Okay, did you do it? Did you make sure to watch/listen/experience the Jazz game last night? If you didn’t, you should just stop reading now because I may question your fanhood. But if you did, then you know of what I am going to write about. Well maybe, I’m not sure I know where I’m going with this just yet. I was working on hanging shelves and demo-ing a bathroom until well into the 4th quarter last night, but I had the game blasting through the house the whole time (my wife has the kids out of town this week so I’m free to do things like that this week.) I finally sat down and experienced the game right when the Jazz made the final push to put this game away from the Suns once and for all, and what a job it was! I’m just gonna drop some thoughts on this game, this season, this team, and the playoffs, so stick with me while I embody the term “Ramblin Man” (okay, I probably completely botched the true reference of the Allman Brothers Band, but it’s all good.)
The players. The story has been about Al Jefferson getting to/getting back to the playoffs. Sure, he made the playoffs as a rookie in Boston, but that wasn’t his team so ultimately, this means more to him. But I think more important than that is the Devin Harris factor. He proved Dallas made a mistake by trading him to New Jersey by having a career year the next year, but then he disappeared. It took him a while to find himself in Salt Lake, but when he did, he knew this team needed him to be the leader he became on the floor. And you can’t discount the experience that the four young players are going to get, regardless of the outcome from here on out.
The team. This team was picked to be last in the West and when it came down to it, they spat in the faces of everyone who told them they couldn’t. This team learned firsthand what it means to be a team and to play for each other. Only the truly great teams understand that (see San Antonio for proof.)
The fans. The Utah fans are as rabid as any fans in the league and because of our small-market complex we feel we deserve it to show that we belong. Say what you will about these fans, but we were there all season for this team, even when it didn’t appear anything would come of the season.
I was wrong. I’ve been on the record all season saying the team needs to get rid of Harris and Jefferson this off season. While I still believe that ultimately we could upgrade the point position, I’m not as nervous about it anymore. And Jefferson. Well, if this team can convince Paul Millsap that the best thing for this team is for him to play more wing, this team has such a high ceiling next season with a full off-season, fall camp, actual practices, and everything else that comes with a normal cycle for the NBA, that I don’t want to see anything happen to our big rotation except for them to just get better.
Speaking of that big rotation, how about it? According to David Locke’s numbers, the Jazz have outscored opponents when the trio of Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Jefferson are on the floor 304 – 232 in a combined 148 minutes. If you are keeping track at home, that works out to 98.7 to 75.3 over 48 minutes of play. That’s unreal. And Hayward’s versatility allows him to flow on and off the ball, create for himself, and more importantly for others (8 assists last night!) which really allows for Harris to be true to himself as a scoring point guard in this system. Can this lineup be a long term solution? I hope so. And for anyone who is lamenting missing out on a high lottery pick, don’t. Anyone we’d draft at that position anyway would just logjam the already deep rotation this team has. That leads me to . . . .
Golden State’s pick. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock until now, the Jazz get the Warriors first pick if it falls outside the top 7 picks after the lottery. Currently, the Warriors are in for the 8th worst record and while they have a small chance of grabbing a top 3 pick, they more likely keep their pick only if they lose Thursday night to San Antonio. However, that still means that no team outside the teams ahead of the Warriors in their suckiness this year grabs a coveted top three pick. If any team in the lottery that finishes behind the Warriors sneaks in to grab a top three, then the Jazz should end with that mid-lottery pick where they could do a lot of things.
And finally, the playoffs. While the Jazz have a small chance of moving into that 7th spot, I think I prefer to see San Antonio, although this is about as close to 50-50 as you can get for me. I think the Spurs can and will wear down in a long, hard-fought series against anyone and they may be as primed as any recent #1 seed to fall, as they did last season. But the Thunder could be handled as well. James Harden is still day-to-day after the infamous elbow and with this new big lineup, I can’t see Russell Westbrook driving the lane nearly as often which would turn him into a jump shooter which makes him streaky at best. Kevin Durant is near-indefensible so that point is moot. Could the Jazz win a series against either of these teams? Sure, but I don’t think it is likely. Both are playoff tested teams that will know the savvy tricks you can only learn by being in the playoffs. But this team will win games against either team and learn some valuable lessons along the way.
Overall, this season has been fun to watch. Congrats to the team, congrats to Ty Corbin, and big thanks to Kevin O’Connor for having a vision of rebuilding while staying relevant, for getting young pieces and giving them meaningful minutes, and for keeping this team fun to watch and easy to root for. For what it’s worth, my votes for Coach and GM of the Year go to Corbin and O’Connor.