08 March 2012
Thaddeus Young and Devin Harris in meeting one of the 2011-12 season, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Special treat for you today, valued readers, followers, and friends: A two-by-two Utah Jazz-Philadelphia 76ers roundtable Q&A preview featuring some of the best writers to be found around the basketball blogging world dropping dimes the size of silver dollars on you.
Vincent Heck is a freelance writer and fiction author. He has contributed sports content to sites such as: AOL Fanhouse and Yahoo! Sports. Vincent currently contributes regularly to the Yahoo! Network and has a coming of age novel set to hit the shelves late March. Follow him on his feisty Twitter handle: @HeckPhilly
Evan Hall is an NBA addict, a Coldplay apologist, and a writer for the ESPN TrueHoop Network's Jazz blog, Salt City Hoops. Follow him on twitter @the20thmaine.
Sean O'Connor currently works as an auditor in and around Philadelphia. He is also the editor at The Sixer Sense on the FanSided Network. You can follow him on Twitter @SixerSense.
And me? Well, you know this guy...
Clint, TheUtahJazzBlog: Among Utah Jazz fans there's a sizable contingent who feel like there's a logjam at the big man positions (despite there being really only four true bigs on the roster). This is clearly the biggest strength of the Jazz's roster. Is there a similar dissent among Philadelphia 76ers fans about that stellar set of backcourt players and playing time/development?
Vincent, Yahoo! Sports: I'm not sure I'd use the word 'logjam' when referring to the Sixers backcourt. I think they all have a particular role if used right on the team. Jodie Meeks is a three point specialist, Jrue Holiday is facilitator in the making, Lou Will and Evan Turner are scorers (ET having more of an ability to create for himself). The biggest question sometimes is who's going to go or stay when looking to make moves to improve our front court. To me, this season is the time for the Sixers to sit back and watch these guys all the way through the playoffs and see who it is they want in their future scheme. The other(s) may be able to be used as trade bait to improve the frontcourt.
Sean, TheSixerSense: Yes, though the situation is a bit different than the one in Utah. What the solution should be depends on your perspective on the team. The casual fan wants Lou Williams to play more – he leads the team in scoring coming off the bench in fairly limited minutes, and for those that measure greatness by scoring it seems that Lou should play more often. The “for the future” fans wanted Evan Turner to start (and got their wish) and get playing time despite his lackluster performance, because he was the second overall pick. Many people still want to trade Iguodala, despite how valuable he’s proven to be, to give the younger players even more of an opportunity.
The problem that the Sixers have is that they have players with similar, but not identical, strengths and weaknesses at multiple positions. All but Jodie Meeks can all play multiple spots but the combinations don’t always work well. That’s why there’s a playing time crunch. If anything, putting Turner in the starting five will stop the complaints for now, because no one is demanding that Meeks play more. But if Turner struggles, the question again becomes how do the pieces we have fit together, and if they don’t what moves do we make?
TUJB: The Jazz got their first win of the season against the Sixers after getting blown out in their first two games. Does the team and/or fans remember this and seek payback for this dishonor?
VYS: Short answer: (Ultimately Yes.) The long answer is: We're coming off a huge win against a division rival so it takes a lot of attention off of this game. We want to win this game for a few reasons that come before revenge:
1. Because we always want to win these types of games (games we feel the Sixers are favorites in) and 2. Because it'd be nice to follow up such a great win with another. I think the revenge factor comes in behind other feelings that Sixers fans have right now. So, do we want revenge? Sure. But it's not the main reason we want to win Friday.
Who we want REVENGE on are the Knickerbockers.
STSS: I certainly remember the game, though I often get the finish confused with some others. As it turns out, we’ve had our share of painful endings, with some horrible late-game coaching and execution resulting in a horrible 2-11 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer. I think the Sixers will be more concerned not with revenge but solving the problem that is the four Jazz bigs. The Jazz won without the help of Al Jefferson, who as we know has played very well as of late. The Sixerscouldn’t neutralize Derrick Favors in the first game, and Millsap can’t help but have a better game this time around.
TUJB: If you could have any one Jazzman on your Sixers who would it be and why?
VYS: Derrick Favors. He's young and able to be developed. I think he'd thrive under the coaching of coach Collins.
STSS: The answer depends on what you think of the potential of the young Jazz bigs and the Sixers team. Personally, I’d go with Al Jefferson. I believe that, with a big like Jefferson, the Sixers would be on the edge of contention for the Eastern Conference title right now. The Sixers tend to struggle with scoring inside and getting easy baskets, and Jefferson fills those holes and more. Bigs like Al Jefferson who can average 20 per game are few and far between. I’m confident that Doug Collins would be able to get Jefferson to play at least average defense, and he could help this team much sooner than Favors or Kanter could. I love Millsap too, but he becomes a bit redundant with Thaddeus Young in town for the long haul.
