In a rare, non-competitive year for the Utah Jazz, fans have been clinging to hope that the team’s poor record would help them achieve a top draft pick. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they are not alone in this quest. With what’s projected to be a historically talented draft class, “tanking” has been a topic of discussion all season.
Hoping for a top draft pick is an interesting thing as a fan. On one hand, if your team is very poor, losses can have a silver lining. On the other, it’s counter intuitive to not want your team to do well and improve. In Utah’s case, the current squad is made up of what will certainly be a huge part of their core for years to come. With that in mind, Jazz fans will want to see these players play well and continue to improve. However if the improvement is present, wins might start to derail the tank-train. Thirty-six games in, it’s worth evaluating Utah’s tank trajectory.
The Tankathon got started nicely in Utah this season. With some key players dealing with injuries to start the season, Utah’s already light roster was in even worse shape to start the season. Without players like Trey Burke, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans, the Jazz got a head start on the tank. In Utah’s first 15 games, they only emerged victorious once, causing Jazz fans to become season-long Duke and Kansas University basketball fans. The Jazz roster was truly a disaster. John Lucas III was the starting point guard, eventually competing for that role with Jamaal Tinsley, who had not even been signed by an NBA team going into the season (and was let go by the Jazz only a handful of games later). Mike Harris (now waived) was getting heavy minutes, as was rookie Rudy Gobert (currently bouncing back and forth to the D-League).
The Jazz will be grateful for that rough start, as after the first 15 games Utah is playing .500 basketball. Getting two starters back in Burke and Williams, the transformation has been real. If the Jazz had a healthy roster to begin the season and they were able to play .500 basketball as they have been recently, Utah would have at least 18 wins. Eighteen wins would currently be tied for third-most in the Eastern Conference.
Prior to Tuesday’s games, the Jazz carried a record of 11-25. Eleven wins is more than three teams, tied with two others and within three wins of seven teams. This means the Jazz are in direct tank competition with around 12 teams. Not as much of a cake walk as once thought. Factoring in the trend of Utah’s improvement, and a top pick may be in jeopardy.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey may need to get creative if he hopes to keep his team in the tank game. We may have seen the beginning of this as Richard Jefferson, who’s started every game this season and played the third most minutes for the Jazz, was linked to the Andrew Bynum deal before it went through with the Chicago Bulls. Much of Utah’s roster is expendable, as Lindsey has hoped to hold onto as much flexibility as possible. Dealing Jefferson or Williams could not only allow the Jazz to get future assets in return, but make getting a top draft pick a continued possibility by sabotaging the starting lineup.
Though the Jazz aren’t going to compete for a playoff spot, Jazz fans who are paying attention this season are in for a wild ride.