Dec 14, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) drives between San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and shooting guard Danny Green (4) during the first quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah Jazz Weekly: Tanking is Hard

Another week in the books, another week that the Utah Jazz won as many games as they lost. This is either a good thing or less so, depending on how you look at it. Primarily, it’s great that Trey Burke has led such a revival and that many of the young guns are showing improvement and playing well. However, so much of the hope of this season was that it would help the Jazz’s long term future by achieving a top pick in one of the best drafts ever. Winning more games is in direct opposition to getting this top pick, causing many Jazz fans to be conflicted about the rate of progress.

This time, it wasn’t as much about the fact that Utah won two games, but it was how they won them. The Jazz thoroughly handled both the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets. Even the losses were somewhat positive, as a weakened Jazz team fought hard against the two top teams in the west. After getting used to being down by more than 20 points in what seemed like every single game, keeping it competitive against the best teams in the league is all the Jazz can ask for this year.

Depending on how the progress continues, the Jazz front office may have to be creative about the team’s construction. Utah has several veteran players that may interest teams pushing for playoff spots. Topping this list is Marvin Williams, whose play as a stretch 4 has truly transformed Utah into a completely different team offensively. Richard Jefferson, a season long starter for Utah, is likely playing more minutes for the Jazz than he would see with other teams, but has proven he still has some left in the tank to contribute. Also Brandon Rush is finally starting to look like the player he was before his devastating injury, displaying his deadly 3-point range. Any of these players’ departures may help general manager Dennis Lindsey collect additional draft assets and may also help in snagging a top draft pick (by losing more games).

Monday, 12/9: Portland Trail Blazers 105 – 94 Utah Jazz

After the previous week’s thrashing in Portland, it was refreshing to see a better effort from the Jazz in this one. The Jazz did what Jazz fans would have hoped for against a team that has been the best in the West so far. Despite an occasional spurt from Portland, Utah kept this game close the entire game and controlled much of the first half. Extra fuel for the moral victory fire: The fact that Utah’s frontcourt was again depleted as Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams were out of action again. Without coach Tyrone Corbin’s preferred starting big men, Utah was forced to rely on Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans as starters. Though Evans has been remarkably efficient so far this season, asking him to match up against an early MVP candidate in LeMarcus Aldridge is asking for too much. Worse than that, Utah was forced to rely on Mike Harris and Andris Biedrins for backup minutes. Kanter finished with 19 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot, and Alec Burks continued his hot streak by scoring 20 points to lead the Jazz in points. Trey Burke’s quest for Rookie of the Year stayed on course as well as he notched 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Dec 9, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) shoots during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena. Portland won 105-94. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday, 12/11: Utah Jazz 122-101 Sacramento Kings

Utah couldn’t quite muster enough to achieve revenge over Portland, so they proceeded to take it out on the Kings who had also recently beat them. The Jazz wasted no time in pouncing on a weakened Kings team who were shorthanded due to the Rudy Gay trade having not been finalized. It was a complete effort from the Jazz as four players scored in double figures, while four more were within one or two points of achieving the same. The biggest story line was the fact that Utah got Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams back giving coach Corbin his starting lineup. The team clicked immediately and knew where each other would be on the court, the familiarity helping them on their way to 35 assists for the game. Trey Burke led the charge in this regard with nine assists, while managing to chip in 11 points as well. Richard Jefferson broke out for 20 points, and Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward added 17 each. Hayward was great all-around with four rebounds and four assists as well.

Dec 11, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) high fives point guard Trey Burke (3) as a timeout is called against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Friday, 12/13: Utah Jazz 103-93 Denver Nuggets

This is getting weird for Jazz fans who were just getting used to being in the doldrums of the NBA. The Jazz won again against the 13-win Nuggets, their second win in a row on the road. Utah was clicking and hitting shots early, scoring 33 points in the first quarter behind a barrage of three pointers. They cooled off considerably, but kept a double-digit lead through much of the first half and into the third quarter. Denver mounted a ferocious comeback effort in the third quarter, but weren’t able to close it out. Utah was led by Gordon Hayward who had 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Derrick Favors added 19 points and four blocked shots.Trey Burke shot poorly from the field but had 10 assists. It should be noted that Utah held Denver’s starting guards, Ty Lawson and Randy Foye, to zero points and only five assists.

Saturday, 12/14: San Antonio Spurs 100-84 Utah Jazz

The Jazz came back to Earth a little bit in this one. Utah’s hot offense cooled quite a bit, as the team shot less than 40 percent from the field. The Spurs defense made the Jazz look very uncomfortable and out of sync and after a slow start, the Spurs’ offense started to click. The Jazz didn’t get a whole lot of offensive production outside of Hayward and Burke, who had 18 and 20 points respectively. Both chipped in five assists as well. Utah will hope to get Favors and Kanter back on track quickly, who only had nine points and eight rebounds total.

Who’s Jazzed?

Gordon Hayward: Gordon had a great week, scoring 17, 17, 30 and 18. Even better, he did this while shooting better than 49 percent. Hayward also dished at least four assists in three of the four contests and averaged more than six rebounds. This is what Utah wanted Hayward to be this season and it just hasn’t quite been there. Historically Hayward has started off slowly and heated up progressively as the season goes on. Are we seeing the trend continue? There’s definitely room for improvement, as Gordon made only two of his 13 3-pointers for the week. In previous years, we have seen Hayward become a deadly spot up 3-point shooter (41 percent from 3 last season, more than 90 percent of those assisted), so there is reason to believe he can be even better than he was last week.

Singin’ the Blues

Enes Kanter: Since his starting role was given to Marvin Williams, Kanter is having some trouble fitting into his new role. Enes has the ability to score, both inside and away from the basket, but other issues may keep him off the court. Enes currently has the worst defensive rating of Utah big men, and (by far) the worst defensive rebounding percentage. As Williams was out to begin the week, Kanter started, played more than 30 minutes and only had three defensive rebounds against the Blazers. As the week progressed his rebounding worsened, grabbing only two, one and zero defensive rebounds in the next three games. To some extent, this isn’t all Kanter’s fault, as his minutes have declined drastically (averaging less than 15 in the last three games of the week). Though as stated, if Enes can’t improve his defense and rebounding, it will be hard to justify keeping him on the floor.

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