Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors were picked up from the 2010 draft, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter were selected in 2011, and Trey Burke was the team's first-round pick this year. All five were lottery selections, and each of them is about to be thrust into the spotlight of a feature role in the NBA for the first time in their young careers this season.
They're the biggest part of the 2013-14 story in Utah, but not all of it. There are also several veterans on expiring contracts—some looking for career rebirths. And of course, the "Slim Towers" of Jeremy Evans and Rudy Gobert.
Each player is ranked by the impact I think they'll have on the Utah Jazz during the 2013-14 season. I based my opinion on stats from last season, as well as each player's performance during the summer league, training camp and the preseason.
*All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Harris's last stint in the NBA was during the 2010-11 season with the Rockets, in which he scored eight points—for the whole season.
He matched that mark during Utah's preseason game against Portland on October 11. Initially, I thought it wouldn't enough to secure a spot on the roster for the regular season.
Turns out, I may have been wrong. Harris is one of the 15 players left Utah's roster for opening night.
Andris Biedrins played a bit more than Rudy Gobert in the early part of the preseason, but I expect he's been supplanted as the backup center—or at least he will be in a couple months.
Biedrins can still rebound, but his free-throw shooting has turned him into a serious liability on offense. Over the last four seasons, his percentage from the line is under 25.
The MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League championship game may dress out occasionally, but Clark will likely spend most of the year in a suit and tie.
That may change if Clark can figure out how to get his shot off with less space in front of him, though—something he's struggled with since training camp opened. A quicker release could make him a dangerous weapon, as he shot 42.5 percent from three-point range over four years at Belmont.
Jazz fans were pretty excited about Jeremy Evans' 12-point, 13-rebound performance in Utah's preseason opener against the Warriors. Then he went 5-of-16 for 13 points and seven rebounds over the next three contests before hurting his shoulder and missing the rest of the preseason.
He'll need to become more consistent if he wants to hang onto a spot in the rotation after Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush get healthy.
And to do so, he needs to focus on things that made him efficient last year. With so much talk of Evans' newly-revealed jump shot, some seem to have forgotten how good he can be as a source of energy and havoc around the rim.
Last season, he was second on the team in both offensive rebounding percentage and player efficiency rating. The two are tied together, because one of the most effective shots in basketball is the putback.
John Lucas III was brought in to mentor Trey Burke during his first year in the NBA. Early in the preseason, he made some fans wonder if Utah should even start the rookie.
In the first three preseason games, Lucas hit double-figures in scoring twice, and also went 5-of-7 from three-point range. His shooting looked like a great complement to playmaking wings Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward.
But if we've learned anything from Lucas' history, it's that he was bound to cool off. And he did—this preseason, he shot 38.9 percent from the field. That should come as no surprise, since he's a streaky shooter who's never posted a field-goal percentage over 40 for a season.
That kind of inaccuracy, combined with a shoot-first mentality, will lead to a lot of bad possessions.
Gobert—the 7'2" Frenchman with a 7'9" wingspan—has the potential to be a game-changing defender and has looked very active during the summer league and preseason so far.
A frontcourt of Gobert and Derrick Favors could be extremely difficult to score on inside.
After barely seeing the floor early in the preseason, Gobert totaled 21 rebounds, 20 points and eight blocks in Utah's final two preseason games.
Richard Jefferson may have started most of the preseason, but I fear his days of making an impact are over—even if he remains in that first five.
In the early part of his career, Jefferson dominated with athleticism. When that started to fail him, he developed into a three-point threat for the Spurs. As a member of the Warriors, that betrayed him as well. His percentage from beyond the arc dropped 11 percent from 42 in 2011-12 to 31 last season.
Now, at 33, Jefferson will have to redefine himself once again—this time as a veteran mentor who can provide more mentally than he can physically.
In a starting lineup that features four other players under the age of 24, Jefferson may be called upon to do little more than be a steady hand and knock down one or two three-pointers a game.
He also makes it possible for the Jazz to bring Alec Burks off the bench, a role he looks increasingly suited for (more on that later).
According to a news release on NBA.com, Utah signed veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal on October 26.
The move comes as something of a reaction to Trey Burke's broken finger—but its effects should last beyond the timetable of the injury.
He may be a more effective mentor for the rookie point guard, because he's a more efficient, pass-first guard than Lucas. For his career, he's averaged 8.3 assists per 36 minutes.
And since he's played for the Jazz since the start of the 2011-12 season, he's already familiar with the system in Utah.
I'm sure Marvin Williams would like to forget his first season in Utah, which also happened to be the worst season of his eight years as an NBA player. He posted career-lows in points and rebounds per game, as well as field-goal percentage.
Because 2013-14 is a contract year for him, Williams is bound to bounce back, to some extent, this season. He'll be available in free agency this summer, and I'm sure he knows that the better he plays for the Jazz, the more money he'll earn.
When he gets back from heel surgery, I think Williams should be used a stretch-4 behind Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. His three-point percentage fell off last year (32.5), but he posted a mark of 38.9 during the 2011-12 season, his last year in Atlanta.
