F: Don't be Raja Bell. Jefferson isn't expected to do much, but he can avoid a failing grade just by keeping the locker room together. If he pouts and complains, he fails.
D: Enjoy his role. If the preseason is any showcase, he will start most games and sit most finishes. He wants to show off his skills for another year or two, but his greatest job is to let the young players improve and close.
C: Jefferson earns this grade by shooting his shot. He is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league over the last few years. In the two years prior to his injury he shot 42 percent and 44 percent, respectively. If he shoots better than 40 percent, he will have a good year.
B: Staying healthy and rebounding will earn him this grade. He has normally been a very durable player, but last two years he has missed too much time. He doesn't need to do much, but getting a handful of rebounds per game — around five — will make hin very valuable.
A: Hitting his averages would mean a top mark for Jefferson. He would need to have a great year to match his career averages of 15 points. That probably isn't the direction for the Jazz, but his 46 percent shooting, five rebounds and 2.5 assists while letting the young players go would make for an “A” season.
He's looked like a good vet to have around thus far.
F: The 7-foot-2 rookie from France can only fail if he doesn't play. As the other rookie this year, getting on the court is a success for him.
D: For this grade he would need to play 15 minutes per game. Last year Kanter got around 15 minutes per game, and if Gobert does nothing more than take up space for 15 minutes, he will have a passing season.
C: Don't foul out. This is more than just getting six fouls per night. He needs to get into good habits and keep his fouls PER-36 low. Favors couldn't do that, but Gobert might be able to learn during his rookie year.
B: Six rebounds per game would net him this grade. Assuming he gets those minutes; the giant doesn't need to do much to get rebounds. Six rebounds is actually a pretty good number, but he got six rebounds in 15 minutes in the preseason.
A: Three blocks per game would land this grade. That is a lot of blocks, and only one player averaged that last year, but Gobert has that skill set to blow people away. This would be nothing short of a phenomenal season, but that is how players earn A's.
I think it's ok if he gets his minutes in the D-league and if he gets fouls if he he's only playing a few minutes a game in the NBA.
Jeremy Evans: When Evans plays he produces. If he can play more than 60 games it will show that he is improving. He could become an asset off the bench.
Needs to prove he can be a rotation player. Already know he is a good end of the bench energy guy.
Ian Clark: He won't play much, but if he can shoot better than 35 percent from 3-point range, he will have a shot to remain with the Jazz long-term.
He's probably gone in a couple months if he doesn't impress.
Brandon Rush: He brings a lot to the table, but his greatest asset is his shooting. If he gets shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc, the trade will be a success.
Keeping Marvin off the floor would be success.
Marvin Williams: Williams isn't suited for the Jefferson sit-and-shoot offense. Williams can slash and get to the rim. He won't have a ton of chances, but when he gets them they will be easy. He will need to convert and shot 45 percent from the field.
If he can show enough for them to unload him he will be successful.
Andris Biedrins: Don't foul out. There isn't much expected from Biedrins this year. As long as he can stay in the games when he gets his chance to spell the starters, he'll be OK.
If he can show anything at the offensive end again he will be a huge success.
Jamaal Tinsley: Average 18 minutes per game. Tinsley is going to have to spell Burke during tough stretches. If he can do what he did last year, it will all be good for the man known as "Mel Mel the Abuser."
I like him but ideally he's a 3rd pg at this stage and on this team unfortunately they have another 3rd pg in Lucas(maybe Clark too).
John Lucas III: Averaging four assists per game would earn him a passing grade. The Jazz brought Lucas in to backup and teach Burke how to play. Lucas is a shooter, but he is still the point guard and needs to dish the ball in order to be successful.
Hitting open shots and playing d is more important for him.
Mike Harris: Harris was somewhat of a surprise in making the team, and playing in 10 games with a lot of youth needing playing time would help Harris.
Give them quality minutes when he gets the call which could happen in game 1 with only 4 bigs available.
F: For this grade the Jazz would need to finish somewhere in the middle. If the Jazz win 35-40 games and land somewhere in the area of 10-13 in the draft, this season is just a failure.
D: Losing the lottery. If the Jazz don't win a lot of games and fail to grab a top-five pick in the lottery, it will be hard to paint this in a pretty light. There are good players in the draft from 6-10, but not superstars.
C: Just making the playoffs. If the Jazz just make the playoffs as an eight-seed with 40-43 wins, it will be a good season, but fans won't be happy.
B: Winning the games they should win, which isn't a lot. The Jazz are not a great team on paper, but if they can win the games they should win, then it will give hope for the future and give the Jazz a shot at a star in the draft.
A: The extremes would need to happen to earn this grade. The Jazz need to either win a lot of games — including playoff games — and have all the players earn A grades or they would need to lose a lot of games and get the superstar to make them a contender for years. This is either more than 50 wins or less than 27 wins. Most likely it will be the latter.
The Jazz won't win a lot. They are very talented, have a lot to prove and aren't that deep. This will be a lot of fun to watch these kids grow, fight and struggle.
Prediction: 27 wins.
Compete at home. Win road games against the few teams they will have a chance against.
Approximately seven years ago, Enes Kanter picked up a basketball for the first time. Getting drafted into the NBA after such a short time playing competitively is an accomplishment the native of Turkey doesn’t seem to get enough credit for. The learning curve for Kanter was at about an 89.9 degree angle, yet he still succeeded at summiting Mount Lottery Pick.
Going into his third full season, the climb from promising young talent to bona fide starter doesn’t get any less difficult. The 21-year-old will have a heaping helping of responsibility plopped down on his plate, starting tomorrow against the Oklahoma City Thunder. How Kanter responds to the added pressure that will force him to rapidly “grow up” is a pivotal point, not only for Kanter, but for the entire Jazz squad.
In addition to the arsenal of gorgeous post moves Kanter has at his disposal, he has also clearly displayed a penchant for being a ridiculously fast learner. Is there any reason to think his rapid ascension from basketball newbie to quality NBA starter will plateau? At face value, there certainly doesn’t seem to be.
The biggest battle Kanter will be fighting this year may be with his age and maturity level. I think we all remember Kanter’s ever-entertaining Twitter feed prior to the Jazz brass neutering it. Whether it was a not-at-all-subtle request for the company of a female companion or a workout picture of himself looking Dolph-Lundgren-in-Rocky IV shredded, Kanter’s social media account made it abundantly clear he was an incredibly young kid who was having a blast with his relatively new-found fame and fortune.
As fondly as we look back on the naughty-tweeting, mic-dropping, worm-mangling Enes, those days seem long gone. In terms of his actual game, that’s probably a great thing. Kanter still oozes untapped potential. As far as his game has come thus far, the sky is truly the limit. A handful of All-Star appearances is a lofty goal, but does not seem at all unreasonable, provided he focuses with laser-like intensity on improving his game, spending countless hours in the gym and ironing out the weaknesses.
The reining in of Kanter may be newly-anointed Jazz leader Gordon Hayward’s biggest challenge. It’s no small feat for any NBA captain to help a rich, good-looking 21-year-old ignore the throngs of adoring female fans to work on his free throws and defensive rotation assignments, let alone a first-time leader who is still young enough to have difficulty growing anything more than a Shaggy beard.
Stat-wise, there were several promising improvements from year one to year two. Kanter posted a 5% increase in field goal percentage from 49% to 54%, and a whopping 13% increase in free-throw percentage, from 67% to 80%. His rebounding rate has dipped per-36-minutes, from 11.5 in 2011-12 to 10.2 in 2012-13, and his assists (an average of 1 per 36 minutes) have plenty of room for improvement.
Passing effectively out of the post and moving back towards being an elite NBA rebounder are two of the biggest opportunities for improvement for Kanter that could dramatically change the fortunes of the obviously-rebuilding 2013-14 Jazz squad. Kanter rebounding at a high level paired with board monster, defensive savant and post-mate Derrick Favors would make for some very long nights for opposing 4′s and 5′s.
