For today's edition of The Questionable Blogger, we turn to AllThatJazzBasketball (note: not his real name) from SBNation's Jazz blog, SLC Dunk. (Have I made the point in the past that Matthew Lillard, star of SLC Punk from which the blog takes it's name, is a Clippers fan?) The Jazz have defied expectations and inserted themselves into the Western Conference playoff race with a post All-Star break surge. What's fueling the recent strong play? I asked, he answered, after the jump.
As always, thanks for playing The Questionable Blogger. Check out SLC Dunk for my answers to their questions.Clips Nation: Utah has been on a bit of a roller coaster this season. The started off the season well, defying the expectations of most. Then they lost 11 of 14 games to start February, and everyone nodded and said that's what they expected and left them for dead. But what with the zombie craze, the Jazz rose up again, and have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All Star break. So I guess my question is: what the hell, dude? What's going on with your crazy team?
SLC Dunk: This season has been specifically annoying for just this reason. The Jazz will go on a run, and look good; and then lose a billion games and look really bad. Worse still has been the year long chant from the front office that we were a contending team. The roster says no. Being out of the Top 8 in the Western Conference all year long also seems to say no. A lot of fans wanted two Lotto picks instead of the #8 seed. But now, like a true zombie movie, the most unreasonable things are happening and the Jazz are in the playoff rush, and could get a spot anywhere from 5 to 10. Maybe the front office knows more about this team than the fan?
I think there are three major factors to the Jazz playing "better" now than they were before. In January, when the Jazz went 11-4, they were lucky and playing a lot of games at home vs. injured teams. This time around the wins are of a higher quality, things like road wins against the LA Lakers, and home wins against the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The three major factors here are that: Al Jefferson learned that he's allowed to pass; that Devin Harris remembered that he can be pretty good, and that some of our dead weight are injured right now. At the beginning of the season Big Al would shoot contested shots over triple teams. Devin Harris didn't seem to care or try back in February. And head coach Tyrone Corbin, a vet first guy, had leaned heavily on starting Raja Bell and Josh Howard -- both guys are done for the season. None of those things happen anymore. As a result: there's better ball movement, Harris is more aggressive, and younger guys are getting more burn now. Those are the three biggest things that are going on with the Jazz.
Clips Nation: I have kind of a man-crush on Gordon Hayward. When the Clippers picked Al-Farouq Aminu in 2010, Hayward was the wing I wanted. He's having a solid, if not spectacular, sophomore NBA season. What is Hayward's ceiling? How good can he be? What's his best NBA position?
SLC Dunk: I think if you are a Jazz fan you are very happy that Gordon Hayward fell to the #9 spot in the draft. I think that he has a lot of versatility to his game, while not being a dominant guy in any one aspect of the game. In a year without Andrei Kirilenko it is so much easier to see a lot of AK47 in Hayward's game. They both are tall, pass first guys who can handle the ball and drive, while being active on defense. Obviously Hayward isn't going to be skying in to get rebound dunks, or block 3 shots a game . . . but he's supposed to be a more traditional wing player than Andrei (who was a Euro 4). I always used to gauge Hayward off of Aminu personally, but I think Hayward has leap frogged him now. I don't think that Hayward is ever going to be an All-NBA player (effectively a Top 15, marquee player). He has a chance to be an All-Star in a year he's on a good team and used a lot, but only 1 or 2 times for his career; and only like 4-5 years from now. I think he'll be a valuable starter in his career, but not really a star. Because the Jazz picked Alec Burks in the very next draft, who I see as a SG in this league, I think that Hayward is best at the 3. Some Jazz fans want him to play the 2, but his three point shot is far from reliable enough to play there at this level.
Clips Nation: I like a lot of Utah's young players. Derrick Favors is impressive, I love Enes Kanter's low post game, and even Alec Burks has had some nice games this season. All that in addition to the aforementioned Hayward. How exciting is it to have such of stable of young talent? Is it time to clear out the likes of Al Jefferson and build around the kids?
SLC Dunk: I think the plethora of youth only make the fans (and probably the players themselves) frustrated when they sit and old guys play. Thankfully Raja Bell (27 mpg in Feb) was shut down, and so was Josh Howard (about the same). Out of the four, I think that Alec Burks has the best shot of being an impact player, and he was the lowest draft pick out of the group. Favors has the most potential, but bigs don't always reach their potential. The Jazz need to clear out space for the younger guys. Or at least, that was the easier argument to make when the Jazz were the #10th in the west. Now that Jefferson and Millsap are theoretically leading this team to the playoffs, the front office will probably drag their heels on a youth movement for a while longer. That said, the Lakers moved Eddie Jones to make space for Kobe Bryant. The thunder moved everyone to make room for Kevin Durant. Even the T-wolves moved Big Al to make room for Kevin Love. There is evidence to support the theory that sometimes it's okay to move good players to make room for potentially better players.