Utah Jazz Assemble Promising Core
In recent years, the Utah Jazz have stockpiled young talent and assembled one of the best up-and-coming cores in the NBA.
Their roster features a number of lottery picks such as Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks as well as additional first-round picks like Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood. They have young talent at every position and this team could be very good in several years, if Utah’s coaching staff is able to maximize the group’s potential.
The Jazz hired Quin Snyder as their new head coach this summer, and he’s thrilled to work with this young core.
“It’s been great,” Snyder said. “I mean, the biggest thing is I’m part of a great organization and that in and of itself makes the opportunity a good one. Having the opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA is something that everybody in my profession aspires to, so having that opportunity, I feel very grateful.
“It’s a little early, we haven’t even had our full team together, but I think our goal generally would be to keep getting better. I mean, we want to [improve] every day, every practice. It sounds like a cliché, but particularly with a group as young as we are, that’s something we can aspire to. … We’ve approached it that way where we wanted these two, three weeks [of summer league] to be about growth and our staff has done a great job kind of pulling that out of them while here in Vegas.”
The players recognize that the group they have in place has a chance to be special, and they’re looking forward to developing alongside one another in the coming years.
“I think we just need to continue to grow together,” Burke said. “I definitely think we have the right talent, the right pieces, once everybody comes together during the season. It’ll definitely come along.”
Snyder has made it clear that he wants the Jazz to play at a fast pace with a lot of ball movement, which is something that the coaching staff and players are excited about.
“Hopefully we can get out on the floor and make plays for each other,” Synder said. “Playing with pace, hopefully, is not just getting the ball up the court quickly, but sharing the ball and playing with the pass. I saw some moments here [during summer league] where I was really happy with how the ball moved. We’re not perfect yet, never will be, but our spacing and a lot of things can improve. But I thought there was really a willingness and effort on our guys’ part to play with the pass. It’s just the idea of the ball moving. I think if you run 100 feet and I pass 100 feet, I’m going to win. The ball moves faster than people and if you play with the pass, it keeps people guessing and on the move.”
“It’s good; everybody wants to play fast,” Hood said. “It helps us as a team, and it’s hard to defend. I think that’s the reason we’re playing like that. We’re moving. When we play half-court offense, we’re moving the ball, we’re sharing the ball and it’s hard to guard.”
Having Burke and Exum in the backcourt – two players capable of playing point guard and running the offense – should make it easier for the Jazz to get out in transition. Snyder is confident that Burke and Exum will be able to coexist and form one of the more intriguing backcourts in the NBA.
“I was waiting for the Dante-Trey question,” Snyder said with a smile when asked about the duo. “I’ve talked about this every time we play, every time we practice. To me, there aren’t positions in basketball. If you have five guys on the floor that can defend the five guys on the other team, it doesn’t matter whether you call them ones, twos, threes, fours or fives. Those two guys, I think, can match up defensively with other guards and if they can play together, which I think they can, they really present a matchup problem. I do think that they can be a unique backcourt. And in my mind I see them as a backcourt, as opposed to a one and a two or a three.”
“We’re a tandem,” Burke said when asked about Exum. “We’re on the same team. I definitely think we can both play the point and handle the ball, so I definitely think it will work out.”
“It’s great,” Gobert said of playing with Burke and Exum. “When I get the rebound, I just pass to Trey or Dante, and I know it’s going to be quick so we can get easy baskets. They’re both good passers. Trey, Dante and even Rodney is a good passer – pretty much all the guards. I just want to be aggressive and if they shoot, I just go after the rebound.”
Exum admits that he’s still adjusting to playing alongside Burke, since he’s having to play off the ball and defer more than usual.
“I think I’m still comfortable at the point,” Exum said. “I still want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible. I didn’t get it a lot in my hands these last couple of games. … With Coach’s system, it’s open, but there’s been so many times where I just went away from the ball and let Trey take it.
“It’s just about having the confidence and just being aggressive because there’s so many times where I’m just running up and the down the floor and when the ball comes, I’m just being passive with the ball. I think if I just start to be aggressive [it’ll be better].”
Exum’s teammates came away from summer league extremely impressed with the 19-year-old. His stats didn’t jump off of the page, but he showed glimpses of brilliance and displayed the skills that made him so intriguing during the pre-draft process.
“He is one of the quickest guys I’ve ever seen with the ball,” Hood said of Exum. “He changes speeds just like that. It helps me, him getting into the lane and being able to pass the ball. He’s a really good passer as well. He can score. I mean he’s just ultra-quick.”
