08 March 2012
I took a welcome respite from the drama of Jazz fandom to watch the results of the Republican Primaries on Super Tuesday. If you can’t find the irony in that, you have clearly never heard of Newt Gingrich. The sad fact is, discourse in the Jazz fan twitterverse has become virtually indistinguishable from partisan politics, and I blame twitter. It is a poor medium for debate. It doesn’t allow us to really express ourselves effectively, leading to frustration, everything comes off more arrogant then it really is, and really conversations just devolve at an alarming rate. So let me preface this by saying, this is just my opinion. I know that should be obvious—quite frankly I really know absolutely nothing about basketball—but unfortunately the tone set by twitter lately has necessitated such a disclaimer. Just because we have a different opinion, doesn’t mean that one of us is an idiot and one of us is a genius. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to write an article about your opinion unfortunately.
Forget about the whole concept of making the playoffs versus getting a draft pick for a second. The crux of the problem for the Utah Jazz right now comes down to one simple statement: If we still don’t know what we have in players like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks one year from now, we have failed.
Notice that I have left out Enes Kanter. The reason for that is typically the natural progression for a player entering the NBA means there are still more questions than answers, even into their sophomore year. There are some players that show that they are ready for an accelerated pace of development and Alec Burks has shown to be a player like that. Considering where he is at right now, and how little he has actually played this year, there is no reason to think he is not. This doesn’t mean that if you threw him out there for 30 minutes a night right now against first teamers, he wouldn’t struggle, wouldn’t shoot a low percentage, average a lot of turnovers, or make a lot of stupid mistakes. What it DOES mean, however, is that Alec Burks has shown he is the type of player whose development will not be hindered by throwing him to the wolves too quickly. In keeping with David Locke’s “Oreo Analogy,” drop him in the milk. He isn’t going to rise right to the top immediately, but he isn’t going to turn to mush either.
Let me start of by telling you a few claims I am NOT making before asses-er assumptions are made. I am not claiming that every lottery player on our roster is going to be a star (and by star I mean a perennial All-NBA player). In fact, I am NOT claiming that ANY of the lottery players on our team will be stars, nor am I claiming that about the 1 or 2 players we do or don’t draft this year. What I am saying is that every one of them has the potential to be. Some more than others, and while Enes Kanter is showing incredible potential to match his massiveness with massive skills, it’s hard to see him as anything other than a solid number 2 player. So for now let’s just talk about the other three. Three lottery picks, one a number 3 pick in a semi-decent draft and the physical talents to be awesome (if he can ever figure out how to catch the ball), that all have a 1% or greater chance to be stars. Why? Because they are lottery picks, and if you want to ever get a star in Utah, that is where it has to come from.
That leads me to the next “fact:” this is a stars league, and you absolutely have to have a star to win a title. Unless you are able to lure All-NBA talent via free-agency, you have to find them in the draft. This is basically a three step process:
- Obtain lottery picks (the higher the better!).
- Draft smart and get lucky.
- Find out what you got.
Kevin O’conner has done an amazing job in doing number 1 without having to actually bottom out. The fact that we have the last two year’s number 3 draft picks and neither of them required us being bad enough to get a number 3 draft is quite the testament to KOC’s savvy. I would argue (and many of you would argue back) that KOC has also done a great job with number 2. Anyone that wants to knock him for taking Enes Kanter number at 3 and start comparing him to other number 3 picks need to make a case for a player taken after Enes being a better pick if they want to appear to have a modicum of credibility to their argument. The Jazz had the luck of getting the number 3 pick in a draft that was 1 star deep. Furthermore, KOC has done a brilliant job of finding two potential All-NBA players at the number 9 and number 12 positions. Don’t assume I am looking at them with Jazz colored glasses, either, as both Hayward and Burks have a chance to be stars, even if that chance is in the 5-10% range, that is the game you must play to find stars.
That brings us to number 3, the step in the process where I would argue that we kind of sort of suck. Again, the reason for that is because of history. Besides Deron Williams, the last time the Jazz drafted a player 12th or higher was Thurl Bailey in 1983 (point of reference: I was born in 1984!). The Jazz are used to being a winning team that doesn’t need to find its next big star, but rather is always searching for the one or two pieces that can complement their current roster and put them over the top. Despite a great history of drafting well late, the draft has always seemed like more of a luxury than anything, like playing with house money. If we get lucky, great! If not—no big deal—wasn’t really part of our overall plan anyways. We are used to having time on our side (or thinking we do anyway), and acting like it. There is probably no greater example of that than C.J. Miles who we drafted in 2005 and there are still people talking about his potential…
Here is the thing, that is ok with a guy like C.J. Miles (to some extent anyway), who we drafted 35th overall in 2005. He is cheap, he doesn’t come in expecting time, and even more than that, he certainly doesn’t start playing like he deserves time in his first year or two. And there is very little expectation that he will ever become a star (except of course by Jazz fans), so you play the game of developing a role player instead.
