Not much was expected out of the Jazz heading into the lockout shortened 2011-12 and post-Deron Williams era.
The Jazz transitioned into a gritty team led by their frontcourt of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap though and ended up being one of the feel-good stories of the season. The Jazz probably surprised even themselves with a strong finish to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth-seed in the west with a 36-30 record.
Once they were in, the Jazz saw how much work they have left to do as they were unceremoniously swept out of the first round by the Spurs.
Through no fault of their own, The Jazz also lost the high draft pick the Warriors owed them when Golden State tanked down the stretch.
Formidable Frontcourt - The Jazz four-man interior rotation of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter is as good as anyone in the NBA. The best thing about the Jazz bigs is how well they complement each other as each has a different skill set. This allows them to match up well with anyone. The Jazz post players can score, block shots and rebound with the best in the league.
Paul Millsap has been one of the best Jazz players over the last several seasons, but is his time in Utah coming to an end?
Building Blocks - The Jazz are in a good spot when it comes to building for the future. They have some very good young players they will surely want to keep, but they also have some very attractive trade pieces like Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. With more than $35 million in expiring contracts the Jazz are also ideal trade partners for teams looking to clear cap space for free agency this summer. The Jazz can either try to get something back for their expiring deals then or let them expire and use the cap space to try and be players in free agency themselves. The franchise can improve but their decisions in the next few months will go a long way to determining their identity going forward.
Gimme some Mo - Mo Williams fits in with this team so much better than Devn Harris did and he will be counted on to contribute. Williams' assist numbers may have declined in the last few seasons but that is more a result of the situations he has been in than his ability as a playmaker. He should be able to replace Harris as a ball distributor as well as provide the team with improved shooting from the outside.
It's Cold Outside - The Jazz struggled shooting from beyond the arc last season hitting just 32.3 percent of their shots from deep (27th in the NBA). This allowed opposing defences to pack the paint and limit the effectiveness of their big men inside. The Jazz shooters need to find a way to keep defences honest so their bigs can flourish.
No true Star - Jefferson and Millsap are both very good players entering their prime. Favors and Hayward are two young players that are just starting to blossom. All four are excellent pieces but none of the four look like a bona fide number one stud that can take this team from good to great. The closest might be Favors because of his upside but there are alot of question marks still. Without that number one guy this roster will only ever be good, not great.
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Good enough team to make the playoffs with upside in the frontcourt.
Al Jefferson provides solid scoring and excellent rebounding at 16th overall.
Stuck In The Middle - This Jazz team looks like Jazz teams always do. Solid. Unfortunately solid doesn't win titles. It keeps them in the playoff hunt every year, fighting for a low seed in the West. Even if they miss the playoffs the Jazz will only be rewarded with a draft pick in the teams. It's easy to fall into the middle ground trap of always being good but never really becoming a threat.
X Factor: Gordon Hayward
There are alot of things to like about Hayward. He has a very nice offensive game but can also play effective defence. He ranked amongst the best in the NBA at shutting down oppsing threes. He also finished the 2011-12 season with a bang. Over the last month of the season he averaged 16.1 points and shot the ball at over 50 percent. The Jazz are relying on Hayward to take the next step and carry that strong finish over to this season while playing 32-35 minutes per night.
What to Expect
The Jazz have the players to make the playoffs and will probably do so. The strength of their frontcourt also means they could be a tricky out for one of the high seeds in the West if they get in. However, this season should be more about looking to the future. It will be interesting to see what moves, if any, the front office makes before the trade deadline to try and make this good team better.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
The Jazz got an unexpected jolt last season when the made the Playoffs and are now looking to fortify their ranks to make it a regular thing, although after making it in fifteen of the last nineteen years they're the Playoffs are sort of expected in Utah.
They jettisoned Devin Harris and brought in Mo Williams, who suits the team far better, and brought in Marvin Williams to beef up their perimeter presence while they wait for their youngsters to improve.
Their biggest offseason get, however, was Dennis Lindsey, the former San Antonio executive that had spurned countless other opportunities to run his own club before accepting the job in Utah.
As the team looks to take the next step as a franchise they couldn't have found a much better guide to lead them there.