Playoffs: Swept in first round by San Antonio Spurs
Draft picks: Kevin Murphy
Signings/trades: Marvin Williams, Maurice Williams, Randy Foye, Brian Butch, Trey Gilder, Darnell Jackson, Chris Quinn
Devin Harris, Josh Howard, C.J. Miles, Blake Ahearn
Projected starting lineup
C - Al Jefferson
PF - Paul Millsap
SF - Marvin Williams
SG - Gordon Hayward
PG - Maurice Williams
What to expect
The Utah Jazz sneaked into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed in 2012, relying on the strength of their frontcourt depth. This season, however, the word "sneaked" will likely not be associated with the Jazz. They are going to be good.
In terms of talent up front, few can come close to matching Utah. As a matter of fact, I will venture to say that the Jazz have the deepest frontcourt in the league with the likes of Jefferson, Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter. Of course, both Jefferson and Millsap's contracts expire at the end of the season, so this core may be broken up soon, but they will still be together this year.
Utah's big man depth is so good that head coach Tyrone Corbin can actually go with a couple of different combinations in terms of who to start. He can go with Jefferson at center and Millsap power forward; he can go with Jefferson at center and Favors at the four; he can also slide Favors into the five role and put Big Al at power forward. No matter what duo he chooses, it will be effective.
It's not just frontcourt depth that makes the Jazz so dangerous, though. They also have a budding young star in Hayward, a 22-year-old wing who averaged 16.1 points per game off of 50.7 percent shooting in the final month of the 2012 campaign.
The best thing about Hayward is that he is far from one-dimensional; he can play defense. He held opposing small forwards to a 9.6 PER last season, good for third among all threes. The Butler product will likely play more shooting guard this season with the arrival of Marvin Williams, but he will certainly see some time at small forward again.
Outside of Hayward, Utah has a couple of other reliable backcourt scorers. It signed Foye and traded for Maurice "Mo" Williams, giving the big men quite a few bailout options should they attract double-teams inside. The Jazz also have a talented second-year guard in Alec Burks, and he is sure to get some burn this year.
If there is one area of concern for Utah, it's getting offensive production out of the small forward position. Marvin is not exactly a bona fide scorer there, and neither is Carroll behind him. This will result in Hayward playing a lot of three, and it may even force Corbin to play Millsap there (he has done it before). This should not be too much of an issue, though, as the Jazz have a couple of players in Foye and Burks who can adequately fit the two-guard role if Hayward has to spend more time than he'd like picking up Marvin and Carroll's potential slack.
Key player: Hayward
We already know that Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors are going to produce in the frontcourt. We also already know what Foye and Mo bring to the table as scorers. What we don't know yet is whether or not Hayward will take that next step this season. Based on his 2012 finish, it seems rather safe to say that he is ready.
In a nutshell, Hayward is good, so good in fact that he really doesn't have any weaknesses. He can shoot, he can dribble, he can pass, he can move without the ball, he can rebound, he can defend, and he has outstanding court vision for a 6'8" player. If you've watched him play at all before, you'd know how well-rounded this kid is.
If Hayward can keep improving this season, Utah has a shot at winning close to 50 games. That's how talented he is. Of course, it will be difficult in a deep Western Conference, but with the Jazz's outstanding frontcourt and solid overall depth, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Had it not been for Utah's insane frontline, I would have picked Kanter for this spot, but given that his minutes will be limited playing behind the likes of Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors, I'm giving the "sleeper" title to the sophomore Burks.
Burks was an excellent scorer at Colorado, averaging 19 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting in two years as a Buffalo. He then showed flashes of that pure scoring ability during his rookie season with the Jazz, particularly in March when he recorded seven double-digit scoring games.
Burks isn't really all that good a shooter, but what he lacks in shooting he makes up for with attacking the lane with reckless abandon. The athletic 21-year-old took 302 free throws in his final year at Colorado. Now it's obviously tougher to do that in the pros, but don't discount his uncanny ability in that regard.
As I said earlier, given the fact that Hayward may have to play a lot of three because of Utah's lack of scoring options at small forward, you might see a good amount of Burks this season. Of course, the veteran Foye will likely get the call before him, but Burks' potential is so much greater than Foye's it's not even funny.
Playoffs: Potential first-round upset special
There is so much to love about this team. The Jazz are simply overloaded with talent, but for some reason, no one talks about them. All we hear is how deep the Denver Nuggets are and how improved the Minnesota Timberwolves may be this season. No one talks about how much of a matchup nightmare Utah can pose for even the league's best ballclubs.
Well, start talking.
Because the West is so good from top-to-bottom, it is a bit hard for me to say the Jazz are going to finish any higher than sixth. It was extremely tempting to put them above the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, but I just couldn't do it yet. That being said, it would not shock me in the least to see Utah do just that.
It would also not surprise me to see the Jazz give a first-round playoff opponent a fight for its life. Utah's size up front can give just about any team in this league problems, and the squads that use size to their advantage won't be able to do that against Corbin's club.
One thing I should hearken back to though is the fact that Jefferson and Millsap are free agents at year's end. That could result in the Jazz dealing one of them at the trade deadline, and they can afford to do that because they also have Favors and Kanter. Let's say Utah decides it wants another wing scorer. It can trade one of those two bigs to get that. I'm not saying it will happen, but don't dismiss the possibility.
Get ready, Jazz fans. Your team could do big things this season, and if not this year, then very, very soon.
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