Whether you’ve been watching or not, the Utah Jazz have managed to right the ship after a horrible start. The team lost its first 8 games and 14 of its first 15. During that time rookie point guard Trey Burke missed the first 12 games. Since he has been in the lineup the team has managed a much more respectable 18-22 record.
Burke deserves some of the credit for stepping in and providing a steady hand for the offense. His raw numbers haven’t been great, but 12 points and 5 assists per game are plenty to keep this offense moving. Anything would be better than an overmatched John Lucas and out of position Alec Burks, who were manning the point during the team’s abysmal start.
The biggest blemish so far for Burke has been poor shooting, both from downtown and inside the arc. He is currently shooting a mediocre 44% at the rim, and is below 40% from every other distance. He needs to either improve at the rim or boost his 33% mark from deep to really cement himself as a reliable starter, and perhaps more. His 90% rate on free throws offers some hope that as he settles in he can become a weapon from the perimeter.
Burke’s presence has had a trickle-down effect on the other wings. Gordon Hayward has been the biggest beneficiary, as his shooting has improved dramatically in recent months after a slow start. He was forced to be a primary ball handler far too often with the Lucas-Burks combo running the show. Moving into a secondary role has suited him well. Burks is doing well off the bench, and may eventually make his way into the starting lineup at shooting guard, with Hayward sliding to small forward. This would push Richard Jefferson to the bench, assuming Utah can’t find another team willing to take on the remainder of his expiring deal.
Not all of the credit for the team’s improved play can go to Burke. The team planned on building around a twin towers setup featuring Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but the duo has struggled in their time on the court together. Per nba.com/stats, when both share the floor together the team gets obliterated, being outscored by over 16 points per 100 possessions. Head coach Tyrone Corbin has rightly decided to limit this hemorrhaging by separating the two as often as possible. Both are having pretty good season, especially Favors; they just don’t fit together.
Corbin’s response to this problem has been to start Marvin Williams at power forward to spread the floor while bringing Kanter off the bench. Williams has responded by hitting a career high percentage of his threes (40%) and opening up the floor on offense. He also adds a fun drive and kick element when defenders close out on him and he takes a few dribbles inside the arc.
Utah has a lot to look forward to in the future with solid young contributors across the board, and it’s nice to finally see some of that result in wins. Unfortunately, it might be in their best interest long term to drop a few more games – the Eastern Conference has a ton of teams tanking to get higher picks.
The team has a lot of issues with the current roster left to solve as well. They rank dead last in defensive efficiency and are in the bottom third of the league on offense. Two of their foundational players are a disaster when they share the court together. And this roster has the potential to get very expensive without ever containing a star player. Some tough decisions await, namely how to resolve the Favors-Kanter problem.
The Jazz surely hope that the two can eventually combine together to form a solid foundation up front for years to come, but that may never happen. If the poor production continues when both share the floor one may need to be traded.
Meanwhile, the strong play of the team with Burke at the helm should be enough to bolster spirits for now.