NBA Future Power Rankings: 6. Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz: The Jazz may have missed the playoffs last season, but I expect them to challenge the Spurs, Clippers, and Grizzlies for the 2nd seed in the west behind Golden State. Utah has done an incredible job of acquiring young players while keeping all of their picks and maintain financial flexibility. The only players with any salary on the books after the next two seasons are Alec Burks and Trey Lyles for a total of under $15 Million in committed salary. With the rising cap the Jazz will be able to shape their roster as they wish. In addition the Jazz have the Warriors 2017 1st round pick and the Thunder’s lottery protected 2018 1st round pick. The heart of the Jazz team is the excellent young frontcourt. At small forward is 26 year old, do it all small forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward is often overlooked when people think of the top players in the league, but the former Butler Bulldog should make his first Steam sooner rather than later. Alongside Hayward the Jazz have the mammoth duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. In an era ruled by small-ball, the Jazz have found success with a traditional big lineup. Favors and Gobert are both among the top rim protectors in the game and have enough versatility to function well together. With Favors just 25 and Gobert just 24, the Jazz should have their starting frontcourt set for the next decade. The only downside is that it will be costly keeping all three players. Gobert is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will likely receive a max offer in restricted free agency next summer. Hayward will likely decline his player option next summer and will also be seeking a max contract. Favors still has two years left on his deal, but he could be a potential third max contract for the Jazz. The Jazz started making offseason moves early by trading the 12th pick in the draft to acquire veteran point guard George Hill. With Raul Neto and Shelvin Mack returning for depth, Dante Exum returning from a torn ACL, and the acquisition of Hill, point guard is no longer a weakness for Utah. George Hill should be the perfect point guard for the Jazz. He brings in much needed veteran experience and shooting and fits in perfectly with the team’s defensive mindset. Hill is versatile and can play on or off the ball on both ends of the floor. Exum, the 5th pick of the 2014 draft, missed all of his sophomore campaign after tearing his ACL before the start of the season. Exum was absolutely horrendous on offense his rookie year, but he was quite the opposite on defense. Once Exum and Gobert were inserted into the starting lineup midway through the 2014-15 season, the Jazz had arguably the top defense in the NBA. Exum and Hill should make an already great defense even scarier for opponents. Another reason I’m very high on the Jazz is the progression of 24 year old shooting guard Rodney Hood. Portland’s CJ McCollum was very deserving of his most Improved Player of the Year award, but an argument can be made that Hood deserved it. Like point guard, the shooting guard position will be improved with the return of an injured player. Alec Burks has had trouble staying healthy his entire career, but he has been very effective when on the court and is still just 25 years old. Burks is a versatile do it all player that can spend time at point, shooting guard, or small forward. Having so many non-point guard playmakers like Hayward, Hood, and Burks is very important since Hill and Exum are subpar playmakers at point guard. To keep up with the theme of adding playmakers, the Jazz added two more playoff-experienced veterans. First they signed Joe Johnson to a two-year $20 Million contract. Johnson is no longer an All-Star caliber player, but he should help the Jazz a great deal. One potential weakness the Jazz had was a lack of players who could create their own shot and take the buzzer beaters. Johnson fits the bill perfectly since he has been making clutch shots his whole career. Diaw is a great addition and should be a good mentor for last years 12th pick Trey Lyles. Lyles has a similar style of play to Diaw, and the two should provide good depth up front behind Favors and Gobert. I really love everything the Jazz have been doing. They have built a team that is ready to contend now and should be able to stay that way for many years to come. This may sound like a lot for a team that wasn’t even in the postseason last year, but I expect the Jazz to win at least 50 games next season.