VYS: What are your overall feelings about the win against the Sixers? What do you think are the keys to victory on Friday and how likely is it those keys are executed by the Utah Jazz based on what you've seen from them and know of the Sixers so far this year?
TUJB: That first win of the season for the Jazz that was against a valid, if not yet validated, Sixers squad? Pretty darn good after getting punked by the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to start the season, D-League-style. What I really remember about that game is 1) Sitting in the lower bowl for the first time, courtesy the Jazz organization, and 2) That our flighty, game-to-game, ADHD contingent of fans was ready to sell Al Jefferson, who didn't play due an inflamed ankle, for a bag of Funyuns after it. Don't worry, this is usual for this bunch; hero and goat, keeper and trade bait, exchanges hands after virtually every game.
Head coach Ty Corbin has been tweaking the lineup and rotations lately to the effect of netting 40% of the Jazz's road wins in their last two games, so they'll be rolling hard on the confidence train coming in. Utah still has a tendency to let opposing players get into the paint and to the rim far too easily, but the defense has been improved of late, especially on the perimeter (sorry, no free scouting report -- you'll have to read me on TUJB to find out why). Provided they bring the defensive intensity and the Sixers don't get too hot from range Utah should be able to keep this one close. Since both clubs have had trouble closing out, a tight one could get very interesting indeed.
Evan, SaltCityHoops: While I would love to put the first Sixers win in the trophy case of great Jazz wins this season, there are two reasons I can't: 1. In a season with such a small training camp, neither of these teams had found their identity this early (it could be argued the Jazz still haven't found their identity). 2. Any game at Energy Solutions Arena swings at least five points in Utah's favor, and a game away, swings at least five points the other way. The first win was only by a three point margin, which really doesn't tell us much about either team.
The Jazz will dominate the paint, and the Sixers will dominate the open court and the fast break. The battle will be on the wings. When the Jazz get efficient scoring from their wing players--specifically Gordon Hayward--they can match the offensive output of nearly every team in the NBA. Unfortunately, that perimeter offense is inconsistent at best, and against Andre Iguodala, one of the premiere perimeter defenders in the association, it will be even more difficult to come by.
VYS: What seems to be the Jazz organization's overall pattern when building a team? Is this season's Jazz indicative of that pattern, or are they trying something new? How do you feel about the overall current direction?
TUJB: Much of the team-building for the Jazz is dictated by the market size, which is about the size of a single New York City borough, so a big name free agent destination it isn't. Utah depends on drafting well and filling in the gaps through smart scouting and trades. We've seen something of a new pattern as Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor has been stockpiling lottery picks, y'know, since "the history of the NBA is written in the top five draft picks" and all.
I'm pretty impressed with how the team has progressed overall. Most fans would like to see all four young gun lotto picks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks, starting and playing 40 minutes a game, but the "old dogs" aren't really that old and still coming up with new tricks, doing some developing of their own. What they can pass on to the this next, as-yet-unripe generation is invaluable.
ESCH: The Jazz typically couple veteran presence with young talent (a fairly normal trope for building a team in the NBA), hoping to contend while still developing said talent, and this year is no different. What is different this year is the amount of talent on the roster. With such a deep roster, Coach Ty Corbin has struggled to find playing time for all of his deserving players, and the result has been a hefty dose of DNP - CDs. While this can be frustrating for fans excited to hype the next face of the franchise, it's nonetheless a great problem to have.
VYS: What is your overall prediction for the Utah Jazz this season? What reasonably is their crescendo, and what reasonably is the lowest they can drop?
TUJB: I said 35-31 at the beginning of the season, even knowing how difficult the closing schedule that's mostly on the road is, so I gotta stick to my guns. That might be good enough for a 6 seed with this lockout schedule that's squeezed tighter than an accordion at a first recital in banjo and washboard band country, we'll have to see.
But there's a worst case scenario in play here for many. You see, the Jazz potentially have two first round draft picks in what's being billed as the deepest draft in years, but if they make the playoffs their own goes to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and if the Golden State Warriors get too much worse they'll get to keep their own first round pick, top seven protected, that the Jazz acquired.
It's kind of a chicken and the egg thing: The Jazz need the playoffs to maintain a winning culture for the up-and-comers and to survive in this small market long term, but it's hard to get ahead when you don't land all-timers. Nevertheless, Kevin O'Connor has positioned the Jazz to have about as much flexibility as is possible.
