1) You look at Gordon Hayward's stat line and it looks pretty solid, until...OH GOD THOSE SHOOTING PERCENTAGES HURT MY EYES. Is he just being asked to do too much?
Yeah, Gordo is having a pretty strange season. It's probably not the season Jazz fans, coaches, or players were expecting from him. But let's look at where Hayward comes from. At Butler (2 seasons), he shot 47.0 FG%, 36.9 3PT%, and 82.4 FT%. At the NBA level (4 seasons) he's shooting 43.9 FG%, 37.8 3PT%, and 81.7 FT%. Aside from the FG% drop, he's *right there* to where he was as a college player. If you factor in the larger sample size, the better scouting, the more games played, and the higher talent level at the NBA it's not hard to see Hayward drop a few points at FG%. But these are just his career numbers. This season, well, this season things look bad. His FG% has gone down every year in the league (48.5 FG% as a rookie, to the 40.8 FG% mark this season, in a contract year). Not surprisingly, his FGA has gone up every year in the league too. Similarly, his USG% has gone up every year as well. He is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the Utah Jazz offense, and responsible for more and more. Perhaps there is a point where there can just be too much of Gordon Hayward, as you suggest?
Or perhaps, maybe there are other facts that influence his shooting woes this year? Hayward used to be that 4th option guy in the starting lineup. He benefitted from playing with guys like Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, Al Jefferson, and Paul Millsap his entire NBA career. As a result there was always a post up guy and a guy who could drive on the floor with him, and he was super open when the ball rotated off to him. This season the spot up attempts are down, and more of his shots are a product of dribble hand offs and things he does with the ball in his hands in a pick and roll situation.
Of course, the biggest issue here is that the Jazz lost shot doctor Jeff Hornacek, who was Hayward's favorite coach on the team. Tyrone Corbin isn't able to get the best out of Gordon, and I think part of that is based on communication and Xs and Os. But that's just a hallmark of Corbin's coaching career - no one thrives under him. Cases in point: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are having great seasons this year.
In another system, that uses him and gets him shots in different ways, I suppose you could be happy with Hayward taking 14 shots a game and having a 23.8 USG% and 22.8 AST% on his club. I don't think he's being asked to do too much, he's just not being used correctly.
2) Have the young big men, Kanter and Favors, developed like Utah hoped they would this season?
In a word: no. I'm a big proponent of the idea that younger players have a critical learning period. If they don't get something to ‘click' within the first 2-3 years in the league they could be a lost cause. I feel like they need to be on the floor, because a huge factor of learning is performance based. Few people learn to tie shoelaces by just watching their older sibling do it, after a while you have to learn to do it yourself with the laces in your hands. The more frequently you get a chance to tie laces the better and better you get at it. So it's about experience, and experience isn't practice. Because you are evaluated on how you play in the game. And there's no substitute for game experience. With the Jazz forward/center Derrick Favors has gone from 20.2 mpg, to 21.2 mpg, to 23.2 mpg, and this season is playing 31.3 mpg. He's never gotten close to the 2,000 minutes in a season that good players get in their first three years in the league. (I've looked at a lot of stats on this to get to that number - almost every All-Star in the last 20 years had at least 2,000 minutes per season in their formative years) Even this season, with no Big Al or Millsap, Favors is still being held back and playing by that "if you get your 5th foul, you foul out" rule that Corbin put on him. It's silly. Minutes aside, Favors looks like he's taken two steps forward this year and two steps sideways. His Per 36 stats tell the story his per game stats do not. He's less efficient, despite doing more things on the court and being a starter. His blocks are down, he gets to the line less frequently, and he's shooting poorer from the FT line. You could argue that there's some regression there. That's the opposite of development.
Kanter is the whipping boy of this team. And while I love the kid, I'm almost at the point of recognizing that his life would be so much better outside of Utah; I may even entertain thoughts of trading him. He's a #3 pick in his third year in the league, and his front court is just him, Favors, Marvin Williams (somehow starting at PF), and Rudy Gobert. Gobert doesn't even play in games, and Kanter is only playing 25.3 mpg. His previous two seasons had him at 13.2 and 15.4 mpg. He's behind the curve, and it shows most in his confidence.
The more you tie shoes laces, and tie them with success, the better you feel about it. When you have to tie them, you can now do them without even thinking. And you feel confident in your abilities. Kanter's confidence has been systematically broken down by inconsistent minutes, an inconsistent role (sometimes he starts; sometimes he is the 2nd big off the bench), a very short leash, several public shamings by the coach, and a media campaign against him by the Jazz' own PR department. Really, a play-by-play guy keeps tweeting about how bad the Jazz are when Kanter starts.
So Kanter doesn't even get on the floor much, and when he's on the floor, he's not confident enough to play his game. Most of his numbers are down, despite playing like 10 more minutes a game. How is that even possible?
The good news is that both players seem to really appreciate working with Karl Malone. Malone loves them too, and is an assistant bigman coach who is part time. The sooner he spends more time with them, the better the both of them will be. I don't see why you hold off on development until their 4th and 3rd seasons though, that seems like a great way to minimize the returns you get. You still have to pay them #3 pick rookie scale contracts. Why not get the most out of them? Oh, okay, start Marvin Williams over one of them, and play the other guy barely over 30 mpg in a season we're going to the lotto anyway . . .
3) Nothing much is happening for the Jazz this year, but what does the future look like? What has to happen and how long will that take?
The future could be bright, or it could be very mediocre. There are two large factors which will influence which path the team goes on. The first, of course, is the draft lotto. If the Jazz are able to secure a Top 5 Pick, things could be a lot better, a lot sooner. A young core of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans, Ian Clark, and Rudy Gobert + a Top 5 pick looks like a solid core. If the team drafts another guy at the end of the lotto (and the Jazz are a .500 team over the last 30+ games) then the team isn't really helping themselves. The second, and probably more important factor, is that the team needs to clean house with the coaching staff. There is enough evidence to have them fired, but the Jazz franchise values stability over shake ups. If the Jazz were able to get a Top 5 pick and an average NBA head coaching staff things would be pointed in the right direction. We'll know for sure where we are headed in 2 seasons from now.
4) Which match-up do you think will be the most important in this game?
This one is easy. No disrespect to your players, or all the All-Star games they've played in over their careers, but the biggest mismatch here is Rick Carlisle and Tyrone Corbin. Carlisle is so damn good that he's even made Monta Ellis a team player, instead of just a volume scorer. Corbin can't even figure out how to play Trey, Alec, Gordon, Enes, and Derrick on the court at the same time. I'm not joking. Those five lotto picks have played together this season for a grand total of 32 minutes this year. Burke missed about 4 weeks of action, and Favors and Hayward have missed a game or two, but these guys should be playing at least 20 minutes together every game. They've only played 32 minutes together this season. It's almost the All-Star break.
We have an expression at SLC Dunk. "Corb's gonna Corb." You'll see it tonight when Corbin has two point guards on the floor and puts Richard Jefferson at the four spot at times. You're welcome, Dallas.
Of course, the "who guards Monta?" and "who guards Dirk?" are huge match-ups too. But for me it comes down to coaching. And at times this season it appears as though the Jazz are a man down in that regard.
Thanks Amar! You can find him on Twitter at @AllThatAmar and of course, check out SLC Dunk.