Utah Jazz Report Card: Early Grades for All the Team's Key Players

Zac Watne@thoughtcomicsCorrespondent IIJanuary 13, 2012

Utah Jazz Report Card: Early Grades for All the Team's Key Players

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    The Utah Jazz are currently sitting at a surprising 6-4, seventh in winning percentage in the Western Conference.

    The team started off slowly, highlighted by two lopsided losses at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, but Utah put together a nice five-game win streak and is 5-1 at home.

    The recent 90-87 overtime loss against the Lakers hurt, particular since the Jazz had a chance to win it at the end; but it did prove Utah can compete against a top team in the West. Further, it showed that they have more grit than many expected of such a young squad.

    Overall the team is performing above expectations. They have a chance to build on their recent successes as they make their way through a January schedule that includes seven of nine game in Salt Lake City.

    How have the players done individually?

    Listed are the grades for all major contributors for the Jazz, along with a one-word tag line to describe their season thus far.

Al Jefferson: Consistent

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    The Jazz cannot ask much more of Al Jefferson right now.

    He is the leading scorer on the team and is ranked first in scoring among centers in the Western Conference (WC). Jefferson was selected to be on the 2012 NBA All-Star Game ballot and hopefully he will be chosen to represent the Jazz in Orlando, FL.

    Big Al is currently averaging 18.7 points, 9.1 rebounds (fourth among WC centers), and 1.78 blocks per game (also fourth). He already has four double-doubles and recently posted season highs with 30 points and 12 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    At this point, wherever Jefferson goes the Jazz follow. Here is to hoping he continues to play effectively.

    Grade: A

Paul Millsap: Beast

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    Paul Millsap is another player from the Jazz frontcourt who has been placed on the All-Star ballot, and his numbers show why. Millsap is averaging 14.3 points, 7.9 rebounds (sixth among WC forwards), and 1.7 steals per game (ranked second). He consistently brings intensity to the floor while he is splitting time with Derrick Favors, and no one can question his work ethic.

    Millsap has had three standout games this season. Against the Philadelphia 76ers on December 30th, he scored 14 points and had 14 rebounds, along with three steals and two blocks.

    Millsap’s 8-8 shooting performance in the first half against the Cavaliers boggled the mind, he ended the game going 9-for-10 for 19 points.

    Last but not least was Millsap’s recent game against the Lakers, where he scored 29 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had three blocks.

    Millsap’s intensity is also a weakness at times, though. He has had four games with four or more fouls, and though he is fiercely competitive, it needs to be reined in at times to help the Jazz get the most out of this future All-Star.

    Grade: A

Gordon Hayward: (Too?) Unselfish

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    Hayward has been fairly inconsistent this year.

    Though he is averaging 8.1 points per game, a 50 percent increase from last year’s 5.4, his scoring has varied from a high of 18 against the Golden State Warriors on January 7th, to a low of two points against the Lakers on January 11th.

    One redemption for Hayward is that he consistently puts forth the effort to help the Jazz win. Part of that effort is seen in his assist numbers, which have more than tripled from last year (1.1 to 3.7 per game), ranking him first in assists among WC forwards.

    Hayward needs to get more comfortable with the ball. Too often he passes without attempting to take the ball down the lane or looking for his own shot.

    He primarily needs to work on slashing to the hoop in an effort to score or open up passing lanes for the stable of big men around him. If he can simply slow down and be more comfortable with the ball in his hands his grade will definitely jump in subsequent reports.

    Grade: B

Devin Harris: Sloppy

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    A somewhat surprising selection for the All-Star ballot, Devin Harris is not having his best year.

    While Harris averaged 15.8 points per game last year with the Jazz after being acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Nets, this season his scoring has dropped to 8.7 points a contest.

    Further, his assist numbers are down from 5.4 in 2010-11 to 4.5 this season, and he is only shooting 34.7 percent.

    Nearly all of his productivity statistics have declined this year, and Harris’ limited impact on games will continue to hurt the Jazz going forward. In order to be a playoff team this year Utah needs Harris to come alive again, particularly after the All-Star break when Utah’s schedule gets much more difficult.

    Grade: C- (this is a generous grade)

Raja Bell: Who?

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    That is what analysts and writers would be asking if this were Bell’s first season in the NBA, given his measly 3.9-point average in over 20 minutes per game. This is Bell’s 11th season in the NBA, and his numbers seem to be in a free-fall from his peak years (2005-07) with the Phoenix Suns when he averaged 14.7 points per game.

    Coach Tyrone Corbin has stuck with Bell despite his lack of production on the floor, but with a “breakout” game of nine points against the Warriors on January 7th, followed by six points against the Cavaliers and seven against the Lakers, perhaps Bell is riding a [mild] upswing.

