NBA PM: Utah Jazz Prepared to Surprise?
Utah Jazz Prepared to Surprise?
So far the Utah Jazz have had a fairly uneventful summer, all but sitting out free agency and allowing their proven veterans to walk away for nothing in return. As disappointing as that might be for Jazz fans, it was basically the intention all along. The team had been stuck between veterans ready to win now and young players in need of quality minutes to improve, and Jazz management elected to take the sensible course of investing in the future. The youth movement will now kick into high gear, and one of the primary players to benefit from that movement believes his team will be better than expected.
“I’d say we’re going to be pretty good, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Derrick Favors said to HOOPSWORLD. “I know a lot of people don’t think we’re going to win that many games, but I think we’re going to surprise them.”
It won’t come as any surprise if Favors has a breakout season now that he doesn’t have to wait his turn behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who landed in Charlotte and Atlanta, respectively. Last season Favors started just eight games, averaging 27 minutes in those starts, and giving the Jazz just over 10 points and exactly 10 rebounds per game. It’s reasonable to believe that given 10 or so more minutes per game Favors could be one of the most productive young big men in the NBA.
“I’m excited,” Favors said. “Once those guys signed somewhere else, Coach called me and told me, ‘Keep working hard. It’s going to be your team now, but to keep working hard, to continue to learn, play big, and play hard.’ I’m just taking that advantage.”
Potential is always a scary word, and while Favors has a great deal of it, he does have plenty of work to do to become the player the Jazz need him to be. He ranked in just the 37th percentile defensively last season, but this summer he is focused on getting better on the offensive end of the floor, where he ranked in the 49th percentile in 2012-13.
“The offensive side of the ball,” Favors said. “I know a lot of guys say I’m very raw offensively or what not, but this year I’m going to try to show them my offensive skills in my game. A better jump shot, be in better shape to play thirty or more minutes, so that’s pretty much all I’m going to show.”
Playing behind quality veterans is often helpful to young players, even if it means they play fewer minutes early in their careers. Favors feels he gained a lot from having to earn his minutes and follow in the footsteps of Jefferson and Millsap.
“I think it helped me out because I learned how to work and how to take care of my body,” Favors said. “Both those guys take care of their bodies and both of them come into the gym to work every day, so I know I got that mentality where whenever I walk into the gym, I’m coming into work, and then on the offseason, I know I got to take care of my body.”
Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke had a dismal summer league run in Orlando, and while Favors wasn’t there to see it, he does have come perspective to lend to his new floor general.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t watched him play yet,” Favors admits. “I heard he had a terrible summer league, but everybody had a terrible summer league, so I hope he doesn’t hold his head for that, but I’m excited to play with him.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of season the Utah Jazz will have in 2013-14. They have plenty of promising young players, but young players tend to take their lumps the first couple of times they make their way through the league as starters. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that the Jazz could lose the vast majority of their games this season, but that would only increase their chances of landing the coveted top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. There’s no question that would be a lottery ticket worth having, and quite a silver lining inside a potentially stormy season.
The Spin Zone In Dallas
A couple of weeks ago the Dallas Mavericks were left for dead. All of their key free agent targets chose other locations and even many of their secondary targets were looking like long shots. They did land Jose Calderon, which was a great pick-up, but otherwise the likes of Samuel Dalembert, Monta Ellis, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright hardly seem like the championship group that team owner Mark Cuban and his management group have promised aging superstar Dirk Nowitzki.
With their roster now almost complete, it’s time for the spin cycle to begin. Like last season, there are some interesting names donning Mavericks jersey for the upcoming season, but also like last season it is highly doubtful that the team can make the playoffs, and the idea that they could contend is simply absurd. Nonetheless, the Mavs know how to make the most of a bad situation, especially in the media.
“(Ellis is) possibly the fastest player ever to wear a Mavs uniform,” coach Rick Carlisle told Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas via text message recently. “Scores, makes plays and is great in transition. We consider him a unique talent and look forward to integrating him into our team.”
