1. Gordon Hayward is one of the best young players in the league. His game has evolved each year. Yet, Hayward and the Jazz did not come to terms on an extension before the season began. Why did this happen and what is Hayward's future with the organization?
The reason why the Utah Jazz and Gordon Hayward did not come to terms on an extension probably has more to do with almost everyone outside of Gordon Hayward than himself. Really, the history of this situation has to go back to the two previous really serviceable white, small forwards on the Jazz roster: Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring. The Jazz ended up giving both of those players ‘mad bank' and ended up having to pay for diminishing returns. People just remember Kirilenko's contract, but let's not forget by that point in time he was already an All-Star. Matt Harpring made so much money the Jazz had to move him in a salary dump (with then promising point guard Eric Maynor) to the Thunder in the middle of some years where both players probably could have helped depth. In both cases the Jazz had to overpay. In Andrei's case it was somewhat justified at the time; in Harpring's case the Jazz bid against themselves and paid more than market value.
Both of those signings happened under the previous owner, Larry H. Miller, who ran things from his gut and was emotional. His son, Greg Miller, now runs the show and is significantly less attached to the assets his company owns. So this time around the Jazz are going to let the market set the price on Hayward. Gordon is having a good season and likely to get paid by some team next year; but unlike Harpring or Kirilenko, dude wasn't even a full-time starter until this year. Financially it makes sense not to overpay for wing talent in today's NBA just yet.
All that said, Hayward is most likely coming back to the Jazz. I've heard it that he wants to stay here, the team wants him here, it's just a matter of paying him what he's worth. Unless, of course, the Phoenix Suns and Jeff Hornacek (Hayward's mentor for years) don't muck it up . . . they were recently reported to be gunning for him. Ultimately, though, the Jazz hold most of the cards here and as Hayward will be an RFA, they most likely will match. I would be surprised to see him play anywhere else but Utah in the next few seasons.
2. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors were pegged as the future of Utah's frontcourt. Last season they came off the bench behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who left in free agency over the summer. Both Kanter and Favors have proved that they are capable scorers and rebounders but that is not the be-all end-all of their games. How is each progressing and where do they need to improve?
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap made a lot of fans in Utah over their stays with the franchise, but they were somewhat limited and most likely will never become all-around talents in this league. Millsap is undersized and gets injured yearly, Big Al doesn't play defense and that's at least half of the game. The Jazz hope that with these next two bigs they can be more well rounded players. But the more we see them play (they were in small sample size territory last few years on the bench), the more work we see them needing to put in.
Enes Kanter has the more robust back to the basket game, and is a fantastic offensive rebounder, but his main weapon this season has been as the shooter in pick and pop situations. His face up game is going to be where he distinguishes himself going forward, as his post up game is something he worked to establish in his first two seasons. This is particularly important because his face up game is miles ahead of Favors, and there's poor floor spacing when both are packed in the paint. He reportedly has range to the college three point line, but has yet to really show it at the NBA level. There are a lot of bigs who can shoot, and more and more we see why this is important (from guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh hitting threes in the NBA finals, to guys like Kevin Love and others helping their teams win regular season games). Kanter also needs to learn how to get easy baskets. Everything is an effort for him and he gets tired. Most of Kanter's improvement has to come on defense though. He is a good post defender but gets killed when trying to adjust to being a one on one defender to being a guy who defends an area. He rotates poorly and his defensive instincts are poor so far. He also needs to improve his defensive rebounding ability to be at that ‘starter' level in my opinion.
Favors is almost the inverse, he's advanced on defense, but his offense is very rudimentary. Derrick can only score near the rim and off of the pick and roll. He can't face up. He can't post up. Because he's the defensive anchor, he's not likely to be able to run the floor in transition either. But thankfully Favors is showing an ability to pass, which is sorely needed.
Both players, more than their individual work outs, need to learn how to play together. The whole needs to be greater than the sum here. And in some ways so far it almost works. Favors gets the easy stuff, Kanter is the workhorse on offense. They switch on defense. But they have a long way to go still.
3. Now that Trey Burke is back, what can he bring to the organization and the backcourt?
The easy answer is that he's an actual point guard who immediately brings NBA level talent to the starting spot. He's quick, he knows how to play the game, and is an actual leader. The point guard spot for the Jazz this season has been a train wreck all year long. Hopefully now it will only be a dumpster fire. It's hard to pin so much hope upon a rookie PG who struggled in summer league; but it really can't be worse than what the team has tried to do during his absence. He's a legit three point shooter who can penetrate and play pick and roll ball. The Jazz had maybe one of those things on the floor with any of the previous starting point guard candidates.
He's going to look good just because he's no longer horrible. And that works well because to the organization they can label him a hero (if not savior) and as the most marketable player on the team the Jazz can try to coax some national recognition. "See how bad we were without Trey! Look at how almost average we are with him! Give us TNT games next year!" Okay, so maybe that's not going to happen, but on the court his ability to actually play point guard helps a lot.
Particularly with the ball in his hands it allows players like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks the opportunity to play more off-the ball and gravitate to their more natural scoring instincts, instead of trying to work hard to get an open shot for Richard Jefferson. (Seriously, this is the type of stuff I've had to watch 50 times in Synergy already)
Trey Burke brings talent, capability, and marketing opportunities - which is precisely why the team traded two 1st rounders for him on draft night.
4. The Jazz are great at grabbing offensive rebounds. In fact, they lead the league. Kanter and Favors certainly factor into that statistic. However, lots of offensive rebounding begets poor shooting. What has hampered the Jazz's offense?
This is really the $3 million dollar (or how much Tyrone Corbin's contract is worth) question. By watching the team in synergy there seem to be a few easy to observe problems: the team has no one directing things on offense, and players don't know where to be; and there isn't enough raw offensive talent on the floor.
If you combine those two points it seems to point to the point guard spot. The Jazz, so far, have started Jamaal Tinsley (who is no longer in the NBA, he was cut earlier this month), John Lucas III (who is best known for being jumped over by LeBron James), and Alec Burks (who isn't even a point guard) at point guard this season. All three did not set the table or yell at people and get them organized. Furthermore, this season all three have been really bad on spot up jumpers. In Utah's "offense" things are attempted and then when failure is inevitable, the ball swings out to the open PG (open by defensive design, they scouted these guys before), for a brick. And then maybe we get the offensive board, and then sore.
That's not a very good offensive system.
Hopefully with more people healthy, and the ball being in Hayward and Burke's hands, things will get better. The talent problem, that's something that's not going to be solved anytime soon. Outside of the people on their rookie deals, the Jazz roster appears to be just guys that you would only recognize as ‘throw in players' to make trades for actual NBA players work under the cap.
5. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Utah?
There is light, and I don't think it's an oncoming train either. This season started off really poorly, but November is just one month. With the team getting more and more healthy (started the season off with 5 rotation players out, two of whom were starters), and players adjusting to their new roles, the product on the court should be better. That means that the team should be playing better as the season goes on and this new core gels. And, of course, this team does not look to win much this season, so in a way that's its' own bonus. The light at the end of the tunnel for the Jazz could very well be a Top 3 pick in the NBA draft. I'm cool with that. I'm also cool with the Jazz starting the season off so poorly, with the hope that they play better down the stretch. This way it at least doesn't look like tanking, especially if the team starts to win some games in February and March.
Thanks, Amar! These are great responses. For more on the Utah Jazz, head over to SLC Dunk.