Report Card Grades for Utah Jazz's 2014 Offseason So Far
The Utah Jazz are a team in the middle of a rebuild, but it feels like something more. It feels like a basketball renaissance.
New coach Quin Snyder has injected energy and tempo into what was an abysmal offense. Dante Exum is a potential star the national media cares about. And the young core will finally have a chance to let loose in 2014-15.
The excitement among fans has reached a level that's almost palpable, and each move throughout this offseason has added to that feeling.
They'll all be graded here, in order of when they occurred.
Hiring Quin Snyder
Early in June, the Jazz announced the hire of Snyder, the former head coach of the NCAA's Missouri Tigers and the D-League's Austin Toros. He's also been an assistant, working for the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs, as well as working under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
Like most new coaches, Snyder has predictably preached defense, defense and more defense during his first month on the job, but what should really excite fans is what he'll do for the offense.
Early returns on how the players feel about him are positive, as they feel like they'll be able to do their thing on the offensive end.
According to Jody Genessy of The Deseret News, Trey Burke said, "I’m excited. I think they’re giving us a lot more freedom," when talking about the new coaching staff.
A free-flowing, pass-heavy, spread offense will be a far cry from the slow, plodding system that led to Utah finishing 25th in the league in offensive rating.
Jazz fans should be happy to know Snyder cited pick-and-roll specialists John Stockton and Karl Malone in his 2009 piece, calling the duo, "perhaps the most famous pick-and-roll tandem ever in the NBA."
Recreating the magic those two produced won't happen in 2014-15, but Snyder has some very intriguing pieces to use right away.
Because of the ball-handling and playmaking abilities of Burke, Exum, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, Snyder has the luxury of deploying the pick-and-roll creatively and in a number of different combinations. He also has a potentially great roll guy in Derrick Favors and a pick-and-pop option in Enes Kanter.
However he plans to use the young guys, Snyder seems committed to helping them reach their full potential. And he looks ready to try with an energy and enthusiasm Jazz fans haven't seen for years.
Drafting Dante Exum
Leading up to the big day, Exum was in play as high as the Milwaukee Bucks' pick at No. 2. The Jazz grabbing him at No. 5 could go down as the steal of the summer.
He's a 6'6" point guard, who was among the draft-combine leaders in tests gauging lateral athleticism. And he's only 19, which means he could grow another inch or two. That kind of length and athleticism at that position will make him a nightmare matchup.
Even with those raw physical gifts, there was skepticism over his NBA-readiness. The vast majority of his experience is against Australian high schoolers, and that scared some teams. It obviously scared the Magic, who needed a point guard after releasing Jameer Nelson.
Well, a lot of those worries have been minimized by Exum's play in the summer league, where his talent has clearly separated him from the other nine guys on the floor.
Holy **** just saw the Exum highlights.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 13, 2014
When he goes to that gear, he's already among the most explosive guys in the NBA. Just check out this video comparison of Exum's drives to some of the league's elite.
If he can add even a halfway reliable jump shot, Exum is a legitimate superstar.
And on top of his basketball abilities, he's a charismatic and exciting personality, someone who could make the national media pay attention to the Jazz again.
When you take the whole package, drafting Exum was a home run.
Drafting Rodney Hood
Exum wasn't the only potential steal the Jazz made on draft night. Former Duke standout Rodney Hood slid a few spots as well, and Utah was happy to snag him at No. 23.
Hood was overshadowed by his teammate Jabari Parker at Duke, who went second overall to the Bucks. The basic numbers of the two show why:
But dig a little deeper and you'll find there's some real evidence that Hood was actually the more effective pure scorer of the two:
His outside shooting ability could make him an impactful player off the bench right away, and he has the size and versatility to be deployed in a number of lineups. His shooting and perimeter skills make him a natural small forward, and his 6'8.5" frame make him an intriguing small-ball 4 option.
In Snyder's pick-and-roll-heavy offense, Hood could set up shop on either wing or in the corners as a stretch 4, pulling big men away from the action in the middle of the floor.
That talent was on display against the Bucks on Monday night, when Hood dropped 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting while outplaying Parker.
His weaknesses are on the defensive end.
To Hood's credit, he said, "My goal is to become one of the best defensive players in the league someday," according to Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Even if he doesn't quite get to that level, just becoming a solid defender in combination with his shooting will make him a very valuable player.
And at pick No. 23, that's excellent value.
Trading for Steve Novak
The first move Utah made following the draft was a trade that sent Diante Garrett to the Toronto Raptors for sharpshooting forward Steve Novak.
Following the move, Novak spoke with The Salt Lake Tribune's Aaron Falk, saying:
They really do see how my shooting can help. It can help with Trey getting in the paint and giving Derrick a lot of room when he’s posting up. Just giving guys space, letting Gordon handle. That’s what they talked about with me. Allowing those guys room to operate.
To run a spread offense like Snyder wants, you need guys who can spread the floor. Novak is absolutely right in saying he can create that kind of space.
