The Critical Improvement Each Young Utah Jazz Player Must Make
This run of shocking success was centered on stellar post play and depth, but also was contingent upon the overachieving play of their young core.
As proud as Utah fans and players should be of being a top-eight Western Conference team, surely no one will be satisfied with maintaining the status quo and seeing a first-round exit for the Jazz every year.
Of utmost importance in future success for the Jazz is the marked improvement of their younger players. As the saying goes, if you're not improving, you're regressing. Here's where each of Utah's young players needs to improve to take the Jazz to the next level.
Derrick Favors: Offensive Polish
Derrick Favors is at the epicenter of Utah's explosive potential. The young, raw player has shown rapid improvement and the exceedingly rare quality of being a defensive game-changer in a relatively short period since entering the NBA.
Favors' athleticism has led to many highlight-reel dunks and rejections that land somewhere around row 17. If Favors could focus on honing his offensive game, he would immediately become one of the best forward/centers in the NBA.
Favors should (and hopefully already has) put the bulk of his focus on developing a few go-to post moves and a reliable mid-range jumper.
The prospect of an offensively-proficient Favors getting a monster rejection from the weak side on defense and then schooling a defender on a slick up-and-under, or nailing a 15-footer right in his face is an incredibly alluring one for Utah fans.
Gordon Hayward: Confidence & Leadership
Gordon Hayward is a stark reminder that some of the supreme athletes we cheer for and scream at in the NBA are nothing more than young kids with a certain set of tremendous talents.
Hayward's cherubic face belies his still-young age, and his enthusiasm for video and computer games make his ability to compete and succeed at an NBA level that much more impressive.
Hayward is a dynamic, hard-working player on both ends of the floor. His court vision more closely resembles that of a point guard than a swingman. He's prone to streaky shooting and stretches of underwhelming play, which really seems to be tied to confidence.
Hayward's confidence is the lynchpin to taking an exponential leap forward in 2013. His rate of improvement is at least above average. Now he just needs confidence to give his overall performance some consistency.
Alec Burks: Basketball IQ/Offensive Intricacies
Alec Burks has the opposite issue that Gordon Hayward has.
Burks exudes confidence, which is likely a byproduct, at least in part, from being "the man" at the University of Colorado.
Burks can be an asset on the floor at any given moment due to his knack for getting to the rim and the free-throw line. However, his game needs to be more complete and more in line with the very specific offense that head coach Ty Corbin runs before Burks can see his minutes increased.
Burks too often falls into the trap of going to the proverbial well one too many times. He needs to add more dimensions to his game besides taking his man off the dribble in hopes of getting either a layup or a foul.
Burks is still very young, and very intelligent. I have confidence that Burks is malleable enough to become a mainstay in Ty Corbin's offense, either as the Jazz's version of James Harden or a member of the starting lineup.
Enes Kanter: Pro Experience/Offensive Variety
Those who follow Enes Kanter on Twitter know about the affable Turk's interesting offseason.
Kanter has tweeted pictures of himself touring the Playboy corporate headquarters, visiting a reptile-themed amusement park and looking like a Greek God..
While Kanter's offseason has been eventful to say the least, the most important work for Kanter has yet to come.
Kanter will start working out with teammates this morning, further honing his already considerable NBA skills considering he's only been playing basketball for a little over five years.
Kanter will look to definitively cast off the "bust" label that many have already unfairly stuck him with. To do so, Kanter will simply need more NBA experience. Considering his lack of experience playing basketball at any level, Kanter's limited improvement over a single strike-shortened year is understandable.
Kanter will also need to grow his offensive repertoire, as opponents eventually caught on to his preference to use an up-and-under move nearly every time.
Once Kanter gains more experience and a better understanding of how the offense works, he'll also have an opportunity to show off a reportedly impressive mid-range jumper that was underutilized in his rookie year.
Jeremy Evans: Shooting/Scoring
Jeremy Evans may be an overlooked asset in Utah's ultra-deep frontcourt. Most non-Jazz fans were only aware of his existence after Evans won a lackluster NBA Dunk Contest.
Despite the ho-hum event, Evans was able to demonstrate his tremendous athleticism and world-class leaping ability, an asset that he almost exclusively relies on for offensive production.
If Evans was even an average shooter/scorer, then the combination of the scoring and the tremendous athleticism would elevate his role from 12th man to a solid rotation player. As it is, Evans mainly just relies on his leaping ability to catch alley oops or put back errant shots.
Evans may initially be overlooked and see very limited playing time, but if one of Utah's top four post players were to get injured, he would see significant minutes. Evans needs to be ready for that.
Kevin Murphy: New Role
Kevin Murphy was Utah's only draft pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but at a very lucky number.
Murphy was selected 47th overall, as were his new Utah teammates Mo Williams and Paul Millsap. The Jazz are hoping lightning will strike a third time and they'll get another steal at 47 with Murphy.
Murphy was a big fish in a small pond at Tennessee Tech who could score in bunches. As a Purple Eagle, he was often relied upon for almost the entire offensive production of his team, but he obviously won't have that role in Utah.
Murphy had a fairly impressive summer league adjusting to a lesser offensive role, specifically showing proficiency catching and shooting at a high rate coming off screens.
Murphy's minutes will most likely be few and far between this season, if he doesn't end up with Utah's new D-League Affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. Murphy's biggest hill to climb will be getting used to a severe cutback in minutes and seeing his role greatly reduced.
How Murphy adjusts to being an end-of-the-bench guy and how hard he works at improving will largely determine Murphy's spot on the team.