In anticipation of the Clippers Monday night matchup against an unpredictable Utah Jazz squad, I asked SLC Dunk editor AllThatAmar to give us his perspective on a few questions I had about his team. Here is the transcript of our conversation!
Jul: The Jazz went from having a promising preseason to struggling as soon as the games started counting, but the schedule-makers did Utah no favors early on. Have you seen anything from this Jazz team so far to suggest they'll improve on last years 25 wins?
Amar: The promise of the preseason is always something to put a lot, little, or no stock into - depending on what happens during the regular season. No matter how a team performs in the tune-up games almost everyone is correct in attributing the refrain "...but it's just the preseason..." to any discussion of what happens within them. That said, what we try to do is find behaviors which lead to successful trends from the random minutes and game situations we saw. For the Utah Jazz, a team with just so many question marks, I find that these "small glimpses of progress" are going to be things that continue well into the season; and are not just limited to the games that don't count.
Right now, after losing to the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, and beating the Phoenix Suns, I'm apt to say I see just as many bad glimpses of non-progress as I do glimpses of progress. But it's still super early in the year. I like how the team has figured out that Derrick Favors can score around the rim. I also like how there are several people who can attack a defense off the bounce this year. And when the system is working, I do think there is better skill overlap between the starters and the bench. It's a better built team than last year, and players are directed towards more cohesive flow. It's hard to imagine them being worse than last season. It can't be right? The Jazz replaced John Lucas III with Dante Exum, after all.
Wins and losses will eventually come down to defense. And that's the largest problem for this team after the first week of the season. They may play better in spurts, but a massive turn around in W/L may be a season or two away still.
Jul: Alec Burks just signed a long term deal, making him the third piece in the Jazz's version of the big three. How far do you think a core of Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors could take this team in the foreseeable future?
Amar: I am just crazy about Alec Burks. He adds a level of unpredictability to the team, and has the ability to create his own shot when the defense disrupts the Jazz from executing their designed plays. He is the third of the Jazz' younger core to sign a long term deal with the team; however, I don't think that means that he is part of a big three, or that the Utah Jazz are even building a big three. The best teams do have three exceptional players. It takes some teams years and years to find that third guy. I don't think the Jazz have any exceptional players right now. And as a result, Burks joins a group of "they could be pretty okay" seven players (Favors, Hayward, Burks, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Dante Exum). It doesn't roll off the tongue as well as a "Big Three" does, but they will help the franchise win some games.
How far does quantity, not quality, take you in the NBA Playoffs? Usually not very far. Unless one or more of them take their games to the next level it's likely that this group, at their peak, would be stuck competing for home court, but not ever be in the title hunt. (Of course, the average age of the entire team is 24.31 years old, there's a lot of time for one or more of them to get to that All-Star level down the road . . . I hope.)
Jul: Joe Ingles (affectionately dubbed "Jingles" by some) was a quick fan favorite among Clipper fans, though I don't think the home crowd ever even saw him play live. He's found some solid playing time with the Jazz, while he barely got any burn with the Clippers during the preseason. Do you like what you see from Broomerang Joe, and do you see him playing a nice roll for the Jazz off the bench as the season progresses?
Amar: I don't know what to think about him so far. I missed the opportunity to watch him closely during the FIBA World Cup because my eyes were on Dante Exum (and Brock Motum, a late training camp cut for the Jazz who played Summer League for Utah). The Aussie we have on staff at SLC Dunk is more than happy to have Joe on the squad, and lists him as one of the better International who hadn't yet had a shot at the NBA. I'm not blown away so far, but Jingles is getting regular burn and has come off the bench to play in every game so far for new Head Coach Quin Snyder.
Of course, his main benefit may be off the court as he was Exum's roommate during the FIBA Tournament, and they seem to have a comfort level with one another. If he can get Dante to settle down and acclimate to the pro game faster than he is worth the roster spot. Having him come off the bench, hit some threes, and make some nice passes . . . that's all extra.
I love the name Boomerang Joe, though, so I'm going to try to introduce that to our site, thanks!
Jul: Rudy Gobert, the Stifle Tower. NBA fans seem really excited about him, and he has the best nickname in the NBA. He reminds me of a young DeAndre Jordan-- a raw talent with a tremendous upside. What improvements have you seen with him so far this season, and what are your expectations of him?
I guess I am in the minority here because I don't know how much he has improved; rather, he's just finally getting a chance to show what he can do. Last season he played a little over 400 minutes on a 25 win team. If you're a head coach and can't find time for this guy you don't deserve your job. (In fact, Rudy's recent Rolling Stone interview suggests he is aware of this point.) If there's anything that has helped him out it's that he has gotten on the floor, gotten involved, and that has given him more confidence. He had an excellent summer league in Las Vegas, and followed that up with inspired play in the FIBA World Cup. Following positive court experience with positive court experience gives him some momentum going into this season. It's fun to watch that happen, because confidence is what makes or breaks young careers.
If anything, I think his teammates know how to work with him better than last season. And as a result his offensive utility is much greater now that people get him the ball in scoring position. Like the rest of the world I do see his overt talent being on defense. And for this season he may even challenge to start a few games this year, and should put up eye opening rebounding numbers. I like the DeAndre Jordan comparison, but DeAndre is just such a dynamic athletic, he's a hard act to follow. Except at the free throw line, where both he and Rudy share struggles.
Thanks to Amar for offering such great insight--and as always, if you have any burning questions about the Jazz that weren't asked, leave a comment!