Free Agents: None
It seems hard to believe, but the Jazz could very well be finished rebuilding. They’ve established a solid core with the exile of Kanter, which allows Gobert to be a perennial candidate for defensive player of the year. Questions are still abound, however – ones that Utah will eventually have to address in the long term.
For starters, Trey Burke still has shown nothing of note. In fact, due to his sheer defensive awfulness, he might just be a net negative. How long, in that case, can the Jazz continue to show faith to their starting point guard who was supposed to be in it for the long haul? And the almost as equally maligned Exum wasn’t so impressive, either. Fear not for Exum, however; he was just a 19 year old rookie coming from Australia, and advanced metrics even suggest that he brought a solid defensive presence to the team (or at least, miles better than the one from Burke). It’s way too early to cast him out, and I would expect to see his game leap as he becomes more confident in taking his chances at driving to the basket. Gordon Hayward is a borderline star who was the heart of the Jazz’s effectiveness, and his two-way play makes his current contract a bargain even before the salary cap jump. The return of Alec Burks will undoubtedly ease some of the scoring load off of Hayward, too; the stats from the first few seasons that DeMar DeRozan has played are comparable to those of Burks’ career. Derrick Favors has proven his ability as a defensive stalwart second only to Gobert, and can only grow from here, particularly on the offensive end. Favors exhibited more promise than the likes of other athletic big men by showing off a mid-range game, and more importantly, excelling at converting easy baskets close to the rim. Last, but not least, Gobert is set to have a full season of locking down everybody in sight now that Kanter’s toxic antics are just a memory. We might even see Gobert whip out a jump shot here and there next season, thanks to his focus on adding that component to his game over the off-season (he’s reportedly meeting Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach, Holger Geschwindner, to get a few pointers).
In the draft, the Jazz selected prospects Trey Lyles and Olivier Hanlan with the 12th and 42nd picks, respectively. Trey Lyles is considered to be one of the most intriguing prospects of the draft; although he is only a 19 year old freshman coming out of Kentucky, he already has NBA-ready size – he weighs 241 pounds, stands 6’10” in shoes, and possesses an enormous 9’0” standing reach. He’s quick enough to take advantage of traditional big men, and his soft touch around the basket coupled with his long arms is a good reason as to why he finishes so well in the paint. He is, however, an average athlete, and defense is not one of Lyles’ calling cards. Unless he can improve on that end, as well as work on the shooting touch that he showed flashes of in college, he comes across as a Terrence Jones type. That’s still a good rotation piece, and Lyles could get minutes coming off the bench for Favors. Ultimately, his youth is a big reason as to why the outlook on his career is optimistic. The first of Utah’s second round picks, Hanlan, is a 6’4” junior and combo guard from Boston College. Hanlan had a solid career at Boston, and is a polished prospect – both his scoring and distributing numbers are impressive enough for the Jazz to take a chance on. Still, the competition is stout at both guard slots, and the Jazz already have equally-as-impressive Bryce Cotton (who made waves towards the end of last season with his athletic play). Hanlan has received comparisons to CJ McCollum and Devin Harris, but only time will tell with regards to how he will actually pan out in the NBA.
From here on, the Jazz might be content to set pat. Their only free agents were Joe Ingles and Jeremy Evans; Ingles didn’t show anything overly special in his rookie year, but Utah seems committed to keeping him around, and brought him back for two more years. At the very least, all his years of experience in Australia and Europe have him very poised to the game, and the idea of Ingles as a point-forward seems enticing on paper. Evans, on the other hand, is one of the league’s better kept secrets, and was scooped away by the Mavericks for two years of the veteran minimum. At the very least, Utah will miss his presence as a positive locker room influence. But ultimately, it seems as if it was time to move on; Evans wasn’t going to get very many minutes with the Jazz, as has been the case for almost his entire career, and better talent just came up to push him further out of the depth chart.
Prediction: The Jazz have done well in building their current team, and keeping the band together for a few more seasons seems like a good idea. If they can build upon the previous synergy the team had after booting Kanter, the Jazz could be an elite defensive team next season. Keep in mind, however, the Jazz had one of the toughest schedules in the league before trading away Kanter, and their workload became significantly easier afterwards. I wouldn’t bet against Gobert, but it’s entirely possible that his impact was a little overstated. And while the Jazz started to win against playoff teams, going that late into the season, most of those teams weren’t playing at full capacity due to injuries or rest. I’ll predict the Jazz can make a very real push for the 8th seed thanks to their awesome frontcourt, a possible improvement from Exum, and Quin Snyder’s great coaching tactics, but this won’t be their year. Still, Utah is an up-and-coming team.