There was a tweet sent out a couple of days ago by a guy I follow who also follows me. He posed the question: “Has there ever been a team in NBA history where all 5 starters are 23 years old or younger and all are lottery picks?” Off the top of my head the answer was no. After thinking about it for a while, I still think the answer is no. The most similar team I could think of was the 1994-95 Dallas Mavericks of the 3 J’s fame with Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, and Jamal Mashburn. A lot of you youngsters will have no recollection of Jason Kidd’s first stint with the Mavericks, but I sure do. I was 14 years old that season and the 3 J’s were all the rage. They were a young exciting core for a fun, up tempo basketball team. The rest of the roster that year included no player with more than 6 years of NBA experience, so it was a very young team. Two other notable players on that team were Roy Tarpley and Scott Brooks who just so happens to be the head coach of the OKC Thunder (who had a similar 3 headed monster of his own a couple of years ago with the Westbrook, Durant, Harden team).
I think this year’s version of the Jazz could be a lot like that 1994-95 Mavericks team. They were young and athletic, we are young and athletic. They had 3 very talented players including a future Hall of Famer, but I think this year’s Jazz team has more overall talent. Besides Biedrins and Jefferson who have 9 and 12 years experience in the league, no one else on the roster has more than 5 years experience. This Jazz team has more unknowns due to the lack of playing time that our young players have received, but Trey Burke is a much heralded point guard coming out of college like Jason Kidd was. I know, I know Kidd is a future Hall of Famer but we didn’t know that at the time. Now here are some stats on the 3 J’s, courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com
Jimmy Jackson – 6’6″, 220 lb SG, 4th overall pick in the 1st round of the 1992 NBA Draft
Jamal Mashburn - 6’8″ 240 lb SF, 4th overall pick in the 1st round of the 1993 NBA Draft
Jason Kidd – 6’4″ 205lb PG, 2nd overall pick in the 1st round of the 1994 NBA Draft
Now what was that team’s final record? 36-46.
Mashburn and Jackson were absolute scoring machines. in Mashburn’s rookie season, he and Jackson combined to average 38.4 ppg on 37.1 shots per game between the two of them!! When Kidd came along in 1994 the trio averaged 50.5 shots per game and 61.5 points per game! The Mavericks as a team that year averaged 103.2 points per game. Also look at their minutes played. Could you imagine the types of numbers Hayward, Favors, Kanter, and Burks could have put up with those minutes?Going back and looking at these stats it was weird to think that these 3 guys only played together for 2 full seasons. Kidd was traded to Phoenix, Jackson was traded to New Jersey and Mashburn was traded to Miami in the 1996-97 season. Believe what you want on the reasons for blowing up this young team but the biggest rumor was Kidd and Jackson were fighting over the same woman. Who knows what the truth is but the eventually drafted Dirk Nowitzki and you know the rest.
I think this is in the realm of possibility for the Jazz. I don’t think this Jazz team has the same amount of firepower as the 3 J’s did but I think that our starting 5 could (and need to) average 80 points per game and between Rush, Jefferson, Biedrins, Gobert, Evans, and Lucas they can easily get us another 23.2 points per game to get to that 103.2 average. One thing that will help the Jazz get to this point is improved defense. Management has made it clear that this will be their point of emphasis this year and I’m glad. That Mavericks team allowed opponents to score an average of 106.1 ppg. With an emphasis on defense and the return of a true team game, I see no reason why 100 ppg is not a reasonable expectation for this young team.
I think these young players have more talent and motivation than a lot of fans are giving them right now. I think they are going to surprise a lot of people this year. Whether that translates into 36 wins or not I do not know, but I think they’ll finish somewhere between 27-35 wins this year. A lot of things will have to come together but I think this young group of players has the hunger, talent, and skills to make it happen. Experience is the most important thing they’ll be gaining this year and I’m very excited to watch them play, grow, and entertain me.
Curious how they did in 1995-96? They finished 26-56. Mashburn only played 18 games that year due to injury. Maybe fighting over a woman had nothing to do with the roster turnover. Hopefully the Jazz have more patience with their young guys than the Mavs did.