For this edition of the Questionable Blogger I went in a different direction. As the citizenry knows, I usually do five questions on varying topics, but given the specific circumstances of the Utah Jazz team I felt like doing something more structured. The Jazz have five lottery picks at five positions between the ages of 21 and 23. So I asked Amar, the Editor at SB Nation's Jazz blog SLC Dunk, for his impression on those five guys. Specifically: is he a keeper (i.e. should the Jazz extend him and/or match offers in restricted free agency), at what cost, strengths and weakness, and what is the player's ceiling (rotation player, NBA starter, All Star, superstar)?
1) Enes Kanter -- 6'11 center, 21, 3rd pick in 2011, RFA in 2015
Amar: Enes Kanter is an enigma. Drafted at the #3 position in the 2011 draft (a draft that also features Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Chandler Parsons, Isiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Vucevic, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Jonas Valanciunas, Iman Shumpert, and the Morris Brothers) he was a very unknown product. We did learn quickly that the Turkish foreign student of Kentucky was a very raw prospect. He came into the league with a strong rebounding affinity, though not for the fundamentals of rebounding (position before the shot, boxing out, and so forth). Two years of apprenticeship behind Al Jefferson displayed that he had a quick learning ability and had the quickness to bamboozle players with a flurry of low post moves. And then, well, this season started.
He was a capable pick and pop option, but was not able to maintain the other parts of his game to the levels of efficiency he had previously enjoyed. Part of it was a mixture of deconditioning, loss of muscle mass, and loss of available playing time / experience due to missing the end of last season and virtually all of the summer due to a dislocated shoulder and the ensuing surgery that was required. He's a big and had a serious injury, but thankfully it was not a back or lower body injury. And he's still 21.6 years old.
What we thought were strengths have not really been strengths this season. His rebounding is at a career worst level right now, and he isn't scoring in the paint - perhaps his bulk was more needed than we thought?
He has shown an improved range and improved confidence with a face up jumper.
He has many weaknesses right now, and many of these are still products of not being too familiar with the game - he's only been playing it for a handful of years. I like to think that these will improve with further experience. One of the other major problems that exists is that he is incapable of identifying which way to rotate on defense, part of this may be a product of his ever shifting role on the team, and ever shifting defensive philosophy of Tyrone Corbin. For his first two seasons in the NBA he only really came in at center, and this season he is playing increasingly more and more power forward because Derrick Favors is a beast on defense, and the team drafted Rudy Gobert (who spends his off-season as part of the Alps).
Enes also gets his shot blocked a lot, and isn't much of a passer.
Bigs get paid more than they should in this league, but until Kanter's role with the team, and his confidence as a player, stabilize I don't think the team should break the bank for him. Right now he appears to be a talented big with potential, but shouldn't be earning $10+ million a season. I think next season is a make or break season for him in this regard, which is fine, as he's on the books for at least one more season. I used to think he had the potential to be an All-Star, but right now I'd settle for an NBA Starter. He's not a keeper in this new incarnation of who he is as a basketball player.
2) Derrick Favors -- 6'10 power forward, 22, 3rd pick in 2010, extended for 4/$47M in October
Amar: Derrick Favors just got paid, but paid reasonably. After every good game many Jazz fans can't believe how much of a steal this contract may end up being in the successive seasons. Very few teams go far without interior defense, and in a league that increasingly gives advantages to penetrating guards and wings it's important to have a defensive anchor. Derrick Favors appears to be that type of player. While he doesn't have the post up game of Al Jefferson, he does score in a number of ways that Big Al was incapable of scoring by. Favors is mobile and athletic, and he's capable of playing both the pick and roll, and the pick and pop (he really worked on his jumper with Karl Malone in the off-season). He's also a willing passer (and last time I checked, was one of the leaders on this team in total number of passes per game). The main difference between how he and Jefferson scores is that Favors goes into contact, and tries to finish above the rim as much as possible. In the process he gets to the line, which remains a work in progress.
He still can't dribble, but his main value on the court is as a shot changer / shot blocker. He's also pretty good at this rebounding thing, on both ends of the court.
Favors, as young as he is, and as talented as he appears at times, just isn't going to be a 20/10 guy in his NBA career unless, well, he starts getting some easy baskets. Part of that could be pace related, as he's not really a guy built for half court play, which is precisely the offense Tyrone Corbin decides the team needs to play at.
He's a keeper for me, and I would love for the Jazz to keep him in a Jazz uniform for as long as he plays. I guess I'm a homer, but I believe that he could make an All-Star team as a center, too bad they changed it to ‘frontcourt' this year. At least he's playing center more this year than power forward, he's not a 7 footer, but he's clearly not made to run around after the Ryan Andersons of the NBA at forward.
3) Gordon Hayward -- 6'7 wing, 23, 9th pick in 2010, RFA in 2014
Amar: Gordon Hayward looks to be one of the more visible faces of the franchise in Salt Lake City. He's a clean cut white guy with no tats, and is from the Midwest. His parents both work, he grew up frugal, and just got engaged to a girl he's been dating for a few months. He's about as Utah as it gets. So while the Jazz didn't agree to a deal with his agent, Gordon is going to stay in Utah for a long while. He's a keeper because it's important to the Utah Jazz organization and fans to have a representative player. Some fans have told me that they really do cheer for him because he could have just been someone I grew up with.
