Heading into the start of training camp this week, questions are swirling around the Jazz, each with answers that will come, some right away, some over the long haul …
1) Was the offseason everything Jazz management hoped it would be for young players who supposedly were on specific workout regimens for improvement?
Derrick Favors, on the brink of stardom, needed to work on his offensive game. Enes Kanter needed, among a lot of other things, to better recognize defenses. Gordon Hayward needed to rediscover his touch from range. Alec Burks needed to become more consistent. Everybody needed to get in better shape.
Jazz executives seem convinced that matters were attended to and that the young core handled its business. Evidence, one way or the other, will come quickly.
2) If legitimate NBA playoff teams must have a star or two or three to flourish, who on the Jazz has the talent for those premier roles?
Favors has to be the king. Before last season, the 21-year-old power forward said he could be a 20-10 guy, if the coaches gave him enough time. They didn’t. During the regular season, in 21 minutes per game, Favors averaged 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, shooting 50 percent. Those numbers inflated in four playoff games to 29 minutes, 11.8 points and 9.5 boards. He has a terrific defensive presence, but he must become rock-steady at the offensive end, too. More playing time — at least 35 minutes a game — should help him transition into what he has to be for the Jazz to become the team they want to be.
Al Jefferson is a nice scorer, but the Jazz offense too often grinds to a halt when the ball goes into him. If he could ever draw conclusions in the low post faster, and deliver the ball back out on time, it would behoove everybody. A modicum of defense wouldn’t hurt, either.
Hayward has nice comprehensive skills, if he could ever conjure the confidence of an authentic scorer, and not shy away from open shots, his other abilities would become more effective, all around.
Paul Millsap is what he is, and that’s an undersized scrambler, but not a star. This is a huge contract year for him, so, however Tyrone Corbin chooses to use him, it’s worth a lot of money for Millsap to bring his best. Motivation never seemed to be much of a problem for the tough, diligent power forward, and it won’t be here, even if he comes off the bench, which he should.
3) How will the new guys fit in?
This is compelling stuff. Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye were brought in from various outside points to help the Jazz smooth through lingering rough spots, foremost among them perimeter shooting. The Jazz fired the ball from deep last season like blind men. It was bad, everyone knew it was bad, and opposing defenses practically begged the Jazz to bomb away.
Think about how much space it would clear on the low block for Favors, Jefferson and maybe even Kanter if defenses were forced to play straight up. It might even usher the Jazz attack into the 21st century.
Guard Mo Williams is a career 38.7 percent shooter from three, and he hit just better than that last season, while averaging 13.2 points. Over the whole of his career, Marvin Williams, a small forward, made 32.9 percent of his treys, but last season, he jacked that up to 39 percent. The 6-4 Foye nailed 38.6 percent of his 3s last season and, in 11 playoff games, made nearly 44 percent.
Mo Williams, who is a combo guard, will have to guide the Jazz offense as the team’s first option at the point. Marvin Williams has had a nice NBA run, but he’s never quite lived up to his place as the second pick in the 2005 draft. If he’s comfortable here, he’ll find more success.
4) Will the Jazz make moves with their looming free agents in the months leading up to the trade deadline?
It typically hasn’t been Jazz management’s style to rupture team flow in the middle of the season, but speculation abounds that Jefferson might be a goner.
He, like Millsap, will be a free bird at season’s end, so there is value in unloading him, if they can find a reasonable suitor. Even as the Jazz have gotten younger, they’ll still have flexibility to better themselves over this next year. And if they’re serious about contending, there are large holes to fill.
5) Can the Jazz make the playoffs?
It’s a little early for this one, but, at first glance, they appear to be better than they were last season, when they qualified for the postseason and got put back out in short order by the Spurs. They aren’t the only team in the West, though, that improved. It will be a major battle, all season long.
No way the Jazz will be able to stay with the conference’s elite teams, like the Thunder, the Lakers, the Spurs. But, if everything comes together for them, with an additional piece or significant advancement from one or more of their youngsters, they might find themselves somewhere in the second tier. If none of that happens — and at this juncture we simply don’t know — they could drop out completely.
Answers are on their way, starting Monday.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.