Personally, I think the current roster has a lot more to give yet, more than many are willing to give them credit for -- Devin Harris, Josh Howard, and Raja Bell have only just returned to form, while Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are still adding angles and facets to their games, really barely learning to play together efficiently. Thanks to the lockout and last season's Deron Williams dump-off for assets the main starters have played less than two-thirds of a usual full NBA season together.
As local afternoon 1320KFAN radio host Ben Bagley recently pointed out, "A coach who prepares his team for the future prepares his team for the next coach."
ESCH: Without dipping into my admittedly deep pool of homerism, I don't believe the Jazz can reach beyond a 7th seed in the West. The conference is too deep, and the Jazz have too many issues closing out games on the road. The potential nadir for the Jazz --dropping out of the playoff race and into the lottery-- is not an irredeemable situation. This would open up more opportunities for the youngsters to develop, and then maybe we could finally figure out just how good Derrick Favors really is. That said, I believe that if you can compete for a playoff spot, it's your obligation to do so, and I can't fault Corbin for choosing line-ups that he believes will give him the best chance to win.
ESCH: Both the Jazz and the Sixers have rosters loaded with young talent. If you could trade one of those young, talented players on the Sixers for one of the Jazz's, what swap would you make?
STSS: While it would not be an equitable trade, I think the two rookie centers are actually better fits for the other team. Enes Kanter was a much higher draft pick, deservedly, but Vucevic has matched Kanter’s production and taken on a more prominent role with a team that desperately needs him. However, I believe this is just the result of opportunity. Kanter is a beast on the boards, averaging a rebound per 3 minutes, and has the size to be a very effective post defender. Vooch, meanwhile can stretch the floor (and yes, he attempts threes) and is a very effective in the pick-and-pop game and on the offensive boards. Vooch’s game is a bit more polished and he’d fit nicely with Jefferson and Favors. He’s not as strong as Kanter, but alongside Favors or Jefferson he wouldn’t be exposed much.
I think Kanter will be the better player down the line, so the Sixers would have to add something to sweeten a swap with the Jazz, but the fit is there.
VYS: Hard to say. As I've said in my answers to Clint, I'd like to see more out of my young talent before I'm comfortable with trading any of them and seeing what is feasible. Also, as I've pointed out in my answers to Clint, I would like to see Favors on the Sixers.
The reason I'd have to wait is because it's possible I'd consider a trade involving Jrue Holiday if Evan Turner proves he could run point in the NBA.
ESCH: Jazz fans are accustomed to watching at least one player from the opposing team have a career scoring night against the Jazz's oft-porous perimeter defense. Which Sixers player is most likely to gash Utah's defense?
STSS: Evan Turner played the point against Boston with a great deal of success, with Iguodala retaining his normal role as the do-it-all forward and Jrue Holiday as the off-ball scorer. I think Jrue can eventually flourish in this role, and with Devin Harris struggling defensively since leaving the guidance of Avery Johnson I can see Jrue having a big offensive game. He scored 22 points in the first meeting, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him repeat that performance.
VYS: Evan Turner. He's got a new role on the starting lineup in which he thrived against the Celtics on Wednesday. There's a possibility he could present some problems for the Utah Jazz on Friday.
ESCH: With the trade deadline approaching and the Sixers firmly entrenched in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack of quasi-contenders, should the front office stand pat or make a move? If a move is necessary, what would it be? If not, what is the ceiling for the Sixers roster, as presently constituted?
STSS: I’m not sure there’s much the Sixers can do at the trade deadline given the state of the NBA today. With a lockout shortened season, it’s likely that most teams will wait until the summer to make a deal. The Sixers should be at the top of the list of teams unlikely to make a move now, especially since, with the amnesty clause, they can maneuver into a position where they have room for a max player. There’s certainly needs, such as a go-to scorer or defensively dominant big man, but those players rarely are available and often aren’t worth the price.
As presently constituted, the ceiling I believe is a 2nd round exit. Obviously, given the right match up and circumstances, they could do better. But they aren’t as talented as the Bulls and Heat and likely won’t acquire anyone to put them over the top. They could make a 2ndround series versus the Bulls interesting, if that occurs.
VYS: Stay as they are.
The Sixers goal this year isn't to win the NBA Finals. Should some sort of miracle scenario work out then that's different. As a franchise and as a reasonable outlook, this year is a setup year for them. This offseason will be the time they move in to try to be a contender.
As they are - this year - their absolute max could be the ECF. Reasonably, they can reach second round. Easily, they could lose first round, as well.
STSS: Gordon Hayward was, for the lack of a better term, abused last year by Andre Iguodala in the Sixers-Jazz showdowns. Back in December, Hayward looked like he improved immensely over last year, adding strength and scoring an efficient 15 points. But his stats, save for playing time and an uptick in rebounding and assists, have regressed (especially his shooting). Is he a player to build around, or is his inconsistent play a major concern?
