CONTINUE TO EXPERIMENT
A run of successful prospecting and player development has lifted the Jazz into playoff contention. The ascent of 7'1" center Rudy Gobert after Enes Kanter's midseason departure crystallized the team's defense-first identity; the growing sophistication of Derrick Favors's game solidified the frontcourt; Gordon Hayward's improvement as a shot creator energized the offense; and young bench players boldly took advantage of their minutes to become reliable contributors.
Utah finished seventh in the NBA in net rating after the beginning of the new year and won 20 of its last 31 games, so big things are expected this season, and rightly so. But the Jazz's pursuit of their first postseason appearance since 2012 shouldn't come at the expense of their willingness to let growing players try new things—the formula that allowed the team to make a huge leap in 2014--15 under first-year coach Quin Snyder.
This is especially true at point guard. Second-year man Dante Exum is out indefinitely with a torn left ACL, and Utah doesn't have a single starting-caliber player on its roster to replace him. Trey Burke will get his chances, as will the recently added Raul Neto. Yet the Jazz should also try no-point-guard lineups that put the ball in the hands of wings like Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood or Joe Ingles. Snyder has a sharp, creative mind. He needs to keep pushing the boundaries, even as expectations heighten.
A rival scout sizes up Utah
Quin Snyder took the defense that the Spurs use as a base—where they funnel everything into Tim Duncan—and funneled everything to Rudy Gobert. Gobert runs the floor with so few strides and blocks shots with his anticipation as well as his length. On offense he has great hands. You can mess up any pass, and he can still catch it and finish.... Derrick Favors still gets into foul trouble too much, but I've seen steady progress. His rebounding is consistent at both ends. He doesn't disappear; you don't see a lot of zero-point, six-rebound games out of him. He can be out there with a Blake Griffin and guard the drive, and he won't get bullied by guys like Zach Randolph.... Trey Burke had a decent rookie year [in 2013--14], then injuries, the coaching change, the style change—they all hurt him. Then they drafted a guy [Dante Exum, who will likely miss this season] over him at his position, and Burke went into a funk. He took some terrible shots.... Gordon Hayward is pretty good at creating shots. He has a high release, good size [6'8"] and uses screens well. Quin encourages him to shoot threes, and that makes him even more of a weapon. Teams isolate him and go at him on defense, but he has underrated length. He benefits from Rudy being behind him.... They led the NBA in passes and have lots of ball movement, which is what Rodney Hood does well. He finds open spots and has three-point range. They're not going to put him in a lot of pick-and-rolls as a handler, but he can take his man one-on-one.... They really jelled in the second half last season. If they have that same effort this season, they'll be fighting for a playoff spot.
COACH QUIN SNYDER
(2nd season with the Jazz)
2014--15 RECORD 38-44
(3rd in Northwest)
PG TREY BURKE
12.8 PPG; 4.3 APG; 36.8 FG%; 31.8 3FG%
SG ALEC BURKS
13.9 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 3.0 APG; 38.2 3FG%
SF GORDON HAYWARD
19.3 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 4.1 APG; 44.5 FG%
PF DERRICK FAVORS
16.0 PPG; 8.2 RPG; 1.7 BPG; 52.5 FG%
C RUDY GOBERT
8.4 PPG; 9.5 RPG; 2.3 BPG; 60.4 FG%
SG RODNEY HOOD
8.7 PPG; 2.3 RPG; 41.4 FG%; 36.5 3FG%
PF TREVOR BOOKER
7.2 PPG; 5.0 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 48.7 FG%
SF ELIJAH MILLSAP
5.3 PPG; 3.2 RPG; 1.2 SPG; 34.0 FG%
Shooting fouls drawn by Gordon Hayward last season—a 33.3% increase over 2013--14. Hayward's improved ability to break down defenses off the dribble and draw contact helped him lift his scoring average from 16.2 to 19.3 points.
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES