The Jazz’s Enes Kanter, left, and Derrick Favors pose for a picture during media day at the Zions Bank Basketball Center on Monday, September 30, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)
The 2013-2014 NBA season is fast approaching. Last week social media exploded – no really, it did – as the Utah Jazz conducted media day and practices, where the fans and media got their first look at what to expect in the coming season. Then, Saturday afternoon, fans got a treat at the annual free scrimmage.
There is definitely a buzz in the air. Fans, regardless of the element of unknown, are ecstatic about the upcoming season.
So, what can fans expect? That remains to be seen. You will get a dozen different scenarios and responses, depending on the fan you talk to. And that may be what is so exhilarating about this season, the element of surprise. No one knows what to expect.
Who will be the leading scorer on the team? Who is the sixth man? What lineups will work the best and most effectively? Which players are likely to develop chemistry best on the court? Can they win more than 25 games? Or what is their ceiling for wins this season? Who will emerge as the premier go to big man? Can Trey Burke become the next in a line of point guard greats to play in the league?
The list goes on. There are, perhaps more questions surrounding this group of players than any Jazz team ever assembled. And yet, the community has rallied and is ready to cheer them on as they grow and develop.
I’ve compiled a few things that are known (and have been talked about) mingled with some personal observations that make this season, one to look forward to.
Observations from Media Day interviews:
— Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are hungry and ready to tackle the challenge of leading the Utah Jazz head on. In an interview with David Locke and Ron Boone on media day Hayward stated: “I’m ready for this thing to start.”
In addition he spoke of the most difficult part about being a leader:
“Vocally. We’re (He and Favors) both quiet guys. Our responsibility and our job to be motivators. Holding others accountable. Hold ourselves accountable.”
If you get a chance, go back and listen to the interview. Hayward and Favors are both hungry. They exuded confidence as well as humility in accepting their roles as leaders. That alone is enough to bring the avid fan to their feet.
— Karl Malone is putting his stamp on the young Jazz big men. Whether it’s teaching them how to position their body on the floor, or move in the paint, or defend opposing big men, they all seem to be soaking it up like sponges.
Favors spoke of a couple things he learned from Karl:
“Most I learned working with him (Malone) is a lot mental stuff. He was telling me to take care of my body. Conditioned before training camp so that you’re ready to go during training camp.”
Expectations are high for Favors, and Kanter as well. The bar has been raised by fans, by management, and by Malone. Fans can’t expect a change overnight, but they can expect marginal improvement. The ceiling hasn’t been set for either of the talented big men. This season, however, should be a good gauge moving forward. At this point, the sky’s the limit.
— Trey Burke is a cool cat. Far be it that I should understand what goes on in the heads of rookies as they come out of college and enter the NBA. But one thing that seems evident about Trey Burke – he displays confidence and a measure of maturity beyond his very young years. He exudes that confidence and maturity not just in the way he carries himself on the court, but also in his interviews. David Locke even made mention of it on media day when he approached Trey: “You sound cool and collected.”
The evidence of the maturity this young point guard portrays, manifested itself when he took the time to visit Spokane Washington and work for a couple of days with Hall of Fame Point Guard John Stockton.
What did Trey learn from Stockton?
“He taught patience, ball screen, shot selection, different reads out of the pick and roll. Main thing… small guards, you have to be smarter, play at your own pace, you have to understand angles & spots on the court.”
Now we wait. It’s up to Trey to put those tools into action. There isn’t a time table. He is a rookie. But, when and if he does implement them, the Jazz will see measurable success as a team.
— There is a plan in place. In an interview with David Locke, Steve Miller spoke of the approach taken with the team, the young talent, and building a championship caliber team.
“We’ve never had the core group that we’re trying to build around be young. The vets we’ve looked at to be the nucleus are gone. We don’t know what the future holds. Guys are gonna have to earn their spots… to become that ‘John’ that ‘Karl’.”
“The little things add up. Pay attention to the right things. Systematically and strategically, pay attention to the little things, that the sum of the little things will have a big impact.”
Earlier this spring, Dennis Lindsey spoke of the rebuilding process and how “We’ve skipped a step or two in the rebuilding process because we’ve had some veterans lead us through.” Gathering from Steve Miller’s comments, the steps are being addressed. The steps being, the little things.
