A lot of things have happened in this young season where the growing pains are very apparent for the Utah Jazz. Turnovers and missed free throws have cost them the opportunity to open up the season 3-0. They are learning to close out teams, especially perceived elite teams, when you get a big lead on them. They are showing signs of a young, inexperienced team and in many ways this team is exactly who we thought they’d be at this point. One thing really bothers me about this 0-3 start though. This really isn’t the team we thought they’d be.
When the preseason started the Jazz fielded a very effective lineup of Burke, Hayward, Jefferson, Favors and Kanter. Since it was the preseason Coach Corbin continued to tinker with lineups and award guys with a start based on their hard work. None of the lineups he threw out there were as effective as the first one, however, and it became pretty clear that would most likely be the starting lineup on opening night. Burks would be the 6th man and usually the 1st guy off the bench (baring foul trouble from our bigs) with Lucas as the 7th man, Jeremy Evans as the 8th and Biedrins, Gobert at 9 and 10 and Ian Clark at 11. Rush and Marvin were nursing injuries and not expected to be around at the beginning of the season. Mike Harris made the team and became the de facto 12th guy due to those injuries.
Not a great bench to work with, maybe not even good, but not worst in the league. Lucas and Burks were ready to provide energy and a 1-2 scoring punch off the bench and Jeremy had been displaying a much improved jumper and we all know about his big play potential on both ends of the court. Say what you will about Biedrins’ atrocious free throw shooting but he is a proven rebounder and defender. Rudy Gobert had also tantalized in the preseason with his rebounding and shot blocking ability. The Jazz were ready for the season to get started; and then…..the injury bug reared its ugly head.
The brand new point guard the Jazz acquired on draft night, the point guard of the here and now and the future breaks a finger and is out 3-6 weeks. Jeremy Evans suffers a rotator cuff strain and is out day to day. Andris Biedrins sprains his ankle in the practice leading up to the first game of the season and is out day-to-day. All of a sudden a young, inexperienced team that was already without 2 key veteran pieces due to injury is now dealing with 5 injured players. They go from 12 healthy bodies to only 9 for opening day! For some emergency health at point guard they resign Jamal Tinsley. Talk about terrible luck! Here is a little chart to give a more visual concept of what I just said.
|Original Jazz Depth Chart||Opening Night Depth Chart|
|1||Trey Burke||7||John Lucas|
|2||Gordon Hayward||2||Gordon Hayward|
|3||Richard Jefferson||3||Richard Jefferson|
|4||Derrick Favors||4||Derrick Favors|
|5||Enes Kanter||5||Enes Kanter|
|6||Alec Burks||6||Alec Burks|
|7||John Lucas||10||Rudy Gobert|
|8||Jeremy Evans||12||Mike Harris|
|9||Andris Biedrins||11||Ian Clark|
Let that sink in for a minute. All of a sudden our 7th man is asked to be our starting point. Then the 10th, 11th, and 12th men on the roster are asked to play the roles of the 7th, 8th and 9th men in the rotation. That’s a lot to ask of these players. The Core 4 are doing their part for the most part, mixed in with those growing pains we mentioned earlier of too many turnovers and missed free throws (concentration issue). It’s a heavy burden being placed on the shoulders of these young players and I think they’re doing a heck of a job. The effort, energy and hustle is there. The rebounding is great, the ball movement has been great except for the season low 12 assists against Houston. With all these injuries, they only lost to one of the best teams in the West by 3, lost a buzzer beater on the road by 3 and then were overwhelmed in the 2nd half by another of the Western Conference’s best teams. There is more to be excited about than to be disappointed or discouraged by.
These tough losses and experience the team is gaining now will help them not only in seasons to come, but when this roster is at full strength come December. Brandon Rush tweeted out today that he could see some playing time tonight. It’s only a matter of time before Biedrins and Evans are back. Just like that some depth is restored and a couple more playmakers, Rush and Evans, are added to the arsenal. On November 11th the doctor’s will give a time table for Burke’s return as well. Finally when Marvin is healthy enough to play we will be able to truly judge where this team is and what they need to work on the most. I think had this team started the season at full strength they’d be at least 2-1 if not 3-0. Once they are at full strength they will really start to turn some heads and they will see what the Core 4 can do with a decent supporting cast. So are the Jazz truly taking their lumps? In some areas they are, but overall they won’t truly be tested until sometime in December when they have all their weapons at their disposal.
The players themselves remain upbeat too. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News quoted Richard Jefferson as saying “We’re not very far off,’’ he said. “You look at our games. We take Oklahoma City down to a shot. We take Phoenix on the road down to a shot. We had this team down 16 and we’re tied going into the fourth quarter. Even in the last three or four minutes it was a dogfight. We just need to continue to battle and continue to get better in the last five to six minutes of the game.’’ He also quoted Enes Kanter saying “Definitely. We just have to figure it out,” Kanter said. “I know down the road when time goes on we’re going to learn how to close games, too. If we play like we did in the first half, no one can keep up with us.”
No discouragement on the player’s side of things. That should be both an encouraging and exciting thing for fans. These guys haven’t given up and are going to continue to play hard. Let’s keep cheering loud and hard for them too!