The Hawks have now lost 14 out of their last 15 games, a stretch that at this point goes beyond injuries and beyond excuses. Yet the consequences, aside from strengthening the argument that the Eastern Conference is as pathetic as it gets, have been minimal. Atlanta still comfortably (sort of) sits in the playoff picture and the schedule finally seems to be softening up. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel here?
It seems that no matter how hard they try, regardless of tanking intentions (which likely aren't there), the Hawks are not going missing the playoffs. So right now, it's probably better to just get things fixed and win some games. Millsap is back. Antic is back. Things still aren't perfect, but we've seen this roster win some impressive games before. They have a real chance to at least put an end to this abysmal streak on Monday night in Utah against the lottery bound Jazz.
Here to tell us everything we need to know about the opposition is Amar of SB Nation's SLC Dunk.
Question (Daniel Christian): The Jazz traded up in the draft to select Trey Burke, the NCAA's 2012-2013 National Player of the Year. He didn't play the first few weeks due to injury, but once on the court his play seemed to help the Jazz out of the absolute cellar of the league. Clearly, Utah has a long way to go to be a successful team, but has Burke quieted the critics that harped on his size during the combine and throughout his summer league struggles? Is he the undeniable point guard of the future in Utah?
Answer (Amar): I’m a little too close to the whole Trey Burke thing to be absolutely rational about it. That said, so far at this level he’s a nice player; but has not yet demonstrated that he can kick butt in the NBA, nor has he taken "ownership" of the Jazz like some former point guards have. Food for thought, in Deron Williams’ second season he was dominating second round playoff games – and making Jazz fans feel a lot more confident about the future of the point guard spot in Utah. That’s not the feeling we have with Trey right now.
You mentioned his performance in summer league. It wasn’t pretty, and I believe his underwhelming play in Orlando magnified some of the issues many people had about him. Consequently, during this season not enough situations have come about where his specific talents can be seen. At his best he’s a big game player who can make the shots that matter most. This season the Jazz haven’t been in any big games, and most of them are already decided by halftime. In Utah’s losses, one in every fifth one is a blowout of 20 points or more.
In the big picture his game isn’t predicated on explosiveness; so we predict that Burke is only going to improve with age. So he’s got that going for him. But it’s still hard to pin the label of "Next legit PG for lifeeee" on Trey right now. The Jazz went from Rickey Green to John Stockton, had some bad years, then got Deron Williams. All three of those guys were All-Stars. Can Trey join that pantheon? Some people around the team do not even know if they can pencil him in as the starter next season. The rumblings we’re hearing right now is that if a point guard is the best player available in this draft the Jazz wouldn’t hesitate to pick him up. Further muddying things is that the Jazz will look to bring over Raul Neto (Brazilian player playing in Spain right now, former Atlanta Hawks draft pick) next year.
So I guess the tl;dr answer is: "we don’t know."
Q: Alec Burks has been one of the less-talked about but most impressive young players in the league so far this season. Can you give a quick breakdown of his game and explain what improvements he's made over the past two years that have turned him into such an effective player?
A: Alec is my guy. I love that kid. I’ve been on his bandwagon since his first month in the league. He’s a slasher’s slasher. Burks’ game is based upon getting to the rim and making an acrobatic finish, or getting rewarded with two free throw attempts. And he does it without having any real plays set up for him. That works out because Alec is one of the few guys on the Jazz who can make his own shot, but it could be used more efficiently in the half-court if they hit him off a screen. Right now it happens mostly as a consequence if pick and roll action after a play breaks down. Still though! He’s thriving in the role of primary bench scorer.
What’s changed this year? Well, he’s finally getting a chance to do the things that he is good at. In previous seasons his role was to be a spot up shooter – but he’s not Kyle Korver. Earlier this year he was even being asked to play point guard, and he doesn’t have much court vision. That’s not where his flaws end either. He’s somewhat shaky from outside; and for a guy who gets to the rim so much, he’s leaving a lot of points at the free-throw line. But basically Alec Burks is a weapon, and a weapon best used when pointed at a target. And for him that target is the rim.
Some people suggest that he’s playing "more in control" this year, and "more within the team". I don’t see it. He’s the same guy he ever was, but playing with more confidence. And that confidence is partly due to an upgrade to the role he plays with the team. More responsibility = more playing time = more swag. Or at least that’s my answer and I’m sticking with it.
Q: The Jazz have a ton of young, talented guys on the roster, but a lot of them have very unclear futures. The Jazz will have to make a decision on Gordon Hayward soon. They'll also have to figure out if the Derrick Favors - Enes Kanter frontcourt is one they wish to continue to build upon. What are the Jazz going to do with all these developing players, including Burke, Burks, and their eventual 2014 draft pick. Can they afford to keep them all in hopes that they improve together or is there a glaring need for veteran leadership and successful player experience to help guide the younger players?
A:This is pretty much the $10 million dollar question. The current GM is Dennis Lindsey, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs front office. Utah’s front office has come out and all but said they will match any over, but I think there has to be a very reasonable cut-off-point. Even $10 million is too much, but at the moment the Jazz have enough cap space to overspend a little. There’s also enough room to add a max contract down the line, but then the money dries up quickly. Utah will have to find out if that max money should go to the 2014 draft pick, Enes Kanter (a former #3), Trey Burke (a former NCAA player of the year), or someone else. There’s a lot to figure out, and I don’t think the Jazz have done a great job in finding answers so far.
I do like the youth the team has right now in Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans, Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert, Ian Clark, and next year another lotto pick and Raul Neto. But youth rarely makes a winner – and as we all know, you can’t keep everyone on rookie scale contracts. You have to mix it up. Hilariously, the one veteran who seems to be keeping this team together right now is your former pariah Marvin Williams. He’s been great all year and has seen the ups and down of the NBA. He may be one of the few people uniquely qualified to manage all these lottery picks on their rookie deals.
Q:The Hawks have lost 14 and out of 15 and many view this as a night they could at least make a legitimate attempt to right the ship. Who do you think takes the win in Energy Solutions Arena and give us one matchup or interesting bit to watch for tonight.
A: Tonight’s going to be hard for both teams. You will be playing the 6th game of a long road trip. And the Jazz will be playing their first game back after playing in a six-game long road trip as well. Both teams aren’t killing it right now – but at least you have an excuse with injuries. I want little else than a Hawks win tonight, with Paul Millsap leading the way to victory. But the Hawks fit a profile for the types of team the Jazz have won against this season. It’s usually:
a) a team currently in a down cycle of their play (your recent record shows as much),
b) it’s a team that is missing one or more key players (I don’t need to go into all the injuries you’ve had),
and c) it’s a road weary team that’s playing in Utah either on the second night of a back-to-back, in their third game in four nights, or both.
I don’t expect the Jazz to play like they should deserve to win it. But I’d say the Jazz win tonight, but mainly because it’s a schedule loss for the Hawks.