Hayward is having a good season with the ball finally in his hands and has displayed capability as a ball handler, and solid shooter off of dribble hand offs or off the ball movement. His spot up shooting has gone down a little bit this year, but part of that could be role determined, he's open less because he's the guy dribbling more now. He's a sneaky defender who somehow is able to get the goat of more demonstrative and athletic players. (Maybe he talks a lot of trash? I don't know, the Utah feeds don't ever mention it.)
I do think there are significant limitations to how good this guy can be. He's not a first option passer, he's not a first option scorer. And he's not a lock down defender. There is no logical reason to ever pay him max money. With an expanded role he is playing very well and filling the boxscore, but his just not consistent enough to be counted on just yet. For a 6'8 guy playing shooting guard his post up game (which you'd think would be something he could exploit) has been awful. For whatever reason the coaches keep the ball in his hands during crunch time and he has not been proven to be clutch.
Perhaps this isn't a secret when the most memorable play of his career is agreed to be a missed buzzer beater in a championship game?
His best play is a missed shot. And as a RFA people will throw money at him, but this season he's showing a lot more warts than in previous years where all he had to do was stay open and wait for the kick out pass. Being the Jazz, he's a keeper in Utah. I really don't think he should be earning Derrick Favors money. But he could prove me wrong if he becomes an All-Star one day. My upper level for him was maybe making one or two All-Star games as maybe the 2nd best player on a really good team. That's how I felt on draft night years ago. That's how I feel today.
4) Alec Burks -- 6'6 wing, 22, 12th pick in 2011, RFA in 2015
Amar: Alec Burks is my guy. He's flashy. He doesn't act like his amazing moves were anything other than pure skill. And he is an overweight Indian dude who blogs about the NBA. Okay, maybe there's nothing there between Alec and I in reality, but he's still my guy. He should be starting, but for whatever reason the head coach seems to hate him. Or maybe the franchise did not budget to have to pay for him, and are trying to hold him back so they can afford him when his rookie deal is done.
Right now his role is that of an off-the-bench scorer, a la a Jamal Crawford. More and more he is finishing games as well, which is good news - because you're not a successful franchise if you finish games with Richard Jefferson. Burks has an improved shot, but still (like Hayward) takes too many long twos. He is absolutely fantastic going to the basket and can create his own shot, finish with contact, or just plain make something happen. His slashing game gets him to the line, but he's just as adept at making a ridiculous layup that no one should be able to make.
His defense is hit and miss, but his athleticism lets him coast along to a few key steals, blocks, or rebounds that you notice him making because he's a guard and shouldn't be doing those things. He is currently the only player on the team with "swag" but I don't know what that means.
He's not a keeper according to the Jazz franchise, and they make sure to keep him under 30 mpg as well. Alec has really improved his game, and is playing a bit more under control, and it's obvious at times we're just not in games without him. (He scored 30 on the Miami Heat when they were trying.) All that said, I don't see the Jazz investing too much into him - be it playing time, role, or money down the line. I believe he could have the potential to be an All-Star, but instead believe that his career trajectory is more limited, somewhere between a rotation player and a starter. If we had any other head coach he'd be a starter NOW, but hey, Tyrone Corbin is a FANTASTIC coach. I can't see Alec getting more than $8 million a year in the near future.
5) Trey Burke -- 6'0 point guard, 21, 9th pick in 2013, RFA in 2017
Amar: Trey Burke is the most recognizable national face out of all the players on the team. He's a legit point guard who could double dip from being the NCAA National Player of the Year to being (maybe) the NBA's Rookie of the Year. That guy is a keeper. The Jazz need to pay him anything they can to keep him here, as our entire system needs a point guard. Having him be a star is nice too, but Trey does have some disadvantages.
He's not a physically big guy, and he's not a blur either. He is a basketball player, so he has to make it work. His shooting has been awful this season. And that's only going to get better, I hope. He's a medium assists guy, but part of that could be the fact that he shares ball handling duties with Hayward and Burks. He also doesn't get to the line enough, nor does he have a medium paint shot, like a Tony Parker floater.
STILL, he's awesome. Or at least, completely capable compared to who we started this season off in the starting lineup at point guard: Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas III. I like Trey, he could be a Superstar, but that's just hype talking. If he wins ROY (and he's at worst #2 this year) it will help. But he's more than likely to be a good NBA starter who could be an All-Star, you know, once some guys retire. Deron Williams at his peak was much better than Trey is now, as a rookie. Time will tell where Burke ranks in the Jazz pantheon of point guards. But right now I think the Jazz have to keep him no matter what.
Thanks to Amar for these thorough profiles on Utah's five key youngsters. It's a great U24 team -- but at this point it's a pretty bad NBA team, as evidenced by the results through a couple of months. Utah is going to have some difficult decisions in the next few years -- who do they keep, who do they let walk, how much do they pay -- and the simple fact is that none of these guys look like bona fide stars.