Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye 14/15: Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans

After my planned post on Miami-Boston was put off by injuries to Wade and Whiteside, it was good to get a chance to review two young, healthy teams.

The Pelicans possess one of the hottest commodities in basketball in the form of Anthony Davis, who has risen from first overall pick in 2012 to the forgotten MVP candidate of this season.

Despite missing former All-Star Jrue Holiday and stretch-four Ryan Anderson, the Pels are still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the brutal West, with former Kings guard Tyreke Evans enjoying a bounce-back season, Eric Gordon staying healthy and a number of other good role players contributing.

It's been a feel-good season for the Pelicans coming into this game, despite OKC continuing to edge ahead in the standings.

Davis is considered the future of the NBA, along with Durant, but the Kings' franchise player Demarcus Cousins is right there with him in talent.

However, the franchise has still suffered through a muddled season after a promising start.

Former coach Mike Malone had the team above .500, firmly in the playoff race and playing a cohesive, team-first game in the half-court.

Then Cousins went down with an illness and although losses came, they held their ground in the standings, only for new owner Vivek Ranadive to give Malone the boot, to the dismay of Cousins, the Sacramento fanbase and basketball lovers the world over.

It seemed like the more things changed the more they stayed the same for the Kings, with ownership making the same impulsive decisions as the unpopular Maloofs.

The reasoning given for the firing was that Ranadive wanted a coach who could play with more pace, to make the game more exciting and draw fans ahead of the new stadium being built.

While winning would seem to be a bigger draw for fans, the decision was final.

Interim coach Ty Corbin was a nightmare, demonstrating the same lack of ingenuity and inability to develop young players that had driven him out of Utah.

Finally, after the Kings were able to secure a Hall of Fame coach in George Karl, pushing past the rumoured disapproval of Cousins.

The early signs are good for Karl's Kings with the team earning a few impressive wins.

It was against this backdrop that the two teams squared off.


When the news came out today that OKC Thunder superstar Kevin Durant would undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season, I immediately started rooting for the Pelicans to sneak into the playoffs.

As ridiculous as Westbrook's individual efforts have been, they're also a bit old-hat for fans and seeing a young team - and budding superstar Anthony Davis - test their mettle in the post-season appeals to me a whole lot more.

Davis had a quiet game for the Pelicans, struggling to get easy looks with Rudy Gay doing an excellent job defending him and generally being overshadowed by Evans and Cousins.

The Kings did a good job of reading lob passes for AD and intercepted them on numerous occasions, forcing him to work for his points.

However, AD showed the makings of an elite post game, using a soft touch on hook shots from the block to score over smaller defenders.

If he can continue to improve his scoring in the low post to complement his deadly face-up game then the sky is the limit for Davis.

He also made an impact defensively with six blocked shots, although he didn't have much luck containing Cousins.

While Asik was tasked with guarding Cousins for the most part, it was great to see Davis match up with him over the course of the game and it will be a real treat to see these two battle it out for the next decade.

Davis is the future for New Orleans, but it was all about Evans in this game.

Tyreke displayed his typical driving game, but also showed off his improved jumper, canning several mid-range shots with confidence in the face of hapless Kings defenders.

While he needs to expand his range to the 3-point line, Evans used this game to remind his former franchise that they made a mistake in letting him go.

After being moved to the shooting-guard and small-forward since his rookie year, Tyreke is thriving at the point guard position with Holiday out and is a good complement to Davis as a guy who can attack the paint while opposing PFs are lured to the perimeter.

Ajinca is solid as a big off the bench, Norris Cole is back at his role-playing best and Quincy Pondexter is the perfect SF to add toughness to the side.

Asik's performance can be summed up by a single stat: one personal foul.

He battled with Cousins and made him work for the whole game without picking up a second foul and that's a success for the Turkish big man.

The Pelicans are a talented team on paper and have no need for another lottery pick.

The big question mark is Davis' durability but the other question's about this team's potential have been answered.

A small forward who can defend and shoot the long-ball like Kelly Oubre would be a good fit in the draft, but any 19-year-old is going to be an afterthought at this point.


It was a tale of two halves for the Kings in this game.

