Haters want to hate. And sleepers will continue snoring.
We've all, no doubt, read infuriating NBA Power Rankings that have the Utah Jazz ranked as the proverbial bottom feeders of the super-stacked Western Conference. We've seen writers analyze this team featuring players that aren't even on the roster or frontcourt, articles that don't include the powerhouse nature of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors.
And it has been relentless that the likes of sophomore Klay Thompson, oft-injured Andrew Bogut, David Lee, rookie Harrison Barnes and can't-play-more-than-five-games-without-spraining-an-ankle Stephen Curry will have the Golden State Warriors making a 30-game jump from last season and into the playoffs.
Relax. Power Rankings of all types are about as accurate as a seven-day weather forecast. And let's not forget that most writers out there haven't seen a Jazz game that wasn't on national television.
So, again, breathe easy. Here's what we can actually expect from the Utah Jazz in the upcoming 2012-13 season:
It has been repeatedly said that the Jazz overachieved last season.
If that's true, there's no reason to believe that they won't again this year if overachieving can be defined as beating out a Phoenix Suns squad sporting nothing more than a 38-year-old Steve Nash or leaping ahead of the Houston Rockets who had very little more than a shot-happy Kevin Martin and a beast in Louis Scola.
If that's overachieving, then fine.
But the real truth of the matter is that the Jazz had one of the most efficient frontlines in the NBA and they couldn't protect it.
The San Antonio Spurs handed Utah an older brother-type butt whooping that made the Jazz look like they belonged in the NBA Developmental league. Gregg Popovich kept five defenders in the paint and dared three-point shooters to beat them or even compete with them for that matter.
They couldn't throw a rock into the ocean from a helicopter hovering the Pacific.
Al Jefferson was shut down and verbally conceded the contest. Paul Millsap was ineffective. All the while, Utah's three-point shooters looked like they had never touched a basketball in their lives, and Tony Parker knifed the defense like a professional pumpkin carver.
But a lot of those issues have been addressed.
Losing Devin Harris was addition by subtraction. He was the first line of defense which meant that the Jazz didn't exactly have a first line of defense, essentially leaving Big Al to move his feet laterally—not exactly his forte.
The exits of Raja Bell (pending, yet inevitable), Josh Howard and C.J. Miles have essentially sent the three most inconsistent guys out of the locker room and happily elsewhere.
Their replacements are all defensive and offensive upgrades. Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye hit more three-pointers last year than the entire Jazz squad (278 to 273). And they nearly double the production from Bell, Howard, Miles and Harris combined (166).
Needless to say, "offensive upgrade" is an understatement which should leave more room for Millsap, Favors and Jefferson to work down low. The five-men-in-the-paint scheme shouldn't be an effective way to defend the Jazz anymore.
Head coach Tyrone Corbin is going to have his hands full here.
Derrick Favors deserves 30-plus minutes a night and so does Millsap. However, the Millsap-Jefferson lineup is inefficient defensively. Pairing a slow-moving train with an undersized underdog isn't exactly a recipe for defensive success.
However, Favors is able to mask a lot of both Millsap's and Jefferson's defensive liabilities with his length, speed and athleticism. That makes him the foundation of the Jazz defense, something seen heavily during the first-round sweep by the Spurs.
The fan base is going to be very malcontent watching a starting lineup that doesn't feature Favors and rightfully so. And Millsap would make a phenomenal sixth man and an instant candidate for the yearly award. Whether or not he's willing to accept that role will be up to him.
There's also an x-factor in play. Millsap's recent declination of the Jazz's three-year, $25 million extension could lead to him being traded and the Jazz offering the extension to Jefferson. The truth is that Millsap's contract is more movable and Utah could use an upgrade at point guard.
Do not expect Millsap to be in a Jazz uniform come trade deadline, especially if freshly hired Dennis Lindsey gets involved in re-signing Big Al.
Realistic Expectations for 2012-2013 Season
Projected Starters: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson
Key Reserves: Randy Foye, Alec Burks and Paul Millsap
The Rest: Earl Watson or Jamaal Tinsley, DeMarre Carroll and Enes Kanter
Bench: Watson/Tinsley, Kevin Murphy and Jeremy Evans
The Jazz have one of the deepest teams in the league. And they're going to be one of the best offensive teams the NBA will have. Every position is deep and protected except for point guard, an issue that will hopefully be addressed using either Millsap or Jefferson as trade bait.
Defensively, it seems that the Jazz have upgraded. Foye and Marvin Williams are terrific defenders by nature. And if the starting lineup features both Marvin Williams (6'9") and Hayward (6'8"), there won't be much room for opposing teams to work with Favors and Jefferson eating space in the middle.
The real x-factors for the Jazz come in two categories.
First, can the Williamses and Foye knock down shots the way they have in recent years? If they can, the Jazz won't have any problems scoring from any place on the floor. They'll have scorers at every position, minus the backup point guard minutes.
The second, and perhaps most important, question mark for this team is the development of Burks, Hayward and Favors. Kanter's minutes are going to be limited no matter if both Jefferson and Millsap continue as Jazz men.
Hayward's confidence seems to be the link between him playing well or not, offensively speaking. He's a very good defender no matter if his shots are falling. If he can find his confidence, he will find his consistency. Hayward is the best playmaker the Jazz have, often getting easy shots for others.
Getting to the rim isn't a problem for Alec Burks. He's a slasher, a la Dwayne Wade. His shot seemed better than most expected coming out of college, but it still left a lot to be desired. If he continues improving, he'll continue to see more competitive minutes.
Then there is Derrick Favors. He deserves minutes no matter what. But the biggest leap most NBA players make is between years two and three. He has yet to reveal a go-to offensive move but is a Tyson Chandler-type defensive anchor. If Favors can find a way to stay out of foul trouble, the minutes will come and so should the offense. He's going to get his 10-plus boards and two-plus blocks a game. Can he contribute 15 points a night?
That's yet to be seen.
If the young bucks continue their improvement, particularly Favors and Hayward, the Jazz will inevitably improve. Add consistent outside shooting from Mo, Marvin and Foye, Utah will win more games.
It's not rocket science.
But they're not the Sacramento Kings either.
A 50-win season is a legitimate goal for Utah. They're not likely going to be a homecourt-advantage team and reaching the second round will be a tall task.
But make no mistake, the Jazz are playoff bound.
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