In this week’s version of the Promontory Sports Summit, our group of panelists extends a special welcome to one of the newest contributors to Utah Sports Net, Riley O’Brien (@RileyOJazz). He’s joined by Spencer Durrant (@Spencer_Durrant), John English (@jermsguy), Braeden Jensen (@CanadianBraeden), and James Peterson (@JazzInJersey), who mull over some pre-All-Star break expectations for the Jazz, and what the ceiling is for this year’s Jazz team. Sit back and enjoy.
What will the Jazz’s record be over the last four games before the All-Star break? (CHI, @SAC, OKC, @MIN)
Riley O’Brien: 3-1. Looking through the games and opponents they are all winnable in my opinion. I truly expect a Jazz win each and every time we play at home, and the two games at Sacramento and Minnesota are winnable. But I will say 3-1 with the slip up being against OKC.
Spencer Durrant: The Jazz will go 3-1, losing the game to OKC. Even though that game is in Salt Lake City, if the Jazz continue their disturbing trend of slow starts they’ll get Thunderstruck (yes, I’ve been waiting forever to use that pun). Even if Utah can come out in that game with energy, I don’t think they have what it takes to beat Kevin Durant and co.
John English: The Jazz will go 2-2 by beating Chicago at home, losing to Sacramento on the road, then losing to the Thunder at home, and just everyone thinks all is lost, cuz that’s how we do when we lose two in a row, they’ll get a road win against the injury-depleted TimberWolves. (Aren’t the Jazz injury-depleted too? Yes, but some injury-depletions are worse than others.)
Braeden Jensen: Let’s hope that they can go 3-1, or even 2-2. Optimistic me is willing to chalk up the OKC game as a loss right now, and Chicago and Sacramento are going to be tough games. The Jazz haven’t been playing good ball lately, despite a good win against the Bucks on Wednesday. For some reason, they can’t put a bad Sacramento team away, and that game is in Sacramento on Saturday night. Let’s be honest, they could be looking at a 1-3 slide into the break. Crossing our fingers that it looks better than that.
James Peterson: 30-24 (2-2), hopefully. Chicago is going to be a handful, despite how they’re playing against Denver as I write this, but I think we win that one. Sacramento is likely to be angry and I think we lose that one, the silver lining is Cousins probably gets tossed again for calling a ref “an effing female” or some equivalent. In theory we could beat OKC at home, but I don’t see that happening. I think we beat Minny on the road. The reality, unfortunately, is that the Jazz could easily lose all four of these games and get to the break at 28-26, but I think we go 2-2 somehow.
Where will the Jazz finish in a tight Western Conference playoff race?
Riley O’Brien: 7th seed. I want to say higher, but with the way Denver is playing and Golden State finally healthy I think they may be tough to catch, although GSW could slip up with the amount of road games they still have to play. I will say first round this year Jazz will be playing as the 7th seed.
Spencer Durrant: Anywhere from 5-8. The top four Western Conference teams are likely there to stay (Denver and Golden State could be the two teams to grab that 4 seed) and those teams are just too good for the Jazz to gain ground on. I honestly think that Utah will finish 6th.
John English: The Jazz will finish with the seventh seed. The gap’s going to get wider between the top six and the rest of the pack, but whatever trade the Jazz make, I doubt it’ll be one that makes them noticeably better or worse this season, and they’ll finish somewhere around 45-37.
Braeden Jensen: Again, I like to think that I’m fairly optimistic with this team. I could see them snagging a 6 seed, especially if teams ahead of them continue to slide and/or have injury problems. Memphis has been terrible since their trade, the Clippers are having a rough time without Paul and Griffin, and the Warriors are one ankle-tweak away from sliding a couple of spots. I think that Jazz, barring injury, have a solid grip on the 7 seed, but with some luck they could grab a 6 and avoid the Spurs and Thunder in the first round. They just have to keep taking care of business.
James Peterson: 8. Houston is hanging right beneath us, but their schedule is a bit softer than Utah’s to close out the season though I think we do (though the Jazz have 10 of their final 17 games at home). I don’t see Portland making a serious push and the Lakers are showing signs of all four engines catching fire, so I think we stay in there. And, for the record, I am fine with finishing 8th and getting our clocks cleaned in the first round rather than going to the lottery. But that’s another discussion.
Which player(s) do you think has/have stepped up the most as a result of injuries?
Riley O’Brien: I believe DeMarre Carroll hasn’t done anything out of the norm for him, which proves the value he has. He is a guy who thrives any opportunity he gets due to his consistent hustle and mental involvement in the game, and the fact guys have been hurt his play has stuck out even more to me. I’d also give a nod to Alec Burks who is doing some things well and showing that he can adapt and try new things. He is playing well at point or off ball with Randy. So I’d say DMC and Alec Burks.
Spencer Durrant: I think the team as a whole has stepped up, not just one player. This current team is made up of rookies and potential free agents, an interesting mix – but one that causes guys to give their all whenever they see playing time. Jamaal Tinsley has proven his worth as the primary ball handler since Mo Williams went down, but he was turning in that solid play during backup minutes as well. This whole team is trying to either earn a contract elsewhere or earn solid playing time here in Utah, and that atmosphere has created a group of guys that I think really give their all each time they step on the court.
John English: Randy Foye. Foye was getting plenty of minutes before Mo Williams went down, but now he has to be the main outside threat. Then when Gordon Hayward and Earl Watson went down, he took over more ball-handling, setting up teammates. Alec Burks is the backup point guard, but Randy’s played plenty of PG time, and he and Burks tend to switch off who dribbles the ball down the court, who sets up top and who breaks down to the side.
