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Utah Jazz: As injuries mount, Jazz seeing more of future now

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) blocks a shot by Dallas Mavericks small forward Jae Crowder (9) in NBA action, at EnergySolutions Arena, Monday, January 7, 2013.

By Bill Oram

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 08 2013 06:36PM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:32PM

If you’re a Jazz fan, at some point in the middle of Gordon Hayward’s 27-point, everything-else performance in Utah’s 100-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monady, your reaction was probably some combination of excitement and hope.

He can do that on a regular basis, right?

Then you saw Alec Burks play his first crunch-time minutes of the season and score 13 points, and you were just about ready to trade Randy Foye, Paul Millsap and the rest of the Jazz starters for a handful of beans. Whether those eventually lead to a giant, who cares? Your team has Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

The Jazz, who play at Charlotte on Wednesday, at times allow everyone to see the future. It comes in waves and is buoyed by injuries and complicated by reality, but this 18-18 team believes it has its core, its team of the future.

It’s just on the bench.

"It’s always exciting when Alec and some of those younger guys are out there on the court and making tough plays," said Hayward, the third-year swingman. "You kind of see what the future could be like. But at the same time, there’s also a bunch of plays when we mess up. Kind of shows that we have a lot of work to do, as well."

The Jazz are a paradox. They’re the unique NBA team that has built what it hopes is a contender’s core, but relies on an entirely different group of players to win now.

However, with the Jazz starting lineup beleaguered by injuries to point guard Mo Williams and small forward Marvin Williams, the Jazz are seeing more of their future now.

While Hayward and Burks were the most visible contributors Monday, Favors and Kanter have been consistent throughout the season. Both former top-three picks, they ideally anchor the Jazz down the road.

"That’s the future of this team," veteran point guard Earl Watson said. "The thing about the NBA is ‘rebuilding’ is no longer a term. You have young teams winning early. Oklahoma City kind of set the standard."

The Jazz have as many as nine free agents-to-be on their roster, expected to clear way for the team’s youth. But for those who are impatient, the previews are there, like a flickering film reel.

And usually they’re all playing together.

Hayward began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bench within the first month. Ostensibly, the move was to allow him more opportunities with the ball in his hands, but it also put him on the floor with Favors and Kanter, players the Jazz hope he’s teamed with for years.

"If you look at the last two years," Corbin said, "most of that second unit has been most of those young guys playing together for that reason, so they can get comfortable with it. And it gives us a chance to win."

With Mo Williams injured, Watson is often the lone veteran leading the second unit, which ranks No. 7 in the NBA in bench points at 34.2 per game.

"I think the attitude of that unit is testy," he said. "It’s going to be a couple technicals sometimes, some guys going to hit the ground sometimes, going to be some minor scraps, nothing major, but who knows. I think the style of play is more edgy."

On Monday, it was all of that. Corbin went with Burks and Hayward throughout the fourth quarter and rotated in Favors for a defensive presence, keeping a hobbled Marvin Williams on the bench and playing from behind without a traditional point guard.

"It shows that these young guys have some talent," Corbin said. "They’re growing, they’re getting better, they’re getting more used to game situations. I think it’s a great experience for a guy like Alec to finish a game with the ball in his hands."

Asked if he could watch that unit without getting at least a little excited for the teams he may coach down the road, Corbin was measured.

"You can’t get too far ahead of yourself on it," he said, "because you don’t want to lose sight of where you are now."

But that doesn’t block out what can be seen on the horizon.

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