Good draft still leaves Jazz with ways to go
Published: June 29, 2014 01:36PM
Updated: June 28, 2014 11:29PM
image
Kurt Kragthorpe

Judging by the favorable reviews of the Jazz’s draft efforts, the franchise just might defy the odds and return to the winning level of the old days.

Then again, becoming as good as they were in 2007-08 is asking a lot of the Jazz.

Here’s the sobering statistic of the day: A team that won 25 or fewer games has only a 10.6 percent chance of reaching the 54-win mark in the next five years, according to research by David Berri, a Southern Utah University economics professor and author of analytical works.

That’s remarkable information, because being really bad at some point is generally considered necessary to ever become really good in the NBA’s structure. The Jazz checked that box in 2013-14, sinking to 25-57 as the worst team in the Western Conference. The draft is designed to lift the downtrodden, and Dante Exum and Rodney Hood are stirring hopes that the Jazz’s revival is coming soon.

All of those “A” grades and an even an occasional “A+” from draft analysts around the country certainly endorse the Jazz’s future. Yet the reality is it will take awhile for the Jazz to become as good as they once were — even if that’s viewed as not good enough.

Yes, the ’07-08 team remains the standard around here. That was a fun season, with the trade for Kyle Korver in late December sparking a surge that carried the Jazz to a 54-28 record — including a 37-4 record at EnergySolutions Arena. Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur all produced big seasons and the Jazz took the Los Angeles Lakers to six competitive games in the Western Conference semifinals.

So if you’re wondering how long it will take the Jazz to fulfill their mantra of building a “championship-caliber” team, start with the checkpoint of 54 wins.

Berri used his research starting in 1985 to develop an anti-tanking argument, while suggesting alternatives to the weighted lottery that rewards losing. His information shows that high draft picks are valuable only if they’re used well — and even then, there’s no guarantee of sustained improvement.

That’s because there are so many variables involved in building teams and developing and keeping players. The Jazz have a long way to go in this process, and nobody knows for sure what coach Quin Snyder and his young staff can do to maximize Exum, Hood and the rest of the roster.

What’s clear is that everything general manager Dennis Lindsey has done this month in hiring his coach and drafting these players plays into his long-term approach. Exum may be prove to be a gift as a No. 5 pick and Hood brings value to last summer’s trade with Golden State that resulted in the No. 23 pick, with more benefits to come.

There’s much more to be done this summer. Hood provides some protection if the Jazz lose Gordon Hayward, but the team should match anything other than an absolutely outrageous offer to keep Hayward as a restricted free agent. The opportunity exists for a veteran free agent or two to contribute, beyond merely fulfilling payroll requirements.

Ultimately, the Jazz’s hope of becoming a very good team comes down to how much their players improve individually. In hiring assistant coaches, Lindsey and Snyder have favored player-development skills over NBA bench experience, so that’s how this staff will be judged.

For better or worse, the Jazz succeeded in creating a baseline for growth with their performance this past season. So where will this team be in five years? The signs point to steady improvement. But remember, history suggests there’s a 90 percent chance that the Jazz of 2018-19 will be worse than the Jazz of ’07-08.

That probably explains why Berri’s research was not featured in Saturday’s season-ticket sales promotion at ESA.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt