With the 2013-14 NBA Season just around the corner, Ball So Hard is bringing you the definitive ranking of every NBA team, counting down each conference from 15-1. Think we’re wrong? Let me know in the comment section below.
Western Conference no. 14 – Utah Jazz
Rookies: Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, Raul Neto
Free Agents: John Lucas III
Trades: Andris Biedrins, Richard Jerfferson, Brandon Rush
Free Agents: DeMarre Carroll, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Earl Watson, Mo Williams
Trades: Randy Foye, Kevin Murphy
The Story So Far
The Jazz had one of the biggest fire sales in the league during the offseason. They let their two best players, long-time leader Al Jefferson and the long-time underrated Paul Millsap, leave as free agents, and they willingly took on the $20 million in salary owed to the corpses of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins from the Warriors.
Also jumping ship was the experienced pair of Mo Williams and Randy Foye.
But while for most teams, the departure of four of their top five scorers would leave an unfillable hole in their rotation, the Jazz are blessed with a quintet of young guns who are raring to prove themselves in the league.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will be the biggest benefactors of Jefferson and Millsap jumping ship, and they should see significantly more minutes than the 23.2 and 15.4 per game they averaged respectively last year. Both were top 3 picks in the draft and are effective scorers, fantastic defenders and have enormous upside.
Gordon Haywood showed signs that he could be a reliable scoring option on the wing, averaging 17 points per 36 minutes, and hit an impressive 41.5% from downtown last season. This season he will be a much larger part of the offence and will easily start more than the 17 games he did last year.
Similarly, Alec Burks and Trey Burke are both lottery picks that should be handed the keys to the starting positions most nights.
It will be interesting to see how Utah’s youth movement is able to develop over the season.
As is always the case with a lack of experience (only Favors and Hayward averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season), there will be some growing pains, and at times it wont be pretty to watch, but the Jazz are well placed to develop their young core over the course of the year.
The expiring deals of Jefferson and Biedrins could also become an interesting story around the deadline, but don’t expect Utah to do anything drastic with all of that cap space they could have next year.
All that cap space, plus a top 10, maybe even top 5 lottery pick in next years stacked draft, and the Jazz shouldn’t find themselves ranked so low next season.
The Big Question
Will the Favors/Kanter combination help Jazz fans forget the pain of watching Jefferson and Millsap walk away for free?
Both are supremely talented players who’s growth has been stunted by the surplus of big men on Utah’s roster.
Favors is in his fourth year in the league, but he is still only 22. This season will mark the first time in his career that he will see significant minutes, and a lot of Utah’s hope for the future rests on his ability to develop. Favors inclusion in the Deron Williams trade was the swinging factor that convinced the Jazz they were comfortable parting ways with their star point guard.
Utah and the rest of the league have been high on Favors potential for several years now. It is now or never for him to show he was worth the third overall pick that New Jersey spent on him.
Kanter is more of a long-term project than Favors, and it would be foolish to expect him to begin to put up Jefferson-like numbers immediately. But watch his progress as the season goes on, and if he can improve his endurance and decision making, expect a big post-All-Star improvement from the Turkish big man.