But regardless of how Kanter performs this season, we’d do well to remember that this is year seven of his basketball life. He’s a basketball prodigy beginning his maturation phase, and the sky is the limit.
Passing, making quick decisions in the post, rebounding like he did as a rookie and consistency are the things keeping him from being a legimate star.
The Jazz will likely only have 10 healthy bodies available for action in tonight's season opener. Marvin Williams (Achilles) and Brandon Rush (knee) have returned to practice but aren't able to participate in full scrimmages yet.
"I’m definitely excited just to get up and down the court with the guys, going for contact," said Rush, who had knee surgery in January after injuring his ACL in the second game of the 2012-13 season with Golden State. "It’s been a year since I’ve been able to do some stuff like that. I feel like I did pretty great."
The Jazz will also be without backup center Andris Biedrins, who tweaked his ankle in Monday's practice. Rooke point guard Trey Burke gave away hundreds of tickets to the Boys & Girls Club, but he won't play in his first NBA game as he's recovering from finger surgery. Forward Jeremy Evans remains out with rotator cuff issues.
The Jazz haven't announced timetables for any of the players' returns.
"The training staff told me not to push it too hard, take it day by day," Rush said. "Don't rush anything, just be comfortable."
Rush, who said he envisions a sixth-man role with his new team when he's back, looks forward to growing with this inexperienced squad. "We're still striving to make it to the playoffs. We know it’s going to take time. We've got young players. We’re just going to have to grow together."
who is going to be the point guard for the Utah Jazz when they open their season at EnergySolutions Arena Wednesday night against Oklahoma City?
Coach Tyrone Corbin didn’t know for sure Tuesday morning before practice, but said he would decide before the end of the day and everyone will know by opening tipoff.
It’s going to be either Lucas, who has stepped into the starting role during preseason after likely starter Burke broke his finger, or Tinsley, a backup and sometimes-starter for the Jazz the past two years, who barely rejoined the team a couple of days ago.
“With Trey being out, Jamaal and Lucas are the two guys who are natural point guards who can play,’’ said Corbin. “Alec has done it for a short amount of time in the past.’’
The advantage with Tinsley is that he’s been there, done that, having started 33 games for the Jazz the past two years and 399 games in a 10-year NBA career. He also knows the Jazz system, having played for Corbin the past two years.
On the other hand, Lucas has just two starts in his five seasons in the NBA, both in 2011-12 when he was with the Chicago Bulls. However, Lucas has the advantage of playing with the Jazz over the past month and a different looking lineup than the one Tinsley played with the past two years.
Corbin was impressed but not surprised that Tinsley kept in great shape since last season and indicated he wouldn’t hesitate to play him this week.
“He’s always been a guy that kept himself in good shape,’’ he said. “The last couple of years when we’ve had him here, he’s always worked hard and been ready. As far as substantial minutes, we’ll see. Once he gets his legs back under him for a couple of days, we expect him to be ready to go.’’
Corbin has also been happy with Lucas, who was thrust into the starting role when Burke got hurt earlier this month. Lucas said he’s fine with whatever role he’s asked to fill.
“It’s no difference with me, I just go out and play the game of basketball,’’ Lucas said. “If I start, it’s great, if I don’t start, it’s great too. I’m going to go out there and play like I have all preseason and getting everybody involved and knocking down the open shots and running the team.’’
Even though he’s four years younger, Lucas says he knows Tinsley from playing against him a bit in the NBA and looks up to him as a fellow former Big 12 player.
“I’ve played against him — he’s a Big 12 alum too from Iowa State,’’ Lucas said. “I watched him when I was coming into school at Baylor and a lot when I was at Oklahoma State. Coach (Eddie) Sutton said because of my size and the way I played we’re kind of similar.’’
As similar as they are, Lucas said he has the edge on Tinsley in one area.
“I got a little bit better shot, I think,’’ said with a laugh, before adding, “Don’t tell JT that.’’
Yep and that's why I'd start him as much as I like Jamal. Probably a better defender too though Tinsley makes plays defensively. Why I think A Hudson or Jimmer could make more sense too with the offense running through G and Burks.
As for Tinsley, he recognizes the team is different with all the young players, who he believes “the sky’s the limit for them’’ and says he won’t do anything different this year.
Tinsley said his role is "Just helping these guys get better, and just being the same guy I’ve been the last two years here."
Last year he dealt with the waning days of the Jefferson-Millsap era, knowing neither would be with the team this season.
Now he is directing the growth period as the Jazz rebuild with young players.
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine other coaches doing better under the circumstances. Corbin’s win-loss record is identical (87-89) to the first 176 games of Sloan’s Hall of Fame career. But only five current NBA coaches have been at their job longer than five years. There were 13 coaching changes last season, including one involving the league's Coach of the Year, George Karl.
In that sense, Corbin’s security is tenuous.
The Jazz are predictably tight-lipped on his status, but the devil is in the details. He hasn’t received a contract extension and this is the final year of his deal. Asked how he’ll evaluate his success, he said, “It will be all over the board. I evaluate myself and where we are differently than everybody else does. I want to make sure we’re growing.”
General manager Dennis Lindsey reiterated his policy of not discussing contract situations of either players or coaches.
“I’ll say this,” Lindsey said. “We’ve all set benchmarks of how all of us will be judged.”
Three of those benchmarks, he said, will be defense, developing talent and showing discipline. The latter, he added, is expected of both players and management.
It's likely the Jazz are a 25-win team. They have no guaranteed scorers, uncertainty at point guard and — as much as management likes to reference the 2004 Detroit Pistons or the current Indiana Pacers — no proof they can be a superstar-less success.
Although a high draft pick next year would benefit the Jazz in the long run, they insist they aren’t tanking this season.
Or course they are!
Neither Corbin nor Lindsey will say how many wins qualify as a good year. But it seems simple enough from the outside looking in: They need to make the playoffs.
Temporary starter John Lucas III, signed in the offseason to be now-injured Burke’s backup, said his team has one focus.
“We’re coming in trying to win games. We’re coming in trying to prove a point,” Lucas said. “A lot of people have already put us down, saying it’s a rebuilding year; it’s a development year. As players, we’re not looking at it like that. We look at it like it’s another chance for us to get better, another chance to prove everybody wrong — prove all the critics wrong.”
That's the problem right there. The fact that Lucas is on the court instead of someone a lot better is where the tanking comes in to play.
And there are plenty of those.
Utah hasn’t been gutted like the depleted 76ers or even like the Suns, with only four players back, but the Jazz are widely regarded to be a bottom-five team in the 30-deep NBA.
More like bottom 10.
“People can say whatever they want. People can rank (us) 30. We don’t really care,” Kanter said. “All they can do is just talk. What we’re going to do is we’re going to go out there and show them that they’re wrong if they’re talking about bad. And if they’re talking about good then we’re going to show them that they’re right. … We have enough talent to beat every team on every court.”
Perhaps, but Jazz brass has avoided focusing on talking about making postseason plans.
“I’m excited about the group to see where we are,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I’m excited for the opportunity for these guys to step up in this league and get bigger roles and see how things go. We’re expecting to compete.”
But those seven-straight defeats to end the preseason after surprising Golden State in the exhibition opener? Isn’t that a sign of things to come?
“The real season starts tomorrow. That’s what’s so good about preseason — none of it counts, so everybody’s 0-0,” Lucas said. “And that’s how we’re going into it. We learned. We got better. It’s a lot of new guys on the team that wasn’t here last year. We’re jelling.”
While it’s one thing to talk about youth movement, making daily progress and being in rebuild mode, it’s a whole ‘nother to live through it as the losses pile up, isn’t it?