Of the three players on expiring contracts acquired from the Golden State Warriors this summer, I have to think Brandon Rush has the best chance of sticking in Utah.
He's still on the right side of 30, and he has proven to be a valuable specialist who can hit threes and provide physical defense against opposing wings.
For his career, Rush has hit 41.3 percent of his three-point attempts. And in his last full season in Golden State, that number was up to 45.2.
Trey Burke's struggles continue. The No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft, who shot less than 25 percent from the field during the summer league, went 9-of-30 in three preseason games before breaking a finger on his shooting hand.
Fans are understandably starting to get a little anxious, as competition is only going to get tougher in the regular season. If he can't figure out how to score against the size and athleticism of opposing NBA guards, it may start to affect his confidence. If that happens, Burke's uphill battle to become an effective point guard might start to look more like the side of a cliff.
But there are some silver linings to Burke's issues. First off, he's young, and as my brother told me in a text conversation a few days back, "I don't know if three preseason games of his rookie year will be too much of an accurate career predictor." He later added, "Everybody is awful in summer league." Plenty of players have successfully turned the corner of a steep learning curve, and it would be silly for me to already declare Burke can't.
Another bright spot has been Burke's game management. Sure, his field-goal percentage has been a mess since Utah picked him up, but he's sporting an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1. Limiting mistakes like that as a rookie is a great sign.
Finally, if he does continue to struggle like this throughout the year, Utah will likely have a good spot in the lottery in the stacked 2014 draft. Point guards Dante Exum, Andrew Harrison and Marcus Smart all have loads of potential.
For a long time, I championed the cause of starting all five of the young guns together. I loved the idea of a lineup of Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors and Kanter. And when coach Tyrone Corbin announced Jefferson would start over Burks in the preseason opener, I was little surprised.
But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Burks is most effective with the ball in his hands—slashing to the rim and making plays for himself and occasionally for others.
As part of the starting five, he'd be the third ball-handler behind Burke and Hayward, presumably making him the fifth option to take a shot.
As the best player on the second unit, he can do what he does best without anyone getting in his way—and what he does best is score.
Ironically, it's a skill that has been improved by the time Burks has dedicated to improving as a point guard. Injuries made it necessary for him to spend some time at the position last year, and this summer, he went to Washington with Burke to work with John Stockton.
As a very long combo guard, Burks offers the Jazz a lot of versatility off the bench. If he comes in for Burke, Utah suddenly has a backcourt that features guys who are 6'6" and 6'8". A duo of Burks and point-forward Hayward would be a matchup nightmare.
Most experts are talking about Derrick Favors as the big who will break out for the Jazz this year. But at least in terms of offense, he's way behind his teammate Enes Kanter.
It's Kanter who sports a more potent mid-range jump shot than LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh (his 46 percent shooting from beyond 16 feet last season topped both All-Star bigs). It's also Kanter who has excellent touch and footwork around the rim.
Kanter has also been a better offensive rebounder than Favors—in 2012-13, he averaged 4.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, compared to Favors' 3.7. He also posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 14.5 compared to Favors' 11.9.
There are a few reasons why Kanter is such a beast on the offensive boards. Physically, he has the strength and quickness to dominate. But more importantly, he possesses a desire that is of critical importance for anyone who wants to be a good rebounder.
I'll share two examples of that desire.
First, Kanter loves to follow his own shot and will likely get plenty of buckets doing so this year. Second, Kanter quickly spinning into inside position and then boxing his man out on offense was a common scene for Jazz fans last year.
While Kanter is vastly superior to Derrick Favors in terms of offensive skill, the latter is still going to score plenty of points due to his energy and athleticism. He'll no doubt lead the team in dunks as he runs the floor in transition, crashes the offensive glass (though not quite as effectively as Kanter) and finishes alley-oops.
But it's not scoring that's most important with Favors.
What gives him the slight edge over Kanter is what he can do defensively. Last season, Favors averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes and was fifth in the NBA in block percentage. He'll erase a lot of mistakes made by the inexperienced defenders on the perimeter.
ESPN's #NBARank is pretty fun to follow, but is very easy to disagree with—especially in terms of how it ranked the Jazz players. According to the network's NBA minds, Gordon Hayward is the 90th-best player in the league, while Favors is 68th.
First of all, even if Favors is better, the gap isn't that big. Second of all, he's not better.
Hayward is the most skilled offensive player on the team. That's why he's been asked to assume the role of point forward—something I've previously explained he'll be able to do. Long story short, Hayward has the ball-handling ability, vision and unselfish attitude to be a solid playmaker.
He's also the best shooter on the team, sporting a career three-point percentage of 40.1.
And while Favors is probably the best defender on the team, Hayward may not be too far behind on that end of the court. It's a shame that more people don't know about Hayward's prowess as a chase-down shot-blocker. If you're one of those who don't, treat yourself to this video.
Obviously, none of this is to say that Favors is some kind of slouch, and if he ever develops some offensive skill, he could end up being the top player on this team. But as of right now, that honor goes to Hayward.
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