NBA AM: Utah Jazz On The Rise

The Utah Jazz may have finally turned the corner, and another solid offseason could put them in the playoff hunt… The NBA Combine invite list is out and some players got snubbed.

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Jazz Have A Bright Future: One of the best stories in the NBA after the All-Star break was the rise of the Utah Jazz. With a young roster starting to find its way, they became one of the better defensive of teams in the league and one of the more entertaining young teams to watch.

Jazz big man Derrick Favors emerged as a legitimate presence in the post, while small forward Gordon Hayward started to live up to his enormous max contract. Young players like Dante Exum and Trey Burke showed promise, while Rudy Gobert emerged as one of the best young defensive big men in the NBA.

Unlike most offseasons for the Jazz, this summer won’t be about trying to find a cornerstone; those are already in place. The Jazz have a few small needs to address and may have the means to do it.

The biggest questions surrounding the Jazz are at both guard positions. Exum, their 2014 fifth overall pick, showed flashes, especially on the defensive end. He took the starting spot from Burke (their 2013 ninth overall pick) halfway through the year, but he must continue to improve his shot and offense. Alec Burks emerged as a scoring threat, signing a huge contract extension before injuring his left shoulder and missing most of the season. Burks is on the road to recovery, but still has a lot of rehab in front him before he can start answering questions about his long-term fit in Utah.

Rodney Hood, also drafted in the first round last year, has shown promise but he too was plagued by injuries all year. Hood is already been in the gym, hoping to make his mark in summer league and continue contributing for this young team.

The Jazz do have some roster flexibility, and still have another lottery pick to work with. If the NBA Draft lottery holds true to the standings, it could be the 12th overall pick, which should yield a solid addition.

A big need for the Jazz is veteran leadership. While exploring options for an impact shooting guard and perhaps a starting-caliber point guard (while Exum develops) should be at the top of the offseason wish list, filling out the bench and bringing in some veterans who can really bring leadership should be a focal point.

The Jazz turned a big corner last season, especially down the stretch. If their young guys can continue to improve this summer, the Jazz could be one of those teams that could be in the discussion at the lower end of the Western Conference playoff picture.

For the Jazz to make the postseason, they may need one more player to move into elite status. With Favors, Hayward and Gobert all looking like young stars in the NBA, one more player rising to the challenge could be all Utah needs to get into the heat of the playoff discussion, even in the West.

The Combine Cometh: Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress released the invitees of the 2015 NBA Draft Combine. A list was circulated to NBA personnel and select player agents, and has not be released to the media officially. While the list is subject to change, the current group looks like this:

D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State
Justise Winslow – Duke
Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky
Stanley Johnson – Arizona
Myles Turner – Texas
Kelly Oubre – Kansas
Sam Dekker – Wisconsin
Devin Booker – Kentucky
Bobby Portis – Arkansas
Trey Lyles – Kentucky
Kevon Looney – UCLA
Tyus Jones – Duke
Cameron Payne – Murray State
Montrezl Harrell – Louisville
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona
Christian Wood – UNLV
R.J. Hunter – Georgia State
Jarell Martin – LSU
Cliff Alexander – Kansas
Justin Anderson – Virginia
Rashad Vaughn – UNLV
Dakari Johnson – Kentucky
Chris McCullough – Syracuse

George Lucas – Pinheiros
Robert Upshaw – Washington
Terry Rozier – Louisville
Michael Qualls – Arkansas
J.P. Tokoto – North Carolina
Mouhammadou Jaiteh – Nanterre
Andrew Harrison – Kentucky
Tyler Harvey – Eastern Washington
Jordan Mickey – LSU
Olivier Hanlan – Boston College
Michael Frazier – Florida
Aaron Harrison – Kentucky
Vince Hunter – UTEP
Chris Walker – Florida
Brandon Ashley – Arizona
Terran Petteway – Nebraska
NCAA Seniors
Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin
Jerian Grant – Notre Dame
Delon Wright – Utah

Anthony Brown – Stanford
Norman Powell – UCLA
Aaron White – Iowa
Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse
Alan Williams UC Santa Barbara
Joseph Young – Oregon
Jonathan Holmes – Texas
Richaun Holmes – Bowling Green
Keifer Sykes – Wisc. Green Bay
Branden Dawson – Michigan State
Treveon Graham – VCU
Dez Wells – Maryland
Larry Nance – Wyoming
Quinn Cook – Duke
TaShawn Thomas  -Oklahoma
Marcus Thornton – William and Mary
Corey Hawkins – UC Davis
Pat Connaughton – Notre Dame
Chasson Randle – Stanford
Ryan Boatright – UConn

The final list included 62 invitees, which is about on par with previous years. In a typical NBA Draft, roughly 80 percent of Combine invitees end up getting drafted, so this list is usually a good barometer for who teams like and are strongly considering drafting.

There are a couple of notable international players that will not take part in the Combine, because their current season is not yet over. Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis are both expected to be high first round selections and will not attend.

As was the case last year, top overall pick candidates Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns and Emmanuel Mudiay will not attend either. Sources close to the process say all three have enough assurances of where they will be drafted that the Combine can only introduce negatives to their story. All three will meet individually with teams once the Draft Lottery is held, and all three are expected to meet with teams in the top five at best. Surprisingly, D’Angelo Russell has agreed to take part in the Combine process, although he is only expected to meet with teams.

The NBA is requiring certain invitees to play in five on five, as part of their invitation. It will be interesting to see how certain players handle that request as players cannot be forced to play since they are not under NBA contract and are not bound by any agreed terms.

Sources close to the selection process said certain players were told they must play or would not be eligible for any of the other benefits of the Combine.

The Combine gets underway on Tuesday, with individual team meetings taking place Wednesday and on-court portions beginning on Thursday.

Basketball Insiders will be on the ground in Chicago this week and will be pushing out interviews and video content throughout the event.

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Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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