    Granted Bell’s contribution (or any player, for that matter) to the team is not solely based on quantifiable statistics, at some point it does become a concern when a player is not able to help put points on the board, grab rebounds or dish out assists; that is particularly true for shooting guards in the NBA.

    Grade: D+

Earl Watson: Hustle

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    It is obvious when Earl Watson is on the floor. Watson gets the Jazz up the court in a hurry and is doing a great job finding open passing lanes and feeding the Jazz's strong frontcourt for easy buckets.

    Watson is averaging just under Devon Harris’ 4.5 assists per game, at 4.3, though he has a higher assist-to-turnover ratio than Harris (2.1 versus 1.8).

    If Watson continues to feed the big men when he is on the floor, keeps pushing the tempo against other team’s second units and helps the youngsters Hayward, Favors, Burks and Kanter develop their games, he will continue to average 20 minutes per game and help the Jazz stay above .500.

    Grade: A-

Derrick Favors: Rising

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    Derrick Favors is the youngest player on the Jazz roster to be placed on the All-Star ballot this year.

    Though his averages of 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game are incremental improvements from last year (8.2 points, 5.2 rebounds), his confidence on the floor while attacking the basket is what is most impressive.

    Favors took advantage of an opportunity for more minutes earlier this season when Al Jefferson was sidelined with an injury.Against the Philadelphia 76ers Favors posted season highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 10-16 from the floor in 39 minutes. His second double-double of the season came against the Warriors when he scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

    Corbin is going to have to find a way to continue to develop Favors, while also appeasing veterans Jefferson and Millsap, as the season progresses.

    Grade: A-

C.J. Miles: Reboot

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    If you thought Miles would have a breakout season, you were wrong (thus far).

    Miles is well off his scoring average from last season, only putting up 6.6 points per game compared to 12.8 last year. Though that is bad enough, his shooting percentage of 30.1 is the worst on the team and rivals what I average in pick-up games.

    Something has to click with Miles soon, otherwise he is going to be watching rookie Alec Burks steal significant minutes. Slumping Miles needs a big game, hopefully he can find one (or several) during the Jazz’s home-heavy January schedule.

    Grade: D

Josh Howard: Thanks

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    The 2011-12 Jazz roster was in dire need of a wily veteran player that can create off the dribble, hustle on defense, and score when other players are off their game: enter Josh Howard.

    GM Kevin O’Connor must have seen something in Howard that other teams missed because Howard has been a solid contributor to the Jazz when healthy.

    Howard is averaging 11.4 points per game, and has notched near or above double figures in scoring in every contest this season (the lone exception was against the Milwaukee Bucks when he only played four minutes after leaving the game in the first quarter with an injured quadriceps).

    Howard’s veteran presence and hustle on the floor has helped keep the team alive in several games, most notably when he scored 11 of his 17 points against the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz earn their fifth win in a row. Howard also scored a season-high 18 points against the Lakers in losing effort on January 11th.

    If those performances continue Corbin will have to find a way to get Howard 30-plus minutes per game.

    Grade: A-

The Rookies: Alec Burks & Enes Kanter: Green

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    Burks and Kanter are both finding their way in the NBA, though they have not been given much time to do so.

    Burks is averaging a little over 10 minutes per game filling in for Bell and Miles, while Kanter is averaging 13.2 minutes. Burks scored a season-high 15 points in only 10 minutes against the Nuggets in a lopsided loss, while Kanter scored five points and grabbed 11 rebounds in an opening night loss to the Lakers.

    Both players have shown tremendous upside at times, with Burks slashing to the basket and Kanter mauling the paint for rebounds, but they need more time on the floor to help develop their game.

    If Bell and Miles continue to struggle, Burks has an opportunity to see more playing time. But Kanter is currently stuck behind the solid play of Jefferson, Millsap and Favors.

    Kanter and Burks have contributed when they are on the floor, they just need to focus on limiting turnovers and getting comfortable in coach Tyrone Corbin’s system as the season progresses.

    Grade: B

Jeremy Evans: Boing

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    This video is emblematic of what Jeremy Evans has done all season (and essentially all he has done this season). His field goal percentage is a whopping 83.3%, mainly because hit attempts consist of high flying, gravity defying slamma-jammas. I really hope he gets into the NBA Slam Dunk competition this year.

    Evans brings intensity to the court, when he gets playing time (only 6.6 minutes per game). All the Jazz need him for is to fill some time and give guys a breather, he does that well and keeps the fans entertained.



Jamaal Tinsley: Absent

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    Not much to say here, since Tinsley has played 22 scoreless minutes for the Jazz. Hell, his profile picture on NBA.com is of him wearing a suit. In and out of his jersey so fast the photographers never had a chance to catch him in action.

    Grade: Incomplete