“I think Dante is what we thought he was,” Snyder said. “He’s young, he’s got work to do, but he’s a kid with a great deal of pride and a will to compete and improve. I think he’s tired. I think for anybody, let alone if you’re 19, to deal with a lot of this stuff is a lot – in addition to playing. But I think he’s done well, he looks fatigued to me right now, but that’s natural.”
“I’m adjusting alright,” Exum said. “It’s going to take some time, but it’s just about getting the repetitions up and getting some games under my belt. … It’s been tough and this is just a taste of what the real thing is. I look forward to learning from this experience and coming out better. I can’t wait to finally get to start the season. I’ve heard from so many people that it’s a grind, that it’s going to be so different than what I’m used to, so I’m just looking forward to getting into it.”
Burke, who is two years older than Exum and entering his second season in the NBA, is emerging as a leader for Utah and he’ll try to help the rookie guard as he makes his transition to the league.
“I definitely think their ears are open when I have instruction,” Burke said of becoming a leader. “That’s my job, to lead them on the court, get them to spots and set them up where they’re best at. I think I can continue to grow, learning this new offense. I can do a better job at doing so, but I think we’re on the right path.”
“[Playing in summer league was] important for the small things I want to work on. [Improving] on the defensive end, being a leader, running the offense. It’s a new offense for all of us, so we’re still learning how we can get our shots off in the offense, where we can attack and things like that. Playing summer league, a lot of people ask why I was playing, but I think it’s going to help me out. Every time I have the opportunity to play against NBA talent, I’m going to take that opportunity.”
Utah’s best basketball is obviously ahead of them and it’ll be a few years until this team is ready to potentially contend in the talented Western Conference. But Burke believes the team can experience some success in the near future as well, and thinks making the playoffs is a realistic goal for the group.
“We had a lot of big wins last year, and I think we can get a lot of big wins this year as well,” Burke said. “The playoffs is the goal for us this year, obviously, and we just got to continue to work hard to reach that goal.”
The Jazz have a promising young core in place and the future is certainly bright. If all goes as planned over the next few years, Utah may be a perennial playoff team with talent at every position.
Mavericks Void Lewis’ Contract Due to Injury
Yesterday, it was announced that Rashard Lewis would be undergoing surgery on his right knee, just one week after inking a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks worth the veteran’s minimum.
Well, the injury was news to the Mavericks, and they have decided to void the contract.
“It came to our attention during Rashard Lewis’s physical that he is in need of a medical procedure on his right knee,” Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in a statement. “We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery and continued success in his remarkable career.”
Lewis is once again an unrestricted free agent, who’s free to sign wherever he wants once he has recovered from the surgery. It’s possible that he could join Dallas again once he proves he’s healthy, or he could sign elsewhere (perhaps after the season has gotten underway).
The 34-year-old Lewis has played 16 seasons in the NBA and averaged 14.9 points and 5.2 rebounds over the course of his career. He has made the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history, hitting 1,787 in his 16 seasons.
Last season, the former All-Star averaged 4.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes with the Miami HEAT. He played well during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, scoring in double figures in five straight games and stretching the floor for Miami by shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc in both series.
2014 Las Vegas Summer League Shatters Records
This year’s NBA summer league in Las Vegas was incredibly successful, shattering all-time records for attendance, NBA TV viewership, digital consumption on NBA.com and NBA Mobile and overall merchandise sales.
There was much more interest in this year’s tournament than usual, most likely because this draft class is one of the best in recent memory. There were a record 513 media members credentialed for the event. Over the 11 days, there were 71,942 people in attendance, which is an increase of 16 percent from last year’s previous record. A new all-time single-day mark was set on July 14, when 8,013 people were in attendance.
This was the most-watched summer league ever on NBA TV, averaging 103,000 household impressions and 116,000 total viewers, which are increases of 40 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over last year. The network delivered six of its top-10 most-viewed NBA Summer League telecasts ever. NBA TV’s opening night game that featured the Milwaukee Bucks and Jabari Parker facing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins netted an average of 220,000 total viewers, becoming the second-most viewed summer league telecast of all time.
The NBA’s Summer League Live subscription package, which delivered televised and online access to all live games from Orlando and Las Vegas, received a record number of subscriptions, up 73 percent from the previous season. In addition, NBA.com and NBA Mobile set new records, with visits up 80 percent and videos viewed up more than 70 percent from the previous season.
Merchandise sales were also the highest ever, up a double-digit percentage from 2013 and a triple-digit percentage from 2012.
For all of Basketball Insiders’ coverage of the 2014 summer league including exclusive interviews, in-depth features and game analysis, check out our summer league section here.