Braeden Jensen: I’ve been impressed with Alec Burks. I love watching DeMarre Carroll-probably my favorite Jazzman at the moment. But this has to be Jamaal Tinsley. He’s not a top-tier point guard, but when your starter goes down, and your grandfather point guard can come in and arguably help the team play better than the starter, you’re in fantastic shape. I’m hoping everyone can continue stepping up, because it’s a long season, and we may not have seen the last of the injury bug.
James Peterson: DeMarre Carroll, no question. His stats keep improving, he brings spark to the team, and his confidence makes his improvement a self-sustaining mechanism. Burks is in this discussion as of late, but the sample size is so small that I have a hard time picking him over DMC.
Could this team pose a problem for a higher-seeded opponent in a playoff series as presently constituted?
Riley O’Brien: I absolutely believe we could cause a problem for whoever we face in the playoffs if we are healthy. I suppose any playoff team could say “if we are healthy” and then expect to have success, but I just think we have a solid team with players who compliment one another and the fact they are good team mates I think gives them a chance. I certainly, absolutely do NOT expect a playoff experience like last season. Let me guess we play OKC or LAC first round, I say we take em 6 games.
Spencer Durrant: No, I don’t think so. Utah doesn’t have any elite-level players that can wreak havoc on defenses. The Jazz are at their most potent when they play as a team and rack up 25 assists or more. If they can play like the tight-knit group of guys they are, they could take a playoff series to 6 or 7 games, but I don’t see them upsetting anyone.
John English: As presently constituted, and likely to face the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers in the first round, they’ll be lucky to win one playoff game. As presently constituted, they’ll start off 0-2, come home, regroup, walk in front of a loud crowd, and maybe get that one win. Enough guys remember the sting of getting swept last year, and they’ll be determined not to let it happen again. That might be enough for Game 3. Then Game 4, the more-talented other team will turn it up, or in the Clippers’ case, flop like crazy, get that win, and a demoralized Jazz team gets stomped and snuffed for Game 5 on the road. Then speculation immediately will go to free agency, who do we draft at #17 and #20, and will Corbin find a way to not let Favors get at least 30 minutes a game next year.
Braeden Jensen: I think if they snagged the six seed and avoided the Spurs or Thunder in the first round, they could win a couple of games against another opponent. Memphis is weaker, and our strengths match up well with theirs. The games against the Clippers have been fun this year, and I’d love to see a series between the Jazz and Clippers.
James Peterson: Sure. Golden State and Memphis are higher seeds than the Jazz, right? Seriously though, if the Jazz could put together a 5 or 6 game stretch where they came out hot, the bench stays on top of things (not a problem with G-Time healthy), and we can keep our foot on the opponent’s neck, then yes, I’d believe we could give Memphis, Denver, or maybe (in dreams) the Clippers a good run. The Jazz will be lucky to win one against OKC or SAS should we meet either team in the first round.
Which player has been the biggest surprise to you so far this year, good or bad?
Riley O’Brien: I would say Derrick Favors if for no other reason he is staying patient and humble and producing at a fairly high level whenever he gets on the floor. I expected it of him, but I am just truly impressed by him.
Spencer Durrant: The biggest surprise for me has been Alec Burks. He went from being out of the rotation to playing clutch minutes within a month and he’s taken it all in stride. For a second year player, he has remarkable composure and he’s shown a knack for being able to finish around the rim and create his own shot.
John English: Best surprise is how good a 3-point shooter Randy Foye really is. I mean, he’s good, but I didn’t expect to be campaigning for him to be in the three-point contest for All-Star weekend. Worst surprise isn’t a big one: I’m surprised how often I forget Marvin Williams is even on the floor. He holds his own defensively, but I thought he’d use the new environment to have more of a break-out season.
Braeden Jensen: Marvin Williams. I was pretty (ok, very) excited about him coming over from the Hawks. I felt like we robbed them by trading Devin Harris for Williams straight across. Now, Every time Marvin shoots, I cringe, much like Jazz Nation did last year when Josh Howard was flinging up shots on every possession. Ok, it’s not that bad, but it seems like my expectations were too high. At this point, I’d be more than satisfied if he was putting up stats comparable to some of his better seasons with the Hawks, instead of posting career lows in many categories. Hopefully he can find his groove in time for the playoffs.
James Peterson: Paul Millsap. He started the season so poorly. Everybody thought this contract year thing was in his head or he was already checked out or whatever, but he’s effectively having his second best season of his career. I’m not sure how big of a surprise this really was; Sap isn’t a quitter and I think most of us kind of expected that he’d get it together. Frankly, I haven’t been particularly surprised about anyone. Maybe how little development some facets of Favors’ game have shown so far. His defense is still getting better and the potential there is scary, but offensively I was hoping for some signs of glory. Disappointed so far. But I’m sticking with Millsap as my answer.
What is the best trade you can come up with that will help this team out right now and in the future?
Spencer Durrant: Paul Millsap for Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez has dished out more assists than any other point guard in the NBA this season. He’s young and shows promise. And the Jazz desperately need a point guard for the future.
John English: Trade Paul Millsap and Raja Bell for Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Grant Hill. Each of those Clippers is signed through 2014, so they would have Bledsoe, and they can decide later what to do about the others.
Braeden Jensen: Realistically, I don’t think there is anything coming that is going to tempt the Jazz into giving up one of their bigs. I’d love a deal for Bledsoe, but if something is going to happen on that front, it’s going to come in the offseason. Some under the radar moves that might help this team out? I still wouldn’t mind bringing in Goran Dragic from the Suns. I can’t imagine that they’re holding on too tightly to anything that has helped them limp to a 17-33 record, so the Jazz might be able to pry some pieces away.
James Peterson: Trade Raja for a bag of chips and some racy photos of the Magic dancers? I’m terrible at trades, and apparently willing to go on record as being moderately chauvinistic.