Monson: 10 things the Jazz can do to improve their future
Published: March 11, 2014 02:02PM
Updated: March 11, 2014 11:32PM
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Utah Jazz's Enes Kanter, left, Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward, middle, and Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors (15) sit on the bench late in the second half while trailing the San Antonio Spurs during an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in Salt Lake City. San Antonio won the game 100-84. (AP Photo/Kim Raff)

Ten things the Jazz can do in their final 18 games to improve their future — aside from losing all 18 for a better shot at a difference-making draft pick:

1. Force Trey Burke to get to the basket and to the line more.

Not only is the rookie the best free-throw shooter on the team (91 percent), he has the worst field-goal efficiency (37 percent) among the Jazz’s main contributors. Solution: Encourage him to drive to the rim for easier scores and/or get fouled. Magic Johnson always said — and Jerry Sloan would agree — that the players who shoot closer to the basket usually win. They’re right.

2. Find a way to have Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter play together.

While there were stretches where the two were laughably ineffective, Tyrone Corbin punted on the proposition too early. Favors and Kanter are too talented, too valuable for the Jazz to use them alternately. They must either figure out schemes at both ends that work in tandem or one of the two should be traded.

3. Scream at Kanter until he plays better, smarter defense.

The big Turk will never be a shot-blocker, but he can use his strength to his advantage in protecting the basket with a double-dose of anticipation and recognition. He picks up useless fouls, often because of a lack of savvy.

4. Coach and motivate the Jazz as a whole to play better, smarter defense.

Their defensive rating — points allowed per 100 possessions — ranks 29th out of 30 teams. Like a lot of their shortcomings, some of that deficiency can be traced to youth, but the Jazz’s defensive struggles have remained from the start of this season.

5. Play hard every minute of every game.

The Jazz flat-out are not good enough to coast. Leave that to the Heat and the Spurs, as they prepare for the postseason. The Jazz must give everything they’ve got on every trip — dive for loose balls, set solid picks, rebound, the works. Too often, they don’t. Monday night’s loss to the Hawks was a prime example. They cruised in the first half and couldn’t find enough gas in the second to beat a team that had lost six straight and was at the end of a 10-day roadie.

6. Run the floor.

The Jazz rank 28th in points per game (94.8). They shoot just 44 percent. Their opponents shoot almost 47 percent. The math is not in the Jazz’s favor. Getting easier attempts in transition would help reduce the grind.

7. Play the youngsters exclusively down the stretch.

This isn’t tanking, it’s investing in the future. In almost every area of weakness, the Jazz lack seasoning. Get some now, when the outcome of games makes no difference in playoff positioning. At this point, there’s no way Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams should be averaging more minutes than Kanter. Jefferson is shooting great from beyond the arc, but he’s making $11 million-plus. If he’s not going to be on the roster next season, give his minutes to someone who will. Get Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Favors and Kanter on the floor together as often as possible. Make it possible. Play Rudy Freakin’ Gobert.

8. Punch up a pillow and provide Hayward some couch time.

Nearly all the younger players are being asked to do things they’ve never done before — as noted in No. 7, that’s a good thing — but none has carried more weight than Hayward. He’s taken the world on his shoulders. He plays more minutes than anybody else. He’s taken more shots. He’s missed more shots. He’s delivered more assists. He’s committed more turnovers. He’s made more steals. Most glaring, he’s hit barely 40 percent of his shots. Hayward has made just two more field goals than Kanter — in 155 more attempts. Consistency is his vexing issue. His shooting percentage has dropped each year in the league, from 48 percent as a rookie, to 45 percent, to 43 percent, to his current low. Hayward needs to breathe, back off just a bit, and stress less about next year’s contract. It will be OK.

9. Get the ball into Favors and Kanter more.

Each is developing his offensive game, and each has shown progress in doing so. Each can do more. As bigs, Kanter and Favors are expected to shoot at a sweeter clip than the perimeter guys — and they have. Favors makes 51 percent of his shots, Kanter 50 percent. That’s better than everybody on the team, with the exception of Jeremy Evans. Rough edges or no, they need the ball more. If the Jazz make the playoffs in coming seasons, those anchored foundations will be traced back to the hammering done now.

10. Develop a tougher mindset.

Related to No. 5. Some worry about the adverse effect this season’s losing will have on the youngsters. Screw that. Any competitor who lets a cold wind turn his head around isn’t worth much investment. The Jazz must follow the example of Burke, who knows exactly what’s going on right here, right now, who understands it, but who hates it. He probably hates it enough to do something positive about it. That’s what the Jazz need more than anything.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.