“It’s not fun,” Lindsey admitted. The Jazz GM, who spent five seasons with the Spurs before taking over for Kevin O’Connor last summer, added, “Every game is an adventure. There’s the relief of victory and then there’s the pain of defeat. Going through defeat is like, many times, going through a death, the postmortems after the game, so you have to go through that.”
Like fans, in part because he is one, Jazz CEO Greg Miller is bracing himself for the upcoming reality.
Miller said he’d love to go 82-0. Losing streaks, he admitted, are “probably the most-anxiety-inducing thing that I experience.” In other words, he has high expectations.
“The ultimate sign that it’s all OK is when we make it to the finals and win a championship,” he said. “I just want to be the best that we can be.”
Bonuses for everyone in the organization if all of that happens this season.
Miller didn’t actually offer that, but fans can be comforted that he wants to win as badly as they do.
“With the young players that we have and the relative inexperience compared to some of the teams that have been together a little longer,” he said, “the chances are that we will have some challenging periods this season.”
Miller hopes the youthful cornerstone pieces will build more character from those challenges.
“We’re all going to make mistakes,” he said. “It’s how we respond to those mistakes, the lessons we learn from those mistakes, and our ability to execute what we learned going forward that really matters.”
That’s why he’ll be judging this season on more than just the final win-loss total.
“If the young guys can do that (learn and grow), then I’m OK going through the pain,” he said. “As long as we get better and make new mistakes the next time around and then learn from those and continue to move onward and upward and just get better as we go.”
As for the Jazz players, they’ve optimistically talked about pushing fast-forward on the rebuilding process.
“If you’re a competitor and you constantly hear how people are putting you down … that puts a fire in you,” Lucas said. “It makes you want to go out there and compete to prove everybody wrong. You always want to shut critics up.”
Now, before you leave the kitchen, just imagine the euphoria in Jazzland if those silenced critics even come to appreciate the artwork on the fridge.
Lindsey, the Jazz’s general manager, doesn’t want to give his team excuses this year.
"Winning the possession, winning the quarter, winning the half, winning the game is always the goal," he said. "At the end of the day you want to have players with competitive DNA."
He talks a good game that's for sure!
But after the Jazz allowed a cast of veteran players including Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams leave this summer in favor of developing a group talented young players, team officials are balancing optimism and realism as they embark on a rebuilding year.
"Realistically, with the decisions that we made, with the flexibility we decided to keep and parlay into next year … there are teams that are championship contenders right now that are going to be more short-term, there are teams that are playoff contenders like we were last year, and then you have teams like us that decided to press the reset button. The wins that we’re looking at are just going to be further away from us than maybe a championship contender."
Even Jazz CEO Greg Miller, who called a Jazz losing streak "probably the most anxiety inducing thing I experience," said he was willing to take some short-term knocks if it meant long-term success.
"I really get stressed out about [losing streaks]," he said. "Hopefully that won’t happen this season. But the players, the young players we have and the relative inexperience compared to some teams, chances are we will have some challenging periods this season. But that’s what builds character. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.
"I’m OK going through the pain as long as we get better."
Third-year center Enes Kanter called it his "personal goal" to prove detractors wrong.
"People can say whatever they want," he said. "People can rank [us 30th] in the league, we don’t really care. All they can do is talk. What we’re going to do is go out there and show them they’re wrong if they’re talking about bad [things]."
For now, the odds appear stacked against Utah. One ESPN projection system gives the Jazz just a 1.7 percent shot at making the playoffs this year.
But for many, there are positives no matter which way the Jazz go this year.
If the team does exceed expectations, it will mean the team’s young core is capable of success. And if the team struggles, it will mean Lindsey can add another high draft pick to a roster with the financial flexibility to make a splash in next summer’s free agent market.
"We knew that when we jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool there were going to be a lot of tough nights," Lindsey said. "We’re going to take our medicine like men."
He added, "I think we’ll be standing on sturdy ground when we come out of this."