What We Learned About the Utah Jazz This Season
The Utah Jazz's season ended Wednesday night following a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The season has been an up-and-down affair for this club, which has mired in mediocrity for the past two seasons.
Although the Western Conference playoff race was exciting to watch, it's over now, and it resulted in the Jazz missing the playoffs for just the second time in seven years.
Let's take a moment and reflect back on what we've learned from the Jazz's 2012-13 campaign.
The Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson Trade Sweepstakes
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One of the bigger headlines concerning the Utah Jazz this season was their potential trade options for Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who both have expiring contracts at the end of this season.
With Millsap rejecting a contract extension before the season started, and Jefferson potentially garnering a large contract in the offseason, it's unlikely that the Jazz want to keep them if the price is too high.
They are both borderline All-Star-caliber players, but they haven't proved that they could lead a team into the playoffs. Since Deron Williams was jettisoned from Utah, the two big men have led the team to only one playoff appearance, where they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs in four lopsided contests.
The fact that the Jazz opted to hold on to Millsap and Jefferson past the trade deadline indicated that they still had faith in their current team, even though it didn't work out for them at the end. Both of those players will be valuable assets on other teams who need to fill a void at the power forward or center positions, and it's difficult imagining them remaining in Salt Lake City if a better offer is available.
Gordon Hayward Could Be a Future All-Star
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Gordon Hayward may have averaged less minutes this season than last season, but he's shown significant improvement in all areas of his game.
Per 36 minutes, the swingman has averaged 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc (according to Basketball Reference).
He has always been a great shooter, but his playmaking abilities and individual defense have developed admirably. As a result, he's averaging the most free-throw attempts per game of his career, as well as his highest assist percentage.
Furthermore, he's holding opposing shooting guards to a PER of 13.6 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 12.4 (per 82games.com). Considering that the wing positions are exceptionally deep in terms of talent, Hayward's defensive improvement is even more remarkable.
Mo Williams Is Not the Answer at Point Guard
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Although I'm a big fan of Mo Williams, I don't believe he is the solution at point guard for a young, upcoming Jazz team.
At best, he's a scoring point guard capable of taking over a game with his streaky shooting. However, he's been a shell of his former All-Star self from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he is as inconsistent as ever.
Combine that with his injuries this season and his first year on a new team, and you have a player who won't live up to his expectations.
Williams made $8.5 million this year in the final year of his contract, and that will probably be the highest he will earn from now until the end of his career. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Jazz should not re-sign him unless he accepts significantly less money.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter Will Be Future Starters
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The Jazz know that Millsap and Jefferson could potentially walk in the offseason, but they still took the chance of not dealing them. It might've been because a decent trade wasn't on the table, but clearly the Jazz organization thought about a new sense of direction for this team.
They wouldn't have risked losing both quality big men if they didn't know about the young Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter's abilities.
Any other team would've scrambled to trade one of Millsap or Jefferson before the deadline, but the Jazz have put themselves in a great position. They have the frontcourt depth capable of making up for the loss of either of the two players, which is why they aren't as concerned about not re-signing them.
It's likely that the Jazz will be moving on from Millsap and Jefferson, and finally insert the two young big men into the starting lineup. Playing 20 minutes per game off the bench isn't an ideal method to developing talented young prospects, and Favors and Kanter look physically ready for a bigger role on this team.