I thought last year they'd go downhill after losing Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. But they've hung in with a lot of new guys.
They have four big men who are either in their prime or coming up in Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. It looks like Millsap is going to be the one they'll let go of, though they might have to wait to see what happens with Favors' development early in the year.
Most people in the league are sold on Kanter, but I'm not. He's going to be in the NBA a long time, but all I see right now is a bruiser. He can't move as well as a guy like Omer Asik, for example, but he's a lot stronger and he bruises people to get rebounds. I doubt whether Kanter is ever going to be a starter for a good team -- which he doesn't have to be for Utah. It would be fine for him to be coming off the bench behind Jefferson. I just don't think Kanter has the tools to be anything more than solid. Maybe he'll eventually turn into somebody who can shoot a baby hook. But right now he is a guy who uses his strength to go up and through you and hope to draw a foul. When you're looking at their young guys, Kanter is not one of their difference-makers.
Favors has a lot to prove, but he's going to be very good. He has all the tools to be a stud 4. I think Favors will become a good medium-range shooter. He has pretty good low-post moves. Ultimately, I think he will draw double teams, and when they begin to come he's going to realize that his passing needs some work. He runs like a deer, he's big, strong and athletic, and he can get the kind of deep position that forces you to foul him.
[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Jazz this season]
If they hold on to Millsap for a while, maybe they'll play him as a small forward like they used to do. That may be the only way to find out if Favors is for real: Tell him that he's going to be their 4 and they're going to force him to prove himself. It's a healthy thing to put pressure on Favors in his third season. He needs to take ownership of his improvement because you can only wait so long. You can see he belongs out there, but he still needs to take a giant step.
I love Millsap and Jefferson. They're both at their peak. Jefferson is a low-post scorer. That is what he does and, man, does he do it well. He's always had a great feel for knowing how to score in there. Whoever taught him knew what he was doing, because he had that in his game coming out of high school.
Millsap just plays his butt off. Defensively, he is better than Jefferson and Favors. Jefferson and Favors will block some shots and both are pretty good rebounders, but neither one is a great defender. Jefferson has always been bad, and he doesn't provide a lot of resistance against the bigger centers. But I think Favors will become a great defender eventually. Right now Favors has a hard time guarding pick-and-roll and understanding where he has to be off the ball, and he gets crossed up.
The Jazz at times have played Jefferson, Millsap and Favors together because Millsap is capable of handling the 3 for a stretch. Keeping all three of them protects you against injury, which means the only reason to break up that rotation is because they won't want to or won't be able to pay all of them [Millsap and Jefferson are in the last year of their contracts, while Favors is eligible for an extension for the first time next summer]. That's too bad, because they might have to wait a couple of years for Favors to come around. Favors should be the best player among them, but right now he's the third best. If you have those two guys and then Favors becomes your best player, you're going somewhere. But I think everybody around the league figures they're going to move Millsap.
Gordon Hayward is another one who is looking at this as a big year. He's streaky but he has some big games, and I think he's going to become a better scorer because he knows how to play and he has the size at 6-8. His shooting is good and it's probably going to get a lot better. He's not great on defense, but he works so hard.
[Rob Mahoney: Why Hayward is a player to watch]
The lack of fire drives me nuts with Marvin Williams. He has a new opportunity after coming over from Atlanta, where he didn't appear to do anything fantastic. He made shots early in his career and got a contract [he has two years left on a five-year, $37.5 million deal], but what else does he do? He is supposed to be shooting and scoring, and maybe in Utah they'll give him the ball more and run some more pick-and-roll with him. In Atlanta, he was buried as the fourth or fifth guy behind Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford.
Mo Williams is no All-Star but he makes them more dangerous as a guy who can go off and get 30 points when their bigs are struggling. He's an upgrade over Devin Harris, for sure. He knows he's going to get to shoot and score a lot with this team. Other than Jefferson, he'll be the guy getting the shots, even though they run that Jazz offense that gets the ball out of the point guard's hands a lot. But he's played for that franchise before [as a rookie] so he knows.
Whether Tyrone Corbin was right or wrong in his spat with Raja Bell, at least he found out he has the support of the front office -- and that's huge for him as a young coach. I was impressed with Corbin in trying to replace one of the top three coaches I've ever seen. Those are tough shoes to fill and he did a pretty good job, and he's going to keep getting better. He won't have any difficult personalities to deal with after they get rid of Bell.
[Sam Amick: Northwest Division preview]
Randy Foye had a strong year last season -- finally. I always thought he'd be a good combo guard and it never happened. The question here is, Where is he going to play? They have three point guards in Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley an Earl Watson, so is he going to play the 2?
Alec Burks is wild, but Utah lets guys like him play. They get their minutes and then they get better because they're playing. Burks made some bonehead plays last year as a rookie, but he was aggressive and athletic, and he could develop into a good scoring guard off the bench.
Forward Jeremy Evans is interesting as a high-energy flyer, but even with his athleticism I don't see him earning minutes ahead of the guys they have. Forward DeMarre Carroll will get some minutes, but he's not going to make a difference for them.
I think you're going to see them getting better this year. Favors, Kanter and Hayward should be better, and Mo Williams is an improvement. But if they decide to trade Millsap, that might make them worse depending on what they get back.