questions in the spirit of pimple-faced high-schoolers the land over.
These aren’t meant to be predictions. Rather, we’re answering the question: if we have to pick somebody that’s on the roster today to be part of these conversations going forward, who would it be? And we’ll even throw in some fun ones.
Current Jazz player most likely to become the next Jazz All-Star: Gordon Hayward.
If any two of these four things happen this year and the rest of his game stays fairly consistent, Gordon is going to be an 18-20 PPG scorer:
None of those four things are unlikely, so Hayward being an 18-5-5 player is seemingly not that far off, and 20-5-5 is at the very least realistic. If that’s the kind of output Hayward’s producing, then he’ll start hearing AS pub as soon as the Jazz start getting back to .500ish ball. Which won’t likely be this season, but who knows? I also subscribe to the theory1 that Hayward striving to stretch into his 2013-14 role will help him going forward.
…Most likely to make All-Defensive teams or compete for DPOY at some point: Derrick Favors.
Props to Rudy Gobert for at least making me stop to think about this one. Zach Lowe laid out the reasons this week that Gobert could someday make an impact like Tyson Chandler, a one-time DPOY winner. But Gobert is a ways off. The typical recent DPOY winner is someone who captains his team’s defense and has a more consistent, steady impact on his team’s defensive identity. They also play — without exception in the last 24 seasons — 33 minutes or more per game, so it’s just not an award that guys earn from bench roles.
For his part, Favors’ tape is kinder than his numbers are. Game film shows he’s already got a solid defensive understanding that doesn’t show up in the numbers. He rarely makes mistakes within the team defense, but was surrounded by one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year. As the personnel around him improves, people will start to see what I’ve been saying since late in the JefferJazz era: that Favors is better at D than we’re giving him credit for.
…Most likely to be a serious MVP candidate at some point: Dante Exum.
This one probably deserve some explaining.
It’s a tad unfair to pin this one on a kid who is barely clinging to his rotation spot at the World Cup. But it is what it is. If anybody currently on the roster is going to sniff the top of some MVP ballots some day, it’s going to mean someone made the leap to bona fide star. I’m not sure if anybody on this team has that in his future, including Exum, but really good players don’t just turn into MVPs. It’s the whole reason the Jazz had to swing for the fences on June 26. Hayward could make multiple All-Star teams and average something crazy like 22-6-7 and still not really have a historical precedent to get him into the conversation.
So far, only two modern MVPs have scored fewer than 23 points per game in their MVP seasons: Steve Nash and Magic Johnson2. That’s further evidence that it would be easier for Exum to scale the mountain than some others; elite point guards seem to have alternate criteria and can get away with scoring less as long as they’re also dishing like crazy. But whether Exum — or anybody — works his way into the conversation, it will be years away. That’s because only two modern MVPs have led a team that won fewer than 54 games3, and the average team of a modern MVP won 61 games.
There’s no telling when the Jazz are going to be good enough to have a serious candidate, but if it happens in the next 5-7 years, it’s probably because Exum hit the top of his range as a prospect.
…Most likely to win All-Rookie honors: Rodney Hood.
So is it a contradiction to say Exum is the only guy with a realistic shot at an All-NBA peak but that he might not be the best rookie on his own team this season? Not at all. Hood plays a position where minutes will be available and has a skill set Utah needs help with. And, as people around the globe can now attest, Exum has some road in front of him.
(Not that I’m super concerned about Exum’s summer. Yeah, it was disappointing to see his aggressiveness disappear after the first LVSL game. And yes, a guy with purported star potential should probably be able to stay on the floor with his NT for more than 8.5 minutes a night. But I see a lot of low-hanging fruit relative to Exum’s development. I think the Jazz’s staff can get him back on track in a hurry, and to the Australians’ defense, that’s just not their priority right now. They’re in the midst of a competitive tournament, so the coaches don’t owe Dante anything necessarily. I think he’ll be more of a priority the second he lands back in Utah, and that means working on some big early gains relative to his conditioning, his off-ball play, his use of screens, etc. All areas where they can make some fast progress.)
…Most likely to be in trade rumors this season: Enes Kanter.
At some point this season I’ll revisit my full ranking of least-to-most likely to be traded by the deadline. But here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Hayward4, Favors and Exum aren’t going anywhere unless an offer is overwhelming. A decent amount of the roster is unproven talent on minimum deals that will fetch little value. So in terms of players who could ostensibly headline an important deal and would actually be available, the list is pretty limited.
On that remaining list, Kanter and Alec Burks are the names that have some value around the league, and Kanter is a bit more marketable given that he’s a big man. Nobody’s entirely safe, though, on a team that at this point is mostly a collection of assets. The operative question with any of these guys will be: is he worth more to us as a trade asset today than he will be as a basketball asset in 2017?
…Most likely to establish himself as a locker room voice: Trey Burke.
Burke has already established himself as someone who will speak frankly, and who wants to be a leader. Hayward has a ton of credibility, but is still not fully comfortable as the rah-rah guy. Favors is getting a bit more comfortable there. But I think Burke will be an important vocal leader for Utah, starting right away.
…Most likely to get RJ/Raja level disdain from fans: Trevor Booker.
I don’t think Steve Novak will play enough to draw ire from Jazz fans, which means the vet backlash is probably going to be headed toward Booker. Which is too bad. He’s only 26, and a 4-year vet. Moreover, I think there’s a chance he could have a nice impact on this team. But for him to play, he’ll cut into someone else’s frontcourt minutes, like fan favorites Jeremy Evans or Gobert. I could even see him supplanting Kanter in certain lineup situations, which won’t go over well with a number of fans.
…Most likely Core Fiver to come off the bench: Burks.
While we’re on the subject of things that would anger many fans…
Burks is poised to take another important step this year, but there are a lot of scenarios where I could see him being asked to make that contribution in a reserve role. He’s really well suited to that bench attacker role, and I could see situations where either Hood or Exum starts some games at the two so that Snyder has some balance and isn’t stuck with a bench full of question marks.
…Most likely to land in Twitter jail: Gobert.
This one isn’t even close, really. Now that Kanter’s online persona has been tamed, the sometimes salty, sometimes sarcastic and sometimes confrontational Frenchman has to be the highest priority on the social media watch list.
…Most likely to play a smaller role in ’14-15 than people suspect: Novak.
I know they said the right things in terms of basketball reasons for that acquisition, but I’m not sold. I think they like what Booker and Evans bring. Novak’s whole career has been as a fringe rotation player.
…Most likely to play a bigger role in ’14-15 than people suspect: Exum.
Even after a lackluster summer, I think Exum is going to get a lot of opportunities to play this year.