STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After narrowly missing the playoffs in the 2012-13 season, the Jazz made the bold leap into rebuilding mode. This is a smart move, albeit an unusual one for the Jazz, who have been a frequent playoff participant over the past few decades. Utah chose potential over mediocrity, parting ways with its two best players, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, along with Randy Foye, and Mo Williams, and choosing to build around a promising young core. It's no secret: the Jazz front office has its sights set on the 2014 lottery, and could very much be a contender for all-world prospect Andrew Wiggins. They all but solidified this stance when they dealt Foye for the expiring contracts of veterans Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush from Golden State (as part of a three-team trade with Denver), taking on $22 million in combined salary for a package of picks and players who will, at best, improve the team by exactly zero wins.
There is promise in Utah, even if it doesn't come this season. The team drafted reigning Wooden Award winner and AP Player of the Year, Trey Burke, who will be paired with Alec Burks in the backcourt. Enes Kanter will assume a bigger role, filling the shoes of Jefferson. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are expected to make leaps and lead the team. it's an inexperienced group that will certainly struggle to win games this season, but it's also talented, and the franchise is in position to turn it around quickly. Another high lottery pick, the further development of those five players and abundant cap space could render this team much more relevant as soon as the 2014-15 season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Burke will take over the starting point guard role. Utah traded up in the draft to select him ninth overall and fully expect him to develop into their long-term floor general. At the moment, Utah is thin behind Burke at point, with veteran John Lucas III currently expected to be the primary backup. The team also signed Ian Clark after summer league. Alec Burks will get the starting nod at shooting guard. He came off the bench 64 times during his sophomore season, averaging 7.0 points and will get the bulk of the time in the backcourt alongside Burke. The aforementioned Rush will see most of the backup minutes at shooting guard after missing almost all of last season with an ACL injury. Combo guard Jerel McNeal is also currently on the roster, although he could end up spending more time in the D-League. Former first-round pick Gordon Hayward serves as Utah's only returning starter, although he should be at his more natural position this time around. At 6-8, Hayward is a better fit at small forward (despite his rebounding issues) and will be expected to carry most of the load on offense. Utah will be looking for noticeable development from Hayward, and he's a candidate to lead the team in minutes and be the number one option. Behind him will be Jeremy Evans, the former dunk champion. Perhaps the most promising player of Utah's core remains Derrick Favors, still just 22, who has shown steady improvement in each of his first three seasons in the pros. After two years stuck behind Millsap, it's finally Favors' time, and he should contend for the league's Most Improved Player Award. Marvin Williams, who started 51 games last season, will see time backing up both forward spots. Despite his disappointing career after being drafted second overall in 2005, he can still serve as an experienced role player with good size. Finally, at center, Enes Kanter moves into the starting role. Kanter, similar to Favors, had to wait for Jefferson to leave town in order to get his first chance at the starting five. The newly acquired Andris Biedrins provides some depth at the position, as does intriguing rookie Rudy Gobert, although the raw Frenchman isn't expected to see much time during his rookie year.
Enes Kanter: The player with perhaps the most to prove on this squad might be Kanter, who, at just 21, will be the man in the middle. Kanter has just two starts in his first two years, but the potential is certainly there. He averaged 15.4 minutes per game last season, but there are indicators that it's just the time to see him in an increased role. He averaged 14.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, while shooting 54 percent from the floor. There are question marks about his shot blocking, and he's far from polished, but there's a reason the Jazz took him third overall in 2011, despite the fact he never suited up in college.
Andris Biedrins: The veteran Latvian was acquired for salary cap purposes but will be the team's backup center. Biedrins hasn't been a productive player since 2008-09, but he was a solid fantasy contributor for a few years. Over the last four seasons, he has had a limited role in the NBA, and he played under 10 minutes per game last season.
Rudy Gobert: The 7-1 rookie, acquired on draft night, has promise, but the team isn't expecting much this season It remains to be seen how much of the court he actually sees this season, although the Jazz lack depth in the frontcourt, which could lead to Gobert seeing time if someone gets injured.
