After 4 wins in a row the Utah Jazz now stand at 38-36 and in 8th place in the playoffs. Based on the injuries the Lakers have suffered, it looks like the only way the Jazz can fall out of 8th place now is to go on another terrible losing streak. I for one hope that does not happen and that this team is able to make the playoffs for the 2nd straight season. Is it underwhelming that it’s the 8th seed again? Sure. Did fans and the team have higher expectations this year? Absolutely. Making the playoffs is the goal each year, and the Jazz have accomplished that goal. Now let’s explore what exactly that means.
Jazz Nation seems to be split on what they want to happen. “What good is the 8th seed? I’d rather have the lottery pick” some say. “Any playoff experience is good experience” others are saying (in different ways but it all means the same). When the Jazz started their fall from 6th place to out of the playoffs I was beginning to agree with the former. Now that they’ve climbed back into the 8th spot I agree more with the latter. Some might say “But Luke, is 10-15 minutes a game really experience?” To that I say, well who is only going to get 10-15 minutes a game? The answer most likely is Alec Burks which is unfortunate for him. His time will come and next year he should get more minutes as the starting 2. Yes I’m calling it right now, Alec Burks will be the starting 2 next year. Enes Kanter would probably get the same amount of time but now with his injury, I wonder if he’ll play at all in the playoffs. I’m sure all would agree that his health is the most important thing. That leaves us with two other young players who will benefit greatly from this playoff series; Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
Gordon Hayward has cemented himself as a critical piece to this team and his numbers show it. Especially the minutes per game he’s been averaging over the last couple weeks. As a full-time starter for coach Tyrone Corbin and someone this team relies on as a playmaker he will gain a great deal of experience as a starter on a playoff team. He will learn how to match playoff intensity and to be a leader on a playoff team. I don’t care that Al Jefferson on this team. Gordon Hayward is looked to to make plays and that shows the trust his teammates have in him. That is quiet leadership. Be very excited for the growth we will see from Gordon Hayward in the Playoffs this year.
Derrick Favors although not starting will be counted on to play a huge role in this playoffs due to Kanter’s injury. This is a big time opportunity for him to show what he can do at a playoff level. We saw flashes of that last year against the Spurs. Now he should be getting around 30 minutes a game (He and Millsap have been averaging around 27 minutes each the past couple of weeks) and a true opportunity to make some noise. I want everyone reading this to promise me something though. Do not base your opinion on a successful game for Favors based on points scored. Watch his rebound totals, block totals, and most of all pay attention to the amount of shots he alters at the rim. Another thing to watch for is how the other team’s jumpers increase dramatically when Favors is on the court. If he could average around 10 pts 13 rbs and 2-3 blocks a game during the playoffs that would be huge.
I saw a great point on Twitter the other day that if the Jazz do fall out of the playoff race, their record is so “good” that they would most likely have the 14th pick. If they make the playoffs, they’ll most likely have the 16th pick. Not much difference right there when you’re dealing with 14-18 really. I’d rather have the Jazz try to package both picks and move up as high as they can so they can draft a point guard. Not everyone will get the chance to get they experience they need and quite frankly deserve this year but we cannot control that. Let’s watch and enjoy the growth I expect to see from Hayward and Favors and use that as momentum going into the offseason. Burks and Kanter will have their chance next year.