SALT LAKE CITY — Right before the start of the Utah-San Antonio series, TNT analyst Charles Barkley, talking about the Jazz, declared, "That's the best young team in the NBA. From a talent standpoint, they are the best young team. I love their talent."
Barkley went on to predict a long, difficult series between the Jazz and Spurs, so you have to question his judgment on that.
But his comments about the best young talent may be right on. It certainly is from a numbers standpoint and comparing the Jazz to the rest of the league.
The Jazz are not the youngest team in the league because of their four players over the age of 30, as they rank 12th among the 30 teams at 26.6 years of age. However, no other team has four lottery picks age 22 or younger.
In fact, only one other team even has three lottery players 22 or younger (Minnesota) and the Jazz have three — Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter — who are all age 20 and younger. Those three rank among the eight youngest players in the NBA.
Not that lottery picks are guaranteed to be great players, but the future looks awfully bright with the foursome of 19-year-old Kanter, Favors and Burks, both 20, and Gordon Hayward, the old man of the bunch at age 22. All are young enough they could still have been in college this past season with Hayward a senior, Favors and Burks juniors and Kanter a sophomore.
Each of the four valued their experience this year and say they plan to work hard in the offseason.
Hayward played the most of the four, earning a starting spot in his second year and averaging 11.8 points and 3.5 rebounds, while starting 58 of 66 games.
He plans to spend most of his summer in his hometown of Indianapolis working out.
Perhaps it's the bad memory of the last two playoff games when he made only 1 of 18 field goal attempts, but Hayward said his main goal in the offseason is "to become an elite-level shooter."
He also said he wants to "develop strength and use my athleticism to take it to the rim and get to the free-throw line some more."
Favors is still raw in many ways but a lot of experts feel he has the potential to be an all-star forward in the league. In the four playoff games, he averaged nearly 12 points and 10 rebounds per game.
"Oh, he's going to be a special player," said coach Tyrone Corbin. "He's a special player now, but he's going to be even better. He's a young guy and he's so athletic. He's got a great body now and he'll continue to get stronger and quicker. I'm excited about his upside — he's going to be a great player."
Favors might be the quietest player on the Jazz, but he didn't shy away from a question asking if he could see himself becoming the face of the Jazz franchise.
"Yeah I do — I feel that would be a big accomplishment and I'm working towards that," he said.
Favors is going to Santa Barbara to work out with teammates Al Jefferson and Kanter. He said there are specific things he needs to work on.
"I need to get stronger and a little bit more explosive and work on my conditioning," he said.
"I want to improve my offensive game, improve my jump shot and just improve overall."
Jefferson, who might be one player the Jazz might want to use in a trade, says he hopes he can be Favors' teammate in the future.
"He's only getting better and better," Jefferson said. "And when he learns how to really get some great post moves and how to use his athleticism instead of running over people … it's going to be trouble."
Kanter didn't play that much for a No. 3 draft pick, but he had sat out the entire year before when he was on the Kentucky roster and not allowed to play by the NCAA. Corbin singled Kanter out as the player who had come the furthest during the season.
Kanter was a little lost at the start of the season, especially after the Jazz traded Mehmet Okur, a fellow countryman from Turkey. But he came out of his shell and joked around with his teammates and made a memorable dance appearance before a home game.
"This year I learned so much. I learned so much from Al, from the playoffs and (playing against) Duncan," he said. "When I wasn't on the court, I watched what other players did. I'm going to work on my post moves and my passes and get more faster."
Burks played the least of the four young Jazzmen, but he saw more minutes as the year wore on and after Raja Bell went out for good in late March, Burks' minutes picked up and he was often in the games in the fourth quarter.
The former Colorado star has a knack for getting to the basket and drawing fouls and many folks believe he can be an NBA starter if he develops a consistent jump shot. He said there's not one specific thing he's working on this summer.
"It's not just one thing, but I need to work on everything to become a more complete player," he said. "I need to get better by doing everything I can."
"Alec had a great year for a young guy and he'll continue to develop," said Corbin. "His upside is up to him — how much time he's willing to put in to work to get better and understand the game at both ends of the floor."
It's not hard to project a future Jazz starting lineup that includes all four of Utah's young lottery picks, with Kanter at center, Favors at power forward, Hayward at small forward and Burks as the shooting guard. Now all they need is a young point guard and the Jazz starting lineup could be set for a decade.
Corbin sees a bright future and said all his young guys need now is experience.
"You look at teams and how they've been together and had some battles," he said. "You look at Oklahoma City three years ago. They've had to grow to where they are. They've added personnel, but they've had that core group. It takes awhile to get through the process. If you don't go through the process, then it's difficult to get there. We're growing in it and expect to continue to get better."
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