ESCH: Gordon Hayward's problems have far less to do with his own abilities than with how he is used. He thrives with the ball in his hands, as a scorer and a facilitator. He's also a great finisher in the open court. Unfortunately, with the kind of offensive sets the Jazz run, Gordon often slips into the background, acting as nothing more than an entry passer to Al Jefferson. Corbin's recent decision to move him to the bench, though initially criticized, has helped Hayward to play a more prominent role. When he's involved, he's dynamic. When the youth movement comes to fruition, I truly believe Gordon Hayward will be there leading it. While he may never be the no. 1 guy on a championship team, he could definitely be a sidekick to be reckoned with.
TUJB: It's a concern to a degree in that Hayward finished last season looking like a player ready to take the leap to that next level. Clearly, that's not happened to the extent most had hoped, including Ty Corbin, based on the playing time and starts he received. At one point Hayward led the Jazz in minutes played on the season. He didn't progress beyond what you see now. Until a couple of games ago he was the only Jazzman to start every game. It became time to temper expectations when he wasn't moving forward anymore.
Then something happened that had Jazz Fan all abuzz all over again; he got moved to the bench and dropped a season high in his first game from it.
The reality is that Hayward isn't ready yet to compete with the top tier talent in a wing-centric league where he was expected to match up with the likes of the Kobe Bryants and LeBrons Jameses in only his second year. He may yet -- lofty expectation -- but for now he'll develop a lot more quickly getting far more touches with the second team than he would as a fourth option on the first. And if he's playing well Corbin has shown he'll ride Hayward right to the end of a game. It's not so much who starts as who finishes.
STSS: The Jazz have been a mild surprise to many NBA observers, at the current moment sitting only a game out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. If they were in the East, they'd be a playoff team. How surprising has the season been, given your expectations and the expectations for the Jazz players? And would you rather make a move to make the playoffs or one which gets you another nice lottery pick in a deep draft?
ESCH: To be a .500 team this far into the season really isn't surprising. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and an attacking Devin Harris could probably carry most teams to a .500 record. Probably.
Philosophically speaking, I believe that if you can contend for a playoff spot, you should. Memphis was in a similar situation last year, only to find out their roster was better than they had initially conceived. I believe the same is true for the Jazz. There is a ton of talent in this collection of players, and with a little more polish and a little more battle experience, they could compete in the playoffs. The Jazz have enough young talent; it's just underdeveloped and unproven. Patience is all that is required here.
TUJB: The Jazz have been a great surprise to many. However, I was one of the few who felt like they'd excel with more time together, and they have exceeded most of those expectations laid them by naysayers in preseason predictions where Utah was expected to be one of the bottom three or four teams based on last season. That last third of 2010-11 got a mulligan in my book. It was unfair to judge this team based on that hodge podge of leftovers thrown into Ty Corbin's lap like a soggy meatball sandwich. The players, brass, and staff all want to see the playoffs. If that is their wish I will support it all the way. They're the pros and the ones that have to deal with the consequences, after all, be it for better or for worse.
STSS: Utah is historically a better home team than road team, and the effects are seemingly more pronounced with the Jazz than most teams.. I remarked during the previous game that the Jazz just seem different at home, because refs seem to allow the players to be more physical. As devoted fans of the Jazz, do you see this effect, or have I overstated it? Do they play much different on the road, and could that be the difference for tonight's game?
ESCH: That's an interesting point, and I have thought the same thing. If you were to ask most Jazz fans, they'd reply that the refs never allow Paul Millsap to be physical, home or away. However, though that may be true, generally speaking I think the Jazz play less physical on the road, regardless of the officiating. It's probably a chicken-egg scenario, but the Jazz team that I see in Energy Solutions Arena feeds off of the crowd's encouragement. Without that crowd, they appear to be more prone to lethargy, complacency, and even softness.
The good news is that on this particular road trip, the Jazz have been gift-wrapped two consecutive games from the Cavs and the Bobcats to help build their confidence. If ever this team was going to be poised for an upset on the road, it would be against [the Sixers] in this game.
TUJB: They have struggled on the road, no question. That's generally a mental toughness issue -- great players and teams get over it, knowing that that great fanbase back home is with them in spirit. Some fans in every fanbase will readily go to pulling the officiating card when things don't go their way, expecting officials to be infallible, not allowing any wiggle room for the human element. That said, we should remember that officials are also on the very same truncated and compressed schedule this season too. Not to make any excuses for them, but they're gonna miss stuff, maybe more than in a usual season.
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