GDHQNBA15_2pg-Utah Jazz

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WESTERN CONFERENCE NORTHWEST DIVISION Utah After losing both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in free agency a year ago, the Utah Jazz clearly went into rebuilding mode. Instead of seeking to acquire veteran free agents, the Jazz agreed to take on the contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins from Golden State so they could also acquire two unprotected first-round draft picks. With Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors left as Utah’s best players, the Jazz struggled to a 25-57 record, the worst in the Western Conference. Utah has clearly decided to start a youth movement—with an average age of 24.5 years, the Jazz had the third-youngest roster in the NBA last season. After selecting 18-year-old Dante Exum with the fourth pick in the draft, it’s obvious Utah has no intention of making a playoff run anytime soon. A second consecutive finish at the bottom of the Western Conference standings should not be a surprise. Defense Having a young roster is often synonymous with having poor overall team defense, and the Jazz were no exception last season. Utah finished with a defensive rating of 111.3, the second-worst rating in the NBA and better than only the Milwaukee Bucks. The problems start on the perimeter, where the Jazz simply don’t have a plus defender on the roster. Trey Burke was put in a thankless situation as the team’s starting point guard, having to face opponents like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry on a routine basis. The team also wasn’t able to hide Burke on lesser offensive players because there was no better option to match up against those point guards. Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward are both good offensive players, but they struggle to stay in front of their defenders or fight through screens themselves. The result is that Utah guards routinely allow opponents to leak into the paint. While this is something shotblocking teams like the Clippers or Thunder can put up with, the Jazz don’t have a shotblocker like Serge Ibaka or DeAndre Jordan. Derrick Favors probably counts as the best defender on the team, but he’s not really the shotblocking type. Enes Kanter, another recent high draft pick, struggled badly on the interior and isn’t much of a rim deterrent either. With guards leaking into the paint on a routine basis, the Jazz are forced to help on defense, leaving wide open threes to the opponent. It’s a mess, and the result is that Utah opponents made 37.6 percent of their three-point attempts (third worst in the League) and 47.3 percent of their overall field goal attempts (worst). The Jazz need a lot of help to be competitive on defense in the NBA. They need a shotblocking presence. Second-year center Rudy Gobert is by far the best shotblocker on the team, and he had an excellent run in the FIBA World Cup for Team France over the summer. However, he’s still raw and has difficulty handling some of the more physical big men in the low post. Gobert is probably not ready to handle a 2,000 minute workload. Utah also needs a stopper on the wing, and some veteran leadership to help sort the defense out. Without either of those things, Utah will probably finish near the bottom of the defensive efficiency ratings again in the 2014-15 season. Offense Utah is definitely better on the offensive end than they are on defense, but that isn’t saying much. While players like Hayward, Favors, and Kanter have their merits on offense, none of them is a superstar or go-to scorer. Hayward is a poor fit as the leading man in an NBA offense. He can shoot and he can drive, but he struggles when opponents identify him as the most important player to stop. Open looks were hard to come by as Hayward’s three-point percentage dropped from 41.5 percent in 2012-13 to 30.4 a year ago. Hayward’s overall field goal percentage hit a career low at just 41.3 and he turned the ball over at an increased rate while playing a whopping 2,800 minutes. It’s clear that Hayward was asked to do too much last season, but things are unlikely to change in the 2014-15 season, since the roster is largely the same collection of players as it was a year ago. Favors was a regular starter for the first time last season, and he responded with his most efficient offensive season to date. However, Favors is not a prolific scorer who draws double teams or creates his own shot. For the most part, he takes advantage of position in the low post. It’s also an awkward fit having Favors and Kanter in the same lineup, as neither of them is known for being a threat from the perimeter. Gordon Hayward Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images


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