In the early going Sacramento was erasing any doubts I had about their suitability for a fast-paced attack.

Cousins was using his handle and passing ability to lead the break himself and score before the D was set in the half-court.

With 23 points on 10-14 shooting at the main break, Cousins looked set for a monster night and it was easy to see why.

His shooting touch in the mid-range is excellent for a centre, he ran the floor with the best and used an array of face-up drives and post-ups to frustrate the Pelicans' D.

More than anything it was the incredible energy he played with that impressed as he hustled on both ends to set the tone for his team.

Rudy Gay was feeling it early, taking away Davis' face-up game and battling inside.

Casspi was at his crafty best, Ben McLemore was using that athleticism to get out in transition and drain jumpers - even rookie Nik Stauskas sunk a long-bomb.

It was easy to see that I had been wrong, Cousins' versatility actually made him the perfect fit for Karl's up-tempo style.

But then the second half came.

Cousins, and consequently the Kings, were gassed.

The visitors stopped flying down the court, Cousins couldn't get easy looks and the Pelicans built upon a great lead.

Despite a monster dunk from Nik Stauskas, the second half was miserable for Sacramento.

Cousins became increasingly frustrated (although he did finish with 39 points and 20 boards) and the Kings were helpless to slow down New Orleans.

The real test for Karl with Cousins will be whether he can find the right balance between pace and exhaustion to let his star stay consistent through four quarters.

Derrick Williams was a bright spot though, as he confidently drilled a three-pointer, ran like crazy on transition and didn't seem lost defensively.

The former #2 pick didn't work out early in his career as an undersized PF, but as the NBA has shifted towards small-ball, Williams has found himself in the perfect situation for his talents and is worth keeping around for Sacramento.

 Gay avoided his iso-heavy bad habits of the past to put up a respectable 18 points at just under 50% from the field and was engaged defensively.

At 28, he's an ideal second banana for Cousins and a Kings team pushing for the post-season.

As I mentioned, Stauskas had some nice moments and it seems we might have given up on him too soon.

While he still gets beaten defensively, he's gaining confidence off the dribble and I wouldn't be surprised if he made a big jump in his second season.

The point guard and power forward spots are the biggest question marks for the Kings, so D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay would be welcome, but otherwise Porzingis, Myles Turner or Trey Lyles would make sense as stretch-fours.


Both teams are built around superstar big men and with all due respect to Okafor, Drummond and any other young big man out there, they are the future of the NBA.

The Kings and Pelicans have languished in the lottery for too long but with good and a bit of luck, they could both make the post-season next year, their stars are just that good.

The first-half performance of the Kings was definitely good enough to make the playoffs even in the West, it will be a matter of sustaining that over the course of a season.

I have a lot more confidence in Sacramento with Karl at the helm.

The Pelicans just need to stay healthy and they're right there so don't be too heartbroken if they miss the post-season this season, because Davis is still only 22.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye 14/15: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic

Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye returns with a look at the Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic.

I hadn't thought about it when I decided to cover these teams, but the two franchises have a lot of similarities in their past and present.

Both teams opted to trade their disgruntled superstars for a bevy of  young talent rather than let them hit free agency (Carmelo Anthony for the Nuggets and Dwight Howard for the Magic).

Both teams have seen their former franchise player struggle in their new surroundings.

Both teams fired their coach this season and went into the game with interim head coaches in charge.

Ultimately, the most pertinent similarity between these teams is that despite being loaded with young, talented players, neither one has a true star to build around and elevate them back to relevancy yet.

But let's see what they do have based on this game - which the Nuggets blew out 119 to 100 (but led by as much as 30 for large chunks of the second half).


The thing that jumped out at me about the Magic in this game was that this team can't guard anybody.

I've never seen a team so inept at defending opposition players both on and off the ball.

The rotations were slow or non-existent, the perimeter guys looked like pylons and none of the Magic bigs looked like any threat to protect the rim.

The Magic were missing a few key guys, including Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Channing Frye, but this was as sorry a performance as I've seen for a long time.

Unlike the Nuggets, the Magic have already bottomed out and have spent the last two years racking up top-5 draft picks and blooding their young players.

However, despite the opportunities given to them, it feels like they more or less whiffed on both picks in terms of securing a superstar.

