Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 43-39, No. 3 in Northwest Division, No. 9 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Andris Biedrins, Trey Burke (Rookie, No. 9 overall), Rudy Gobert (Rookie, No. 27 overall), Richard Jefferson, John Lucas III, Scott Muchado, Brandon Rush
Roster subtractions: DeMarre Carrol, Randy Foye, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Kevin Murphy, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, Mo Williams
Looking up and down the Utah Jazz roster, it's almost impossible to predict individual performances this season.
There are only a handful of guys on this team with enough NBA experience to fully know beforehand what they bring to the table, for better or worse: Andris Biedrins, John Lucas, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush. Gordon Hayward, it appears, is on a clear upward curve. Try to predict an individual season for anyone but those guys and you're bound to be inundated with stats like per-36 minute projections, Defensive win shares and Total Rebound Rate for all players who played in 20+ games, 10+ minutes, Post All-Star break vs. above-.500 teams (shout out HoopsStats and HoopData, by the way!)
Okay, so Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter have huge upside, with Favors tearing up the defensive glass and scoring at the rim while Kanter is a massive 6'11'' center who converted on over 54 percent of his field-goals last season. Guess what? Neither has played more than 22.3 minutes per game over the course of a season, and Kanter only played 15 minutes a night last year.
Needless to say, it's difficult to take such small sample sizes of young players and see exactly how they'll do with the huge increases of time they're bound to get this year. Veterans like Jefferson and Lucas may start the year playing decent minutes, but by the end of the year, you can bet coach Tyrone Corbin will be doling out most of the available minutes to a younger, more promising rotation that includes big men Favors, Kanter and first-year Frenchman Rudy Gobert, rookie point guard Trey Burke and wings Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. The oldest of the bunch? Hayward, at 23.
It would appear the only thing predictable about the Jazz will be where they end up, which is -- barring a major trade or miracle -- way outside of the playoffs and near the depths of the Western Conference with Phoenix and Sacramento, competing for draft lottery positioning with Philadelphia and Orlando.
On the bright side of things, the Jazz have a ton of young potential on both ends of the court.
As mentioned earlier, Hayward is looking more and more like he'll be a reliable offensive weapon in Utah for years to come. He has an excellent outside shot, at over 40 percent for his career. He also picks up some assists and rebounds, while scoring in the mid- to upper-teens. Hayward will probably be given the green light on offense this year and could really flourish with the minutes and opportunities he'll have. Apparently the Utah front office has a lot of faith in him, as they're reportedly in talks with the young wing to commit to him over $50 million in the coming years.
Favors, a fourth-year power forward, can bang inside and put points on the board. He is also physical on the defensive end, where he boasts a rebounding rate akin to that of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, one of the best rebounders in the league. Favors also blocks shots, rejecting 1.7 a game last year -- projected to 2.6 blocks in 36 minutes of play. Jazz fans are high on him, and rightly so; his percentage-based stats predict he could be a huge interior presence on both ends.
Kanter's got a smooth touch around the rim and looks like he'll also be a threat to average a double-double in the future, though he doesn't block as many shots as Favors. Even so, they could one day form an elite rebounding duo.
Shooting guard Alec Burks, in his third year, is a scorer who probably needs to improve on his outside shot and mid-range game if he wants to take his game to the next level. Right now he is an okay three-point shooter who can usually finish well at the rim. Burke will get plenty of minutes at point guard when he's back from injury in a few weeks. He was a solid ball handler in college the last two seasons, capable of creating plays for teammates and getting his own points. Jeremy Evans and Gobert both have insane length, and Jazz fans should have plenty of opportunity to see their athleticism on display. Evans may not ever be a star, or even a starter, but his athleticism allows for flashes of brilliance. Gobert should impress in the same vein in limited minutes behind Kanter.
The Utah Jazz are going nowhere but the lottery this season; the players know it, the front office knows it and even if they don't want to admit it, the fans know it, too. It would be a surprise to see Jefferson and Lucas in the starting unit after the mid-way point in the season, and Williams, Biedrins and Rush may similarly see their minutes dwindle as they're known quantities, serviceable vets -- Biedrins' slumping offensive abilities notwithstanding -- who will stand in the way of more losses with their experience.
On some nights, the Jazz will catch teams overlooking them. They'll also have the benefit of playing at high altitude against teams flying in late due to the relative geographic isolation of Utah in relation to the nearest NBA cities. They'll likely catch a lot of teams tired, and their youth will serve them well in those cases. Whether or not that translates to wins is anyone's guess, but the Jazz' young legs will keep them in certain games they'd otherwise have no business being in.
On most nights, Utah will simply be overpowered by teams with more experience, veteran savvy and respect from the officials. They probably will perform inconsistently as a defensive unit, but they have a lot of length and scary athleticism at a few positions, notably at center and on the wings. The potential for huge blocks and timely steals is certainly there, but they're also likely to get lit up some nights like a pinball machine when their youth shines through in the form of mental mistakes and lapses in judgement.
If you're judging the Jazz' season by wins and losses, stop now. You're setting yourself up for disappointment. Start thinking about a potential starting lineup including Burke, Hayward, Favors and Kanter, and then consider securing a low-lottery pick in the goldmine of talent that is the 2014 draft.
The Jazz won't be in the playoff picture this year, but they do have a solid, promising base of talent and some sense of direction behind their young nucleus, something not every tanking team can lay claim to this season.
That's gotta count for something, right?
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter