5 Reasons To Watch The 2013-14 Utah Jazz

With the start of the 2013-14 NBA season rapidly approaching, we thought it only fair to share what makes each team so exciting. Ontologically speaking, all 30 teams deserve our eyeballs this season. Even disastrous lineups still present oodles of plays, personalities, highlights and headaches. Here are five things to keep in mind for each team before flipping the channel.

Next up, a Jazz team with a lot of cap room, a young roster and very little chance of winning.

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The Jazz are in a weird place. They’ve shorn a lot of money off their cap even with the recent max extension for Derrick Favors. They lost Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson for nothing in free agency this summer after keeping them during last season’s February trade deadline. No one was willing to part with increasingly over-valued first round picks in order to receive either of the dominant frontcourt players that kept the developing Jazz frontcourt from getting PT.

That means this season will be all about reps. Reps for a talented frontcourt rotation of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter; reps for Gordon Hayward as the only real ball-handler with some experience; reps for Tyrone Corbin as he attempts to salvage his job; reps for Salt Lake City fans unaccustomed to this much losing; reps for rookie Trey Burke — once he comes back from a fractured finger.

There is going to be a lot of losing, but Jazz fans can rest easy knowing that the 2014 Draft is a big one. Their young players who languished on the bench for so long behind the Jefferson/Millsap combo will finally be able to spread their wings and play, so there is plenty to take in this season.

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Enes Kanter’s Offensive Chops
Kanter will get the majority of the touches in the post this year despite Favors’ extension. He’s more polished in that role, and there will be a lag before Corbin can find an offense that doesn’t rely on Kanter to draw a double-team on the block. So the Jazz will utilize his length and dexterity around the rim to hopefully instigate their famous flex offense.

But the 6-11 Kanter, who lost a ton of weight before last season, hasn’t ever averaged more than 15 minutes a night for the Jazz through his first two seasons. That means he could be tired once the season enters the dog days in late January. Kanter can score — that much is clear — and he’s going to get the opportunity to do so, but the changes inherent in the departure of Jefferson and Millsap now means he’ll be facing first team defenses and asked to log more minutes than he ever has before at this level. If he can come close to his double-double 36-minute averages from his first two seasons, that’s gravy. But the offensive rebounding machine may not be quite ready to lead this team from his place on the block.

Gordon Hayward’s Contract
Hayward and Jazz management are reportedly far apart on figuring out a deal by Thursday, and that could mean he’ll likely go into the season without signing an extension. That will also change his perspective on the year.

If Hayward is a restricted free agent this summer, that means he’ll be playing for a new contract instead of playing to win. No matter how deferential he might be depending on the moment in the game, there will always be that nagging sensation he should do more. But can he?

Through three seasons, Gordon has turned himself into a borderline elite 3-point shooter who can also put the ball on the floor and slash towards the rim. He’s added some bulk to that still-skinny frame when he came out of Butler looking barely old enough to sit for a college exam. With all the work he’s done on his body, and with the Jazz having already agreed to terms with Favors, that leaves Hayward as the odd man out.

There are some, admittedly biased, fans in Utah who believe Hayward is just as good as Paul George of Indiana, who signed a max extension this summer. If the Jazz fail to lock him up before Thursday, that could spell trouble from a chemistry standpoint even as the coach and fellow players are all hoping the deal gets done.

If not, the slashing, wispy-haired wing out of Butler could be gone in July. Still, his deadeye shooting and underrated ball-handling will be a joy for fans missing Trey Burke through the season’s first month.

Click to see 3 more reasons to watch…

The Specter of Jerry Sloan
In June, Jerry Sloan accepted an advisory role back with the Jazz team he left after turmoil surrounding his relationship with then-point guard Deron Williams. Williams was later traded to the Nets, and Sloan kept his ties with Utah strong. But in an advisory role, the hot seat under coach Tyrone Corbin just started to boil.

When you’re the longest-tenured coach in Jazz history (and for a time the longest tenured coach in the Association), you cast a large shadow. If Corbin’s team stumbles more than expected out of the gate — remember that Burke will be out, and Hayward could be pissed after not getting his extension — the Jazz might flounder. That could lead to a gentle nudge from GM Kevin O’Connor asking Sloan about his interest in taking over the whiteboard again.

This is a young team, and while Sloan isn’t very high on NBA youngsters, he could instill the toughness and effort that had the Jazz on the cusp of a championship throughout the Karl Malone and John Stockton years. Then again, it’s Malone and Stockton. Corbin better show the brass in Utah that he’s connected and developed an effective rapport with his young team, or he might be out before the season is up.

The Much-Maligned Jumper of Derrick Favors
The reason Utah decided to fork over the maximum allowable extension to keep power forward Derrick Favors, was defense. He’s not a very good offensive player, and it primarily boils down to his inability to knock down a shot from outside of the restricted area. Per Hoopdata, Favors was well below the league average from 3-23 feet, shooting 10 percent below the league average from 3-9 feet, more than 5 percent lower from 10-15 feet and again more than 10 percent below the league average from 16-23 feet. While Favors takes half of his shots at the rim, that’s Kanter’s place now, and contemporary power forwards are supposed to have a jumper to keep defenses from collapsing.

This doesn’t change the fact that Favors is a superior athlete who understands the percepts of quality defense, particularly on the pick-and-roll. He’s also an excellent rebounder and — like Kanter — he should be a double-double threat every night he plays. Both Kanter and Favors were tough to score against when paired together in limited minutes for the Jazz last year, per NBA.com, but Favors needs to find a groove for that mid-range shot or the Jazz frontcourt is going to see a lot of bodies in the paint. If that happens, we suppose Favors could just dunk on them, as DeAndre Jordan experienced firsthand during preseason action:

Can Trey Burke Find Success at the NBA level?
Some think he’s a possible ROY candidate, but he broke his finger and after surgery, he’s not due back for 4-6 weeks. Plus, a rookie at the point guard slot — especially in the West — can spell trouble for anyone not named Damian Lillard.

The Michigan guard stands just 6-0, and he’s not lightening quick or an exceptional shooter; he’s a slashing scorer in a league where 6-footers are considered tiny. Why do some people believe he was a steal for the Jazz when they traded for him after the ‘Wolves selected him with the No. 9 pick in the draft has to do with timing. He had just helped lead Michigan to the NCAA title game, and has clouded judgements before.

But without the luxury of one defining characteristic to Burke’s game that people can point to and say is special, look for a lot of Gordon Hayward flashing across the top of the key as the Jazz seek to remove some of the burden Burke will be under in his rookie campaign.

What do you think?

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