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What We Learned About Utah Jazz During Season's 1st Half

Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2014

What We Learned About Utah Jazz During Season's 1st Half

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    The NBA season is more than halfway over, and the young players on the Utah Jazz have revealed a lot about themselves in the team's first 42 games.

    It was predictably and understandably rough out of the gate, as they started 1-14, but things have been looking up ever since.

    They're 13-14 since the terrible start, and all the team and individual numbers are trending in the right direction. If the Jazz continue on this trajectory into the 2014-15 season, they could surprise some people next year.

    Within their generally improved play, several specific trends have emerged.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference and NBA.com and are current as of Jan. 20, 2014.

Utah Has a Bright Future

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There are reasons to be excited about each member of the young core in Utah.

    It's a group that's made up of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.

    Yes, Gobert is included in that group. His time on the floor has been limited, but he's been a rebounding monster within that role. 

    Among players who've appeared in 10 games and average at least 10 minutes, Gobert (who's averaged 10.4 minutes in 19 appearances) has posted the best rebounding percentage (22.7 percent) in the league.

    The 7'1" with a 7'9" wingspan center can absolutely be a rim-protecting, rebounding nightmare for opposing teams in the near future.

    As for the other members of the core, more specifics on them will come later. Suffice it to say, Burke has shown flashes of brilliance as a playmaker, Burks can be an explosive slasher, Hayward's a multidimensional point forward, Kanter's a very skilled offensive player and Favors can anchor a defense.

A Couple of the Veterans Might Help a Team in 2014-15

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams are both on expiring contracts, and with two more first-round picks coming in 2014, there's a good chance these veterans won't be re-signed.

    But both have been solid in Utah this season and may have already earned looks from some other teams when free agency kicks off.

    Jefferson's three-point percentage of 43.2 percent is the second-best of his career. Williams' 39.3 percent is a career-high.

    If nothing else, both have shown they can provide spacing for a team in need of shooters—Jefferson on the wing and Williams as a stretch 4.

Trey Burke Needs to Get Some Shots Up

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    The Utah Jazz are a much better team when Burke starts at point guard. They're 13-15 in those 28 games and 1-13 in the others.

    Part of the reason for the drastic difference is that Burke returned from injury to replace quite possibly the worst point guard situation in the NBA (something that was discussed back in November).

    But that shouldn't discount how effective he's been.

    Burke is second among rookies in assists at 5.7 a game behind Michael Carter-Williams. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7 is comfortably ahead of MCW's ratio of 2.0.

    That playmaking has had a significant impact on Utah's offense. In the games in which Burke didn't start, the team's offensive rating was 93.4. Only the Milwaukee Bucks were worse in that stretch.

    With Burke in the starting lineup, that number is 102.5—better than 11 teams over that period.

    Things would be even better if Burke could consistently knock down some shots. He's at just 38.9 percent from the field, including a below-league-average percentage of 43.6 at the rim.

    If the undersized Burke eliminated some of the tough attempts he tries to score over much bigger defenders inside, opting to dump it off to a big instead, his percentage would go up.

    The rookie point guard is averaging 13.1 field-goal attempts. Only Hayward takes more shots a game. I don't necessarily have a problem with the number of shots, as long as they're good looks. 

    A lot of them aren't. With his size, Burke needs a reliable mid-range game and a runner he can go to in the lane. Fortunately, the formula for fixing or improving a shot isn't complicated. He simply needs to shoot, to get up as many 15-footers and runners as he can every day.

    And he needs to do that while moving at game speed, with a coach or teammate running at him on every release.

    If he commits to improvement there, he can absolutely be a better shooter. And when that happens, he has the potential to be a great point guard.

Alec Burks Can Start at Shooting Guard

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    With Hayward recovering from a hip injury, Burks has started Utah's last five games at shooting guard. His numbers in that role have shown that he may deserve it even when Hayward returns (just start them together on the wings already!).

    Over the last five, Burks is averaging a team-leading 18.8 points and 7.4 free-throw attempts. He's also second behind Burke at four assists a game, and his field-goal percentage of 51.7 percent is tops among the starting five.

    His ability to both get to and finish at the rim is unrivaled on this team, and it opens up so many other things for the offense.

    When defenders have to collapse on his drives, suddenly Burke, Williams and Jefferson are open on the perimeter or Kanter or Favors is left alone around the rim. His ability to draw help defenders also takes opposing players out of rebounding position, creating opportunities for the big men for putbacks.

    Just think what that might do for Hayward, who's been shooting a career-worst 31.7 percent from three-point range. Playing them together would relieve Hayward of a lot of defensive pressure and provide him with more makable looks.

Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors Are 'Walking Double-Doubles'

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    I'm not a fan of Enes Kanter being a reserve (after all, this was supposed to be a year of rebuilding and discovery), but I can't argue with the results.

    The Jazz are 12-11 when Kanter plays with the second unit, and after struggling through most of his appearances in the role, he's finally starting to adjust.

    On Jan. 15, he scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes, prompting ESPN's Avery Johnson to make a strong declaration regarding Utah's young big men: 

    "Both of those guys [Kanter and Favors] are two young walking double-doubles." - Avery Johnson on ESPN #UTAatSAS

    — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 16, 2014

    Favors had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the same game.

    These two have the talent to be Utah's frontcourt of the future. What they need now is more time on the floor together so they can adjust to one another's games and develop some chemistry.

Gordon Hayward Can Play Point Forward

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Hayward has struggled with his shot as he's adjusted to being a No. 1 scoring option, but it looked like he was just starting to turn the corner before going down with a hip flexor injury.

    On the season, he's shooting career lows from the field (41.5 percent) and from three-point range (31.7 percent). But in his last six, he was at 51.2 and 52 percent while averaging 20.5 points.

    He's showing that he can carry a team offensively.

    And he has the ability to do so as more than just a scorer. Hayward possesses a unique skill set that allows him to dominate as a playmaker as well.

    The 6'8" wing can be a true point forward with his great court vision and willingness to pass.

    The evidence of that can be seen in Hayward's playmaking numbers. His 4.9 assists a game is seventh among non-point guards, and he's topped double digits in that category three times.

    That kind of versatility can lend complexity and depth to Utah's offense, especially when Burke and Burks play with Hayward. Those two, along with Favors and Kanter, have the potential to be reliable options to whom Hayward can distribute the ball.

The Young Core Needs More Time Together

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    There's a reason photographers took pictures of Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors and Kanter together on media day. They, along with just about everyone else who follows the NBA, expected the young core to start together and play a ton of minutes as a unit this season.

    But alas, Tyrone Corbin has decided it's not to be. Over halfway through the season, these five have shared the floor in just five different games and have played only 19 total minutes together.

    And wouldn't you know it, among five-man lineups for the Jazz that have played at least 19 minutes, that group has the best net rating. It's a tiny sample size, but still telling.

    This group absolutely needs more minutes together. They're the players representing Utah's future, and they won't develop any chemistry within Corbin's current rotation.

    It's time to see more of this lineup—win, lose or draw.

     

    For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.

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