Derrick Favors: We're expecting a breakout from the 6-10, 250 athletic forward. His playing time, points, rebounds and PER have improved in each of his three seasons in Utah, and now he'll receive his most dramatic increase in workload. The biggest question will be his shooting efficiency, as his field goal percentages have dropped under 50 percent the last two years as his attempts have gone up. He did have his best free-throw shooting season in 2012-13, but he was still only at 69 percent. One thing that potential fantasy owners should not be concerned about, though, is his rebounding. He has the physical tools to be a beast on the boards, evidenced by an 11.1 per 36-minute rebounding average over the last two years. Expectations are rightfully high on Favors, although he's also a candidate to be slightly overhyped and drafted too early in fantasy leagues.
Gordon Hayward: Like Favors, Hayward is another former lottery pick the Jazz have been steadily bringing along for the last three years and that now has a chance to prove himself. Hayward can no doubt score (14.1 points per game in 29 minutes last season), but his fantasy value will be determined by how efficiently he can do so. He shot 44 percent from the field in 2012-13, although he's fairly reliable at the three-point and free-throw lines. One more promising note: he played mostly out of position last season, at two-guard, and should fit nicely at the three spot this season.
Marvin Williams: Last season's starter doesn't provide much statistical value, but does give Utah some experience, defensive versatility and a corner three threat off the bench.
Richard Jefferson: It wasn't that long ago that Jefferson was averaging 19.6 points per game for Milwaukee, and the drop-off in production over the past five years has been staggering. Various injuries (and age) have limited his athleticism, and now his contract is more relevant to teams than his production.
Jeremy Evans: Evans has never appeared in 50 games in a season and is coming off a year where he averaged 2.0 points per game in 37 appearances. He'll probably get some more looks this year, just because of how depleted the bench is but is unlikely to be much of a factor.
Trey Burke: The most anticipated player on the team is probably Burke, the team's new 6-0 show-runner. He has been compared to Allen Iverson, in terms of his size and aggressive nature, but there isn't widespread certainty that he can score effectively around the bucket at the NBA level. He does have great instincts for the point guard position, though, and near unlimited range. He struggled at the summer league, and it would be surprising if his percentages are above-average coming out of the gate. He'll get a ton of opportunities and minutes, though, and rookie point guards have had recent success in the league.
Alec Burks: Burks served as a combo guard last season, but now, like Hayward, will be slotted into his more natural position. At 6-6, 220, he's good-sized, but there are still questions about his scoring ability. He averaged 15.3 points per game per 36 minutes over his first two seasons but did so with a 43 field goal percentage and has only been average from downtown. He has potential, like his starting teammates, for a breakout year, but Hayward will get most of the first looks on offense.
Brandon Rush: The former Jayhawk is coming off a gruesome knee injury and was brought in more for salary cap reasons than basketball. He might provide some sharpshooting off the bench, but not much more.
John Lucas III: Lucas is mostly a scoring point guard. The journeyman's biggest role came in Chicago in 2011-12, when he put up 7.5 points per game in 49 games off the bench. He'll play a similar role this season.
Ian Clark: Clark was signed after an impressive summer league in which he scored 33 points in the Vegas championship game. There are minutes to be had behind Burke, so the undrafted rookie will at least get some chances to play his way into the rotation.
Enes Kanter: Kanter is a bit overshadowed in the intriguing Jazz lineup, with Burke, Hayward, and Favors garnering most of the attention. However, the young center is more talented than people think, and was almost as productive as Favors off the bench last season. Another thing going in Kanter's favor: the Jazz are disturbingly weak in the middle, so Kanter will get plenty of time. With the team in full-fledged rebuilding mode, he'll have a longer leash to play through his rawness.
Trey Burke: Burke is not necessarily going to be a bust, but the expectations can be tempered, at least right away. He has plenty of upside and a great motor, but really struggled in summer league, averaging just 8.8 points and 4.0 assists, while shooting 24 percent from the field and an astoundingly bad 1-19 from three. Turnovers and poise are typically the biggest concerns for rookie point guards, but for Burke, it's his ability to score efficiently.