Their #2 pick in 2013, Victor Oladipo, is an undersized 2-guard who lacks a consistent jumper, a tight handle and a knack for scoring.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like about Oladipo in isolation, he passes well from the shooting guard position, he plays with intensity, he's a hard-worker who doesn't complain about all the losing and he has enough athleticism to earn the nickname Mr 540.

He managed to amass a decent box-score with 21 points on 8-15 shooting, but it's deceptive because he did most of his work in the fourth quarter against the end-of-the-rotation guys Denver trotted out once the game was already decided.

When the game was still in the air the Indiana product was a no-show, unable to get easy buckets, settling for pull-up mid-range jumpers and just generally looking overmatched.

While it's too soon to give up on Oladipo as a franchise cornerstone, they desperately need someone - anyone - who can be a first option offensively and ease the burden on the second-year guard to create his own shots.

However, Elfrid Payton - aka the guy who cost Orlando a future first-round pick because Philly wanted to be jerks - showed flashes of his potential at the point.

He made smart passes, gave effort defensively with active hands (albeit in vain mostly) and wasn't shy about attacking the rim - despite getting repeatedly blocked by Denver big men.

You have to feel bad for a pass-first guy who doesn't have many shooters around him, but it will get easier for him once his jumper develops.

Nikola Vucevic, a key part of the Dwight Howard trade via Philly, seemed to be a steal for the Magic early in his career.

He put up huge rebounding numbers, showed poise and polish in the post and had the body to bang with opposition bigs without breaking a sweat.

The problem is that he's a huge liability defensively.

Vucevic lacks quick feet, long arms, timing and defensive awareness - things that are pretty important for a guy who is supposed to anchor the D.

It's too soon to give up on him as the team's starting C going forward, but if the Magic get a chance to take a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns, they should almost certainly go for it.

However, I should point out that taking Okafor would be a huge mistake, as he possesses the same weaknesses as Vucevic.

Aaron Gordon, the fourth pick in the 2014 draft was reportedly battling an illness or sorts, but looked lost when he did play.

His shooting range remains extremely limited, he isn't quite big enough to thrive as a defensive player and while he's energetic, that's not really enough for such a high pick in this draft.

I always thought Gordon got a bad rep when people dismissed his upside in the NBA, but it's just hard to see how he fits in as an undersized PF without the jump shot, refined post-game or handle to really contribute offensively.

The league is moving away from post-up power forwards and unless Gordon can make huge strides in the off-season towards playing the small forward, it seems inevitable that he won't live up to his draft position.

Best-case scenario Gordon pans out like a Kenneth Faried, getting by on hustle, rebounding and athleticism.

Looking at the roster, it's hard to see where they are going to get better without giving up on their past investments.

A star small forward who can score in bunches would be ideal, but there isn't really anyone in the lottery that fits that description.

The only SF worthy of a top-5 draft pick is Stanley Johnson, but he's similar to Gordon and Oladipo in that he's a well-rounded player, not a scorer (which is their biggest need).

Finding a power-forward who can cover some of Vucevic's weaknesses and spread the floor seems like a more realistic scenario.

If Towns is out of reach, then Kristaps Porzingis would be an ideal fit.

He stretches the floor, can protect the rim and could co-exist with Gordon, playing PF defensively and SF offensively.

If they can sort out their scoring and shooting issues with Porzingis, then this roster doesn't look too bad.

Tobias Harris is a versatile combo-forward, Channing Frye is a great veteran to have and Evan Fournier is ideal as a sixth man.

The Magic could start make the playoffs soon, but it's still hard to see them competing for a championship with this group without a Hawks-like effort from everyone on the team.


Let me start by saying that the Nuggets were extremely impressive in this game.

However, it doesn't change the fact that the roster doesn't quite fit together.

Denver is loaded with players who are rotation guys on good teams and it was this depth that let them earn a 3-seed in the 2013 playoffs before they were bundled out by the Warriors.

But role players aren't enough without either an incredible system like the Hawks (who even then have Al Horford on the roster) or a star to bring out their best.

The problem to me is that the Nuggets are building around fundamentally flawed players in Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson.

