Utah Jazz preview: A changing of the guard?

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

The Mavericks begin with the NBA season with a tough back-to-back, as they play Utah on Wednesday night. We brought in SB Nation's Jazz blogger to talk about a team many feel could be a rising power in the conference.

Amar Smith runs SB Nation's excellent Utah Jazz blog SLC Dunk. You can follow him on Twitter (@AllThatAmar). Check his site for my answers to a few of his questions about the Mavs.

1. How is Utah going to divvy out minutes in the front-court this season? Seems awfully crowded with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap playing for new contracts and Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors pushing for more time.

This is a tricky one. Well, for starters, we have to start with the starting bigs. Tyrone Corbin seems steadfast that starting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap together is a MUST. The two veterans are both in contract years as well, and will elicit off the court pressure in the locker room on the coach to make sure the rotations favor them. I would be shocked if both do not play 30-35 minutes a game. That's the clearly insane part, though. Millsap and Jefferson have demonstrated an inability to defend the paint at the level you'd want from your starters.

The two younger players behind them, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, are much worse offensive players - but much more capable defenders at the NBA level. I am resigning myself to the point that Tyrone Corbin will only play them sparingly this season. We will see them every game, but just not for as long as they should play. Rounding out the ‘pay your dues' club will be Jeremy Evans, who shows flashes of being a capable 4th big / energy guy, but has absolutely no chance to get minutes here.

2. Do you expect the Jazz to keep Millsap and/or Jefferson past this year? If not, any chance either is dealt mid-season?

If any of those two stay beyond this season it will be a decision the Jazz act upon after this season ends. I feel like the Jazz sit on their hands here and do nothing during the trade deadline. Of course, this is based upon being a Jazz fan for the last bajillion years. Utah did not make many crazy, proactive moves in the 80s. That may be coloring my idea of what this franchise is today. After all, a little while ago the team traded away Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Mehmet Okur, Mehmet Okur's trade exception and a bunch of other assets away with no regard for stability.

Our new GM Dennis Lindsey may set up to the plate and make a San Antonio Spurs style smart trade. That's the best chance scenario. For me though, I believe the Jazz let this season play out (stifling younger players as a consequence) and let other teams and the player's front offices battle it out. Wheter they keep Millsap or Jefferson, or both, will really depend on what Favors and Kanter show in practice this season. If the Jazz brass can figure things out sooner rather than later it will be for the benefit of the team. I'm just not optimistic on the ‘sooner' part.

3. Speaking of Favors and Kanter, where are they in their development? I expect big things from Favors, but it's hard, from the outside, to get a handle on what Kanter can give Utah this season.

Favors supposed to be light years ahead of Kanter, as Favors grew up in the American development system where he played on club teams in high school and also went to college for the required one season. He has also been in the league for longer. Kanter, on the other hand, is a gym rat who goes at things with the enthusiasm and focus one can expect from a guy who is still a teenager mentally. Kanter has only been playing basketball for a few years, and had to sit out that one year in college. They are both physical beasts - the difference is that one of them is being used by the team correctly. That player is Enes Kanter, surprisingly.

Favors is a defensive monster, but his offensive game is a dependant one. He relies on others to create for him at this stage. That's not a bad thing - that's how Karl Malone was early on as well. Favors is still putting it all together, but he had a disappointing preseason. Kanter did not. He was a major stud on offense and defense, and absolutely killed it. Of course, Kanter was more motivated because the Jazz front office essentially called him out during the preseason. Kanter played better in the whopping 8 preseason games the Jazz scheduled this year. But it is our belief that Favors is better. Or at least, Favors should be better. I'd say Derrick is behind where he should be (a problem of minutes early on), and Enes is slightly ahead (because of his off-season work). And yes, I have different expectations for the two players. I still expect more from Favors, while I'm still unsure of what to get from Kanter over the long haul when he's not motivated.

4. What do you think of the additions of Mo and Marvin Williams? How do they fit with the rest of the team, especially with Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, the Jazz two other recent lottery picks?

The last few seasons of Jazz front office moves were seen to be made in a vacuum. Each move was made to maximize the move, but not look at fit at all. Many times the move was made by the front office, and it seemed like it was made with an abject disregard for who else was already on the team. As an example, we only have to look so far as at the pairing of slow, half court oriented Al Jefferson with the speedy, transition offense oriented Devin Harris. Simply put, Mo Williams is much more capable of playing the ‘speed' that Big Al needs the team to play at. He's also a better fit in terms of skills: three point shooting and free throw shooting. Last season the Jazz were among the worst EVER at shooting from distance. It goes under the radar how poorly the team performed from the free throw line as well. Mo is a better fit.

Marvin is someone I'm unreasonably high on. I guess you could argue he wasn't the best fit in Atlanta either as what they really needed as a point guard, but picked a forward who was still learning the game. In Atlanta he was asked to do a few things, but in Utah, he's showing that he's capable of doing a lot more. He seems to fit what we're doing here, and his performance in the preseason indicates that he's a huge improvement over C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, and Josh Howard - three guys who got the starting nod on the wing last season.

Of course, we need to look at fit here as well. Marvin, a starter level player, and veteran, is going to start here. That means he pushes Gordon Hayward to the two spot - despite Hayward's inability to really hurt other teams from deep. This directly influences Alec Burks, who should be starting at the two. The silver lining here is that Burks doesn't have to be the 4th or 5th option as a starter, and gets to be the 1st or 2nd option on the bench. This seems to be working out - for now.

Mo doesn't directly help the younger bigs because they are more used to playing with a point guard who will spoon feed them in Earl Watson or Jamaal Tinsley. Playing without a pass first PG will be hard for them, but hey, it's not like Corbin's rotations are going to be clever enough to mix and match units. So it's not much of a problem.

5. What are the expectations in Utah this season? Do you think they will improve on their No. 8 seed last season?

The expectation is to return to the playoffs. Last season the Jazz squeaked in thanks to the late season collapse of the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, and season ending injuries to key players on the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves. Even if the Jazz do not rise above the 8th seed - returning to the playoffs would be indicative of improvement. I expect them to make the playoffs, but will not be upset if they miss it. But that stems from my idea that right now we're not real contenders, but a young core learning to play together still. The eventual forest fire of the NEXT offseason (the Jazz have 8 expiring contracts) will be the real start of our serious climb.

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