Utah Sports Ruckus: Grading the Jazz's rebuild so far

By Nate Gagon

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 22 2014 2:15 p.m. MDT

Butler forward Gordon Hayward addresses the media after being as picked by the Utah Jazz in the NBA basketball draft in New York on Thursday, June 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Craig Ruttle, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that we know the Jazz are moving on without Tyrone Corbin as head coach, it’s time to look back and see where the franchise has succeeded thus far in its rebuilding process, and where it has fallen short.

At least in part, the Jazz’s rebuilding process began the day Jerry Sloan suddenly decided to retire — Feb. 10, 2011, to be exact. At the time the Jazz were 31-23, despite having lost 10 of 14 games, and were led by franchise cornerstone Deron Williams, along with Paul Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko and first-year Jazzman Al Jefferson.

After Sloan’s resignation, longtime Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin was named head coach and the Jazz finished the season by going 8-20 under Corbin and missing the playoffs.

After Sloan quit, it was widely reported that a rift between he and Williams had been the primary reason for his sudden retirement. Williams was traded about two weeks later to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for rookie Derrick Favors (the No. 3 overall pick in that year’s draft), Devin Harris and two future first-round draft picks.

Prior to that season, the Jazz used the 9th pick in the draft, a pick they had acquired via a previous trade, to select Gordon Hayward. They also drafted Jeremy Evans in the second round (No. 55 overall).

When the Jazz spent a top-10 pick on Hayward, they likely were hoping he could blossom into a No. 3 or No. 4 option on a championship-contending team by his third or fourth season — a team that the Jazz were probably hoping would include the likes of Williams, Jefferson and Millsap as the top options.

The Jazz didn’t know at the time that Hayward instead would become a key piece in a rebuilding process. Since that is what he did become, we should include the 2010 draft in our evaluation.

2010 NBA draft

On one hand, the Jazz did well in drafting Hayward at the No. 9 spot. On the other hand, they could have had arguably the best player in that year’s draft, Paul George, who went to the Pacers at No. 10. If George hadn’t still been available for the Jazz to take, this grade would be more like a B+. The fact is, however, the No. 1 player in that draft (at least judging after four seasons) was available to the Jazz and they didn’t take him.

A few data points in comparing Hayward and George at this point in their careers:

• Complexsports.com recently (Feb. 24) ranked the 25 best players in the NBA. They had George at No. 3, behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

• This season, George finished 13th in the NBA with player impact estimate of 15.7 (Durant and James were No .1 and No. 2), while Hayward scored an 11.2 (the exact same as Jimmer Fredette, coincidentally), which was the second-best score on the Jazz behind Derrick Favors and just inside the top 100 in the league.

• In John Hollinger’s player efficiency rating, George finished at No. 26 with a rating of 20.16, while Hayward finished tied for the No. 98 spot with a 16.22.

• In Hollinger’s estimated wins added stat, George finished at No. 15 with a score of 13.9, while Hayward finished at No. 46 with an 8.0.

• In do-overs of the 2010 draft I found online, Hayward was selected anywhere from No. 6 to No. 11, while George was most often taken No. 1 and never slipped past No. 2.

The facts would seem to indicate at this point that the Jazz could have landed a top-20 (maybe even top-10 or top-5) NBA player in George but instead got a top-100 (maybe top-50) player in Hayward. Considering that the Jazz, like all pro sports teams, invest heavily to make sure they get their draft picks right, taking Hayward over George looks like a pretty big strike for the franchise.

The Jazz did well in selecting Evans in the second round, as he looks to have established himself as a player worthy of a rotation spot on an NBA roster — something most second-round picks do not accomplish in the NBA. Of all 60 players selected in the 2010 NBA draft that have played at least 2,000 minutes, Evans has the second-best career win shares per 48 minutes at .143, behind only George’s .149.

Grade on 2010 NBA draft: C+ (though still somewhat to be determined)

Trade of Deron Williams

It’s clear the Jazz made the right choice in trading Williams when and how they did. He was never going to lead the Jazz to a championship.

This season, according to Hollinger, Favors at the age of 22 had a PER of 19.01 (No. 44 in the NBA) and an EWA of 9.2. (No. 36). Williams at the age of 29 had a PER of 17.69 (No. 64) and an EWA of 6.9 (No. 65).

So, at least by some measures, it seems Favors is already a more valuable player than Williams, so even if the 2011 trade had just been a straight Williams/Favors swap, it could be considered a positive for the Jazz, especially considering the age and salary differences.

Factor in the two additional first-round picks, which ended up being a No. 3 in 2012 and a No. 27 in 2013, and the Jazz made out like bandits. Perhaps they could have used those picks more wisely, but that’s a different step to evaluate later on.

Grade on Williams trade: A+

Making Tyrone Corbin head coach in 2011

Considering that Sloan’s longtime assistant Phil Johnson decided to quit with him in 2011, the Jazz did the right thing giving Tyrone Corbin the job. Corbin had been watching and learning from Sloan and Johnson for seven years, and was considered a hot up-and-coming coaching prospect.

Looking back now, it’s impossible to know who the Jazz might have appointed midseason instead that would have done a better job long term. Even Jeff Hornacek, a strong candidate for the NBA Coach of the Year award for the unbelievable job he’s done in his first season with the Phoenix Suns, was only a part-time shooting coach for the Jazz at the time. It would have been crazy for the Jazz to promote Hornacek instead of Corbin to head coach in 2011. Interestingly, it was Corbin that made the decision to bring Hornacek on as a full-time assistant coach after he was promoted.

Grade for promoting Corbin: B+

Handling of Corbin after he was named head coach in February 2011

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