The Jazz finished seventh in the league last year with an offensive efficiency rating of 103.7, and yet they go into this season with a new point guard, Mo Williams, capable of actually making shots (Devin Harris struggled for most of the first three quarters of last season before finally stepping it up). Raja Bell won’t be around despite having a roster spot, his minutes being divided out among Marvin Williams, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. Bell did bring somewhat of a physical presence last year, and at least had the reputation as a good spot-up shooter, but in reality, Utah was better with him off the floor. Plus, Randy Foye took and made a higher percentage of triples last year anyway, and he’s continued that in his first preseason in Utah (he’s 6-for-11 from deep in Utah’s last two games).
But perhaps most importantly, the team not only kept together the most underrated frontcourt rotation in the league, they enhanced it. We all know about Al Jefferson, one of the best one-on-one post players in the league, and Paul Millsap. Both finished in the top 20 in PER last year. Derrick Favors is on the cusp of breaking out, and even Jazz color guy Matt Harpring is talking this preseason about Favors’ “relentess motor.” I’ve been watching the Georgia Tech product since he was in high school. That was the only thing stopping him from becoming a nightmare for opposing defenses. The 6-10 Dwight Howard clone (check the pre-draft measurements) improved so dramatically throughout last season that after recording six double-doubles in the first three and a half months, he wrapped the year up with seven in April alone, and two more against the Spurs in the playoffs.
Even Enes Kanter looks completely different, having lost at least 25 pounds (I’m not buying the reports of 51), and is poised to not be a complete nuisance on the floor. In the preseason, he’s been absolutely fantastic, scoring in double figures in all five games and averaging 10.4 boards in barely 20 minutes a night.
Having a surplus of big men to rotate in and our of the lineup helped Utah play volleyball on the glass, and helped them convert at the rim at a higher rate than any team outside of Phoenix (considering Steve Nash led the NBA in assists at the rim, how far do you think the Suns fall in that regard this year?).
The Jazz play hard, they play smart, they’re a fantastic rebounding team – always a key indicator of success – and they improved over the summer. Watching them abuse the shorthanded Lakers on Tuesday night, even while Kobe Bryant went off for 23 points in one quarter, was enough for me.
With some of their main competition dealing with injuries to their major stars, the Jazz must be feeling pretty good going into the start of the season. Now all they need to do is play the super-effective Jeremy Evans more, and they might actually make a top-10 plays or two.
How big of a factor will Love’s injury be on the playoff race out West?
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