Yesterday, our panel of writer’s graded the Utah Jazz at the halfway point. They named their choice for team MVP, most improved player and biggest surprise. Today, we look ahead to the playoffs. We predict the final record of the season. Plus, what to expect from Alec Burks and Dante Exum.
What will be their record to finish the season and what will be their playoff seed?
John: I’d love to do an “if healthy” caveat, but if past is prologue, the Jazz will still have injury issues in the second half of the season. Hopefully just not as much as the first half. I’d put them at 51-31.
James: 53-29. Beginning the year, I thought we had a chance to be in the high 50s but with all the injuries it’ll be a little lower. There will be more easy wins as the season goes on as opponents either rest players or allow their team to tank for draft position, so this could be even higher.
Greg: After going through the rest of the season, I have the Jazz’s final record at 52-30, which should be good enough for the Northwest Division crown and a fourth seed in the playoffs.
Dan: 52-30, 5th place. They have a chance at 4th, but when it comes down to it, if the Clippers need to gut out some tough ones to hold onto homecourt, their playoff-tested roster will know what it takes to do so.
Ryan: I’m going to stick with the current pace go with an even 50 and a No. 4 or 5 seed in the West. The Jazz are significantly healthier than they were in the early going; Rodney Hood’s unfortunate knee injury on Saturday notwithstanding. Nevertheless, I don’t expect them to go crazy and catch the Houston Rockets.
I see them remaining steady as they reintegrate everyone into the lineup, hone their rotations and rebuild some chemistry. There will be the occasional rough patch, but that’s to be expected. The hope should be that they hit their stride in time for the playoff run.
Will they win a playoff series?
John: They will win the first round, lose in the second.
James: Yes, if we’re healthy. When we have all our starters, we can go toe to toe with anyone from the Western Conference not called the Warriors. Our shortened rotations will be fantastic in a playoff series. Opposing teams will have to deal with 48 minutes of elite length and rim protection on defense, while also having to defend a very efficient offense, comfortable in a half court game.
Greg: Obviously this depends on the matchup as well as whether or not the Jazz have home court advantage — based on my prediction, they would. Health is also a huge factor.
I would much prefer to play the Clippers rather than the Grizzlies, but yes, I think a healthy Jazz would beat either of those teams in a seven-game series.
Dan: Big question, because I think the answer factors heavily into Hayward’s future plans. I think they’re 50/50 to eat the Clippers if they snag homecourt. If they open in LA, they might have to wait until next year to taste the conference semis.
Ryan: As most of us would probably agree, it’s all about the match-up here. As good as the Jazz are, they’re ultimately going to fall right into that range of teams just outside of the West’s elite. Without a clear cut favorite among the bunch, it’s probably going to come down to who plays who, home-court advantage and which teams are healthy.
I’m pretty confident in picking the Jazz to win a series with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, the L.A. Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are harder.
I, for one, prefer the latter, but either squad would be a tough out.
Will Alec Burks work his way back into the rotation?
James: Yes, but he’ll have to be a shooter. Alec’s always had a good first step and an ability to finish difficult shots at the rim, but he’s always been an even better shooter. Now, with him coming back from injury, he’ll have to rely more on his shooting to be effective.
Greg: Yes, for a couple of reasons.
- The Jazz’s bench is still searching for a guy who can initiate the offense and score in bunches. That’s Alec Burks’ game in a nutshell. If he’s healthy, Alec immediately fills a pretty big void.
- The backup point guard play has left a lot to be desired, be it Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum or Raul Neto. Plugging Burks in as the ball handler off the bench has a chance of fixing this problem. It also allows the Jazz to run the triple-wing offense that was so effective last season before Burks got hurt.
Dan: Probably at some point, if for no other reason than because chances are high that one of the four wings ahead of him will miss some time for something-or-other.
Ryan: I hope so. His performance against the Orlando Magic really gave me renewed hope in his ability to make an impact this season. Of course, if Rodney Hood is out for an extended period of time with the knee, Quin Snyder’s hand could be forced once Burks can handle major minutes.
In any event, I’d like to see Joe Ingles remain in the rotation regardless. If Burks is going to infringe on anyone’s minutes, I would hope that its one of the back-up point guards and not Ingles. Slow-Mo Joe has shown himself to be a valuable bench piece and deserves to be on the floor.
What can we expect to see from Dante Exum?
John: He’ll start getting sporadic minutes, and I expect somewhere around February, he’ll take the #2 point guard position away from Mack.
James: A starting calibur point guard … eventually. It’s obvious it will take longer than expected, especially since our coach doesn’t play him any more, but he still has all the tools to be great. I haven’t seen anything this season to make me think otherwise. Go look at his per 36 numbers, he’s gotten better in almost every category. But who am I to interrupt a Quin/Mack BFF friendship?
Greg: Not a whole lot. He’s still young and developing — consider that there will be a bunch of players in the upcoming draft who are older than him. Last year’s ACL tear really put him behind schedule, and as we’ve seen this year, he’s had a hard time staying on the court and in Quin Snyder’s rotation. Alec Burks getting healthy only makes things harder for him.
Ultimately it’s going to take an injury to Shelvin Mack or George Hill for him to get a whole lot more playing time that what we’re seeing currently. The Jazz are in win-now mode, and I don’t see how Exum helps them in the short term.
Dan: More good defense, slow but steady offensive progress, and the occasional bad game. His return to the rotation against Detroit was encouraging, but it’s going to be up-and-down for Exum for a while.
Ryan: I, for one, am still high on Dante Exum. Whether or not Quin Snyder feels the same is hard to say. In any case, I don’t see Exum doing anything this season beyond what he was able to accomplish as a rookie.
With the Jazz relying so heavily on George Hill as the starter and Shelvin Mack continuing to play a major role off the bench, even that level of play could be difficult for Exum to attain this year. Barring some kind of move to shake up the backcourt at the trade deadline, minutes will continue to be hard to come by.
Personally, I would like to see him get some run in the D-League. He’s done enough watching the Jazz play from the sidelines. At this point, I don’t know how beneficial it is if that’s his lot as a Jazzman.
The consensus? The Utah Jazz should reach the 50 win mark with an opportunity to win their first round matchup. The second half of the season has begun and the Jazz control their own destiny. With Exum and Burks starting to find their rhythmn again, the team is deep and hungry.
Tomorrow we’ll bring you the third and final piece of this series. We’ll take a look at whether our panel thinks Hayward and Gobert can make the All-Star game. We’ll also ask about Defensive Player of the Year, All Defensive Team, and the NBA’s MVP.