Oct 12, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) tries to pass the ball around the back of Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
The 2016-17 NBA GM Survey was released on Tuesday and the Utah Jazz were the recipients of several instances of high praise.
Only one game remains in the Utah Jazz preseason as the revamped squad will look to make some final tune-ups before the regular season as they take on the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
Though there were some concerns about the team as a whole in some of their earlier performances, Monday’s blowout win over the Clippers gave fans a glimpse of just how deep, talented and dangerous this team can become once everything comes together.
And with such a convincing win after a summer full of exciting moves and praise for this Jazz team, expectations are now at an all-time high. Tuesday’s release of the 2016-17 GM Survey indicates that the media and fans aren’t the only ones with high hopes for the Jazz. They are being viewed as a top squad across the league.
To view the survey in its entirety and see just how much praise Utah is receiving, check it out here. As our very own Drew Mackay recently put it, the Utah Jazz hype train is still rolling, and the GM Survey solidifies that statement.
There were several pieces of the survey that should make fans excited about where the Jazz currently reside among the league’s greats this season. Here’s a look at each key category starting with where the GMs picked the Jazz to finish in the league.
Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) dribbles the ball as Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) defends during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Western Conference Rankings
Each NBA GM was tasked with ranking the top four teams in the Western Conference. The Utah Jazz ended up finishing in sixth place in terms of percentage of the total vote. This included 6.7 percent of GMs picking them to finish third in the West and 17.9 percent picking them to finish fourth.
These are pretty high marks, especially considering that Golden State received a whopping 96.7 percent of the first place votes. To think that several GMs had the Jazz finishing behind only the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers speaks volumes to their heightened reputation around the league.
Ranked in order of the percentage of votes received for belonging in the top four in the Western Conference, the GM selections went as follows:
San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers
In all honesty, I was surprised to see the Thunder ranked so high and while the Blazers will certainly be stiff competition, I can easily see the scenario where the 17.9 percent of GMs are correct in slotting the Jazz fourth. One could argue that the three-spot is also attainable, but then again sliding down to the sixth spot, as the final GM rating indicated, presents just as much of a case.
Regardless of where Utah ends up, the fact that a team that has missed the playoffs for four straight years is suddenly being projected by some to end up in the upper tier of the conference is a pretty meaningful compliment.
Oct 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) handles the ball in front of Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson (left) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Despite not grabbing the top spot in this category, the Utah Jazz were also recognized for their stellar offseason. When the GMs were asked which team made the best overall moves this summer, they resoundingly answered with the Golden State Warriors who received 83.3 percent of the vote.
That’s what happens when you add a superstar like Kevin Durant to an already loaded team.
But the Jazz came in at a tie for second place with the Indiana Pacers as both received 6.7 percent of the vote. The Boston Celtics rounded out the rest of the votes nabbing 3.3 percent.
And while Golden State most certainly had the most impressive single move of the offseason, I’d have to say that in regards to overall moves that reshaped an entire team, I’d have to agree with the 6.7 percent who voted for the Jazz.
The veteran additions of George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw all filled great roster holes and instantly turned the Jazz into one of the deepest squads in the league, a fact that most definitely didn’t go unnoticed by the GMs.
Ironically, the Pacers, who sent Hill to the Jazz, received high marks for their offseason as well which included additions such as Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. The Celtics were likely most recognized for their stellar addition of Al Horford.
So while Golden State stole the show in this category, for the Jazz to finish where they did shows just how good their offseason truly was. And the fact that they received that high praise without breaking the bank or dismantling their already existing core while tackling crucial needs makes it all the more impressive.
Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) goes up for a shot in front of Los Angeles Clippers guard Raymond Felton (2) during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
High Praise For George Hill
George Hill is by no means a flashy or high-profile guy. But he certainly is steady, consistent and one of the most respected point guards in the league. Although his name isn’t highly familiar among casual fans, he was a standout in the GM surveys as he was voted as the most underrated player acquisition, receiving 24.1 percent of the total vote in that category.
Ironically, Jeff Teague going to the Indiana Pacers (who moved George Hill to get him) came in as the second most underrated player acquisition, receiving 13.8 percent of the votes. The top five was rounded out by Andrew Bogut going to the Mavs (10.3 percent) and a tie between Serge Ibaka going to the Magic and Victor Oladipo going to the Thunder (6.9 percent).
Further praise for the Utah Jazz came in the form of teammate Boris Diaw receiving votes as the most underrated acquisition.
But Hill’s praise didn’t stop there. He was also a vote receiver for the one player who would make the biggest impact on their new team. Of course this category was quite skewed as Kevin Durant received a whopping 80 percent of the vote, eclipsing even second place Al Horford’s 13.3 percent.
Nevertheless, the fact that Hill appeared on the list at all is a clear indication that GMs realize just what kind of talent the Jazz added and just how seamlessly he should fit on this Utah squad. The loss to Phoenix aside, George Hill has looked solid in preseason, stuffing the stat sheet and executing precisely on both ends of the court.
The Utah Jazz front office was thrilled to have added him to the team and it appears the rest of the league is just as impressed with the move as well.
Oct 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) drives the ball defended by Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (right) during the third quarter at Staples Center. The Utah Jazz won 96-94. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
This is probably the category that I was most excited to see the Jazz in. Although Minnesota was selected by the GMs as the team that will be the most improved in 2016-17 with 56.7 percent of the vote, Utah came in at second place receiving 23.3 percent.
