1) The last time these two teams played, Trey Burke was a non factor, and in all honesty, he was probably a negative for the Jazz ... Now, he's the reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month. What's changed?
Trey is a rookie and as a result, he is inherently going to have consistency issues. I think there's no greater indication of this than his play around that Heat game. The previous five games to the game in Miami had Burke scoring 19, 15, 11, 10, and 20 points in it. In the games where his scoring was lower he was able to rack up 9 and 10 assists in them. His play was helping the team win games in that five game stretch. Then the Jazz had a night off in South Beach, then played against the two time defending Champs - it's easy to see him struggle. (For the record, yes, younger players are distracted on the road in nice places. This isn't up for debate. It's also why veteran players are extra focused in Utah, nothing to do.) Against the Heat he shot 1/8, his worst shooting performance of his NBA career to that point. And then in the next game in the road trip he dropped a 30 / 8 / 7 / 1 line against potential rookie of the year candidate Victor Oladipo and his Orlando Magic. Since the Miami game he has gone through more peaks and valleys. He's had a handful of 20 point games, and a few double doubles . . . and a few games of poor shooting, and inconsistent ability. And again, that's just that rookie life.
Now with the December and January Western Conference Rookie of the Month *awards* under his belt, I think he's getting more confidence. Confidence is the key to a young players performance. If you feel like you belong, your play will sort itself out. Up until a certain point, though. Burke has firmly faceplanted into the rookie wall right now. He hasn't scored 15 or more points once in his last eight games. His shot is off, and he freely admits he does not feel like he has any legs right now.
So, what changed with Burke? Probably just more time on the court, and more experience getting up to NBA speed. What are we likely to see tonight? Another bad shooting performance against the Miami Heat. So in one way nothing has changed for Burke in the mind of Heat fans; but for Jazz fans we've watched him much closer and he's going through the normative successes and struggles of a young player who is not conditioned for the NBA grind. And few rookies are.
1B) Follow up Trey Burke question: What are the chances he steals my girlfriend? She goes to Michigan, and loves him. I'm worried.
Zero chance of that, because he recently got engaged to his high school sweetheart whom his parents adore. The Burke's are a tight nit group, and very focused on maintaining Columbus, Ohio roots. She's probably the right girl for him because she was there back when he was getting injured back in VJ ball and not into him because he was a star. That said, I KNOW MAN! So many U of M ladies love Trey Burke! At least it makes more sense than all those Illinois undergrads who were in love with Dee Brown though. Okay, enough Big 10 talk.
2) This team has a lot of really intriguing young pieces. Which one do you think will develop in to the best player?
Can I say the 2014 NBA Draft lotto pick? Okay, I can't really say that. But out of this group I think the one player who looks to have a handle on the most traditional skills needed for success at their position I would say Derrick Favors. Favors has the requisite size and above average athleticism for his spot. While he's not quite getting the minutes some of his peers do (DeMarcus Cousins plays a lot more minutes than Favors), I think he holds his own in terms of production. There are flaws to his game, but defensive minded bigmen will always find a home in the NBA. And if he works at it hard enough, he can be a double double machine for years to come.
But honestly, you could make a case for each of these players. Trey Burke has the NCAA cred and big game ability. Alec Burks is the only other guy with the right size and above average athletic ability, and he already has an elite NBA skill in getting to the rim / getting to the line. Gordon Hayward shows flashes of brilliance and can take over games. Enes Kanter is super raw, but super young and isn't afraid of contact. I don't know which one is the most likely to develop into the best NBA player, but I do think that Favors is traditionally closest to what people would want from his position. So maybe I answered "who is most likely going to be best at fulfilling the role his coach has for him," vs. "who is going to be the best player," or something?
3) 5 years from now, where do you see the Jazz?
The Jazz should be where the Los Angeles Clippers are right now. A team with a core of players in their physical peak who can be really good at one thing (either defense or offense) - that is in the hunt to secure home court in the first round of the playoffs. Ideally, the Jazz would wish to build the team similarly to the Indiana Pacers, but the team really needs a star wing player to do that. One may come through this draft, but we could easily go another way depending on where we pick. I think the Clippers are a good idea because they have a mix of everything, but are built (essentially) around a pick and roll point guard and two bigmen who rebound and score in the paint.
4) Who do you see the Jazz pursuing in this year's draft?
Anyone with a heartbeat. The Jazz have recently increased their scouting department, and last year was a great test run. The Jazz scouted people from all over the world, and scouted people at each draft projection group. In addition to sending a legion of employees to the Chicago Draft Combine (I covered it on behalf of SB Nation), they were super active on draft night, trading picks, buying back into the first round, and moving a #14 and #21 to snag a Top 10. I really expect nothing less this time around.
Over the next two months I expect the Jazz to form their own Top 5 ranking and focus on 5 under-the-radar guys. It would be easier to predict who these players are if the Jazz drafted for need, but they always go best player available. So I wouldn't be surprised if they find even more size to focus on - despite this being a roster with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert all on the same squad.
5) What's your prediction for the game?
The Jazz played, and lost last night by 20 plus, to the Dallas Mavericks. I expect the team to play with some more heart. I predict we will lose though. Hayward and Burke are still in slumps, so hopefully our veterans like Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush will display that consistency and professionalism (and heart) that some of our youth have been struggling with over the last few weeks.