Can Utah Jazz Evolve with Talented Young Core but Without a Superstar?
The Utah Jazz are like the Nuggets of being the Thunder. Allow me to parse that: They are a young ascendent team, much like OKC was and is, but they probably lack a superstar—like the Nuggets have and will.
Between Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are stocked with first-and second-year talent. All four are exciting and intriguing in their own ways. You would just be hard-pressed to find any gambler confidently betting on any of these players to become elite down the line.
Among the Utah talent crop, the two frontcourt kids stand the best chance at surprising people and making that superstar leap. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could both be great, but for very different reasons.
First, let's take a look at Enes Kanter. Last season, he played to some mixed reviews, but presented some promise along the way. Kanter was strong and rebounded at an elite level (I like how he'll sometimes tap the ball to himself in the Rodman-style). The knocks on him were a slow, plodding game that left something to be desired on defense and on offense, and he would often get his shots blocked at the rim.
Low and behold, there's a new Kanter in town. Kanter raised what looked to be a low ceiling by losing an astounding 51 lbs over the offseason (via SLAM). Now I don't know what to make of him, as I shade toward the positive.
The heavier Kanter was a minotaur down low; a man with battering-ram hips who clunked opponents away with so much as a wiggle. Will the new Kanter be able to battle on the block? I'm not sure he'll need to if he's making moves like this.
Kanter has looked incredible in this preseason, but there are still kinks to smooth in his game. He has not been the mid-range shooter that draftniks billed him to be. His star potential depends on his ability to reclaim that ability. The weight has been lost, the post moves are there—now it's time for Kanter to show some range.
Unlike Kanter, Derrick Favors is already a star on defense. Also unlike Kanter, Derrick Favors has almost no offensive game. The kid can't really shoot, and post moves are a rarity. For now, the athletic big man is feeding on dunks and putbacks for much of his caloric-points intake.
His aforementioned defense is a revelation amid so many poor Al Jefferson rotations. Next to Big Al, Favors looks like Hakeem on that end. The one quibble is that Favors is undersized for a center and doesn't possess the shooting touch of a power forward. I fully endorse playing at the 5, though, in this increasingly small-ball world. So long as Favors plays big by blocking shots and beating his man to spots, I don't see much wrong with him facing off against the occasional lumbering brute.
Last season, Favors took a huge leap forward with his game, though I wouldn't guess "superstar" from his two years in the league. But, at a mere 21 years old, Derrick has plenty of time to prove me wrong. Both Kanter and Favors may have to wait awhile before fully unfurling their talent, as Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap sit atop the depth chart.
Utah should be set at the wings going forward, with Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks exceeding expectations last season. Hayward was an effective slashing threat last season and will improve once he polishes that outside shot. Burks had a promising rookie year in obscurity. He only played 15.8 minutes per night, but averaged a healthy 5.8 shot attempts at the rim per 40 minutes (via HoopData).
Oh, and Jeremy Evans doesn't get any run, but he does do this.
All told, I don't see Kevin Durant or LeBron James on this Utah Jazz roster. I do see a building, balanced answer to Denver's collective attack. It is possible that Utah is so deep with young talent that they won't need any of these talents to become elite.
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