That same process will not work with Gordan Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks. Each one of these guys has star potential, although there is a statistical probability that none of them actually are. In order to find their star—which they must do to contend for a title—and do it through the draft—which they must do because we live in Utah—the Jazz have got to find out what they have in the guys they have drafted high and they need to do it sooner rather than later. Rookie contracts for first round draft picks are for two years, plus two more years of team-options, and then—if still not signed to a longer deal by that point—they become restricted free agents. Keep in mind as well that the Jazz are statistically likely to end up with two more lottery picks from the next draft, a very deep and talented draft (supposedly, anyway) in which a team drafting in the 10-14 range has a legit chance to drafting a good player, maybe even a star. Barring a trade, the Utah Jazz are going to have 6 lottery picks on the roster in their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year to open up the season. And there is a legitimate concern that they are going to be no closer to knowing what they have in their 3rd year players than they do right now.
David Locke (@lockedonsports) did a great piece on “why starting matters.” If you haven’t read it, stop what you are doing now, go read this
So, you have to have a star to win a ring, and when I use the term star I specifically mean an All-NBA player who at least occasionally makes 1st team or comes close. Don’t believe me? See Figure 1…
Figure 1. Last 21 years of NBA champions and how many All-NBA players they had on their team.
Out of the last 21 years of NBA champions, everyone has had an All-NBA player. All but one, the 1995 Houston Rockets, had at least 1 2nd teamer, and that rockets team had two 3rd teamers. 18 of 21 have had a 1st teamer, and 13 of 21 have had at least 2 All-NBA players. Not convinced?
I am a believer in the Jazz mentality of making all rookies, no matter their talent level, earn their minutes so that they develop the right way, as much as this may have pissed off Deron Williams (in retrospect, what doesn’t piss off Deron Williams?). That is why when the year began I was perfectly ok with the course we were on. However, they have done so. Gordon Hayward has gone into a very predictable sophomore slump, and instead of being allowed to play his way out of it—the luxury afforded to Devin Harris and Raja Bell—he was yanked for Josh Howard. I have nothing against Josh Howard, other than the fact that he is the most selfish player I have ever seen on a fast break, but he is not going to be part of a our future and there is pretty much nothing left to discover with him. Gordon Hayward may have a small chance of ever becoming even a 3rd team All-NBA player (although larger than most think, if he can consistently shoot above 35% from outside and combine that with his other talents), but the probability is greater than the 0% chance that Josh Howard has. I’m fine with this move as long as it is very short term and only meant to help Hayward progress by forcing him to become more aggressive, but all signs are pointing to it being a long term move designed to win 1 or 2 more games this year so we have an outside chance of limping into the playoffs. I am not fine with that.
My good buddy Ben Bagley (@benbags) pointed out that, Ty’s job is to win games, not develop for the next year or the year after that. Even if he was given a direct mandate to do that, it is his permanent record to be tarnished. As much as I like to think we do things differently around here, and that Ty has a long enough leash to grow and to foster the growth of our team, history would suggest that doing anything other than winning is not in Ty Corbin’s best interest, even if he is told to do so. The man whose job it is to develop for the future is KOC, and unfortunately the ball is in KOC’s court. While we may not have an All-NBA talent (yet) on this roster, we don’t really have a legitimate bench warmer. Even C.J., as frustrating as he can be, could be a rotation player on a lot of teams in this league. As long as Jefferson, Millsap, Howard, and Bell are on the team, it is going to be difficult to find
I do not want to see the youth “given” minutes because I think we have the next Kobe Bryant and Tyson Chandler on our team. I want to see them get the time they have earned, and be given the opportunity to show they are stars; the opportunity to learn, to struggle, to grow, to persevere or not persevere. Finding out they aren’t stars is not the worst thing that can happen. Never finding out what we have in these players until they are on a different team is. The jazz are going to have to make a lot of tough choices starting at the end of Hayward and Favors 4th year about who to keep and pay the big bucks and who to let walk. There is not going to be the option of “giving it another few years to see” like we have with C.J. unless one of them is looking like a total bust. Nothing should be more important than being best prepared to make those decisions when they come!
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