Why The Jazz Will Make The NBA’s Biggest Leap Next Season

09.26.16 3 years ago

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Quick, who’s had the best offseason in the NBA? Correct, it’s the Golden State Warriors. But who had the second-best offseason? I’ll admit it’s a pretty big drop-off, but taking everything into consideration, there’s a strong case to be made that it was the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz have been getting buzz for years now; they seem perpetually on the cusp of greatness, but they haven’t quite been able to get over the hump. Last year, they finished 40-42, one game short of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. Had Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert not both missed significant time due to injury, Utah probably would have earned its first postseason berth since 2012. While that might have been disappointing at the time, it’s quite likely that had the Jazz made the playoffs, they wouldn’t have been able to make their biggest move of the offseason: trading for George Hill.

By virtue of bouncing ping pong balls, the Jazz were awarded the 12th pick in the NBA draft, which they traded to the Hawks in a three-way deal that sent Hill to the Jazz and Jeff Teague to the Pacers. If that pick lands outside of the lottery, GM Dennis Lindsey might not have been able to swing the trade that shored up his team’s biggest weakness.

Rookie second-rounder Raul Neto was the team’s starter at the point last season after Dante Exum, the fourth pick of the 2015 draft, tore his ACL playing international competition in August of 2015 and was forced to postpone his sophomore campaign. While Neto certainly showed flashes of promise, he was an extremely low-usage player who kind of looked like he was just trying to not screw up. With Hill, the Jazz have a calm, steady hand at the position. Hill’s raw numbers are fairly underwhelming, but much like Mike Conley, he’s an intelligent decision-maker who effects the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up in the box score. He’s improved his shooting from deep, too, averaging a career-high 40.8 percent from downtown last season, despite a downtick in his usage with Paul George and Monta Ellis around. Plus, if you’re looking for stats that demonstrate Hill’s value, his career Win Shares Per 48 Minutes is .146, well above the league average of .100. With Hill starting and Exum coming off the bench, the Jazz have thoroughly upgraded the position they haven’t been able to capably fill since Deron Williams’ departure in 2012.

They also quietly brought in two quality veterans.

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