Faried was a great value draft-pick for the Nuggets and he looked amazing playing with the US National team last year, but it doesn't change the fact that he's undersized, lacks the ability to create his own shot, has no range on his jumper and can't protect the rim.

Faried has the athleticism to block shots, but because he needs to use his vertical leap to contest shots in the paint, it's easy to throw him off with a simple pump fake.

He wasn't able to use his quickness to play the passing lanes of his bigger opponents either and while Denver looked amazing, they were at their best with Faried on the bench.

He certainly has a place on the team, but the front office should be careful about putting too much faith in a guy whose intangible strengths can't make up for his tangible weaknesses.

Lawson went scoreless against the Magic and it highlighted his limitations when he's supposed to be a team's first or second best player.

He struggled to blow by his man, his jumper wasn't there and at his size, his ability to defend is a struggle.

He's not a natural passer, despite dishing out eight assists in this game and the offense just seemed to flow better with him off the court.

However, while most of the spoils from the Carmelo trade haven't panned out, Danilo Gallinari offers hope.

He was simply sublime tonight, using his sweet shooting stroke, surprising handle and toughness to drop 40 points on the hapless Magic.

He's the sort of player every team could use, with legitimate power forward size, both in height and build, but the offensive skills of a small forward.

He's not a great defender, but he's smart and works hard on that end.

After being hit with injury the last couple of seasons, it's great to see the Italian forward back on the court again.

Unlike the other Nuggets vets, his strengths won't fade with age or declining athleticism and at 26, he could be productive for another decade if he can stay healthy.

His contract is up next season and there will be plenty of suitors for his services, but Denver should do their best to keep him on board.

While the Magic draft picks have been low-value for their draft position, the Nuggets have done an excellent job getting the most out of their picks, with Faried and Lawson good examples.

But it's Jusuf Nurkic who has been their true draft steal.

The Bosnian rookie has the quick hands and nimble footwork to be a terror defensively.

While he fouled out in 21 minutes, it was easy to see why the team traded Mozgov to give their young C more playing time.

Despite his broad frame, Nurkic is light on his feet on both ends, with promising touch in the post for a player his age.

In a redraft of the 2014 draft it's hard to see Nurkic falling out of the top 10 now that NBA teams have seen his huge upside.

His foul count will need to come down, but he has great chemistry with Gallinari on the court and the pair make a formidable frontline going forward.

Will Barton was the other standout young player for Denver.

I've long been a fan of Barton's and kept waiting for Portland to give him a chance, but he seems to have found his niche in Denver.

The Memphis guard is the ideal sixth man, bringing energy, toughness and amazing vision.

He always seems to know where people are on the court and it was his playmaking for Gallinari in the second quarter that really broke the game open for the Nuggets.

His jumper is still a bit shaky, but certainly not broken, and his inability to put on weight is a concern, but he makes up for it with grit and surprising hops.

The 6'6 guard was a rebounding machine in college and he displayed that same knack for offensive boards against Orlando.

Barton is similar in a lot of ways to Lance Stephenson in Indiana, with similar court vision, rebounding ability, transition scoring and toughness.

But he lacks Stephenson's volatile temperament and if he doesn't get lost in the crowd of guards on the Nuggets roster he might finally live up to the hype he generated coming out of high school.

Looking forward, the Nuggets already have pieces that are critical for a rebuilding team - a centre who can anchor the team defensively and shows signs of offensive ability and a stretch power-forward.

Guards are a dime a dozen but the frontcourt is crucial.

Taking a small forward or a shooting guard with shooting range is the logical move for the Nuggets in the draft, with Hezonja, Winslow or Oubre possibilities if they don't win the lottery.

Finding a star player will remain the challenge in Denver, but if they find the right coach who can institute a more egalitarian offensive system then the team can fill the void when older teams like the Mavericks, Spurs and Grizzlies start to drop off.

Speaking of the right coach... Ettore Messina should be at the top of their wish list.

This one got away from me again, will try to cut it down next time, but I hope you enjoyed it.

Feel free to comment or disagree, I'm happy to defend my positions.

The next teams I'll be covering are Heat and Celtics on Wednesday (or Thursday for Australians).


