After a tumultuous 2010-2011 NBA season, plagued by the Deron Williams trade and Jerry Sloan's retirement, Utah Jazz fans were pleasantly surprised with a postseason berth for a young and upcoming squad in 2011-12. But what can the Jazz do to ensure they will be in the postseason again next season?
Although the Jazz were swept by a veteran San Antonio Spurs squad in the first round, Utah fans still have plenty of reasons to hope.
The Jazz are a team of young studs in Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, plus savvy veterans Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Earl Watson. It definitely seems they may actually be better than last year, with a year of growth for the youngsters and a couple of solid free-agent additions.
But there are a few things the Jazz could improve on if they hope to make a playoff run next year.
With a tougher Western Conference where the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors are all presumed to be playoff teams, the Jazz have their work cut out for them. If they make sure to do a few of the upcoming things, they will make that road a heckuva lot easier.
At this point, this step seems like a no-brainer for the Jazz's playoff hopes. Derrick Favors emerged last year as one of the most promising big men in the NBA, averaging 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and one block a game in about 21 minutes a night.
Needless to say, Utah did not get completely hosed in the Deron Williams trade that brought Favors to Salt Lake City.
Favors has tremendous upside and star potential, which was only barely glimpsed last year. If he doesn't start next year, Jazz fans will be calling for Tyrone Corbin's head. Many, including myself, were stumped at the horrid lack of minutes Favors received in the playoffs. Of the four games against San Antonio, he only started one of them.
These are the numbers for Favors in the four games against San Antonio:
Game 1 (26 minutes): 7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks
Game 2 (21 minutes): 9 points, 9 rebounds, 0 blocks
Game 3 (32 minutes): 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks
Game 4 (37 minutes): 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks
The guy truly knows how to make the most of his minutes, and he's one of the better low-post defenders on the Jazz squad. Moves will be made, hopefully, that will free up a permanent starting gig for this young stud.
Enes Kanter may not have shown as much last year as Jazz fans would've liked, but one has to keep in mind that he lacks significant in-game experience and was deemed ineligible to play his entire season at Kentucky.
Jazz fans should not fret. The kid is still only 20 years old. We haven't even scratched the surface with him yet.
An incredible amount of upside and potential remain untapped for the young center. With one year under his belt, the Jazz need to let young Kanter fly and see just what he might be capable of.
If the Jazz end up trading either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson, Kanter will move right in the permanent backup role behind whoever maintains the starting center spot.
This move is desperately needed because he won't truly see what he's capable of if he's never on the court. And he can't show his potential if he doesn't have that confidence on the floor. Playing more and with a more defined role will help the young guy tremendously.
With Kanter backing up the incredible Jazz frontcourt, teams will have a hard time competing against this squad. And with Kanter's uncanny rebounding abilities (especially on the offensive boards) and unpolished offensive skills (just wait till he figures it out), opponents will have to fight hard to get any rebounds.
It's no secret that the Jazz have one of the greatest home courts in the NBA.
Most nights, EnergySolutions Arena is packed with some of the most diehard NBA fans this beautiful country has to offer (myself included). Whether the Jazz are having a crappy year or a good year, Jazz fans are always there supporting their team through the thick and the thin.
So it makes sense as to how the Jazz always dominate when playing in front of their home crowd. With the epic atmosphere that exists on most nights, the players have their confidence boosted from the get-go.
Their 25-8 record last year at home speaks for itself. But so does their 11-22 record on the road.
And they absolutely can not let any of those games sneak away from them. The more home games they lose, the more they have to win on the road. The Jazz just happen to be historically bad away from Salt Lake City.
So if they plan on seeing the postseason again, home games are crucial.
Twitter has been alive with trade speculations and scenarios that Jazz fans would love to see go down this offseason. One of those most oft talked about is a trade for one of the Jazz big men. Either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson needs to be traded eventually if the Jazz hope to progress any further than they did last year.
And a big need on their roster could be taken care of if the trade is done right. One of the most glaring needs of the Utah Jazz is a solid and athletic, shooting guard or forward. The prime candidate? Andre Iguodala.
Why not work out a straight-up Iguodala-for-Jefferson trade? Doesn't that help all parties involved? Iguodala would bring a solid veteran presence to the lineup with a shooting stroke that the Jazz desperately need. Now that they have lost out on Ersan Ilyasova and probably Andrei Kirilenko, the Jazz could use another solid presence in the 2 or the 3 spot.
Andre fits that bill.
Known for being a great perimeter defender, he would be bring a skill that the Jazz struggled with last year, which is actually what they brought Raja Bell in for originally (and three-pointers). That didn't work out like they had planned (partially due to injury.)
Plus, he would give them a little bit of everything. Not only can he get to the line, but he also can dish, shoot and rebound. Also, his all-around defensive abilities can't be looked over.
Pair him with Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward and we have quite a defensive threesome right there—a threesome that could lead the Jazz straight to the postseason.
The Jazz already addressed a major need this offseason when they brought in underrated guard Mo Williams from the Los Angeles Clippers. And shipping Devin Harris to the Atlanta Hawks for Marvin Williams (who was misused in that Atlanta system altogether) opens up that spot for Mo.
Originally drafted by the Jazz, Mo has already addressed his excitement to be returning to his roots. His return is a lot different than what brought disappointing former All-Star Devin Harris. While Harris was traded in the blockbuster Deron Williams trade, Mo essentially had to agree that he would remain with Utah to allow the trade to happen.
And he did. So now we have a guard that wants to be here.
Plus he brings a lot of confidence and a pure shooting stroke that the team has lacked in years past. Since Deron left, the Jazz have been sorely lacking in guard play. And with the numerous big men drawing in opposing defenses, the guards on this team are going to need to be extremely ready to make it rain.
This doesn't just include Mo. Hayward needs to be more ready with his shot. Sometimes it's on and sometimes it's not. Jamaal Tinsley and Watkins, when on the floor, need to be ready. New rookie Kevin Murphy even needs to be ready. Alec Burks needs to be ready.
With solid play from both the big men and the guards on this squad, the Jazz should have no reason to miss the playoffs.
But in the end, one of the best things the Jazz could do is just stand pat and watch what they have built develop and flourish.
With Hayward, Burks, Kanter and Favors, Utah has a lot of upside, based on how each of those players develop. Each has shown glimpses, but none have put it all completely together. Imagine what could happen if they all do.
Of all the teams in the NBA, the Jazz have the most Oklahoma City-like upside.
Needless to say, this next 2012-2013 season will be very interesting to watch.