The problem is, he does almost nothing else.
Defensively, Novak lacks the foot speed to make an impact on the perimeter and the size to be a force inside.
And during his career, 77.5 percent of his shot attempts have come from behind the arc. He doesn't really have the game to give someone a pump fake and score inside the three-point line.
But as a specialist who'll play mostly situational minutes, Novak is a solid pickup who didn't cost much to acquire (Garrett averaged just 3.5 points and 1.7 assists last season).
Matching for Gordon Hayward
Even as management said all along that it would match any offer for Hayward, the fanbase was split on whether or not paying him $63 million over four years was a good idea.
I was on the fence about it until I read a piece from Salt City Hoops' Dan Clayton, entitled "Why Our Gordon Hayward Comps Are All Wrong."
The whole article is worth a read, but what most applies to this slide is Clayton's convincing, numbers-based analysis of how Hayward can average 20 points, six rebounds and six assists.
If he's surrounded by the right coaches and teammates, those marks are well within his grasp.
On scoring, Clayton says:
He had career lows from the field and downtown, but that’s only part of the story. In his first three years, he was getting 27% of his attempts at the rim, 29% from three, and 33% on two-pointers from farther than 10 feet out. Last season, he dropped to 21% of his attempts coming around the basket and 27% from three while his mid- and long-range 2s went up to 39% of his shots.
Having higher-quality teammates and a more spread system might allow Gordon to get the types of shots he’s comfortable with. If he were to maintain his minutes and attempts from last season but return to his previous eFG%, he’d be averaging 17.6 with no other changes.
Then you figure that Snyder has promised more running. The Jazz played at the fifth-slowest pace in the NBA last season, and they scored just 12 points per game on the break. If Snyder wants to run more, the chief architects of the Jazz’s transition offense are going to be Dante Exum and Hayward.
It’s not hard at all to envision Hayward adding an extra bucket a game in the open court if the Jazz make a team-level focus on that, and suddenly he’s right at or near 20 points.
On the assists:
Hayward had 5.2 assists on 11.2 assist opportunities last season, which means six times per game he put someone in position to score but that player missed the shot. I have no mathematical proof that it will happen less this upcoming season, but if the Jazz put more legit NBA talent around him, it’s more likely that those shots fall.
And finally, rebounding:
From a rebounding perspective, the addition of Exum and probable departure of Richard Jefferson means we’ll see Hayward spend more time at small forward. More possessions also means more rebounds, so even if he doesn’t see a positional bump to his rebounding percentage, a slight uptick in pace could help him on a rebounding front.
All those quotes were merely snippets of what Clayton provided in the article. Again, I encourage you to read the whole thing if you're still worried the Jazz paid too much for Hayward.
Numbers like that would certainly be worth the contract he's signed too, but even with all the statistical analysis Clayton did, it's still speculation. There's no guarantee it will happen.
If Hayward stays at or near the level of production we saw in 2013-14, his contract will look pretty bad, but it's not crippling.
Even after matching the offer and signing rookies Exum and Hood, Utah still has cap space, and the pending extensions for Exum and Burke are years away. Plus, the salary cap is projected to continue to inflate over the next few years.
Given the position Utah's in right now, the fact that Hayward stands to benefit as much as anyone from having Snyder aboard and that he was drafted by the Jazz, matching such a big deal was the right move.
Still, you can't help but wonder how much the team might've saved had it gotten a deal done before the season.
Signing Trevor Booker
As reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Utah's latest offseason move is the addition of free-gent power forward Trevor Booker for $10 million over two years.
It's a bit of a head-scratcher, as Utah is already flushed with bigs in Favors, Kanter, Gobert, Novak, Jeremy Evans and Erik Murphy. At 6'7", Booker is now the smallest player in that group and hasn't really done a whole lot to establish himself as a $5 million-per-year player.
For his career, Booker has averaged 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 53.4 percent from the field. He's collected the majority of his numbers through hustle and effort. Energy guys are great and all, but Utah already has Evans and Gobert for that.
On the bright side, Utah signing Booker led to some inspiration from Bleacher Report's Christopher Walder on a new nickname.
Going All-in on Youth
When the Jazz let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk for nothing last summer, everyone assumed the young core would take the bulk of the minutes.
But Utah took on Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush in salary dumps, and coach Tyrone Corbin decided to play Jefferson 27 minutes a game. Add that to the 25.4 minutes fellow veteran Marvin Williams played and you can see why there wasn't as much time available for the young guns.
The moves this summer have made it clear that won't happen again in 2014-15. Almost everything has been geared toward solidifying Burke, Burks, Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Gobert, Hood and Exum in the rotation.
Those are the most talented players on the team, and the oldest is 24-year-old Hayward. They'll show their age and lack of experience during the season, but they'll also show flashes of potential and be given the opportunity to grow in real-game situations.
And they'll be able to do that together.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him at @AndrewDBailey.