What We Learned About the Utah Jazz This Season

Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2014

What We Learned About the Utah Jazz This Season

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    Adversity fosters growth, right? That at least has to be the hope in Utah after the 57-loss season endured by the young core of the Jazz.

    That kind of rough year was largely expected when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were allowed to walk as free agents last summer, but the harsh reality was still difficult to accept as losses piled up.

    There were bright spots, though, and lessons learned along the way. Perhaps the biggest for those outside the organization is that there is definitely some talent on this team—unrefined and inexperienced, but still evident. 

    Each of the five members of the team's young core—Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke—gave reasons to be excited about their potential.

Gordon Hayward Can Play Point Forward

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    In his fourth season in the NBA, Hayward became the face of the franchise, a No. 1 option on offense and a team leader for the Jazz.

    The transition took its toll on Hayward's shooting percentages, as he posted career lows from the field (41.3 percent) and from behind the arc (30.4 percent).

    In an interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Hayward discussed his shooting woes:

    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.

    ...

    A lot of teams are starting to do the center-field type of defense on the pick-and-roll, so you're getting midrange floaters.

    ...

    And those are shots I honestly don't like taking. I'd much rather get other people involved.

    Getting others involved was something at which Hayward proved quite adept over the course of the season.

    In 2013-14, only four players averaged at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Michael Carter-Williams and Hayward.

    A lot of Hayward's other numbers aren't on par with Durant's and James', but being in their company in any way is no small thing.

    He may never be the scorer Durant is, or the distributor James is, but Hayward can be Utah's understated version of both.

    His greater strength right now is the playmaking, and if he focuses on doing that more next season, his efficiency should climb back up.

    It would also help to have more reliable scorers around him who would relieve some of the defensive pressure he faced this season.

Alec Burks Can Be a No. 1 Option

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    Burks is without question the best scorer on the Jazz, and he proved that he can be the team's No. 1 option in 2014-15.

    Last season, he led Utah in points per 36 minutes at 17.9 and usage at 23.9 percent. He was third in free-throw rate (free throw attempts per field-goal attempt) behind non-rotation players Andris Biedrins and Rudy Gobert.

    His ability to draw fouls is what separates Burks from his teammates as a scorer. He can blow by just about anyone on the perimeter and isn't afraid of contact from big men coming over to help.

    He should get an opportunity to apply that fearlessness and scoring ability in a bigger role next season. According to the Deseret News' Mike Sorensen, Burks thinks he's ready for that shot:

    I've got the talent to be. I've got the competitiveness to be. I feel like I can become a great player in this league with my athletic ability and potential. I think I can be real good in this league.

    Whether or not he gets the role and minutes he needs to make good on that statement is largely dependent on who the next coach is, but Burks has already proven he deserves a shot, or several more per game.

Enes Kanter Still Has a Lot of Room to Grow

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    At 21 years old, Kanter has already demonstrated skill well beyond his years as a low-post scorer but can definitely still improve.

    First and foremost, he needs a ton of work on defense.

    This season, opponents averaged 6.5 more points per 100 possessions when Kanter was on the floor than when he was on the bench.

    Poor footwork made him a favorable matchup for opposing bigs in the post, and lack of awareness made him late on a lot of defensive rotations.

    Fortunately, both problems can be fixed with some time and attention from the incoming coaching staff.

Trey Burke Has to Figure Out His Shot

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    This season, Burke averaged 12.8 field-goal attempts and 4.8 three-point attempts per game.

    There was a total of 49 players who took at least 12.8 shots per game. Among that group, Burke's field-goal percentage ranked 48th. Only Brandon Jenning's 37.3 percent was worse than Burke's 38 percent.

    Only 29 players hoisted up 4.8 threes per game. In that group, Burke's percentage of 33 percent is dead last.

    Finally, just 17 players averaged 12.8 field-goal attempts and 4.8 three-point attempts. Burke was 17th in that group with a true shooting percentage of 47.3.

    To his credit, Burke says that the finger he broke on his shooting hand prior to the regular season never fully healed. According to Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune, "He disclosed during the team's annual end-of-the-season meeting at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday that his surgically-repaired finger has been problematic."

    Even still, it's obvious that he needs to work on that jump shot, which could actually be therapeutic for his finger.

    In college, I dealt with a broken arm one season and a broken hand in another. Both times, the best therapy came when I was finally able to get some shots up.

    Burke can do the same thing by putting up countless jumpers every day this offseason.

Derrick Favors Can Still Be a Star

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    Favors doesn't play a flashy brand of basketball, which is why he was often the least talked about member of Utah's young core despite being the most steady.

    He finished the season with a team-high player efficiency rating of 19.0, well ahead of Hayward's and Jeremy Evans' 16.2. He also led the team in rebounding at 8.7 per game and was third in scoring at 13.3 points per game.

    All that, and he's still just 22 years old.

    It was easy to forget his age and how much upside is still untapped because he was seen as one of the veterans on such a young team.

    The fact that he's already this solid, about to start a four-year extension and still five or six years away from his prime has to be encouraging to Jazz fans.

The Jazz Need an Entirely New Game Plan

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    With athletic, young players such as Favors, Burks and Hayward, you'd think the Jazz would've wanted to run up and down the floor a little bit this season.

    Instead, coach Tyrone Corbin opted for a slowed-down, defense-first approach that just never panned out.

    The Jazz finished the season 26th in pace, with 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes and 30th in defensive rating, giving up 109.1 points per 100 possessions.

    The next coach, whoever that may be, needs to turn these young players loose. 

    The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors have proven that you can play uptempo and still be a strong defensive team, as both are in the top four in defensive rating and top 10 in pace.

    Obviously, Utah is a lot of growth and development away from being in a category with either of those teams, but they're good examples to strive toward.

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

    Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.