Amar of SLC Dunk stopped by Peachtree Hoops to talk about tonight's game in Utah and to give us the latest on everything going on in Jazzland.
1. Rudy Gobert has shown tons of improvement and looks like he could be a foundational piece moving forward. Has his emergence made Enes Kanter expendable? How does Gobert's game fit with that of front-court mate Derrick Favors?
I feel as though evidence suggests that Rudy Gobert *was* good all along, he just didn't get a chance to play last year (barely 400 minutes on a team that won 25 games - aka. "Brilliant coaching and development"). Of course, he's better this season with added weight, confidence, and role with the team. The problem, if there is only one, is that Gobert and Atlanta born and raised Derrick Favors overlap more than either of them do with Enes Kanter. Of the three, Kanter looks to be the most reliable scorer, both inside and out. He's also the worst defender of the three. And that's the rub. If the Jazz want to emphasize defense you need to go with Gobert and Favors. If you want balance, you can't.
That's not to disparage a future pairing of the two shot blockers, it's just that right now their offensive games compete, instead of compliment. Other teams have made that work before, like the Memphis Grizzlies and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. But very few teams are actually the Memphis Grizzlies, so yeah . . . furthermore, Coach Quin Snyder's offense seems to be dribble penetration based and that requires appropriate floor spacing. Kanter's added a three point shot and has been killing people on pick and pops this season. So in that regard, he is a better fit.
So do the Jazz want to be a better offensive team (Kanter), or a better defensive team (Gobert)? In the Western conference you need to figure out what kind of team you are before you can advance, and right now - especially with Kanter heading into restricted free agency - the Jazz are still trying to figure that out.
2. What has Dante Exum's rookie season looked like? Several pundits believed he had a chance to be the best player from that draft class. Do you see that kind of potential in him?
I do see potential with Dante (it's hard not to, dude just turned 19 in July); however, before we get too far into it - he was drafted for who he would one day become three years from now. If you are judging him upon what he has done at the NBA level so far as a teen then you will only find things to be upset about. For whatever reason Exum isn't an impact player right now. He is very passive, and more and more his shots are coming off as a product of other player's dribble penetration than his. Exum will take a spot up jumper, or cut to the basket without the ball, and shoot. That's good. But with his athletic abilities we would hope that he calls his own number a little more and puts pressure on the defense. In a league where the point guard position gives us John Wall / Derrick Rose / Russell Westbrook types, the Jazz drafted an old school, pass first player. He is holding something back with his game right now; and being young, being a rookie, or adjusting to the pro game - whatever it is, it's contributing to a less overt and less impressive rookie campaign so far.
Personally I feel like he could be a solid starter for a playoff team. His defensive abilities will set him apart, as his understanding of the whole game is more advanced than it should be. (I guess this is the advantage you get when your dad was an NCAA player under Dean Smith, and international pro.) Dante will be a very good player in his 20ies. But that's still years from now.
3. How far away is this team from competing in the Western Conference? There are a lot of young guys on this team, so the question: is if you were the organization how much faith would you have in this core developing into a legitimate threat? If not, what pieces would you have to move around over the next few years to at least move closer to a .500 record?
There are two things you need in order to advance in the West. The first is that you have to be good. But the second, and probably more important one, is that you have to be good when other teams are on the downswing. The Jazz, a team with an average age of 24, are one of the youngest teams in the league. In the West this means that they should be on their ascent at the same time that the Oklahoma City Thunder (how long can they keep that core together?), Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul and bench vets getting up there), Los Angeles Lakers (No Kobe Bryant = a really bad team for a long time), Dallas Mavericks (really old core), and San Antonio Spurs (ditto) are all on their way down. That leaves some space, and it's important because out West you can approach 50 wins and not make the playoffs if you don't time being good at the same time there is space for you to get ahead. Don't believe me? The Phoenix Suns won 48 games last season - and missed the playoffs. I think the Jazz will be good at the right time.
I feel like the core they have right now (lotto picks who have extended contracts like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks) plus the young'uns on rookie deals (Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, and Rudy Gobert) should be good enough to improve implicitly without making any trades. It's going to be hard to pay everyone going forward, and as a result I did not include Enes Kanter here. They should make a playoff push next season, and secure a spot in it two seasons from now. If not then you have to shuffle the deck and make changes. So I would be very patient, for now. A Western conference power vacuum / succession war is bloody, but short. If you aren't there to take advantage of it when there is space, you will be left out in the cold.