On December 30 the Jazz had a 15-17 record after falling to the Clippers 107-96. They were 2 games below .500 and searching for answers to make this team click. From that point on they went 16-7 after an impressive 115-101 victory over the Warriors to improve their record to 31-24. The Jazz were now 7 games above .500 and in the driver’s seat to secure 6th place in the playoff race. Team moral appeared to be high, fans including myself were excited at the playoff possibilities. Most importantly it appeared the team was improving and going to build off of their 8th seed and 1st round sweep from last year. Things were good in Jazz land. Little did we know as Jazz fans that we were actually enjoying the biggest deception of the season. We did not pay attention to how they built their 31-24 record. We didn’t care though. We are fans. We like to see our team win, and we were enjoying all the winning. My how things change!
How did the Jazz go on that 16-7 run? They did it by beating some pretty bad teams. Sure there were some great wins sprinkled in there like wins against Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City, and the aforementioned Golden State. The other 12 wins came against the likes of Minnesota (2), Phoenix, Dallas, Charlotte, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento and Milwaukee. They were 2-5 on the road during that stretch losing to Denver, Atlanta, the Lakers, Portland and Sacramento. There was the 45 point beat down to Houston at home. There was the Carlos Boozer comeback loss to the Bulls at home. All the problems that have been discussed about this team during the season were still there but we ignored them. Because we love this team and we want so bad for it to be a successful one. We all bought in and we are all paying the price. Since sporting that glossy 31-24 record the Jazz have gone 4-12 in their last 16 games. They are 0-9 on the road and 4-3 at home. Their 4 wins are against Charlotte, Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia. Nine of those losses came against playoff contending teams. It’s time to face the facts. This Jazz team as currently constructed has just been put back in its place. They’ve gone 20-19 since that loss on December 30th and remain hovering around .500. Unfortunately that’s who this team is.
Fear not though Jazz Nation! I bring good tidings of great joy which shall be to all Jazz fans! In the midst of all this fool’s gold some precious and valuable gems have been discovered. Gordon Hayward is the best all around player on this team. Since being put back in the starting lineup he has been a beast. He has averaged 37 minutes a game over the last 5 games and also averaged .491 FG % and .588 3FG% during that span. He has earned the respect of his teammates and his coach. Coach Corbin is pretty much scared to take him off the court because the offense tends to stagnate when he is on the bench. We’ve seen big games from Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors. When given the minutes, these young players shine. They produce and look genuinely excited to be playing basketball for a living. Alec Burks is an athletic playmaker on the wing. Enes Kanter is developing an offensive arsenal while continuing to be a rebounding machine and a solid defender. Derrick Favors defensive presence is the most intimidating factor the Jazz have had on the defensive side of the ball since Mark Eaton retired. The opponents offensive strategy completely changes when he is on the court. He alters shots, he causes opponents to second guess their decisions. The best example of this all season is every time the Jazz play the Blazers. When LaMarcus Aldridge has Big Al or Millsap guarding him he is constantly attacking the rim, getting putbacks and rebounds. The second Favors checks in to the game Aldridge turns into a jump shooter and starts launching 20 footers. It is truly amazing the impact Favors has on a game without even touching the ball.
It’s not just these core 4 players that have me excited about the future. DeMarre Carroll is a role player that everyone wants on their team. He hustles, plays with great energy, makes exciting plays, and gets under the opponents skin. Randy Foye has been deadly from 3. It’s unfortunate that he is the guard version of Al Jefferson. If his shot is not going down he doesn’t do anything else well enough to help you win. Unlike Al though, I think Foye would be willing to stay with the team in a reserve role and his ability to hit that 3 off the bench would be a great weapon. Last but not least, I cannot forget my boy Jeremy Evans and not just because he went to my son’s elementary school to read to the kids this year. This young man has been working hard and really improved his game. Did anybody know he could hit that 15-18 foot jumper with ease? Anybody? He could not hit the broad side of a barn when the Jazz drafted him and now he hits that like it’s nothing. How fun to see his hard work pay off. Now he just needs more minutes and that will come next year when Al and Paul are gone. We have our foundation and now it is time to build on it. No more cosmetic fixes to remain “competitive.” It’s time to build a championship contender and it starts this June in the draft. This summer is going to be fun as the anticipation builds to see what this core group of players can build together with the time they deserve on the court. Through all the things that have frustrated me so much this season, I am excited for the 2013-14 season and you should be too.