The Utah Jazz, along with the rest of the NBA, have finished the preseason and are on the verge of beginning the 2013-14 regular season. It will be a season of intrigue as Utah will evaluate what it has, what it needs and what it can become. The preseason was the first step in this process of discovery for coach Tyrone Corbin and Co. Corbin will be able to evaluate what he saw in the preseason as he experimented with certain players and lineups. It’s worth taking a look at some of the things that the preseason showed us.
It’s important to remember that the preseason, and small sample sizes in general, shouldn’t be analyzed too closely as trends and statistics could prove to be an anomaly and even themselves out over longer sample sizes. However, there is certainly some value in assessing what happened in the preseason. The team as a whole performed poorly, only emerging victorious in one (their first) preseason contest, but win-loss records are the least important part of preseason.
Biggest Disappointment: Alec Burks
It seems that Corbin feels that Burks’ biggest value/area of opportunity is as a scoring threat off the bench. This is a similar role that Gordon Hayward was moved into for part of last season and seemed to thrive in. The thought process seemed like a good one and seemed to pay immediate dividends as Burks looked like Utah’s most dangerous offensive weapon in their first preseason game. However, Burks finished the preseason shooting less than 37 percent and about 23 percent from 3. Burks was only effective at the rim, which brings back concerns about his jump shooting ability. A look at last years shot chart and heat map emphasizes concerns. Last year, Burks shot an acceptable 36 percent from beyond the arc. This isn’t great by any means, but for a player who has always been perceived as a slasher with a below average 3-point shot, it’s good enough. The problem with Burks shot chart from last season, that he didn’t seem to improve upon in the preseason, is that he shot anything from three feet out to the 3-point line with accuracy of well worse than 40 percent. Those shots are inefficient anyway, so it’s better if he doesn’t shoot a lot of those shots to begin with, but if he can’t hit from 3 either (again 23 percent in the preseason on 13 attempts), he will be in big trouble. It’s clear when you watch Alec that he has loads of potential, but much less clear whether he and Corbin will be able to tap that potential.
Most Improved: Enes Kanter
Kanter showed flashes of greatness last season, but did so with extremely limited minutes which made his future success relatively questionable. However, this preseason Enes continued to show his potential in extended minutes, against starters rather than backups. In 23.6 minutes per night, Enes was second on the team in total scoring and points per game, putting down 12 points per game on 51 percent shooting. Being that it’s likely Enes will get closer to 30 minutes per game, he could prove to be a very effective offensive weapon for the Jazz. However, it’s clear that Enes is still learning the game. Ty Corbin could be witnessed on several occasions indiscreetly informing Kanter of his mistakes. Many of these mistakes were made on the defensive end, where Kanter looked to have either lost focus on an assignment or found himself out of position. Utah will hope that Kanter’s inevitable playing time this season will help get him up to speed with the NBA game. One area of opportunity/difficulty for Enes this season may be rebounding, as he averaged less than six per game. With Kanter likely playing nearly all of his minutes with either Derrick Favors or Rudy Gobert, both gluttons of the glass, it will be interesting to see whether they are taking many of Kanter’s opportunities or whether Kanter is losing out to opposition.
Defensive Player of the Preseason: Derrick Favors
As if there was any question. Derrick, the owner of a new contract extension closing in on $50 million, knows that he received his payday due to his elite defensive potential. In only 26 minutes per game, Favors averaged nearly 11 rebounds and almost a block and a half per game. Last season Favors averaged over seven rebounds per game and 1.7 blocks per game in only 23 minutes. Similarly to Kanter, Favors should see more than 30 minutes per game, which the Jazz hope translates into a points-rebounds double-double average and possibly close to 2.5 blocks per game. Beyond statistics, it was nice to see Favors being a real defensive leader for the team. Defense will need to be Utah’s strength with a lack of offensive firepower, and Favors looks ready to lead that charge.
MVP: Gordon Hayward
Since the end of last season, Jazz fans knew Hayward would be given the keys to drive Utah’s offense this season. Even though Hayward had proved himself as a viable offensive option in prior seasons, questions have remained about how he would transition to carrying the offensive load for the Jazz. Such questions are warranted as a look at Hayward’s 2012-13 season shooting splits may indicate. Hayward shot an impressive 41.5 percent from 3 last season and finished well at the rim, but didn’t shoot better than 38 percent from any distance between those areas. The distance between the 3-point line and 16 feet out will be important for Hayward this year as that is an area that wing players who need to create their own shot shoot a fair amount of shots from. This may be a difficult transition for Hayward as last season he was assisted on around 63 percent of the shots from that distance. As Hayward will be playing as a No. 1 option, he won’t get the easy looks that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap opened up for him last season. By comparison, LeBron James (like it or not, Hayward will be playing a similar role for the much less talented Jazz) was only assisted on 20 percent of his shots from that same distance last season. Hayward only shot 38 percent from the field during the preseason (though 50 percent from 3), which may indicate that he will experience some growing pains as he attempts many fewer assisted shots. Having said that, Hayward still led the Jazz in points, points per game, assists, free throws made and free throws attempted. If Hayward can continue getting to the line as much as he has in the preseason and manages to improve upon his mid-range shooting, we may witness the emergence of an All-Star.
The season starts on Wednesday for the Jazz, who will likely be rudely welcomed to what promises to be a bruising regular season by Western Conference heavyweight, the Oklahoma City Thunder. It will be interesting to see this young Utah squad approaches this game against an opponent with such superior ability. It seems it will happen frequently this season.