Playoffs now a goal for Jazz after exceeding expectations

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) receives a high-five from a fan after their NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Monday, April 13, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Jazz won 109-92. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ahead of schedule and now general manager Dennis Lindsey has a decision to make.

Lindsey took the reins in 2012 and implemented a plan that called for a slow rebuild with young players, but the team has exceeded expectations. The Jazz finished 38-44 with a 13-game improvement from the 2013-14 season. The improvement was the second-best in the Western Conference and the sixth best in the NBA.

Lindsey now has what some would call “a good problem.” The team is expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2015-16 and Lindsey has to decide whether to stay at the same pace or accelerate.

“We’re actively discussing that,” Lindsey said. “We’ll put every scenario up on the board. Beyond timelines, we’ve got to get back to what’s fundamental for the Utah Jazz. If it’s using all of our money we’ve saved over the seasons for one guy, then so be it. But it has to be the right player with the right mindset that fits the group.

“We’ll come up with something that is sound. If sound means be bold, then we’ll do that. If it’s stay extremely young because we like the group and that, in our opinion, is the best alternative, we’ll go there.”

The Jazz had the sixth-best win percentage (65.5) in the NBA after the All-Star break. The five teams in front of them — Warriors, Clippers, Cavaliers, Spurs and Rockets — are all playoff teams. Outside of the Jazz, the top eight teams in post All-Star game win percentage are all in the playoffs.

Players cleaned out lockers, held exit interviews and met with the media a final time Thursday and said the playoffs are clearly the next step.

“Definitely a goal,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “This year was a good experience for everybody. … The next step is to be consistent. We have to make sure to bring it every single night, and that’s a hard thing to do in the NBA, especially for younger guys.”

Defense was the Jazz’s calling card during their post All-Star success. The Jazz ranked No. 1 in the league holding teams to 89.0 points per game and No. 2 in opponent field goal percentage (42.2) during that period. The emergence of 7-foot-1 shot blocker Rudy Gobert after Enes Kanter was traded to Oklahoma City solidified the defense.

The offense, however, was the second-worst in the league after the break and where the biggest strides can be made during the offseason.

Hayward and Favors averaged career highs in scoring this season. They were the consistent scoring threats.

Gobert is a candidate for Most Improved Player and plans to spend this offseason getting stronger and developing an offensive game after getting most of his points off put-backs and rolls to the rim.

The team is encouraged with the point guard position, but far from satisfied. Rookie Dante Exum was the No. 5 overall pick and eventually moved Trey Burke to the bench but was not much of an offensive threat. Burke embraced his sixth-man role and provided an offensive punch to the second team, but was streaky and shot 36.8 percent on the year.

The wing is the other area needing an offensive boost, but the answers may be on the roster. Rookie Rodney Hood averaged 11.2 points and shot 48.0 percent from the field in March after getting past foot injuries that held him out much of the season. He proved to be more than just a spot-up shooter.

The team signed Alec Burks to a four-year deal in October and he will return from a season-ending shoulder injury. He averaged 13.9 points before the injury.

Those two may be enough, but that’s an area Lindsey could target in the offseason.

“Obviously, our expectations are high, but there’s also a realism that we know is always present,” coach Quin Snyder said “But through that it’s going to require guys, including (Lindsey) and myself, to continue to persevere.

“With that attitude, we’ll be able to stay committed to a process and hopefully over time we’ll continue to see results.”

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