Both teams are stuck in the NBA equivalent of no-man's land, but with the right draft picks in this year's draft, they could start building towards a Toronto Raptors level team.

In a pinch, I'd take Denver over the Magic going forward, simply because of the rarity of a player like Nurkic.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye 2014-15: Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz

Hi all,

After honing my craft for a year in an Australian newspaper I'm back at uni doing a Masters degree, which means I finally have time to get back to this blog.

What better way than by bringing back the "Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye" series I did a while back.

With the regular season rapidly nearing its end, the focus shifts to the serious business of the playoffs as we all try to forget that the Sixers and Knicks were part of the NBA this season.

But before that happens, this series will take a look at each of the lottery-bound teams set to miss out on the post-season, offering analysis, a review of their key players and outlook for the future based on my observations from a single game late in the season.

First up are the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons, who played each other on Saturday, March 14, with the Jazz earning a 88-85 win at home.

Let's start with the road team.


The Pistons were a massive disappointment early in the season as Josh Smith stymied Stan Van Gundy's efforts to recreate the success he enjoyed in Orlando in his return to the bench.

At 5-23, the Pistons straight up waived Smith, proving that you can't put a price on chemistry (although you could argue it's around the $26 million Smith was owed in the final two years of his contract).

The run that followed instilled belief in fans that the team could deliver on its pre-season promise and find a place in the playoffs, until Brandon Jennings went down for the season with a ruptured achilles in late January.

With the trade-deadline looming, Van Gundy (also serving as GM) traded off a few pieces (including back-up PG DJ Augustin) to acquire Oklahoma City malcontent Reggie Jackson from the Thunder.

Jackson had been making rumblings about wanting to start since before the season and the Thunder traded for Dion Waiters as insurance.

After "Neon" Dion arrived, Jackson's production fell off a cliff and they were happy to let him go (and pick up Enes Kanter to boot!) rather than overpay to keep him in the summer.

So it was that the Pistons, after a tumultuous season with a fluid roster, prepared to face off against Utah.

From the outset, the difference between the two teams' mindsets was apparent.

Utah played with a collective intensity, moving the ball and savagely rebuffing entry into the paint.

However, Detroit seemed more like a collection of pieces that didn't quite fit.

Reggie Jackson learned his craft from Russell Westbrook, but seems to have picked up the Thunder All-Star's worst traits without realising the limitations of his own talent.

While Russ can afford to be in attack mode because he's a supremely gifted scorer and athlete, Jackson is far less capable of finishing in the paint or even getting past his man to get there.

It's hardly surprising that a bench player who wanted to compete against the best in the NBA played selfish basketball, but it was ugly to see him dribble the air out of the ball and take shots that were questionable to say the least.

What's worse is Reggie possesses none of the chemistry with Detroit's talented young frontcourt players Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe that Brandon Jennings had forged in Smith's absence.

Van Gundy is embracing the pace and space era, but in Jackson, he has a point guard who seems determined to resurrect hero ball in Motor City, bringing the numerous problems with OKC's offensive schemes with him to the new team.

As the game went on, the Pistons' starting PG was benched for Spencer Dinwiddie, who registered six assists to Jackson's zero and finished the game a +/ 10, while Jackson earned a -13.

With Reggie Jackson a restricted free agent after the season, it will be interesting to see if Stan the Man brings him back or forms a fucking wall to keep him out of Detroit and hopes for a speedy recovery for Jennings.

Going back to Drummond (who is one of my favourite young players), I didn't get to see much of him as he left the game with a concussion at half-time, but it wasn't a strong showing.

Matching up against the insanely long Rudy Gobert, Drummond struggled to keep him off the boards and couldn't find a rhythm.

Coming out of high school, Drummond wowed me with his ball-handling, lateral quickness and body control facing up.

So why is he being forced to play with his back-to-the-basket?

While he does have decent touch at the rim, he doesn't have the size of a Cousins to be able to just bully people in the post and it would be great to see him get an opportunity to face up those few big men who have him beat in sheer length like Gobert.

Defensively, Drummond needs to improve his awareness and team D, but his raw shot-blocking instincts remain and hopefully another year with Van Gundy at the helm will give him a better understanding of anchoring a team.