This isn’t to say that Minnesota will be a better team than the Jazz. In fact, the earlier stated Western Conference predictions seem to clarify that. However, Minnesota is certainly poised to jump up drastically from their 29-win season of a year ago.
Given that the Jazz finished just one game out of the playoffs last season, their improvement might not seem as dramatic as what Minnesota’s might be in terms of total games won. However, if Utah can truly break into the mid to upper playoff pack as some GMs predicted, those who voted for Minnesota over Utah may find themselves disappointed come season’s end.
Regardless of which team improves the most or raises their win total more, it speaks volumes about the Jazz that the league is already recognizing them as an up-and-coming talent that will more than likely build on what they started last season and reach newfound heights in 2016-17.
Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights (5) defends against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Recognition For Rudy
Rudy Gobert was the other Jazzman aside from Hill who received a significant amount of love from NBA GMs. He received votes as the best international player in the NBA only trailing the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kristaps Porzingis and Pau Gasol.
In my humble opinion, I’d say Nowitzki and the Gasol brothers were basically “grandfathered” into this category based more on their lifetime achievements rather than current talent. One could make a strong argument that as Rudy nears his prime, he could be ranked as a better player than these three are in the tail ends of their careers.
And if Gobert can continue to build on the success he’s had thus far in preseason, there’s no reason why he can’t shatter the selections of NBA GMs and cruise into that top-five mix.
But the recognition that Gobert is probably even more proud of is his selection by NBA GMs as the second best interior defender in the NBA, receiving 16.7 percent of the votes. DeAndre Jordan ran away with the top spot in that category with 50 percent of the GM votes, but Rudy’s second place selection is nothing to be ashamed of.
He beat out the likes of Draymond Green who received 10 percent of the vote as well as Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard who both received 6.7 percent.
And while Jordan is surely the “sexier” pick given the many playoff appearances he has helped lead his team to, Gobert was the league’s leading rim protector last season and will look to continue to expand his game in the paint as a defensive force.
It was disappointing to see that Gobert didn’t receive any votes for best overall defensive player in the NBA, but as he continues to dominate in the paint, he most certainly should break into this category. Ironically enough, only three power forward/centers appeared on this list (Green, Jordan, and Hassan Whiteside) and they all received 6.7 percent of the votes or less.
Kawhi Leonard dominated the category with 66.7 percent of GM votes, followed by LeBron James (10 percent) and Avery Bradley (6.7 percent).
Despite his absence from that list, Rudy’s other recognitions make it abundantly cleared that he is considered an elite player and defender in the league.
Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) and Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson (33) dive to the court for a loose ball during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
And despite Rudy Gobert not being voted into the category of best defensive player, the Jazz as a whole received high marks for their stifling defense.
The Jazz defense has finished among the elite in the NBA over the past couple years and between player improvement and savvy additions, it appears that facet of their game will only continue to get better.
The Utah Jazz finished in a three-way tie for the third-best defense in the league receiving 10 percent of the GM votes along with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Ranked in the exact same position defensively as the two reigning NBA Finalists? No complaints about that!
The GMs selected San Antonio as the top team defense with 50 percent of the vote and Boston received a slight edge over the third-place teams with 13.3 percent of the vote.
Seeing the Jazz ranked among the absolute elite in the league defensively is not only fitting, but also very encouraging. The age-old mantra that “defense wins championships” still holds true and while Utah needs to add more scoring punch to that elite defense, it certainly puts them ever closer to becoming a contender.
Oct 17, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Home Court Advantage
The final praise Utah received from the GMs was to be recognized as having one of the best home court advantages. The Jazz used to be known for having the toughest home court in the league, but with the team’s recent struggles, it hasn’t quite lived up to that expectation of late.
Nevertheless, considering that a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in years still came in at the fifth-best home court in the GM Survey is pretty impressive and is a tribute to the intensity and loyalty of Jazz fans. The Jazz received 5 percent of the votes in this category.
Of course Golden State ran away with this one, pulling in 58.3 percent of the vote. This should come as no surprise given how few teams have won a game at Oracle Arena over the past two years. The Jazz were also topped by the Denver Nuggets (16.7 percent), Oklahoma City Thunder (10 percent), and San Antonio Spurs (6.7 percent).
It’s interesting to note that four of the top six teams receiving votes are in the Northwest Division with Portland receiving 3.3 percent of the votes (Minnesota was the only team absent). This shows just how tough of a division the Jazz are in and how crucial it is that they defend their own home court.
Denver was likely present due to having the highest altitude of any NBA team, but the Jazz aren’t far behind. With a revamped team and heightened expectations, hopefully Vivint Arena can provide the crushing home court advantage that the Delta Center and Energy Solutions Arena once did in the glory days of old.
So while it’s certainly true that the Jazz have a lot to prove and that the GM survey is based on pure speculation, it’s still very exciting to see the oft ignored and overlooked Jazz receiving some true recognition from some of the league’s most knowledgeable minds.
And though the added expectations can definitely bring about more pressure, with one look at this survey, Utah should take pride in seeing their team mentioned time and time again. Then by harnessing that confidence, there’s no reason why the Jazz can’t reach these and even greater heights.