The Jazz lost their last three games by total of 17 points. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns each won by three points, while the Houston Rockets won by more than three points.
Obviously, there is much room to grow. The Jazz have been deficient in a number of areas so far, but with youth comes opportunities to change. Utah may be three games into this year's NBA season, but there are still 79 games remaining, beginning with tonight's game against the Brooklyn Nets.
What follows is 10 areas where the Jazz can grow, both figuratively and literally.
Aaron Guile lives in Provo, Utah. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter at @AaronGuile.
Utah, with 45.3 rebounds per game, is an NBA top 10 rebounding team. The rebounding advantage collapses however when Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter leave the floor. These two average a combined 20.7 rebounds per game — 45.7 percent of total Jazz rebounds. When these two players leave the floor, who fills the gap?
Favors leads a strong Jazz defensive squad. The power forward position, however, remains a defensive weakness. Favors has no sub. Favors' absence is felt every time he's benched.
The Jazz bank on Marvin Williams to sub for Favors, but Williams is injured. Once he starts playing, his Achilles recovery will limit his minutes and effectiveness on the floor for months.
Jeremy Evans, who hypothetically could sub for Favors, is also injured. Evans brings energy, shot-blocking and reach to the Jazz.
Evans told Deseret News Jazz beat writer Jody Genessy, “For me personally, (I feel) a lot more comfortable, just shooting the ball, doing more on offense I love playing defense. Of course, I’m going to block shots, go for steals and help my teammates out.”
On top of actually being extremely young, the Jazz look young. The Jazz average age is 25.5 years. Rudy Gobert, though older than Trey Burke, looks younger, looking 16 to 17 years old.
Science provides a solution.
Men's Health Australia reports that researchers Barnaby Dixson and Robert Brooks' investigation into beards shows that "men, judging other men, might be sensitive to the overall level of masculine threat and aggression signaled through full beards."
Twenty-four-year-old James Harden grew instant respect by ditching his Bics. His 23-point beardsplosion against the Jazz demands recognition. This important opportunity applies to the entire Jazz team except Favors, whose chin scrum is visible on TV.
The Jazz roster is designed to be three deep at every position. Injuries inadvertently destroy team architecture. With a fractured finger, Burke is an obvious gap, but he's not the only one. Brandon Rush’s rehabilitation makes perimeter play rough.
Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey writes, “(Rush’s) career three-point percentage is 41.3, and he developed a reputation as a solid, physical perimeter defender with Golden State.”
The Jazz lack depth at power forward, perimeter play and point guard. These weaknesses resolve themselves once Williams, Evans, Rush and Burke return and the Jazz add facial hair as beards are healthier, according to Yahoo Shine's Mother Nature Network.
This enigma needs answering.
Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley says, “The Jazz lack experience, but opposing teams want no part of their massive frontcourt (Favors, Kanter and rookie Gobert). Throw a playmaker on the perimeter (Gordon Hayward) and an explosive slasher alongside him (Alec Burks), and you can see where this team will steal its fair share of wins.” Buckley’s article goes on to include the Jazz with teams he thinks will “tank” this season. The Jazz don’t identify with the “tanking” label the national press pushes.
Right now, however, the Jazz don’t have another identity (beards would help as beards.org opines bearded men have personality). This the Jazz can learn from the Thunder and the Rockets. Both these teams have solid identities and a net team personality.
The Jazz aren’t having fun. Losing hurts. Sparkpeople.com’s Jennipher Walters writes:
“It turns out that the simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you're happy. And when you're happy, your body pumps out all kinds of feel-good endorphins. This reaction has been studied since the 1980s and has been proven a number of times. In 1984, an article in the journal Science showed that when people mimic different emotional expressions, their bodies produce physiological changes that reflect the emotion, too, such as changes in heart and breathing rate.”
Walters' post gives several other reasons why smiles work. The best evidence for smiling and winning comes from the bearded Boston Red Sox as described by Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin in his article "The Hirsute of Happiness: How facial hair brought joy to the Red Sox."
On average, the Jazz win the first half 50 points to 46.7. The Jazz, however, lose the second half 41.7 to 50.7.
The worst example of second-half collapse was Houston. The Rockets outscored the Jazz 64-37 in the second half. Losing two games in a row this way demonstrates the Jazz need to learn how to play a complete game, no matter how wobbly the legs feel.
During the last five minutes of their games, the Suns average 14 points, the Thunder average 11, the Rockets average 7 and the Jazz average 8. This revelation is one of the coolest new functions on stats.nba.com. This also reveals the assassin factor the Jazz lack.
At the end of the Suns game, the three-point shootout between Gordon Hayward and the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe showed how much Hayward wanted to win. Hayward also attempted the game-tying shot against the Thunder. Hayward must assume the fourth-quarter scorer's role for the entire quarter. The assassin job is Hayward’s to take, and Hayward knows it, too.
Hayward told NBA.com's Mike Tulumello, "We gotta get ourselves good looks. Everything is tough down the stretch.”
While Hayward yearns for a fourth-quarter executioner's beard, the rest of the Jazz have to score, too.
The movie “The Replacements” has a great scene about a product called Stickum. Coach Jimmy McGinty slathers the stuff all over receiver Clifford Franklin’s hands because he can’t catch a thing.
The Jazz need Stickum. Stickum can’t be used in basketball, but the notion remains the same. Turning the ball over an average of 19.3 times per game is too many, especially when the opponent averages 3.6 fewer turnovers per game and scores 20 points per game from those turnovers. The Jazz need to average 15-17 turnovers or less in order to stop the bleeding.
Twenty-two of Kevin Durant's 42 points against Utah came from the free-throw line.
All three Jazz opponents have scored more from the line than the Jazz. The Thunder made 29 free throws for 87.9 percent, while the Jazz made 20 for 66.7 percent. The Suns made 19 for 79.2 percent, while the Jazz made 17 for 63 percent. The Rockets made 27 for 77.1 percent, while the Jazz made 21 for 77.8 percent.
That's a lot of numbers, but the margin of victory is easily found in missed free throws against both the Suns and Thunder.
Utah's opponents have averaged 48.3 free-throw attempts during the second half, and the Jazz average 48. The Jazz lose by missing many shots. Simple game fundamentals count.
Fortunately, the Jazz are in Utah. If there's anything the state of Utah can appreciate, it's learning moments. The Jazz will figure it out.
There are 79 more games left to grow that beard, after all.