Utah’s Core Four: Daring to Dream

July 22nd, 2013 | by Laura Thompson

What could the Jazz’s season look like if the Core 4 made some great strides in improving their games? Obviously, we’d love for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to each average 30 and 18, but what are some realistic numbers for each that might be considered a best-case scenario? And what would that mean for the Jazz on the season?

What if Derrick Favors is able to improve his offensive game enough to average 17 and 12? If he develops a go-to move in the post—and one would assume that an off-season under the tutelage of Karl Malone would provide that at the very least—that’s a feasible goal. I suspect Favors will get around 12-14 FGA per game, leading to 12-14 points per game. Several more points per game could easily come from the free-throw line. Favors, like The Mailman, has improved at the line every year he’s been in the league, from 56% to 65% to 69%. A jump to 72% from the line is reasonable, as is throwing in another attempt or two per game from the line. One aspect of his game that I’m especially intrigued to see this season is his touch around the rim. Favors hasn’t always had the best luck with rolls and bounces, so if he could develop slightly better touch around the rim, that could help. On the defensive end, if Favors can continue his dominance on the defensive end, he can almost single-handedly prevent teams from effectively running the pick and roll, especially late in the fourth quarter of close games. That defensive impact cannot be understated.

What if Enes Kanter is able to string together more dominant games like his 23-point, 22-rebound explosion last year? Obviously, he won’t be expected to hit 20-20 consistently, but that game showed an impressive arsenal of offensive moves and an effort and intensity on the glass. If Kanter continues to show an increased range, one we’ve been hearing about since his rookie season and seeing in small doses along the way, it will open up the floor for his teammates while freeing up his post game. Kanter’s free-throw percentage increased drastically from his rookie to sophomore year, going from 67% to 80%, which is more in line with what we’d expect of someone with a good outside shot. One thing to look for with Kanter is his rebounding rate; will it be a rate similar to last season, or can he return to his rookie-season rebounding date? If so, he could be an absolute monster on the glass. As it stands, I envision a realistic best-cast scenario where Kanter averages 16 and 11. If he weren’t rehabbing a shoulder injury, I’d bump the numbers up a bit. I see Kanter as the wild card among the Core 4—one who could blow up more than expected.

What if Hayward is able to develop into the jack-of-all-trades, all-around player we all hoped Kirilenko would become? Don’t worry, Russian novels won’t be part of the pre-game ritual; full-back tattoos from video games won’t be part of the equation, either. Hayward was a solid 14/3/3 player last year as he was shuffled between the starting lineup and a sixth-man role. After overcoming a slump to start the season—an unfortunate trend so far in each of his three seasons in the league—Hayward came on strong at the end of the season. What if he is able to start off his fourth season in the league close to where he finished the 2012-2013 campaign, and then build from there? Many are calling Hayward and Favors the leaders of this team, and Hayward’s tough, competitive personality seems especially well-suited to the task. Some offensive sets near the end of last season called for Hayward, at the 2 or the 3, to run the pick and roll. Because he became increasingly effective in that spot, I expect more of those this season, especially with the shifting, more athletic and more versatile personnel. What’s been a pleasant surprise is his 40% career three-point shooting. With Randy Foye crossing the Rockies to play for Denver, that three-point shooting will be vital. Hayward also became more of a facilitator at the end of last season and filled the role admirably. With a rookie point guard and few experienced veterans on the roster, I imagine he’ll continue that role this season. I think a season of 18/4/5 isn’t unreasonable, with the addition of vocal leadership thrown in for good measure.

What if Burks is able to use his athleticism and knack for getting to the bucket, along with improving range and a three-point shot to become a solid starter or great sixth man? Last season’s numbers don’t reflect the usual growth you like to see in a player from year 1 to year 2, but Burks was asked to play point for substantial portions of time, playing the role of facilitator more than scorer—his natural talent. This year, with no Josh Howard, Raja Bell, or Randy Foye in front of him (that’s as depressing to type as it is to read it, I’m sure), he should have significant opportunity to solidify his place on this team moving forward. In his rookie season, Burks showed a unique ability to get to the rim and, specifically, to the line. That’s an underrated skill he should be able to exploit more this season. Assuming he gets more playing time than the 18 minutes or so he averaged last season, I think a best-case scenario for Alec this season is 14/5/3. On a team that will need scoring more desperately than it will need defense, his instincts should come in handy. Luckily, too, coaches have noted his increased effort on the defensive end in summer league, so that should help shoulder Hayward’s load on the defensive end when guarding wing players.

So where does this leave the Jazz? Assuming we get a best-case scenario for each of the Core 4, I put the ceiling for this team at 38-44. Where would you put the win-loss record for this team?

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson

I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson

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9 Comments

  1. Spencer says:

    I think you are right in the ballpark on these best-case scenarios. I do think that you may be a little optimistic in rebound numbers for the Kanter/Favors combo simply because 23 rebounds between them is quite a bit. Also, I would put Kanter at a higher scoring percentage than Favors due to his touch, hands and range.

