(SportsNetwork.com) - The young and semi-talented Utah Jazz enter the 2014-15 season with a high ceiling and hopes of winning more than just 25 games.
The Jazz were the worst team in the Western Conference last season with a 25-57 record and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. This isn't your Jerry Sloan Jazz team from years past, but Utah is hoping it can get back there in a few years.
Not much is expected from the Jazz once again and there's a new head coach in Salt Lake City. Quin Snyder will be drawing up plays for the Jazz and was named head coach back in June. Tyrone Corbin was not offered a new contract and Snyder gets his shot at becoming a head coach in the NBA.
"The opportunity to join the Utah Jazz and to be part of such a highly respected franchise with an incredibly bright future is a great honor," Snyder said. "I approach this opportunity with gratitude and humility and am committed to doing everything I can to help the Jazz become a championship- caliber team."
Snyder has some talent to work with in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke and Enes Kanter. It appears the Jazz are committed to building around Hayward, who established career-best averages of 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. The Charlotte Hornets offered Hayward a four-year deal worth $63 million and Utah matched it.
"As we have said since the start of last season, we have always seen Gordon Hayward as a significant part of the future of the Utah Jazz," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "Gordon is a young, multi-faceted player and a high-character individual who we are pleased will remain a member of the Jazz for many years to come."
Snyder said he is excited for the opportunity to coach Hayward and is looking forward to seeing him develop as a player.
The same holds true for point guard Burke. Burke missed the start of last season with a broken hand and the 2013 first-round pick has tremendous upside. So does this year's first-round draft pick Dante Exum. Exum was the fifth pick of this summer's NBA Draft and brings speed and ball handling skills to Utah.
Rodney Hood was the Jazz's other first-round draft pick and went 23rd. Hood sculpted his skills at Duke and has an impressive basketball IQ.
It will be difficult at first for Snyder to get his philosophy across to his players and perhaps another last-place finish in the West is in store. But at least there's some optimism in the air.
2013-14 Results: 25-57, 5th in Northwest; Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: HC Quin Snyder, G Dante Exum, G/F Carrick Felix, F Trevor Booker, F Rodney Hood, F Steve Novak
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Trey Burke SG- Alec Burks SF- Gordon Hayward PF- Derrick Favors C - Enes Kanter
KEY RESERVES: G Ian Clark, G Dante Exum, G/F Carrick Felix, F Trevor Booker, F Rodney Hood, C Jeremy Evans. F Steve Novak, C Rudy Gobert
FRONTCOURT: Hayward is the star of the show and has to prove he's worth a new contract. The offense will go through Hayward and he needs to improve his inside game instead of relying on the deeper shot. Hayward not only led the Jazz in scoring last season, he was tops in minutes played with 36.4. In 19 of Utah's last 26 games of 2013-14, Hayward shot at least 40 percent. He averaged 17.0 ppg in that time and hopes it carries over into the new year.
Hayward also became the second Jazz player to average 16-plus points, five- plus rebounds and five or more assists in a season, joining Pete Maravich.
Derrick Favors is Utah's top big man, but still needs work to become an All- Star. Favors averaged 13.3 points and a team-best 8.7 rebounds last season. Favors, who also led the Jazz in field goal percentage at .522, plays well with his back against the opposition and is obviously a strong rebounder. He posted 25 double-doubles last season and ranked in the top-25 for blocked shots, rebounds and offensive rebounds. Favors needs to improve his jump shot.
Enes Kanter is at center for Snyder and posted 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in 2013-14. Kanter will be pushed by Evans and Gobert. Kanter did step up his game after the All-Star break and needs to be a better shot blocker and rim protector. Snyder will preach defense and it starts inside. Kanter and Favors will try to make the fans forget about departed big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap as well as forwards Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams.
BACKCOURT: Burke is the next star in the making in Salt Lake City. Entering his second season with the Jazz, Burke was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month twice (Dec. and Jan.) and scored a career-high 32 points in the last game of the season. Burke posted an average of 12.8 points and 5.7 assists last season and enters the campaign with a clean bill of health. Burke made just 38 percent of his shots and played just over 32 minutes a night. He did show great poise on the floor as a rookie.
Snyder is fortunate to have Burke in his backcourt alongside Alec Burks. Burks posted a career-high 14.0 ppg and 3.3 rebounds to go along with 2.7 assists last season and was Utah's second leading scorer. The former Colorado star scored in double figures in 28 of the team's last 29 games and made 45.7 percent from the field.
BENCH: The Jazz will get to see what both Exum and Hood bring to the table when their name is called off the bench. Hood has more upside for competing with the Blue Devils and against other great schools. Exum, though, proved he can score overseas, but will face his stiffest challenge in the NBA. He hopes he doesn't get shipped to the NBADL to get his feet wet.
Gobert is hoping to get a solid amount of minutes inside and make a case to crack the starting lineup, while Evans has the same idea. The Jazz have some depth in sharpshooter Novak, Booker, Clark and Felix. Novak will replace the 3-point prowess of Jefferson. Utah's bench averaged 15.8 ppg in the last five games and needs to be more consistent. Hopefully a new coach and fresh faces will alter that.
COACHING: Snyder is a basketball genius and learned from his former coach, Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski. Snyder has achieved success at every level of coaching and is counting on that reputation to continue with the Jazz, who hope he can get the most out of this lineup. Look for a defensive-minded Snyder to mix in some old-school technique with a sprinkle of new era hoops to Utah. There's no secret Snyder has his work cut out with this young roster.
OUTLOOK: There will be excitement and a new-found energy with Snyder running the Jazz and he's still fairly young. He's not as young as some of his core players, who are aiming to take their game to the next level. The Jazz are still a few years away from being relevant again in the NBA and maybe will exceed last season's win total of 25.
Better shooting (44 percent), tighter defense and player development are key areas for Utah in 2014-15, and also better play around the basket by Favors and Kanter. Hayward will carry the scoring load and needs more help from Burke in his second year. Snyder will try everything to make that happen for a Jazz team projected to win 30 games.