— Speaking of Dennis Lindsey. He spoke of the improvements in the off-season of a couple players as well as the possible role Richard Jefferson may play:
“Gordon did great work in Indianapolis. Alec Burks has been very consistent with plugging in to team related activities. He’s starting to maximize… his body. His body is the most noticeable improvement. He’s becoming a man. He’s more athletic. He’s more balanced. Jeremy has real leadership ability. Willing to step up and say the things that need to be said. Derrick has committed to the Jazz organization and Salt Lake.”
On Richard Jefferson as a mentor:
“He did it with Harrison Barnes. He is articulate. He has coaching potential. He can play a long time in the league.”
Dennis Lindsey is the master orchestrator. He’s been busy piecing together the “little things” as he looks to masterfully build a winning organization again in Salt Lake City. In a recent conversation I was a part of with Clint Peterson on Twitter, he stated the following:
— Clint Peterson (@Clintonite33) October 6, 2013
To reference U2 from their Rattle & Hum album. They were speaking of the song Helter Skelter:
“This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. Now we’re stealing it back!”
Dennis Lindsey is rebuilding an organization into what it once was, a prominent, perennial playoff contender and ultimately a championship contender.
Photo courtesy of Alan Zaugg
Media Day was just the beginning. Saturday, October 5th, fans were invited to Energy Solutions Arena for the annual free scrimmage. Fans were introduced to this year’s roster and then afforded the opportunity to watch the team run through a few practice drills and then then run a full court scrimmage game.
A few things from this years scrimmage:
As Lindsey mentioned, Alec Burks maximized his body in the off-season. The affects were apparent the minute he stepped onto the court. Additionally his jump shot (something that has taken criticism) seems to have improved as well. Hey, I know, it’s only a scrimmage. It’s still worth noting. This may just be the year, Alec Burks makes a leap.
Note: I have not been afraid to say, Alec Burks may just be the man to lead the team in scoring. It’s a viable option. Stay tuned.
Other players who appear to have benefited from work in the gym include Hayward and Jeremy Evans.
Brian Cook has one silky smooth jump shot. Ok, maybe I’m over dramatizing it a bit, but it is a nice shot. And it’s a perimeter shot, nonetheless. And heaven knows the Jazz need a little help knocking down perimeter shots.
Calling the Burke and Burks combo will be a tongue twisting nightmare for broadcasters and fans alike. Even long time Jazz PA, Dan Roberts, got the names crossed once or twice. (Yes, Dan, I heard that)
Trey Burke still hasn’t shown his poker hand. In both summer league and scrimmage, Burke struggled to score the ball. He struggled with the size of the defenders when penetrating the lane. If his days with Stockton sink in a bit, he will adjust and morph and use his size as a strength. Trey also has work to do on his shot. He just doesn’t have that consistent knockdown look fans are accustomed to a the point guard position.
Richard Jefferson is the consummate professional and teammate. The last couple seasons, we’ve seen Jamal Tinsley be “The Teacher.” He’s worked with the youngsters, especially Kanter, to help them understand their place on the floor. Now that Tinsley is gone, that role needed to be addressed again. And as referenced by Lindsey, Jefferson could to be that guy. He passes the ball extremely well, too.
Photo courtesy of Alan Zaugg
And finally, the ESA has gone through an upgrade with the new digital displays and sound system. They are a specimen of immense size and brilliant clarity. If you get a chance to go to a game this year, take it! Because the fan experience has received an upgrade that makes being at a Jazz game that much sweeter.
I spoke with Randy Rigby for a few moments during the scrimmage. He wanted me to conveyed just how “unique this arena” is with the new equipment and the experience that fans can have. He brimmed with excitement when stating that there is “no other arena like this in the NBA.” And he encouraged fans to come out and take part in this “truly unique experience.” Randy is genuinely excited about the upcoming season and the possibilities it brings.
It will be well worth investment to attend a game or games this year.
What we know at this point, the Utah Jazz will compete this year. What will the end result be? One can only speculate. It will be a journey. And fans would do well to take part in, and enjoy, the journey.