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?