To preview the Mavericks game against Utah, we've brought in "AllThatJazzBasketball", a blogger for SLC Dunk who does a great job exhaustively covering the NBA's outpost in Salt Lake City.
For my answers to five of his questions about the Mavericks, head over here.
1) After a strong start to the season, Utah has tailed off in the last month. What's caused their slide and can it be reversed before the Jazz fall out of the playoff race completely?
In January, the Utah Jazz went 11-4, before turning around and going 4-11 in February. What was the main reason for this? The easiest answer is that their schedule shifted from home heavy against lottery teams to playing actual NBA caliber teams - and mostly on the road. The team is the same one that has the strengths and weaknesses in the month of January, but they just played better teams - and a more ‘real' picture of what this team is capable of appeared. I didn't think the Jazz were a legit playoff team this season, and an inflated 11-4 January hid that point from a lot of observers. Utah is who we all thought they were, a non-playoff team.
2) As a Mavs fan, I still have fond memories of Devin Harris and Josh Howard. How have they played this season and do either have a future in Utah?
As a Jazz fan I have a lot of memories of Devin Harris and Josh Howard absolutely torching the Jazz. I think the Jazz front office does as well, which may help to explain how high they were when we got them. Devin Harris has made a lot of sacrifices to his game since coming to Utah. I think more than anything else that is why his numbers appear lower than what we all had expectations of when he was traded for. His game is built upon speed and being able to push the tempo. Sadly, the Jazz have paired him with Al Jefferson, an absolutely lumbering dinosaur who breaks any tempo and can't run with Harris. Instead of making Jefferson play uptempo the Jazz coaches asked Harris to slow down - and he did. And he's the one who is suffering as a result. I do not think that Harris is the long-term answer as point for what the Jazz are trying to do; however, if Jefferson could be moved I think Harris' game (and the Jazz offense) could be so much more dynamic.
Josh Howard has had four really strong games in a row, and I like his ability to rebound the ball, get to the line, and know how to play the NBA game. He would be an invaluable veteran to keep around if he wasn't also in direct competition for minutes with recent lottery picks Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. He could really help both of them if he switched to mentor mode; but it would be unfair to ask him to do that as he feels like he has a few good years left and he's using this opportunity with the Jazz to audition for a longer term contract, either with the Jazz, or elsewhere.
If the Jazz front office could commit to a direction then we'd be better placed to use both of them. Right now the indecisiveness (play to win every game possible and make the playoffs, or develop the youth, and lose games) of the organization hurts the veterans like Howard and Harris the most. I don't think the front office sees either of them in the long term. However, I think that they have played well enough to, at the very least, continue to start for the Jazz.
3) Do you think the Jazz will be active at the deadline and would you rather them buy or sell if they are?
I don't believe the Jazz will be active at the deadline. The front office moves at a snail's pace and does not appear to take any initiative. They will listen to the offers of other teams, but then decide to ‘play it safe' and do nothing. Doing nothing is easier than doing anything. In this case I think I'm okay with that. In a lockout shortened season with no training camp the Jazz brass need more and more time to learn about who we have on our team right now. The Jazz don't know who to keep yet; they'll most likely stand pat now and make a move closer to the NBA draft.
4) Utah has two of the NBA's most intriguing young big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Are you pleased with how they have developed this season?
I'm actually surprised at the in-season development of the two guys who aren't even old enough to rent a car yet. There are not a lot of minutes to go around with both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap playing over 30 a game. And there are not a lot of practices or film sessions during this compacted season. To my surprise Favors has figured out how not to foul out in the first quarter of games all by himself. And Enes Kanter has become exactly what I thought he couldn't be - a solid post defender who could actually play defense without fouling. Both of their offensive games are rougher than stone-age toilet paper, but it's not like they take enough shots per game to worry about that just yet.
I think they both could develop faster if the Jazz decided to go young, and moved either Al or Paul - but that would mean actually taking a stance on something. So all obstacles accounted for, I think they're doing okay; especially without a real big man coach on the staff.
5) If the Jazz keep both their lottery picks, they will have had 6 in the last 3 years. Do you expect them to deal one or both for a veteran and what do you think should be the front office's priority in the off-season?
I think the Jazz will keep both picks, after all, it's not like they know when to move people until their value is near their lowest. If a vet is dealt, it will happen this off-season. And the top priority SHOULD be to start looking at the team as a whole, instead of making each move in a vacuum. The Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor attempts to get the best ‘value' for each move he makes; regardless if all of these pieces will fit together as a team. A great example of that is getting Al Jefferson for a Carlos Boozer who was leaving as a free agent; and getting Devin Harris (and others) for Deron Williams who may have been leaving. On paper Harris and Jefferson are great pieces individually, but together on the floor they are less than the sum of their parts.
Another example would be trading for Favors, a raw 20 year old who has had no development time - and then in the very next draft picking another raw 19 year old big. Was Kanter really the BPA at the #3 spot? We'll never know. But I think the Jazz would have been better served to go guard in that draft than get Kanter. The top priority has to be looking at the team and filling needs - not always attempt to get the best for each individual move, and ignore faults. We know what happens when you do. Four of our top six players are power forwards. It. Is. Frustrating.