5 Areas Utah Jazz Must Upgrade or Improve This Offseason

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

5 Areas Utah Jazz Must Upgrade or Improve This Offseason

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    If there's a self-help book specifically written for NBA organizations, the Utah Jazz might have just gone through the first chapter: starting a rebuild.

    The moves made last offseason to provide financial flexibility for the future led to a 25-57 record in 2013-14—the third-worst in franchise history and the worst since 1981-82.

    Now on to the second chapter: upgrading.

    This summer, the Jazz can use some of the salary-cap space they freed up to re-sign Gordon Hayward and extend young assets Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.

    They also have two first-round draft picks, including one in the lottery that has a 10.4 percent chance of becoming the No. 1 overall selection.

    With that said, perhaps the most immediate upgrade will come by way of a coaching change, as Tyrone Corbin will not return to the position for next season.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of April 22, 2014.


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    The Salt Lake Tribune's Aaron Falk wrote about the decision to not renew Corbin's contract Monday:

    By NBA standards, the Utah Jazz are unfamiliar with losing seasons and coaching searches. But they are a reality of the league — and one usually follows the other.

    On Monday, days after the conclusion of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Jazz stepped into that relative unknown, announcing they would part ways with head coach Ty Corbin and begin searching for a replacement to help lead them back toward winning ways.

    The right coach can do a lot to return a team to "winning ways." Just look at Steve Clifford and the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Last season, the Bobcats went 21-61 and posted the league's worst defensive rating, giving up 108.9 points per 100 possessions. This season—the first under Clifford—they finished 43-39 with a defensive rating of 101.2, good for sixth.

    The Jazz need someone who can similarly step in and establish a defensive culture the way Clifford did in Charlotte, as Utah's own defensive rating of 109.1 in 2013-14 ranked dead-last.

    A couple of names have already emerged as potential replacements.

    The Deseret News' Jody Genessy reported Monday that San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Jim Boylen is the front-runner in general manager Dennis Lindsey.

    That move could draw the ire of a lot of local fans, as Boylen was fired as the head coach of the University of Utah in 2011 after a 13-18 season.

    That's a decent enough reason to be wary, but the NBA game is much different than college. Boylen actually has quite a bit more experience in the league than he does in the NCAA. He even won two titles as an assistant with the Houston Rockets

    Finally, do you think Gregg Popovich would hire any old body to be his lead assistant?

    If Lindsey hires Boylen, it will be based on qualification and not just their friendship that dates back to their shared Rockets days.

    Another name that has shown up in the Twitterverse is one that may defy conventional wisdom. ESPN's Marc Stein wrote, "More than one coaching insider has insisted Utah is on short list of teams that will give legit consideration to Euro legend Ettore Messina."

    The current coach of CSKA Moscow in Russia was a candidate for the Atlanta Hawks job last summer. At that time, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports shared some of Messina's qualifications:

    Messina, 53, is a four-time Euroleague championship coach and two-time Euroleague coach of the year. Across two decades of head coaching jobs in Italy and Russia, Messina has won five Russian League championships and four Italian League titles.

    It's a move that would make waves, but wouldn't come without some risk. The NBA game is different than the European one and both Messina and his players would likely have to make some adjustments.

    There could be other candidates, as Utah has established itself as a strong organization with a storied history.

    Whoever the team chooses to hire, he'll be under a lot of pressure to return Utah to the culture of winning it established in the 1980s and 90s.

Perimeter Shooting

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    At least in terms of offense, basketball is drifting further and further away from the rim. Teams are shooting more threes than ever, and those that can't hit a decent percentage are often left behind.

    Utah was one of those teams, as it finished 25th in the league in three-point percentage at 34.4 and 24th in threes made at 6.6 per game.

    One of the biggest reasons for the struggle was the unexpected dive Hayward took as an outside shooter. In his first three seasons, he hit 40.1 percent of his long-range attempts. In 2013-14, he bottomed out at 30.4 percent.

    "I just haven’t shot the ball as well as I wanted. It’s different. Guys aren’t leaving me that much. I’m getting different shots — shots that I’m not used to taking," he told Grantland's Zach Lowe.

    Well, hopefully this season was his opportunity to get used to taking tough shots. Hopefully Utah can land or develop some other scoring options, so he doesn't have to take as many in the future.

    That's the key for Hayward going forward. If he's playing alongside great offensive weapons, he'll face less pressure and his percentages will shoot back up. As the third option behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, he shot 41.5 percent from three-point range in 2012-13.

    So who are the scoring options? Burks and Kanter have both proven they can handle responsibility on offense. If they continue to improve and force defenses to focus on protecting the rim, it will open up the perimeter for Hayward, Trey Burke and any other shooters Utah might add this summer.


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    Before the season started, Jazz president Randy Rigby told reporters, "We’ll judge this team on defense." I don't see why that would be any different now.

    The "D" is item No. 1 for a 25-57 team with a laundry list of problems to address in the offseason. There really isn't a quick fix either.

    Kanter became an easy target for people looking for a scapegoat, but lack of defense was pandemic throughout the team. You certainly can't blame him for guys being routinely blown by on the perimeter.

    What Utah needs is a complete overhaul and the implementation of a team defense that can thrive with good rotations and help defense.

    Throughout 2013-14, you could catch Jazz players looking at each other, shrugging shoulders, asking whose assignment got blown after wide-open makes from the opposition.

    If everyone's on the same page from the get-go, gets the terminology down and commits to staying solid defensively, Utah could see a Charlotte-like turnaround.

    The Bobcats fixed their "D" without adding any defensive specialists. In fact, their major signing was Jefferson, who's been cast as a defensive liability for years.

    Hayward, Burks and Derrick Favors all have the physical tools to be solid, if not very good defensive players. They just need someone pushing them in the right direction.

Point Guard Play

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    Burke had himself a very solid rookie campaign, but there's no doubt he still has a ways to go. The first aspect of his game that he should focus on is shooting.

    He led the team in threes attempted per game at 4.8, but knocked down just 33 percent of those shots. That's three percent below the league average.

    Now, to cut him some slack, Burke did break a finger on his shooting hand in the preseason.  "It’s still stiff... It healed, but I’m not able to bend it all the way yet. I’m going to work on that a lot," he told Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune.

    Any kind of discomfort in his follow-through or shot in general might account for some of the missed shots. Even still, he has to figure out how to work through it and shoot more consistently next season.

    If defenders are forced to pay attention to him as a shooter, it'll be harder for them to guard against the drive. When your point guard can get into the lane, it opens up the entire offense.


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    The five young members of Utah's core—Burke, Burks, Hayward, Kanter and Favors—all showed flashes of why they can be building blocks for this team's future.

    Burke took great care of the ball and always seemed to thrive in crunch time. Burks showed the ability to beat just about anyone off the dribble, get to the paint and finishoften in acrobatic fashion. Hayward proved to be a legit point forward. Kanter can offensively dominate a game from the post. Favors can anchor a defense.

    So with two more first-round picks coming in 2014, there's reason to believe the Jazz could actually be a fairly deep team for the next few years—assuming they're able to re-sign everyone.

    That would be a departure from 2013-14, as Utah didn't have a single player outside the core five with a player efficiency rating above the league average of 15.

    Someone like Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins could take a lot of pressure off those five guys by being productive right away.

    If Utah can improve in all these areas and upgrade the coaching situation, it could be a very frustrating matchup for teams next season.

    Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.