The NBA season is right around the corner and the Utah Jazz 2013 NBA Championship Odds are currently at 150-1 ($100 bet pays $15200). They are 50-1 to win the Western Conference and their over/under season win total projection is 42,5. Below is the overall season preview by Pregame Pro André Gomes.
There were a lot of doubts about the potential of the Utah Jazz last season. Deron Williams had been traded during the middle of the previous season and the team completely collapsed in the second half of the season under the leadership of Coach Tyrone Corbin.
The team’s structure was maintained for the past season, including the coach, and the Jazz entered last season without big expectations. In their first game of the regular season against the Lakers, who were playing their third game in consecutive days, the Jazz were crushed by 25 points! In the following day, Utah lost by 17 points at Denver and their future wasn’t looking very bright back then. However, four months later, the Jazz were in the playoffs and most of the merit goes to the way Coach Corbin was able to manage the team’s resources by maximizing their strengths.
2011-12 Regular Season Numbers:
The strongest unit of the team was without a doubt their frontcourt, with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Tyrone Corbin took advantage of that and Utah was the 2nd team in the league with more points in the paint with 49.8 ppg, while only Chicago was a better rebounding team than the Jazz last season.
Utah Jazz month-by-month record:
Utah reached the All Star break with a losing record and just in mid-March they were able to have their record above 0.500! Curiously, the Jazz defense was always subpar in comparison with the league’s average, so the key for the team to be competitive was on their offense and this was exactly what happened, with Utah being one of the five best offensive teams in the league over the last two months, while they were dominating the glass on their games. The combination of these two factors was enough to compensate their poor defense.
With the last playoffs spot secured, the Jazz were quickly outplayed by the Spurs in four games in the first round, without having the chance of winning any of those games.
Offseason moves 2012-13:
With their frontcourt quality secured for the future, the big goal of the Jazz on this offseason was to improve their backcourt. Devin Harris never impressed in Utah during the season and a half he played with a Jazz uniform and so, the team decided to ship him to Atlanta in exchange for Marvin Williams.
With Harris leaving the team, the Jazz needed a replacement and they managed to sign Mo Williams, in a three-team traded that involved Dallas, Utah and the LA Clippers.
Besides that, there weren’t much more news for the Jazz: Raja Bell and C.J. Miles didn’t receive any offer to renew their contracts, while Utah only signed Randy Foye in the free agency, in a sign that they trust in the roster they currently have.
A Powerful Frontcourt
Al Jefferson continues to be a terrible defender, with Utah being clearly worse on defense with him on the court (107.54 def. rates vs 103.54), but offensively, “Big Al” is indeed one of the best players in the league near the basket. According to mysenergy numbers, he had a 0.96 PPP in post up plays (#18 in the league on this kind of plays), while he shot 67.6% FG at the rim. Even though Utah is a worse defensive team with Big Al on the court, he compensates that with his offensive skills, but the challenge of Coach Corbin will be really try to limit the defensive problems Jefferson’s presence on the court brings to the team.
That would be easy to solve if Paul Millsap was better defensively, but the truth is that Millsap has the same strengths and the same weaknesses that Jefferson has, so maybe because of that, the Jazz were incredibly good on offense near the basket, while at the same time, they were the 3rd worst team in the league in defending at the rim by allowing 65.8% FG to their opponents!
Corbin’s solution will have to be the combination of those two players with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, who are much better defensively but without the offensive skills that Jefferson and Millsap possess. Both Favors and Kanter were in the top 15 in rebounds per 48 minutes – Kanter was #8 with 15.3RP/48 and Favors was #15 with 14.7 RP/48 and naturally the team was better defensively with them on the court. Favors continues to develop and it’s good to remember that he is just 21 years old and therefore, he is still very inconsistent as shown with the fact that he is able to shoot 10-16 FG against Philadelphia, but he is also capable of shooting 0-13 FG against a team like Sacramento.
Utah will continue to be very strong in the frontcourt by having four good players, but all of them are somehow one-dimensional. We can hope them to be once again in the top 5 in terms of rebounding and points in the paint, but Corbin’s biggest challenge will be improving their defense on this area. It will be almost inevitable that their defensive improvement will have to be performed at the cost of an offensive regression, but if that makes them more competitive, then Corbin will have to make some adjustments in the team’s rotations to achieve that.
A Renewed Backcourt
Gordon Hayward will be the only backcourt player that was a starter last season and that will continue being one this season. Hayward deserved the trust of his coach and he saw his minutes explode from 16.9 to 30.4 minutes per game, while being a starter in 58 of the 66 games he played – he didn’t miss a single game last season! Hayward naturally improved in almost all categories last season and the Jazz expect him to keep improving during this season.
Utah was one of the worst teams in the league in 3pts% with just 32.3% and perhaps because of that, they had the urgency of trading Devin Harris in exchange for a guard who is a better perimeter shooting and without a doubt they achieved that by signing Mo Williams, a player with much more ability than Harris on this area – 38.7% 3pts on his career, while Harris has just 31.5%!
Marvin Williams hopes to bounce back his career in Utah after disappointing in Atlanta. He will apparently be a starter this season, as Utah only has inexperienced players for this position such as DeMarre Carroll and Alec Burks, but if Williams wants to help his new team, then he will need to continue working on his perimeter shooting, even though he has already shot an excellent 38.9% 3pts last season.
The team has also the veterans Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and Randy Foye on their roster to give them more depth, but without giving the team a clear upgrade in terms of quality.
After last season’s experience and having in account the offseason they had, the Jazz was definitely thinking of another playoff appearance this season. Their task doesn’t look to be easy, especially when on their own division, the Jazz will face Oklahoma City, Denver and Minnesota, three playoffs contenders, while fortunately for the Jazz, Portland seems to have lost competitiveness and looks to be out of the playoff contention this season.
We can count on the Jazz to have a solid frontcourt, but it will be their backcourt that will define the achievements Utah will be able to have this season. Will Hayward continue to improve? How will Mo Williams adapt to his new team? These will be the two main questions for the team that will put them once again in the playoffs or put them watching the postseason on the TV, something that would make this season be a failure for them.
Follow Andre Gomes on Twitter @GomesCapper
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