SALT LAKE CITY — There have been a few shocking wins (see: Miami and runaway wins over the Lakers and Clippers), as well as some stunning losses (see: Toronto and New Orleans).
And the way Utah jumped out to such a great start and remains a darkhorse playoff hopeful falls into the unexpected category for many outsiders.
But one aspect of this season, in particular, surprises Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor — and it pleasantly surprises him, for that matter.
"I didn't expect us to be able to play as many guys as we have, to be honest with you," O'Connor said. "Coach has done a good job in rotating those four young guys in the game."
The general manager was referring to Utah's 21-year-and-under club of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.
In some ways, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has shown playing-time favorability to his veterans, giving the impression that he values their experience and talent over some of the youngsters' promise and energy.
"We (are) just playing to continue to develop and do what gives us the best chance to win," Corbin said.
With somewhat of a win-now-win-more-later approach, Corbin has tried to blend youth into his rotations to give his potential-packed foursome much-needed development time on the court.
It's impossible to please everybody, of course. Guys like Bell and Miles have both found lack of opportunities to be frustrating at times, and a #FreeAlecBurks fan movement shows that there are some out there who would prefer even more chances be given the young guys.
But despite — knock on wood — a relatively healthy season, Corbin has managed to find sizable minutes for most of his players. Eleven regulars average between 13 and 33 minutes in Corbin's mix-and-match and ever-evolving rotation.
The versatile Hayward, who turns 22 next week, has flourished at times since coming off the bench and plays more minutes (27:32) than everybody but Millsap (31:24) and Jefferson (32:58).
The enticingly athletic and aggressive Burks hasn't had his number called in seven games, but the lottery pick from Colorado has averaged 13 minutes and 21 seconds in the other 36 games.
Hayward (26 points) and Burks (15 points) provided a nice offensive punch off the bench Thursday to help lift the Jazz over Minnesota in overtime.
"It's good," said Burks, who hadn't seen action in two games before Thursday's game. "I love playing with the young people, just showing that we can all play at this level."
The 19-year-old Kanter, a fierce rebounder with an improving offensive arsenal, averages 13:43. Favors, 20, has shown glimpses of greatness in his 19.5 minutes per outing, and he's coming off of a career-best 16-rebound effort.
Both young bigs figure to see increased playing time this weekend as well with the absence of Al Jefferson, who's with family in Mississippi for his grandmother's funeral.
Corbin couldn't have been prouder of his young guns after their critical roles in Thursday's 111-105 OT win.
The coach credited them for finding their effective spots on the floor, for learning to read their teammates and adapting to their cuts, and for improving on showing different looks on defense.
"It's been fun. It's frustrating sometimes because they are young and they (make) young mistakes," Corbin said. "But, you know what, they're growing. They're playing hard. They're trying to get better. They're studying the game and you see the growth as a result of that."
Just another example of why O'Connor and the Jazz are optimistic about the future. The GM wouldn't say if other teams came asking for any of those four potential-packed guys, but he did reconfirm that the group gives reason for hope.
"We like our young assets," he said, "and we weren't ready to part with that."
O'Connor also echoed a theory of Corbin's — that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to playing time.
"It's important every year to get into the playoffs," O'Connor said. "The thing that I think is a key for us — and we said it from the beginning — is to play meaningful games. … The intensity picks up, the quality of play picks up and those are the things that you get improvement on with your players."
It doesn't hurt that Corbin — and their older teammates — actually like the Junior Jazz members, too.
Added Corbin: "It's a great group of guys that continue to work to get better."
For now, that's all the Jazz can ask — for those players and the team.
"I'm comfortable with where we're at, but you're never happy. You shouldn't be," O'Connor said. "You shouldn't be happy in any situation. There's room for improvement."
Overall, Jazz brass are happy with the amount of winning and developing that's gone on this season.
"We're incorporating trying to play some of the younger players and also being able to try and compete to win the game," O'Connor said. "He's been able to handle that pretty darn well, and they've earned those minutes."6 comments on this story
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