Utah Jazz – Off Season Report

Image result for utah jazz game winner

2015/16 Record: 40-42 (Did not make the playoffs)

Ins:

Boris Diaw TR – Jazz
Joe Johnson FA – 2yrs / $21mil
George Hill TR – Pacers
Joel Bolomboy DR – Pick #52
Christapher Johnson FA – 1yr / $1mil (Non-Guaranteed)

Outs:

Trey Burke FA – Wizards
Trevor Booker FA – Nets
Erick Green FA – Olympiacos (Greece)
Chris Johnson FA – Illiabum Clube (Portugal)
Elijah Millsap FA – San Miguel (Phillippines)
JJ O’Brien FA – Unsigned
Tibor Pleiss FA – Galatasaray (Turkey)

Off-Season Analysis:

The Jazz seem to be this year’s darling team. Utah hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012 and haven’t won a playoff game for 6 years. However that hasn’t stopped just about every punter (yours truly included) tipping them for a steady rise up the standings, perhaps even as high as a 4th or 5th seed. That’s a decent jump for a team that doesn’t have a true superstar and plays in the tough Western Conference. Can the Jazz deal with the weight of expectation, or crumble like the Pelicans of 2016?

The Jazz started their off-season quickly, agreeing to trade the number 12 pick to the Pacers in exchange for veteran point guard George Hill. While Hill is not an all-star, he’s a quality combo guard that had a down year last season due to a questionable fit alongside Monta Ellis in the Pacers backcourt. Cast into the role of non-primary ball handler (that’s Gordy’s job), Hill should thrive on the open looks created for him and be capable of facilitating at a reasonable level – particularly given he is in a contract year. He is essentially buying time for the Jazz to get a read on whether Dante Exum is their point guard of the future.

Image result for dante exum 2016

Exum was the mystery man of the 2014 NBA Draft. Having only played basketball in Australia (and a huge showing at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit), he was drafted at pick #5 in the 2014 NBA Draft and had an up and down rookie season. After showing promise in Summer League in 2015, Exum then tore his ACL  playing for Australia – wiping out his 2015/16 NBA season, as well as his Boomer’s campaign. The jury remains out on whether Exum can develop into a starting calibre point guard in the NBA, but he does have the physical tools and raw skills to be something in this league. He will be cast into an ideal role of bench sparkplug, playing both guard positions and easing his way back into professional basketball.

The Jazz’s other major off-season addition was Joe Johnson. ISO-Joe has become a journeyman late in his career, but he showed last season in Miami that his particular brand of basketball can still be effective – he craftily gets into the lane for his patented floater at will, and should be a solid (if not fairly high priced) addition to the Jazz bench, which was looking a little thin.

The Jazz also traded for Boris Diaw in a Spurs salary dump. Maybe Pop finally got sick of fat shaming Boris during game. The fit with Diaw is curious…well…almost as curious as how Diaw can actually fit into an NBA jersey these days. Utah are flush with young talent at the big men posts, so it’s hard to see what role Diaw will be able to fill for this team. He’s a capable role player and is still a fantastic passer, but I just don’t see where he will find playing time on this roster. At this point, he’s a 1yr rental for $7.5million and that’s about it.

Utah was snake bitten at the guard position last season. With Exum out for the year, Alec Burks was expected to step up and show why the Jazz invested so heavily in him (4yrs $40 mill) in the 2014 off-season. Unfortunately, he too fell foul of the injury bug (and is still not cleared to play after off-season surgery). Into the void stepped Rodney Hood. Hood was a major find for the Jazz in 2015/16 – averaging around 14/3/3 with a couple of three’s per game. He fit in well alongside Hayward, who is now expected to miss 6 weeks with a broken finger to start the 2016/17 season. Hood will be expected to do a fair bit of the heavy lifting in Hayward’s absence – if he can, it will go a long way to getting the Jazz off to a fast start.

Image result for gordon hayward

Speaking of Hayward, he has a huge year ahead of him. For the first time in his career, he has the opportunity to become an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of this season – an opportunity the 26yr old will surely take up. He is going to be highly sought after – there are not that many G/F’s averaging near on 20 per game, and his playmaking ability sets him apart from other wings. The Jazz will have Hood to soften the blow if Hayward departs for a bigger market, but the sting will be felt if he bolts.

One guy I’m excited to see develop this season is Trey Lyles. The 2015 NBA Draft Lottery looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory, with some seriously talented players being taken particularly late (Winslow, Turner, Lyles, Booker). Lyles is a very different player to the incumbent PF, Derrick Favors. Lyles is a much more versatile player, definitely a “new age” tweener stretch forward that flashes an intriguing outside game with some crafty off the dribble moves. Jazz fans are understandably excited to watch his progress, and it will leave Utah with some tough decisions to make with respect to Derrick Favors –  a quality player in his own right, and on a decent contract. Lyles will have an expended role this year and at 20 years of age, certainly has a bright future ahead of him.

Image result for rudy gobert 2016

Rudy Gobert had a solid season for the Jazz last year, but perhaps was slightly underwhelming based on expectations. That might be a little harsh considering his numbers and the fact he was injured for a portion of the season, but many had him pegged as a Most Improved candidate, and while he had a solid year – finishing top 10 in defensive rating (8th) and in defensive win shares (17th) – we are all expecting a bigger leap in year 4 for the Stifle Tower. At only 24 years of age and coming into the final season of his rookie contract, expect Gobert to average a solid double-double and get some huge offers after a big season for an improving Jazz squad. Perhaps Boris can show his fellow Frenchmen how to stack on a bit of weight too.

The Jazz have made some solid moves to bolster their depth and are poised to finally break their playoff drought. However there are some big off-season decisions pending, and it will be interesting to see what they do closer to the trade deadline if they can’t get a commitment out of Gordon Hayward. It may not be Stockton to Malone, but for the first time in a long while – the Jazz look like they have a foundation that could play some sweet music and push for contention in the West. If they can keep the band together.

Grade: B

2016/17 Prediction: 47-35

League Pass Meter: 7/10

The Jazz are a deep team, and could be this years Blazers. Barring one of their guys taking “the leap” though, there’s not any real flashy star power here. Bonus points for having two Aussie’s though!

Depth Chart:

PG: Hill Exum Mack Neto
SG: Hood Burks C.Johnson*
SF: Hayward J.Johnson Ingles
PF: Favors Lyles Diaw Bolomboy*
C: Gobert Withey

*Salary guarantees 23rd Oct, 2016.

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $79,332,496
2017/18 salaries: $33,850,506

Max room: $68.1 mil
Min room: $27.7 mil

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2017 1st (Warriors)
2017 2nd (DET/GSW/NYK, 2nd and 3rd most favourable)
2018 1st (OKC, lottery protected)
2021 2nd (Wizards)
2022 2nd (Spurs)

Outgoing:
None

2016/17 Questions:

Will Rudy Gobert be a MIP candidate?

Can Dante Exum show why he was drafted so high?

Does Hayward stick around in Salt Lake City, or flee for the bright lights?

Will Trey Lyles’ development make Favors expendable?

Will the Jazz finish top 5 in the West?

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