Of course, Ellis is also the kind of player who drives head coaches nuts with his inconsistency and his lack of defensive focus. He’s outstanding in defending the pick-and-roll and gets to spot-up shooters better than most defenders, but he gets burned constantly in isolation due to his lack of size and his tendency to gamble for steals. Offensively he can put up gaudy numbers, but he is one of the least efficient scorers in the NBA. He ranked in just the 33rd percentile overall last season on the offensive end, and was surprisingly in just the 37th percentile in transition, where we often saw him lighting things up on the highlight shows. He’s even worse in half court sets, though, ranking in just the 31st percentile. That was on a Milwaukee team that featured a legit shot blocker in Larry Sanders, something the Mavericks don’t have. When Ellis misses a low percentage shot, it will most likely turn into transition points for the opposition rather than a put-back for the Mavs.
Cuban has also been in the spin zone, talking about how he expects Nowitzki, at age 35, to be in the Most Valuable Conversation despite coming off his worst season since his very raw rookie campaign.
“If there’s one missing piece between what everyone is saying and what we’re doing, everybody, I think, has dismissed Dirk — like Dirk is done and he’s on the downside and he can’t play anymore and he’s not the type of contributor that he was,” Cuban said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Galloway and Company. “If you look at the mess that we had in terms of our guard play and basketball IQ, when Dirk came back and really got into gear, we beat a lot of good teams. I think we were at a 48- or 50-win clip. You put a much better set of players around him, and Dirk is in a situation where he doesn’t have to rush back. He’s had all summer to prepare his body and get ready.
“Knock on wood, if we stay healthy, I think people are just missing Dirk in ways they shouldn’t,” Cuban continued. “Like I’ve been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35 and there’s no reason why he can’t be considered in an MVP conversation at 35. I can also tell you, the way people are just randomly dismissing him as being done has been incredible motivation for him as well.”
There’s no question that Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the NBA, even at his age. He’s always worked hard to keep his body right, and he takes exceptional care of himself during the long NBA season. If it were just a question of how good Dirk is going to be, the Mavs would have no worries at all. He’ll likely give them 25 points per game, assuming he can pry the ball out of Ellis’ hands from time to time.
No, the elephant in the room is not Nowitzki, or even Ellis, really, it’s the ever-dwindling collection of spare parts around Nowitzki. It will take a small miracle for Dalembert to make it through a full season, and even when he’s healthy and taking his profession seriously he isn’t a quality starting center. He makes Erick Dampier look like the second coming of Shaquille O’Neal. Shawn Marion is also well past his prime, which is why the Mavs couldn’t move him this summer even when their asking price was basically cap space. Vince Carter continuously rolls the clock back, but how much longer should we expect that to work? And then you have youngsters like Jae Crowder and Bernard James, who have shown some potential, but won’t strike fear into any opponents any time soon.
The reason people are writing off the Mavs has nothing little to do with Nowitzki’s age or his ability to impact a game. The reason Dallas is likely to drop to fourth in preseason predictions about the Southwest Division is because the supporting cast around him – save the incredibly underrated Jose Calderon – is the worst it has been since Nowitzki became a Maverick and at a time when he needs more help than ever.
A Few Free Agency Notes
- According to multiple reports, free agent center Marcus Camby has passed his physical with the Houston Rockets and will sign on with the team, presumably to end his career back home in Houston.
- The Brooklyn Nets continue to prove that “salary cap” and “luxury tax” simply don’t translate into Russian, as the team added yet another salary to the books for 2013-14 by signing free agent Alan Anderson to a two-year deal, with the second being a player option.
- The Dallas Mavericks officially inked Bernard James today, and are now looking to take care of business with Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and rookie Shane Larkin.
- For the second consecutive day a foreign big man made his way to the NBA, as the Milwaukee Bucks have signed Miroslav Raduljica from Montenegro to a two-year deal.
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