    I do think your win best-case is less likely than your stats best-case. With so much inexperience, I see 5-10 winnable games lost that would put them in the 33-38 range. (Which I am just great with considering the draft.) Thanks for the article. Fun to think about the upcoming season.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I agree with the point about rebounding, though I do expect the Jazz to miss a lot of shots, giving more opportunity for offense rebounds. I think 21 or even 22 between the two is possible, if they play enough minutes.

  2. Wes Mantooth says:

    Pretty good read Laura but your comment about how it’s depressing that we’ve lost Howard, Foye, and Bell baffles me. That’s unquestionably a great thing.

  3. Laura Thompson says:

    Spencer, I went back and forth on the rebound numbers quite a few times because they seemed high to me, too. You may very well be right. I think Kanter and Favors are better natural rebounders than Jefferson and Millsap were (where, the more recent version of Millsap). Favors has the length and athleticism while Kanter has the body and the tenacity, so I think they both could be great rebounders, when given the minutes. Interestingly, their per-36 production shows the numbers I came up with are feasible. Assuming, of course, they end up near-ish the 36 minute range, which I realize isn’t all that likely. But I’m hopeful.

    I went back and forth on who would score more between Favors and Kanter, too. If Kanter weren’t recovering and rehabbing from the shoulder injury, I would have definitely put him ahead of Favors. Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on time lost due to rehabbing that could be spent developing more post moves, better footwork, etc.

    I’m also completely okay if we lose more games. I realized I was being optimistic (hence, best-case scenario) and I also have a lower range in my head, too, of what I think is more likely to happen. Where I don’t see 38 wins as tooooo far out there is this: these guys play defense. We saw how many times last year the bench (aka our starters now) had to dig us out of a big whole the starting unit got us into, and it usually started on the defensive end. Then you can get into a discussion of how poor our bench is going to be this year vs. last year, but sometimes I think that this team might be a bit better than we expect just because they play defense, make cuts, set screens, etc. Either way, I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

    Wes, I’m sorry I wasn’t clear there. I agree that losing Howard, Foye, and Bell was a GREAT thing; what was depressing is that they were the reason Burks got such limited minutes. Apologies for not being more clear.

  4. Shawn Beecher says:

    Great article. I think this will be a fun season to watch and you made me even more pumped to watch. I don’t care so much about the win/loss this year as much as the development of our young players, & our draft pick next year.

    I would like to see Favors offense improve & for us to go back to the pick and roll offense we were so good at (Which is where we are heading IMHO). I think a pick and roll with Burke or Hayward & Favors would be awesome because Favors is so good at driving to the basket & Hayward can hit the 3. You could even add in Burks there because then it would be pick your poison, because both can drive real well to the basket. You could do a pick and pop with Kanter because his outside range is pretty good. You wouldn’t have to have such a stale offense of throw the ball down to Big Al while everyone else just stands around and watches. Because everyone is involved I believe everyone will be better. I too agree that our defense will be better. I agree that Favors and Kanter both have the athleticism to stay with the opposing point guards and shutting down their drives to the basket. Plus we will have the triad towers swatting everything in site. You can even call it the quad towers if you want to include Evans. Can you imagine the block-fest it will be with Favors, Kanter, Gobert, Evans, and Hayward. As one of our beloved beat writers (Jody Gennesy i believe but I could be wrong) coined, it truly will be Swat Lake City.

    If we don’t win it doesn’t matter because it will be fun to watch their growth and to see what draft pick we get.

    • Laura says:

      Shawn, thanks! I got pumped while researching and writing the article, so I empathize! It’s going to be a really fun season to watch, regardless of the win-loss total. I think your interesting combinations for PnR are spot on; each of the players you listed are pretty versatile so that opens up a bunch of options. Love it!

  5. Chris Beseris says:

    Great article, it was an enjoyable read. I agree on most of your numbers for the core 4. It will be fun to see how Burke and Gobert contribute to the team as well. As a Jazz fan I will root for the Jazz to win every game they play, but it would be fantastic to see the young players grow and still just win 20 games so we can land a Wiggins, Parker, Randle, etc. player in this loaded 2014 draft. I think even with a tough year in the win department it doesn’t prove that the core 4 aren’t the future, they just need the time and learn to win. I don’t think any of the players will be a bust, it just depends if they can become future all-stars or role players.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Chris! Gobert might be one of the fun surprises of this draft, huh? I’m intrigued to see how those two fit in this year, as well. And I’ve been a fan of the 2014 draft for a while, so I won’t be disappointed if we end up with a great pick, especially if it means our young guys get significant minutes this year and develop well. This core with a great pick in 2014 could be very interesting and very fun for years to come.

  6. Alex says:

    The conclusions are all realistic. The thing I have a problem with is the knocks on AK47. AK was and is awesome. If every player in the NBA played as hard as AK, it would be a much better game to watch.

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