NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #28 Utah Jazz
This NBA offseason has been very eventful, and we’re only a few short weeks away from the start of team training camps. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 28th-ranked Utah Jazz!
Last year, the Jazz ended with 25 wins, but outperformed their Pythagorean Wins by three games. They struggled mightily on both ends of the floor, ranking in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive rating. They couldn’t blame health - their top eight players all played at least 66 games. Their starting five wasn’t terrible offensively as a unit, but was bad on the other end, allowing 111 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz have several intriguing young players on their roster, and developing them will be priority number one this upcoming season.
Projected Record: 29-53
Western Conference Rank: 15th
NBA Rank: 28th
Playoff Chances: 4.55%
Championship Chances: 0.00%
While projected to be better than both the Bucks and 76ers, the playoff odds are just as low for the Jazz, if not lower. Playing in the Western Conference is a tough thing. However, history says you need a superstar to jump into the top echelon of teams, and the Jazz might have landed a future one in Dante Exum. His development over the next couple years is the most important thing for this franchise.
Other than the draft, the best thing the Jazz did was keeping Gordon Hayward. It came at a steep price, as they had to match Charlotte’s big offer but he was their best player this past year, and should pair nicely with the young guards they have. Hood is a shooter from Duke that looked good in the Summer League. He could earn some playing time even earlier than Exum.
Three Burning Questions
Will Gordon Hayward live up to his new contract?
The Hornets offered Hayward a four-year, $63 million contract this summer, and the Jazz matched as most people expected them to. The wing position is awfully shallow right now in the league, and Hayward, who is still only 24, was really the only option for the Jazz. Utah isn’t exactly the most attractive of markets, so retaining Hayward was a big deal for them. Hayward looked a little lost at times last season, but 16-5-5 is hard to come by these days, and that was with him in an uncomfortable role for his game. If Exum and Trey Burke develop into solid guards, it will allow Hayward to move into an off-the-ball role, which his game is better suited for. If that is the case, this contract will end up being a positive signing for the Jazz.
Can they figure out the frontcourt rotation?
The Jazz’s dream of playing Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors together long term hasn’t worked out so far. This is made even more complicated by the great play of raw big man Rudy Gobert this summer. Kanter’s team option was picked up by the Jazz, but he’ll be an expiring and may not be a part of the Jazz’s long term plans. The best situation is to find out what they have in Gobert and then be able to move Kanter if he proves to be a viable option at center. Losing Marvin Williams in free agency could hurt the spacing, as all three of their main big men are non-shooters. They have combined for nine career three-point attempts. Teams will pack the paint again this year—what will they do then?
What can we expect from Dante Exum in Year 1?
Last week, I wrote about teenage rookies and how they’ve historically performed in their first respective seasons. The answer is, not like All-Stars. Only five players in the history of the league put up five or more win shares as a teenager in their first season, and those five are all Hall-of-Fame bound. The data also says that the learning curve is steeper for guards than it is for big men. We should temper our expectations for Exum in his first year. Baby steps and flashes of potential are all we need right now.
Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch
SG/SF Gordon Hayward (Yahoo O-Rank: 60)
Hayward finished the year as the 65th best player in standard leagues last season, according to BasketballMonster.com, which was lower than his preseason ranking. However, he was really the only playmaker for the Jazz for the majority of the season and his shot selection (and thus FG%) took a hit. But he was still a very good fantasy player. In fact, if you punted FG% last year, Hayward became the 34th-ranked player. With the addition of Exum and Hood, along with added experience for Burke and Burks, Hayward should easily outperform his preseason ranking. Also, he has eligibility at the scarcest position in fantasy, shooting guard.
C Rudy Gobert (Yahoo O-Rank: 394)
Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote a great piece about Gobert a couple weeks ago, talking about how he could turn into a Tyson Chandler-type player. Obviously, being a useful fantasy player is dependent on minutes, but Gobert’s recent play in the FIBA World Cup might demand such playing time. A big part of the development of the Jazz will be on the defensive end, and Gobert looks like he could become an elite rim protector in the NBA. Blocks are also hard to come by other than the top guys, so Gobert could be an interesting guy late or in deep leagues for you to keep your eye on.