Part of the reason for Drummond's lack of face up opportunities and defensive struggles might be his frontcourt partner, Greg Monroe.

The Georgetown product arrived in Detroit as part of the 2010 draft, which also featured Utah players Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, and instilled hope in the franchise as a mobile C, capable of getting steals, scoring in the post and making smart passes.

But when asked to move to PF to accomodate Drummond, Monroe's defensive limitations because apparent, as he no longer enjoyed the speed advantage he had before and had less room to work in the paint, with Drummond also lurking near the rim.

Both players have different strengths, but a common weakness requiring them to stay near the rim makes it difficult for this duo to co-exist happily.

Monroe had a rough game against Utah, being out-muscled by Favors on several occasions and unable to use his post-moves to get a clean shot against Gobert's looming arms.

Moose's body language was appalling in the early going, constantly complaining at the referees for foul calls that weren't warranted.

After Drummond took a seat, Monroe was able to find a bit more success, but it's uncertain whether he'll be willing to return to the Pistons as an unrestricted free agent this season (especially if he's relying on Reggie Jackson to feed him in the post).

Another player who had a poor showing was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the 6'6" shooting guard from Georgia in his second year as a pro.

After blowing up summer league, it seemed like KCP was getting comfortable in the League and had some success early alongside Jennings, but he was struggling to find open looks for threes.

Despite a disappointing year, I strongly believe KCP will be a long-term started in Detroit and find his feet in the NBA.

He's a better shooter than his numbers suggest, gives effort defensively, has ideal size and doesn't seem to have an ego problem.

Dinwiddie looks to be another keeper for the rebuilding Pistons, with a good understanding of when to shoot, a willingness to make the quick pass and a humble approach.

He's an ideal back-up for this team once Jennings returns.

Overall, the Pistons have a lot of work to do before they are a legitimate playoff team.

Their ball movement needs work, the spacing was appalling and it was only through the efforts of proven vets like Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver that they were able to fight back in the 4th quarter, while Reggie Jackson watched from the bench.

With the playoffs out of reach, the Pistons need to address their spacing issues in the draft with a stretch-4.

Luckily, there could be a few options available in their projected draft range, including Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Lyles and Myles Turner.

Failing that, a small forward who can spread the floor and defend is a must, with Kelly Oubre the best candidate in their draft range.

After missing out on the first round of the 2014 draft, the pressure will be on Van Gundy to deliver this year.


As I touched on earlier, the Jazz were the polar opposite of the Pistons in terms of demeanour, chemistry and play style in this game.

The Jazz kept their man Gordon Hayward in the off-season, had Favors locked up already, another talented big in Kanter, a polished young PG in Trey Burke, an ideal sixth man in Alec Burks, a lengthy menace in Rudy Gobert on the bench and of course, lottery pick Dante Exum, the raw kid out of the Australian high school ranks.

On paper, this team had a promising young player at every position, enviable big man depth and just enough experience from Hayward and Favors to think about threatening for the playoffs.

Instead, the team struggled early, with Kanter and Favors suffering from the same issues defensively as Drummond and Monroe, Burks going down for the season after a promising start and Exum seeming totally overwhelmed by the play of the NBA.

However, after basically giving Kanter away at the deadline and moving Rudy Gobert into the starting line-up and Trey Burke to the bench, the team has been on a tear.

Although Favors and Gobert don't space the floor to the three-point line, Favors can hit the mid-range J and is quick enough to get out to PFs on the outside, while Gobert has been a revelation in his second season, dunking on everything, gobbling up the boards like m&ms and blocking so many shots that he earned the nickname Stifle Tower - or the French Rejection if you prefer.

This was the first time I watched a full game of Exum since the Nike Hoop Summit, where I fell in love with his amazing first step, great body control, end-to-end speed and defensive quickness.

Although he didn't wow me like he did then, it was clear that he was no bust.

Exum displayed sound instincts for making the right pass, knew when to drive and when to dish - in particular knowing how to get Gobert dunks - and despite not getting much lift on his jumper, he was able to hit a few open 3s.

Exum's shooting form reminds me of Jason Kidd in Dallas, it's very stable, has a fairly low release point, but it's effective.

