AllThatAmar of SLC Dunk stopped by to answer a few questions before tonight's 9 pm ET tip-off at Energy Solutions Arena.
Daniel Christian: The Jazz are just 1.5 games out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Obviously, I'm assuming the primary goal for this year is to make the playoffs and, if possible, avoid Golden State. What pieces do the Jazz need to add to make the next step in the coming years? Is it just more player development? A specific position or type of player? Just more depth?
AllThatAmar: I'm insane enough to think Playoffs is the goal this year, even if it means losing in four non-competitive games to the defending champs. The next step is actually a bunch of huge steps. And most Utah Jazz fans are too chicken to admit it. The first is that the team still doesn't have a star to build around - though Atlanta native Derrick Favors and video game addict Gordon Hayward are really good pieces. If no actual star shows up it's going to be up to the coaches to develop what the team has, and for the front office to add something. The last few seasons the team has gotten almost nothing from the point guard spot. Shelvin Mack helps, but he's not supposed to be a starting point guard on a playoff team and is overmatched at times. Quin Snyder's ability to accelerate the development of Dante Exum (missing this entire year due to injury) and Raul Neto (rookie) will be a fulcrum for this franchise. If he can't use them to lift the team then the team is going to struggle for a while. If Utah can get something from the PG spot next year that will be a big help. Beyond that they need health everywhere and depth at the wings. And in this NBA economy a team with bad luck can't really do much about either. Hope is the abstinence-only education of middling NBA franchises. It's a purer way to play the game, but in the end you mostly just eff yourself for your high minded goals. (Edit as needed, ha ha.) Utah is close to being a playoff team, but are still very far from being a contender.
DC: Rodney Hood is starting to generate a lot of buzz around the league. Is the hype real and how high is his ceiling? What does he need to improve to reach that ceiling?
ATA: Hood was a mid-first round pick steal for General Manager Dennis Lindsey. In a starting role he seems to be doing a number of good things on offense, and as a second year player he has room to grow. I don't know if he's ever going to be an All-Star but he could become a Top 50 NBA player in time. I may be selling Rodney short according to some of the more ‘homer-ish' fans; but I'm just trying to be real here. Defensively he's still a mess, but has adequate length and a very high basketball IQ. But his major flaw is that he's one of the streakiest players I've ever had to watch. He can be on fire and torch a team, only to miss all of his many threes in the very next game. I think this is going to be what really determines his base value as an NBA player. Some guys are streaky but are still reliable for certain things on the court. Hood can be a huge asset to any team he is on, and the Jazz hope he can become consistent going forward. Kid is still only in his second year. I like him. He has a smooth game and is fun to watch.
DC: What would you like to see Utah do at the guard positions going forward? Trey Burke and Alec Burks both appeared to be available for the right price at the deadline. Are either of them in future plans? How much faith do you have in Dante Exum? What about former Hawk Shelvin Mack? How is he doing and does Snyder want him to stick around?
ATA: Every coach has their favorites. And Shelvin is one of Snyder's for good reason. Mack has something most of the other guards on the team do not have - actual NBA experience. The fifth year guard who has a few playoff games under his belt can play defense, play both guard spots, and forces the other team to worry about another ball handler on the court. This season the Jazz are trying to go with at least three ball handlers on the court at the same time, and Mack allows for this to happen in a number of ways. I don't think he's going anywhere soon.
Alec Burks has been unlucky with injuries this season and last. He only played 27 games in 2014-15, and 28 so far this year. He has a tradeable contract, but I think Utah has invested a lot into him over the years and would want to see their former lotto pick actually produce for them. Beyond Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood, the wing depth is very shallow. Burks probably isn't being shopped.
I can't say the same for Trey Burke. I don't think he's going to make it to training camp next year, and is likely to be traded either around the NBA Draft or as part of a sign and trade in NBA Free Agency. He hasn't made the transition from NCAA star to NBA rotation player. And he has lost his starting spot two years in a row to a rookie point guard (Exum in 2015, and Neto in 2016). He has value, especially on a team that is so gun-shy like Utah. I'd love for him to find his way for my team, but I don't think he's in their long-term plans at all.
DC: What do you think of tonight's match up? Is there anything in particular you'll be looking for or expecting? What's your prediction for the game?
ATA: If tonight is anything like the last time these two teams played then fans are in for a treat. The Jazz had a nice overtime win in Atlanta, but that was a very different Jazz team. It was a very different Hawks team too. So it's going to be interested to see what adjustments both squads make on the court. The "revenge game" angle is fun, but I don't think Shelvin is going to bust out for a big night against Jeff Teague or Dennis Schroder. If anything, I think this game is going to be won or lost in the paint. Atlanta is capable of playing inside/outside bigs. Utah cannot. The loss of Tiago Splitter means that your guys could go small if they want. I just don't want to see Kris Humphries make some late game three, emboldening Trevor Booker into taking shots he just can't make. No matter what happens, it will be an education for our young guys.