We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.
The Utah Jazz enter the 2015-16 campaign with high hopes. The team closed out last season on a 19-10 tear, all of which came (not coincidentally) after it shipped away Enes Kanter at the trade deadline and inserted Rudy Gobert into the starting lineup. Over that stretch, Utah had the best defensive efficiency in the league — a full 4.1 points per 100 possessions clear of the San Antonio Spurs, the second-best defense. With a young roster mostly intact from that strong finish, the Jazz and their fans are sanguine about their playoff chances, despite the frightening depth of the Western Conference and the loss of second-year point guard Dante Exum to a torn ACL this summer.1 But for Utah to reward that optimism and reach the postseason, it will need to continue its late-season defensive dominance from last year and hope that improving young talent can bolster the offense from within. For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system is bullish on their chances; it has the Jazz going 45-37.
With the help of CARMELO, here’s what’s in store for the Jazz in 2015-16:
Rudy Gobert’s late-season ascendance into the starting lineup helped transform Utah’s defense last season. By ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, he was the fourth-best defensive center in the league, and Nylon Calculus ranked him as the top rim protector in the league on a per-minute basis. Last season, he proved he could be an elite rebounder and shot-blocker and an efficient finisher around the rim. The question now is whether he can replicate all of that production in big minutes, across an entire season.
Twenty-five-year-old Gordon Hayward has already established himself as one of the most versatile players in the league. As the lack of red dots in his skill ratings attests, Hayward is at least decent (if not much better) in virtually every area of the game, and his two most comparable historical players — Brandon Roy and Andre Iguodala — emphasize his all-around talent. But heavy is the burden of being Utah’s most important player. If the Jazz are to make the playoffs, their offense must come closer to matching the elite level of their defense, and much of that responsibility will fall to Hayward.
In Exum’s absence, Trey Burke will be logging the majority of Utah’s minutes at the point this season. CARMELO sees Burke as the second coming of Raymond Felton, which isn’t flattering but feels entirely appropriate. Burke is a defensive disaster, and on offense he’s a shoot-first point guard without much history of shooting well. The Jazz are hoping this is the year he breaks through, but surrounding him with a complementary ball-handler such as Hayward or Alec Burks may be the only way to keep him on the floor without the offense disintegrating.
Last year, Derrick Favors quietly blossomed into one of the best big men in the league. His offensive game is still developing — a more consistent mid-range jump shot would really help smooth the edges of his pairing with Gobert — but Favors is already one of the better defensive bigs in the game. His comparables are an interesting mix of offensive (LaMarcus Aldridge) and defensive (Andrew Bogut) stars. If Favors could ever put those two pieces together, it would really raise the ceiling on Utah’s future.
Alec Burks played just 27 games for the Jazz last season after suffering a shoulder injury. Neither his projections nor his comparables are particularly inspiring, but he’s a good off-the-dribble creator on the wing — something the Jazz will need, given their thin point guard rotation.
Entering his second season, Rodney Hood is looking to build on a strong finish to his rookie campaign. Primarily a spot-up shooting threat at this stage of his career, Hood made 42 percent of his 3-pointers from February onward last season. If he can repeat that effort, it would give the Jazz offense some much-needed floor spacing.