There appears to be growing anticipation that the Utah Jazz will finally enter theh 2013-14 season with their “Core-4″ all featured in prominent roles. Perhaps this will be the year the Jazz are finally willing to look to the future which features two #3 picks, a #9 pick and a #12 pick – all of whom were drafted within a year of each other.
Should that be the case, the next question then becomes: “What will be the production of the Core-4 while playing increased minutes on a consistent basis?”
In my opinion Gordon Hayward – who despite being relegated to starting just 27 games last season – has come the closest to displaying what he can do as a regular. With limited opportunities in an offense that often relied upon Al Jefferson and Mo Williams to dominate the basketball – Hayward still produced 14.1 pts/3.1 reb/3.0 ast averages in 30 mpg that is quite comparable to Paul George’s offensive numbers when extrapolated out on a per-36 minute basis. With more offensive opportunities while playing a few more minutes, it’s not unrealistic to expect Hayward to plateau in the 16-18-point range while hopefully maintaining 45/40/80 shooting percentages.
Many more question marks lie with the future production of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks. While it’s impossible to predict – some quality information can be gathered by examining their past performances when playing significant minutes.
We’ll begin with Derrick Favors. Favors has played 168 career games with the Jazz (including 4 postseason games) and has exceeded the 30-minute mark in 16 (9.5%) of those. Here are his averages in those games:
|Favors’ Averages When Playing 30+ Min|
Team +/-: +16
Favors +/-: +43
Obviously averaging 14&11 on 53% shooting with 3 blocks and over a steal per game is huge – but for a big who at times was plagued by turnovers – the 1.4 TO’s in 34 mpg was equally impressive.
As is the case with Favors – quite often he makes his defensive impact felt beyond the boxscore (like he did March 22nd in San Antonio where the Jazz were +15 with him on the court but -22 with him on the bench).
Utah posted a 10-6 record in games where Favors played 30 minutes or more (with two of the losses coming in the 2012 postseason against a vastly superior Spurs team). More impressively, the Jazz’s overall net point-differential was +16 in those 16 games but when Favors was on the floor he posted an individual plus/minus of +43.
Unfortunately, the sample-size of 30-minute games for Enes Kanter is much smaller.
Kanter has eclipsed the 30-minute plateau just 4 times in 2 seasons. Not only did he record a double-double in each game – he posted averages of 17.8 pts and 12.5 rebs on 57% shooting from the floor with the Jazz going 3-1. Although two of those games were 30-point Jazz routs – Kanter started both of them and his double-double production played a large role in determining the final outcome (including a 23-point/22-rebound performance vs Charlotte).
However in order to enlarge the sample size – here are Kanter’s averages in his 19 career games in which he surpassed the 20-minute mark.
|Kanter’s Averages When Playing 20+ Min|
Team +/-: +19
Kanter +/-: +73
The Jazz posted an 8-11 record in those 19 games – but upon further review W/L isn’t indicative of Kanter’s performance. When closely reviewing the circumstances of each game – 6 of the 11 losses were 20-point defeats where Kanter received much of his playing time due to the Jazz starters were getting throttled. A 7th loss was a game in Dallas in which the Jazz trailed by 21 in the 4th-qtr only to have their bench (including Kanter) lead them back to within 3-points late before eventually falling 113-108. Conversely, only 3 of the 8 wins could be labeled “blowouts” in which it could be assumed the outcome was long decided before Kanter reached the 20-minute benchmark.
A better inclination of Kanter’s effectiveness is the fact the Jazz were +73 with him on the court and only +19 with him on the bench in those 19 games. Combined with an impressive 12&8 with Boozer-like shooting efficiency in little over half of a game – and it’s obvious that given the opportunity Kanter can produce and do it very effectively.
As was the case with Kanter, playing time has been hard to come by for guard Alec Burks as well.
Burks broke the 30-minute mark 7 times in his 2 seasons, posting averages in those games of 14.0 pts, 4.0 reb, 2.7 ast and 1.3 stl on 55% shooting from the floor, 79% from the foul line and 50% (5/10) from behind the arc.
Similar to Kanter – the sample size was enlarged to include all games in which Burks played 20 minutes or more.
|Burks’ Averages When Playing 20+ Min|
Team +/-: +118
Burks +/-: +197
Again – the 28-18 W/L record should be taken with a grain of salt. The Jazz went 11-6 in 2011-12 when Burks’ exceeded the 20-minute mark but several of those games were blowout wins with Burks receiving playing time to close. With that said, the 17-12 record Utah posted in 2012-13 with Burks playing 20+ minutes carries more weight- with very few of the 17 wins coming with Burks’ playing mostly garbage time. Unlike his rookie year, Burks was relied upon in most of those games to play not only 2-guard but a good deal of point due to injuries and ineffectiveness of Utah’s veteran PG’s.
As was the case with Favors and Kanter, the Jazz had a significantly higher point-differential with Burks on the floor (+197) than with him on the bench (+118). (Similar to Favors, in the March 22nd overtime loss in San Antonio the Jazz were +14 with Burks on the court and -21 with him on the bench.)
These numbers could mean Favors, Kanter and Burks are due for breakout seasons – or they could mean the exact opposite. The obvious counter is “Well their averages are inflated because they played those minutes in games they were playing well. As bench players – if they weren’t playing well Tyrone Corbin could sit them and those poorer performances aren’t included in their averages.“
Desspite the fact there were also countless times in which Favors, Burks or Kanter played extremely well yet still never received increased playing time – there is a good bit of logic behind that counter and it illustrates one of the biggest challenges the Core-4 will face should they be placed in leading roles. Going from super sub to fulltime starter is an adjustment and a learning process that not everyone is ready for. Jerry Sloan gave 21-year olds Andrei Kirilenko and DeShawn Stevenson the opportunity to start in 2002-03 and neither was ready. Kirilenko gave way to Matt Harpring - where both flourished with Harpring having a career season and AK finishing 3rd in Sixth-Man of the Year voting. The following year Andrei was more than ready to start and he made his only all-star appearance as a 22-year old.
There will be games where Favors/Kanter/Burks get off to tough starts and they must develop the mental toughness and focus to work themselves though those rough patches. Gordon Hayward showed that ability last season, with games such as April 5th against New Orleans where he shot 1-8 in the first-half but responded with a 20-points on 8/10 shooting 2nd-half.
Eventually, the Core-4 will need to reach a level of professionalism and experience where they are able to provide consistent performances on a nightly basis, and there will likely be many hiccups during the learning process.
With that said – it cannot be debated that when given the opportunity in the first 2-3 years of their careers, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks have all produced and have all shown they can be a valuable presence for the Jazz. The rest is up to them, but they need to have that responsibility placed upon them in order to take the next step.
More so than even from a Jazz-perspective, for the sake of their promising professional careers – I sincerely hope the Core-4 gets the chance to shine this-coming season. And whether they succeed or not - it’s still a chance that will be long overdue.