Which Utah Jazz Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2014

Each of the top five scorers on the Utah Jazz are under 24 years old.

They each have weaknesses to go along with plenty of reasons to be excited about the future. So determining which one has the most "upside" is a difficult proposition.

Upside. It's a cliché, a buzzword. We've all heard it countless times as sports fans, so it may have lost some of its cachet.

A quick Google search for "define upside" yields two results:

1. the positive or favorable aspect of something.

2. an upward movement of stock prices.

So who among Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors qualifies most for those two definitions?

Or, who has the most of No. 1? Whose stock is going up, a la No. 2?

The answers to those questions are largely going to be subjective, since no stat can truly predict the future. But it helps to look at some numbers anyway.

2013-14 Utah Jazz
Trey Burke12.5.47010011312.9
Alec Burks13.6.52910511215.5
Gordon Hayward16.50910210916.3
Enes Kanter12.2.53810311016
Derrick Favors12.8.54710610518

Based on this season alone, it would appear that the 22-year-old Favors has the inside track. Of the five in question, he's already the most efficient on both ends of the floor.

That doesn't mean his ceiling is necessarily higher than the others though. There's a case to be made for each.


Trey Burke

Those in Burke's corner are quick to point out the effect his presence seems to have on the team as a whole. 

While sitting out the start of the season with a broken hand, the Jazz went 1-11. Burke had a hard time watching his teammates lose. According to a story by Adi Joseph in the Detroit Free Press, Burke said:

It was tough, because you’re a part of something, and you want to win. And obviously, coming out of college, I wasn’t really experiencing a lot of losing. It’s tough, especially when you’re out. I had to figure out ways to get better off the court and better myself from the coaches’ view.

Burke came back and the team lost two more games with him coming off the bench. But since he's been Utah's starting point guard, the Jazz are 20-26, and their offense is clearly influenced by a steady hand at the controls.

Burke Effect
With Burke Starting102.553.1%55.9%
Without Burke Starting92.248.6%53.3%

The way Burke takes care of the ball is perhaps the biggest reason he so positively impacts the Jazz. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.95 is second among rookies who average at least 20 minutes, trailing only Nate Wolters' 3.52.

The way he values possessions is something that takes most players years to develop. In that way, he's ahead of the curve.

If he can just figure out how to shoot, he could be one of the league's better floor generals. He's hitting just 37.5 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three-point range.

The good news is, it's an issue that has a pretty simple fix. Mechanics are rarely the problem. There have been plenty of great shooters with funky form (Reggie Miller, Kevin Martin, just to name a couple). It's all about repetition—getting up as many shots as possible.

Since Burke's form is pretty sound anyway, the course should be pretty clear. If he improves to the point that defenders have to respect his jump shot, it'll be easier for him to get to the rim and draw help defenders. At that point, he can drop it off to Kanter or Favors for the assist.

In that sense, his ceiling or upside is pretty high.

But his potential is limited. Burke's undersized (6'0") even for his position and isn't as explosive as some of the league's top-flight point guards.

He may never be the kind of player who can dynamically take over a game as either a scorer or playmaker, but he looks like he'll be an above-average floor general at the very least.


Alec Burks

Burks has shown over the last couple months that he has the most pure scoring ability of any of Utah's perimeter players.

Since Jan. 1, he's averaging 15.2 points, second to Hayward's 15.8. He's shooting 3 percent better from the field than Hayward and playing eight fewer minutes a game.

His ability to explode from the perimeter to the paint isn't just the best on his team, it's right up there with the best in the league.

According to NBA.com, a "drive" is "Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks."

Burks has 341 plays that qualify for that definition. And among players with at least that many, he's ninth in points per 48 minutes on drives.

Three things make him effective in attacking the rim. He has a devastatingly quick first step, great length (6'10" wingspan) and the ability to make multiple midair adjustments when he finishes.

As a penetrator, he reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade. Just look at how the two stack up as 22-year-olds. The first chart is production per 36 minutes. The second is advanced stats:


Alec Burks2013-1422.440.3406.2.7534.33.52.317.8
Dwyane Wade2003-0422.465.3025.3.7474.24.73.316.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2014.


Alec Burks2013-142215.5.5296.916.9105
Dwyane Wade2003-042217.6.5306.825.1101
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2014.


Burks isn't quite on 22-year-old Wade's level, but he's not terribly far behind either.

To suggest that he'll develop along the same trajectory that Wade did is bold, but he has the natural talent to get close if he works hard enough.


Gordon Hayward

Determining Hayward's upside should be an immediate concern for the Jazz. According to The Salt Lake Tribune's Steve Luhm, "In his fourth season with the Jazz, Hayward averages 16 points and, as a restricted free agent this summer, finds himself on the threshold of a huge payday."

If Utah thinks he'll get much better, it's the team that should be responsible for that payday. If not, matching the offers of other interested parties might not make sense.

Even if he doesn't get any better, he's already proved himself to be a legitimate point forward, averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists. 

He can get better in the same way Burke can: by sharpening his ability to decide between scoring and creating for others.

Under the burden of being a No. 1 option, Hayward's posting career worsts in both field-goal and three-point percentage. It looks like he's just not suited for that role.

But if Utah can pair him with an elite scorer (or if Burks and Kanter develop into that), he can focus more on distributing. In the perfect role, numbers around 13, seven and seven aren't outside the realm of possibility.


Enes Kanter

The one player on the Jazz who may have higher upside than Burks as a scorer is Kanter.

The 6'11", 21-year-old Kanter already possesses footwork and touch around the rim that belie his inexperience. And more recently, he's shown the ability to bully his way to points against softer defenders.

He's averaging 14 points in under 25 minutes since Jan. 1, and he just posted a career-high 27 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Jazz radio man David Locke was impressed by more than just the points:

If he continues to improve, coach Tyrone Corbin will have to find more minutes for his young big man. He's already averaging 17.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 50.7 percent from the field.

That kind of threat inside will create a lot of space along the perimeter for his teammates. Opposing defenses would have to consider collapsing on Kanter when he catches the ball in the post. Playing him one-on-one is pretty much asking to be scored on.


Derrick Favors

As you can see from the first chart displaying this season's numbers, Favors is already very good. Even if he doesn't improve at all for the rest of his career, he could be a solid rotation player for any team and a starter on plenty.

But assuming he won't improve doesn't make sense. When you watch him play, it's clear that he has plenty of room to grow.

Offensively, his jump shot lacks consistency. He can fix that in the same way Burke can: get plenty of shots up. He also needs to improve his footwork around the rim. Working with Karl Malone and playing against Kanter will help him there.

On the other end, he simply needs to be more engaged. You may think Utah is better defensively when Favors is on the floor, but that's not the case.

Opponents are 2.6 points per 100 possessions better when Favors is on the floor, and their effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) is 1.4 percent higher.

With his 6'10" frame and natural athleticism, he has the ability to make an impact defensively. He just needs to employ more consistent intensity.


So, Which One Has the Most Upside?

As I stated from the outset, subjectivity is darn-near unavoidable in this debate. I posed the question on Twitter and got a variety of responses.

Based on what he's doing already, his age, obvious natural ability and room to grow, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Kanter has the most upside.

I can see him developing into a consistent 20-and-10 guy in the next couple years, and I don't know if I can say that about anyone else.

Each of the five should become better than they are now, but real dominance seems most likely with Kanter. 



Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of Mar. 4, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.


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