So this jumbled, ragtag collection of Knickerbockers have burped their way to six straight losses. Le sigh. They’ll be looking to buck that trend in the upcoming five-game stint against 2014 lottery teams (unless, you know, you’re down with the whole Hinkie-ing thing). There are two more supposedly soft tussles on tap in their four-game home stand, starting with the friendly fellows from the Mormon State tonight. Friday night Knicks, y’all. Save for a certain rookie coach’s eerily Woodson-ian, shaky lineups, it’s tough to get truly pissed at macro issues at this juncture.
Thankfully, Ben Dowsett of Salt City Hoops (along with Hardwood Paroxysm, Nylon Calculus, and BBALL BREAKDOWN, to name a few) is joining our lil’
chamber of lost souls KnickerBlogger fraternity. Ben’s a really terrific talent (if you’re not already, you should be following him @Ben_Dowsett). He’s here to give us the low-down on Quin Snyder’s merry band of shooters and saxophonists. Let’s hope that Ben’s tempered, well-balanced words soften the inevitable flurry of #sadz that’ll be the bulk of this thread by around 10pm tonight. Enjoy!
The Jazz have had more than a few major, course-altering executive decisions to make in the past eighteen months—whether it be trading up in the 2013 draft for the rights to Trey Burke, allowing Jefferson and Millsap to walk as free agents, Derrick Favors’ extension, swinging for the fences on Dante Exum, or matching Gordon Hayward’s max offer sheet. How have they done so far Do you think there’s a point on the transitional timeline to flip the switch and move to become something more than a young, rebuilding team?
BD: I’d assess it as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, given the way a guy like Millsap has performed in his new home (and given his quite affordable salary figure), it’s easy to wonder if the Jazz made a mistake letting him walk for nothing in return. But by the same token, if Millsap is on the roster last year, there’s a good chance the team never even gets a pitch to swing at as far as Exum is concerned. As far as some of the other deals mentioned, one can certainly find little qualms with them, but given the market size and historical rate such markets have of holding onto their stars, I think they were solid moves. Sure, it’d have been nice to have Hayward for less – which team doesn’t wish it could pay it’s best players less and have room for other talent on their cap sheet? The same goes for Favors, but to a much smaller degree; should he continue the sort of offensive improvement he’s flashed so far in this young season, he could be one of the league’s premier bargains at just over $12 million per year in the not-too-distant future.
All that said, there’s absolutely a point in time where potential needs to become reality, and correctly assessing that time might be the largest challenge ahead of Utah’s front office. Do they make the push in the next year or two, with Hayward and Favors approaching the beginnings of their physical peaks? Or do they wait an extra couple years for Exum to blossom into the potential superstar they’re hoping for? These are tough, highly-contextualized questions that Dennis Lindsey and staff have certainly already begun discussing behind closed doors.
Speaking of the front office, management came to terms on a four-year, $42 million extension with Alec Burks, who was originally nabbed with the twelfth pick in the 2011 draft. Overpay, underpay, or just about right? Do you think Burks would have attracted offers of that size and beyond on the open market (as a restricted free agent)?
BD: I think the Burks deal is just about right, based on past performance and of course, the massive TV rights deal that promises to vastly change the NBA landscape by summer 2016. He compares well with certain other recently-extended players at his position, at least as far as their performance to the same point in his career at which he accepted the deal. My full thoughts can be found here, but given the financial landscape and the scarcity of players in the league with his sort of skill set (one that’s becoming increasingly coveted by smart teams), I think it was fairly standard. Now, Burks has some real work to do to prove the Jazz didn’t make a mistake – his numbers are down across the board to start the year, and he’s not getting to the hoop and creating havoc at nearly the same rate. If he can’t quickly get back on the horse, and indeed begin improving upon previous seasons, it could in fact end up they made a bit of an overpay. As Burks’ biggest fan, though (my only non-objective feature left, I’m sad to say), I certainly think he’s capable of far more once he becomes more comfortable in a new system.
Enes Kanter, Utah’s other candidate for a contract extension prior to the October 31 deadline, didn’t reach a deal with the team and is headed for restricted free agency this offseason. Some have suggested that Quin Snyder should yank Kanter from the starting unit in favor of Trevor Booker though the numbers show that the Jazz are nearly 10 points (per 100 possessions) better off with Kanter playing alongside the core four starters (The Law Firm of Burke, Burks, Hayward & Favors). Who should start in the frontcourt, and what’s Enes Kanter’s value to this team?
BD: This is a question that, in some ways, is illustrative of the perils of judging too much too early. Not even a week ago, Booker was producing far better numbers with the rest of the starting unit as compared to Kanter, both individually and for the units as a whole. But a couple ugly games this week for Booker have reversed the trend, and it would now appear at first glance that Kanter is the more appropriate start. This is likely true, but for many more reasons than just the numbers. Kanter, as you mentioned, hits RFA this upcoming offseason, and with a new long-term head coach at the helm with a previously unfamiliar system, deciphering just how well he fits alongside his young teammates in the scheme is of paramount importance. The Jazz know the perils of RFA, having just gone through it with Hayward this past offseason, and will want to be very sure of their assessment of Kanter when it comes time to make any decisions. For that reason, even if the gap between Kanter and Booker continues to ebb and flow, barring major catastrophe I think Kanter should, and will, remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
Mild hysteria broke out during the FIBA World Cup when Dante Exum struggled to carve out a consistent role with the Australian national team after a rocky start to the tournament. How have you judged the Aussie’s first half-month, and how challenging has it been for the fan base to remember that they’re dealing with a 19 year-old who just uprooted his entire family and moved to the other side of the world?
BD: He’s shown exactly the sort of flashes of brilliance many had expected, and perhaps more frequently than some thought. And of course, there have been times where he’s looked somewhat lost. But these are all perfectly normal signs, and I think Jazz fans, occasionally known for their tendency to get a bit ahead of themselves, have done a great job tempering their wilder expectations so far. Exum has shown a lot more defensively than most had likely predicted, especially coming out of the draft where many expected him to be among the worst defensive guards in the league. He’s just so long and fast, and guys will put a successful first move on him (he’s still only 19 and learning defensive nuance, after all) and get into their shooting motion for what seems to be an open look, only to have his wiry frame come flying back into the picture and disrupt things. His shot and NBA legs need real work, but there’s nothing broken about his form or really his fundamentals anywhere, and if he can keep his head on straight and learn from everything that’s happening around him, Jazz fans have an absolute ton to be excited about in the next few years.
True or False: The good folk of Utah have forgiven Derek Fisher for his unceremonious divorce from the team seven years ago, and will welcome him with open arms when the ‘Bockers come to town in early March.
BD: I’d say about 75% true, though I don’t know about “open arms.” Jazz fans are certainly a passionate bunch, but eventually the long-term good a guy did tends to win out over the one or two incendiary things they also did later on – just look at someone like Karl Malone, who drew some ire for chasing a ring with the star-studded Lakers late in his career but remains a beloved Jazz figure after a couple years of slight bitterness. Fisher never accomplished what the Mailman did over his career, of course, but even the nuttiest of us Utahn’s know how to forgive and forget.
Fill in the blanks’ with Ben Dowsett:
___________ will be the leading scorer in this game.
Steve Novak will make ____ treys in this game.
________will come away with the win, because ___________________
The Jazz, because the Knicks’ frontcourt won’t be able to handle the Favors-Kanter high-low combo, nor will they be able to contend with Derrick and Rudy Gobert at the rim.