Defensively, Exum was a big reason why Jackson struggled to get clean looks, using his length at 6'6" to threaten passing lanes and contest shots.

Like Harrison Barnes, Exum looks best in the starting line-up, as opposed to carrying the second unit and it's a credit to Jazz coach Quin Snyder that he recognised that.

Exum looks like what Michael Carter-Williams should have been, but will still need to tighten up his handle and get stronger.

Favors has come a long way since 2010, when he was taken third in the draft by the Nets before coming to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.

The Jazz under Ty Corbin seemed determined to turn the natural PF into a C, but he never had quite enough size to play the position effectively and seems much more comfortable alongside Gobert at the 4.

He has enough size to score over guys like Monroe and the length to protect the rim when teams try to drag Robert out of the paint.

There were a few notable instances where Favors flat-out annihilated Monroe's shot attempts in the post and he seemed a lot springier than he was last year.

Rudy Gobert took everyone by surprise this season and while I'd heard how well he'd been playing since the All-Star break, it's not until you watch him over the course of a game that you realise why people are saying he could have been the #1 pick in a redraft (even over guys like the Greek Freak).

He runs the floor extremely well, he's got quick feet for his size and, critically, he plays within his limits, rolling to the basket for finishes, setting enormous screens and getting boards.

Unlike similar behemoths Hasheem Thabeet and Roy Hibbert, Gobert has a strong enough base that he doesn't get pushed around on the block or boxed out for rebounds.

Utah found an absolute steal in Gobert and his chemistry with Exum is set to improve relations between France and Australia exponentially.

Gordon Hayward, the de facto franchise player in Utah, didn't have a great game, finishing with 12 points on 4-8 shooting, with 3 assists, 5 board and 6 turnovers.

However, his impact can't be measured in stats and he was a steady presence for this young team, not forcing anything, cutting off the ball and making quick decisions.

He was miscast as a first scoring option last season and while that hasn't quite changed, the development of the player around him has allowed Hayward to be more efficient.

He's bulked up considerably since entering the NBA and is a true mismatch at the SG position, with great size and quickness.

Although I was desperate to see Hayward reunited with Brad Stevens at the Celtics, it's hard to see him leaving when his contract is up now that Ty Corbin is gone and team chemistry much improved.

If the Jazz had a weakness in this game it was their bench, with Trey Burke and Trevor Booker doing their best to keep a second-unit lacking in talent afloat with Burks still injured.

Burke drew comparisons to Chris Paul early in his college career for his poise, polished skill-set and leadership traits.

However, after a solid, but unspectacular rookie season, the Jazz decided to upgrade at point with Dante Exum having a higher ceiling.

But to Burke's credit, he didn't complain when he was moved to the bench and he seemed content in his role as sixth man so long as the team was winning (which it has been lately).

How long Burke is happy to come off the bench is unclear, but if Utah can sell him on the idea of being a Jamal Crawford type then he'll be a valuable contributor for years to come.

There's also potential for Burke to start alongside Exum once Burks returns, as he possesses the shooting range to play off the ball, while Exum has enough size to guard 2s (allowing Hayward to switch to the small forward).

Looking to the future, there isn't much Utah lacks outside of a superstar wing scorer, but given the way the league is going away from hero-ball, they might not need one.

If they can find a 3-and-D wing like Oubre to either start or come off the bench or a power forward to stretch the floor when they want to go small (similar to Detroit), then it's not hard to see them making a playoff appearance as early as next season if some of the perenial playoff powers drop off in the West.

It's a shame this team won't get a chance to play in the post-season, but good things come to those who wait, and there's no shortage of upside on this roster.

Despite a long-held dislike of Utah stemming from the Jordan-era and my personal dislike of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, this young team might make a Jazz fan of me yet.


Detroit has talent but doesn't fit, whereas Utah has great chemistry but is lacking that potential superstar.

This off-season will be critical for Detroit with two key pieces able to leave in free agency, whereas Utah just needs to hold the course and add a few veterans to anchor their bench.

I'll try to make the next one a little shorter, but it's good to be back and congratulations if you made it this far.

Watch this space for the next edition of Lottery Teams We Hardly Knew Ye.