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Are The Utah Jazz Too Young To Win?

The Utah Jazz are off to a 0-7 start under Head Coach Tyrone Corbin this season and it starting to look like there will not be any easy nights for this very young and inexperienced team.

Gone from last year’s 43-win squad are veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to make room in the starting lineup for Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Veteran guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye are out to create more time for Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and rookie Trey Burke. The young guys are getting all the minutes they can handle and possibly more.

“They are young and some are growing into the position that they are in,” Corbin said. “I have said to the guys and I’ll continue to say it, we just have to work our way through this. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. This will show a lot about who we are and who you are. How you fight through adversity. How do you come back and compete after getting your butt kicked a little bit the night before. We have to continue to learn those lessons now so we don’t have to get them later on.”

Haywood (age 23) is averaging 35.7 minutes a night, Kanter (age 21) 34.1 minutes, Favors (age 22) 33.9 minutes and Burks (age 22) is averaging 28.4 minutes off the bench. 21-year-old rookie center Rob Gobert is averaging 13.3 minutes. Even undrafted rookie shooting guard Ian Clark (age 22) has averaged 10.4 minutes in 5 games. A very young rotation is expected to get even younger very soon as the Jazz’s ninth overall 2013 draft pick Trey Burke is on the verge of being cleared to return to basketball related activities following right index finger surgery in October. Burke will play big minutes once he’s able.

Being this young puts a lot of pressure on the Jazz players to learn and grow up fast.

“(Hayward) and Enes and Derrick will have the ball in their hands a lot more,” Corbin said. “Burks, we will put the ball in his hands a lot now because of where we are and how the team is built. We look for Gordon at times to facilitate the offense for the other guys and try to help them get easy baskets because of his versatility. Burks, we do the same thing with him to try and help Enes and Derrick out. There is a lot of growing for those young guys and we are putting a lot of pressure on them at this point.”

The Jazz’s top 4 scorers are all under 24-years-old. The team has veterans to help guide the young guys, but everything is focused on improving the up-and-coming talent. This represents a very different situation for Corbin from last season and he has to keep reminding himself about just how young this team really is. He is also has to do a lot more work to get his points across.

“Absolutely (I have to remind myself about their youth),” Corbin said. “Listening to them and talking to them. Seeing how they react to certain situations. Seeing their frustration at times, it is new to them and I have to understand that. We are asking a lot of young guys (to be) in a difficult situation, (but) this is where we are, this is who we are, so we have to make sure we are working and learning our way through it.

“(I am) slowing down everything and repeating a lot of stuff over and over again and trying not to change so much that we are confusing the young guys and give them a chance to get used to things while we try to make adjustments and it’s been a little different. The last two years we have kind of been going through a transition we thought and now you start all over with a younger group, so there is a lot of going back and rehashing and seeing what is best for this group of guys.”

The only positive Corbin has been able to pull out of this inevitable losing streak is the experience being gained by his young core. Until Kanter, Favors, Hayward, possibly Burks and eventually Burke go through enough games to see firsthand what is like to play without the support of last season’s veterans, they won’t learn the hard lessons about what it takes to be an everyday starter in the NBA.

“(The positive is) experience for the young guys, just having them go through it and understanding just how difficult this league is and how important it is to be ready every night and how you have to study and understand your opponent every night you step out there on the floor,” Corbin said. “Even a guy’s name you may not know firsthand, these guys can play, so you have to make sure you are ready for everybody every night in this league.”

The young Jazz players are learning the lesson about just how hard it is to win in the NBA without last year’s veterans to lean on. It isn’t pretty and it’s pretty painful, but the Jazz have a plan. They have acquired 5 additional draft picks over the next 5 drafts. They will have between $20 and $30 million of salary cap space available next summer depending on what they do with Hayward – who they can make a restricted free agent. Plus, they are expected to have a high lottery draft pick of their own to use in what is anticipated to be a very strong draft class in June.

It is fairly obvious this season will not be about the wins and losses in Utah.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.