After sneaking their way into the playoffs last season, the Utah Jazz seemed poised to repeat their success from last year and possibly end up a little higher than an eighth seed.
However, currently sitting at 20-19 (as of January 14th), there is work to be done in Utah. There is plenty of promising young talent and a bevy of established veteran players on the Jazz, but the team has yet to hit its stride.
If the Jazz want to find themselves playing in the postseason again this year, they'll have to make some improvements, so let's take a look at five ways in particular that the Jazz need to get better.
The frontcourt tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap has looked very dominant at times this year, but even with their veteran players, the team defensive rebounding for the Jazz has been less than impressive.
With only 29.8 defensive rebounds per contest this season (21st in the league), Utah has no one averaging double-digit rebounds per game, with the closest being Jefferson at 9.8.
Preventing offensive rebounding is crucial for the team because it increases the number of offensive possessions for the Jazz and puts a stop to any chance for second chance points that can add up throughout a game.
Jefferson and Millsap have both proven themselves to be more than capable of cleaning the glass in their respective careers and Utah definitely needs their help to start rebounding at a higher rate on defense.
So far this season, the Utah Jazz have been at least pretty decent at chasing their opponents off the three-point line, only allowing 17 attempts from beyond the arc per game.
However, the Jazz have been a little vulnerable when the opposition does get it going from downtown, with their defense allowing 37.8 percent on those 17 attempts per game (28th in the NBA).
In order to prevent big runs or to keep their lead at a comfortable distance, the Jazz need to get better at forcing their opponents to drive inside. It's not a problem that is totally out of hand for Utah, but it is something that could result in losses down the line if the Jazz don't find a way to make an improvement.
With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap down low, the Jazz guards should feel plenty comfortable playing air-tight defense on the perimeter, knowing that there is help should the opponent drive past them. Forcing a drive also opens up the possibility of creating turnovers off of bad passes or even drawing offensive fouls.
Taking care of the basketball is always a huge key to a team's success or struggles. For the Jazz this season, it's been more of a struggle.
Averaging 15.1 turnovers per game (good for 20th in the NBA), Utah is simply not taking advantage of its possessions as much as it should. Having a lot of turnovers in a game can stem from things like trying to do too much with the ball or not properly communicating with teammates. Whatever the reason is, turning the ball over frequently is the sign of the players on a team not being on the same page.
In order to rack up wins consistently, the Jazz players must trust each other more and find easier ways to generate offense without forcing the issue too much. A high amount of turnovers leads to frustration on defense and then the whole game can be affected as a result.
The better that Utah takes care of the ball, the easier it will be for the Jazz to find a rhythm in the game and hopefully play better team basketball as a result.
Besides just defending the perimeter, Utah also could use some improvement in not fouling while on defense.
The Jazz are ranked 24th in the league in free throws attempted against per game (24 per contest). Giving your opponent that many opportunities for easy points with the clock stopped is just not conducive to consistent winning. Of those 24 attempts, the opponent is converting on 75 percent of them, so those one-point shots can add up.
Defensive intensity is good and pressuring the ball can help force bad shots or turnovers, but Utah needs to learn how to take a step back when necessary in order to prevent free-throw opportunities. Besides just the free throws, cutting back on fouls would also allow the team to use its original game plan. The coaching staff wouldn't have to make adjustments due to players constantly getting into foul trouble.
Tyrone Corbin is currently in his first, full 82-game season as the Utah Jazz's head coach, after being the man selected to replace the legendary Jerry Sloan in 2011.
It's been a somewhat rocky campaign for Corbin, as the team has gone through a lot of roster changes, but he did successfully guide the Jazz to a playoff berth last season. As for this season, Corbin has had some trouble utilizing his players correctly, especially some of the younger talent that needs some seasoning.
Guys like Alec Burks and Enes Kanter are expected to be key future pieces for the Jazz, but they are both getting inconsistent minutes from Corbin, who seems more warm to the idea of using veteran guys like Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson.
Overall, the team has all but two players on the roster (Jeremy Evans and Kevin Murphy) who are playing at least 10 minutes a game, which demonstrates the heavy amount of indecision in Corbin, who has been tinkering with his lineups a bit too much.
Perhaps once the Jazz and Corbin solidify a consistent system of playing time, with more emphasis on their star players like Jefferson, Millsap and Hayward, they can start stringing wins together while developing more rhythm and chemistry on the court.