5 Players with a Chance to Shine During Utah Jazz's Stretch Run
For rebuilding teams, the term "stretch run" takes on a different meaning.
For the Utah Jazz, it's about continuing to learn as much about the young core as possible.
Oddly enough, the core group (Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter) expected to be the starting five before the season began has only played 32 minutes together in 2013-14.
It's hard to criticize coach Tyrone Corbin too much over his rotation, though, as the Jazz have played very well when everyone's available:
Jazz go to 17-9 when healthy this year.— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) February 25, 2014
If they struggle, no big deal. The team isn't going anywhere in the next couple of months anyway. If they shine, then you can move forward confidently with this group.
It's all up to Corbin. Whether or not he gives some of the younger players more of an opportunity to shine remains a mystery.
Burke has been haunted by an inability to convert his field-goal attempts since he shot 24 percent from the field during the summer league.
That number crept up to 30 percent in the preseason, and he's shooting 37.5 percent in the games that really count.
So progress is good, but shooting under 40 percent is still really bad. It's even worse when you consider that he's second on the team in field-goal attempts per game at 13.
Unless he comes a long way as a jump-shooter, scoring isn't going to be easy for Burke in the NBA.
Because of his size (6'0"), he struggles to finish over defenders. And he doesn't have quickness or speed on par with some of the league's best point guards, making it tough to blow by on the perimeter.
What Burke needs to showcase from now until the end of the season is passing and playmaking.
He should look up some John Stockton videos on YouTube and study how he operated in the pick-and-roll. He should watch some film on a couple of Lakers games and pay attention to how Kendall Marshall is always thinking pass first.
Ideally, Burke would average more assists than field-goal attempts (like Stockton). That's no easy feat, but lofty goals make you stretch.
Over two-thirds of the way through the season, Hayward simply hasn't adjusted to the No. 1 scorer role.
Under the heavier burden, he's posting career lows in both field-goal (39.7) and three-point percentage (29.9).
Like Burke, he needs to focus more on his strengths in the ball-control game.
Hayward is a unique weapon, in that he is one of the league's only true point forwards. He almost always makes the right pass, in the right spot and moment out of pick-and-rolls.
That's what he should really look to show off over the next few weeks.
Rudy Gobert may be extremely raw offensively, but he should get an opportunity to show off what he can do as a rebounder and shot-blocker.
Of the four big men in Utah's rotation, Gobert has allowed the lowest opponents' field-goal percentage at the rim:
|Opp FGA at Rim||Opp FG% at Rim|
He's 11th in the NBA in that category among players who face at least 3.5 attempts a game.
Granted, Gobert is typically defending backup, or even benchwarming bigs, but you can't ignore the impact his insane frame has on opposing players.
You can't have a Gobert piece without mentioning this, so here goes: He has a 7'9" wingspan! So when I say insane frame, I mean it.
He uses it as a rebounder, too, as he's averaging 12.5 rebounds per 36 minutes and posting a team-high rebounding percentage of 19.6.
The player who may have Jazz fans more excited than any other is Alec Burks.
Over the last couple of months, Burks has established himself as Utah's best scorer—and it's really not close. Since Jan. 1, he leads the team in scoring at 15.7 points a game. Per 36 minutes, that number is 20.1.
To really drive the argument home, Burks' true shooting percentage in that span is 56.1 percent, compared to the 51.4 percent of second-leading scorer Hayward:
Marvin Williams says he calls Alec Burks "Easy 20." Tonight was the ninth time this season Burks has reached that 20+ mark.— Aaron Falk (@tribjazz) February 12, 2014
He now has 12 games with at least 20 points. That's just one behind Hayward, who plays 8.4 more minutes per game than Burks.
It's officially time to jump off the "Jump On Enes" bandwagon.
For months, Kanter took a huge portion of the blame for Utah's losing because of his poor defense and plus/minus rating.
But a number of advanced stats show either Kanter isn't as bad as people say, or Favors isn't as good.
According to 82games.com, Kanter is allowing the same effective field-goal percentage (55.5) to opposing centers as Favors. He's also allowing a lower player efficiency rating to opposing 5s (19.7 to 24.9).
Kanter's defense isn't great, but it's also not the reason Utah is 20-36.
Instead of focusing on what he has done wrong, it's time to start appreciating how good the 21-year-old Kanter has been.
Since Jan. 1, he's third on the team in scoring at 14.3 points a game. His field-goal percentage of 57.7 is second only to Jeremy Evans. And he's doing it in just 24.9 minutes.
Because of his ability to bully smaller defenders at the rim, or step away and hit jump shots out to 17 to 18 feet, Kanter is proving to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
He's been great as a rebounder, too, leading the team in contested rebound percentage at 53.1.
Going forward, Kanter should be allowed to play more minutes, especially while sharing the floor with Favors.
If these two are supposed to be the future frontcourt of the Jazz, they need to be given the opportunity to develop chemistry now.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.