SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The buzz around the Utah Jazz is that of an up-and-coming team ready to make a push into the playoffs after a strong finish to the 2014-15 season. The Jazz, however, are the fourth-youngest team in the league and coach Quin Snyder warns against penciling them into the postseason.
The Jazz, who kick off the season in Detroit on Wednesday, had the sixth-best winning percentage (65.5) in the NBA after the All-Star break, setting up some of those expectations.
Expectations and real life met in the second to last preseason game when Oklahoma City ran the Jazz out of the gym in a 113-102 game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Snyder didn’t mince his words.
“We’ve got an opportunity to be a good team, but it’s not like anybody or our team has done anything,” Snyder said. “… We were a good team for about two months. And we were a good team when other teams sometimes were resting a player … we weren’t playing teams that were competing for the playoffs very often.
“I’m not dampening any enthusiasm, but I’m being realistic about who our group is. And that’s what our group needs. We need to be realistic about the level that’s out there and if we want to reach it, it’s a hard road.”
The average age on the Jazz roster is 24 years and 206 days, according to STATS. Only the Blazers, Bucks and 76ers are younger — and only the Bucks are considered playoff contenders. The Spurs (30 years, 288 days), Mavericks, Clippers, Grizzlies, Heat and Cavaliers are the oldest teams in the league and the Mavs are the lone team not considered a title contender.
The Jazz are closer in age to the Brigham Young University men’s team (21.85 years average) than the Spurs.
Snyder used the Thunder as an example of everything they haven’t experienced. The Thunder lost to the Heat in the 2012 finals. Kevin Durant is a former MVP coming off an injury and hungry for a title. Russell Westbrook is a four-time All-Star scheduled to become a free agent, with a big decision to make, in 2017.
“That’s a team with an appreciation for how difficult it is to win in this league,” Snyder said. “They know you have to do everything and sometimes that’s still not enough on a given night unless you get lucky. We don’t understand that. Why would we? We haven’t been in that situation.”
The Jazz are basically NBA babies. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are the elder statesmen and they’re both just entering their sixth seasons. The Heat have 11 players who would be the oldest player on the Jazz roster. San Antonio has 10.
Still, both Hayward and Favors are expected to have career-type years. So is third-year center Rudy Gobert, who averaged 11.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks after the All-Star break. So is point guard Trey Burke, who seemed to get the starting job back when Dante Exum suffered a season-ending knee injury during the summer. General manager Dennis Lindsey considers fifth-year guard Alec Burks’ return from injury their star free-agent signing.
Players are taking the expectations in stride.
“It’s a learning experience, learning process for us as a team. I think we’ve realized we really haven’t accomplished anything,” said Hayward, who averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season. “Guys like you are really hyping us up and hyped us up all offseason, and we really didn’t deserve any of that.
“It’s been up and down for us in the preseason and we’re still a very young team. I think it’s going to be like that. There’s going to be nights during the season where there’s a lot of things to be learned.”
Snyder is just in his second year himself. He had this conversation many times with the roster before opening up after the Thunder game. Snyder preached a balance between “enthusiasm and realism.” They want to dream big, but also understand where they are in the process.
“Last year we were basically just going out there playing basketball,” Favors said. “This year, a lot of people expect stuff out of us. So we’ve just got to be ready for the pressure, ready for teams to be coming after us. Just be ready to play.”