The Utah Jazz staggered out of the gate to start the season at just 7-8. It's not exactly indicative of the playoff-bound season that the roster suggested they would have.
Due to injuries, we’ve scarcely seen this team at it’s full potential yet this season — the latest injured player is none other than Derrick Favors.
The forward is in his seventh season and eyeing a contract extension from the Jazz, which Favors seems to prefer. With Gordon Hayward looking to opt out of this coming off-season, the Jazz will absolutely make Favors priority number one on the books. Bringing back newly acquired George Hill also seems like a no-brainer, as he has greatly improved his numbers and overall play recently with the change of scenery.
Favors returned for an 11-game stint early in the season, but he has missed the last few games and is listed as out indefinitely with a bone contusion in his left knee. This is all becoming eerily, frustratingly reminiscent of some of those Carlos Boozer years in Utah.
Watching Favors this season, we’ve seen a significant drop in point production and rebounds. In the games he has participated in, he doesn’t even look like he should be standing in line at a buffet, let alone battling for position under the hoop.
Favors absence has also taken a toll on one of the best interior defenses in the NBA.
Last year, the Jazz finished second in opponent points per game (95.9) and seventh in the league in defensive rating. Incredibly impressive for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs. This season, the Jazz are actually ranked first in opponent points per game (95.1), but dropped to 11th in defensive rating.
Now, this is a small sample size and Trey Lyles hasn’t been terrible on the defensive end —? when Lyles has started, he's actually put up some impressive offensive performances. The Jazz really begin to suffer, though, when they have to resort to Joe Ingles or Boris Diaw.
It’s been tough to judge the Jazz this season. Almost impossible, really. Beside the injury to Favors, Hayward also missed the first few games but has come out really strong. Hill, although a godsend and the first solid point guard the Jazz have had in years, has been sidelined recently, looking to make his return against the Bulls. And Diaw...well...someone should get him a tape of Gregg Popovich screaming at him that he can listen to in his sleep.
We just haven’t seen this team complete yet, and patience is going to be the biggest key to Utah’s success this season.
The team's potential for success is obvious looking back to one of the first games of the season against the Spurs in San Antonio. The Jazz played more like the Spurs than the Spurs themselves —? the ball movement around the perimeter was flawless, the players were active and moving all game, the two-man game between Favors and Gobert on offense was working well and their defense was on point. In the end, the Jazz shocked the Spurs on their home floor, holding them to just 91 points that game.
Even going back to Hayward’s season debut against the Knicks in New York, there is evidence of the Jazz's potential. Although both teams' defense failed to show up in that game, Utah’s starters were all striking on offense.
If the Jazz can stay healthy and build off the momentum they set in some of their more impressive wins, the early season predictions for the team will definitely hold true.