Similarities Between The Phoenix Suns And Utah Jazz

Feb 6, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) guards Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) guards Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Both teams are among the youngest in the league. Both teams saw major roster shakeups at the trade deadline that shifted their focus to the defensive end. And both teams have bright futures, though only one of them will end the 2014-15 season with some forward momentum.

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As the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz prepare to tip off Saturday night, the similarities between the two are readily apparent. Since the All-Star break, both the Suns and Jazz rank in the top five in the NBA for rebounds per game. Both teams have seen major improvements defensively after shipping away major pieces of the rotation (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas for the Suns, Enes Kanter for the Jazz).

However, as the Jazz have continued to build momentum toward their future with a 15-7 record since the break and a monster-in-the-making to feel good about in Rudy Gobert, the Suns have regressed in the opposite direction.

Utah has climbed all the way to 11th in the Western Conference despite a 6-19 start to the season; Phoenix, on the other hand, has fallen four games out of the playoff picture thanks to a 9-13 post-All-Star record.

A popular question at the start of the season surrounding these two teams was, “Who has the brighter future?” At the time, it seemed like the Suns were the no-brainer answer. After all, they were one of the youngest teams in the league with a stellar backcourt and a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

Now, the Jazz suddenly seem like the wiser choice, given the promise shown from a young core of Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. The Suns have Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris, but neither has shown the same consistent level of leadership that’s been on display from Hayward all season.

For the Suns and the Jazz, the remainder of the 2014-15 season represents a chance to get better and prepare to perhaps contend for one of the West’s final playoff spots a year from now. Only one of the two is succeeding at that at the moment, however.

The Suns are coming off their fifth defeat at the hands of a game-winner after Harrison Barnes sank Phoenix at Oracle Arena Thursday night. The Jazz, meanwhile, are in the middle of a three-game win streak. But in spite of all of Utah’s improvement, head coach Quin Snyder isn’t buying into it too much.

“We haven’t achieved anything,” he said. “I think there’s a tendency to say, ‘Hey you’ve been playing better since the All-Star break’ and whatnot, but it really means very little. What’s important is that we can hopefully improve as a team. Not just play better, but get better.”

Snyder reflected on a struggle similar to what the Suns are dealing with: a young team growing together in the brutal West.

“We’re younger than BYU,” he said. “So with the level of experience on the court, I think the games, for us, exponentially help. The more we play, we get to know each other better.”

Phoenix, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, is certainly hoping to accomplish something similar. Unfortunately, it might be difficult to do so with the Suns figuratively and literally limping to the finish line. Brandon Knight will miss his 11th game tonight due to an ankle injury and Alex Len is still sidelined after having surgery on his nasal bone to repair a broken nose.

The Suns have been a better defensive team with Marcus Morris inserted in the starting lineup and P.J. Tucker moving to the two, but they’ve certainly taken their lumps this season with a league-leading 17 losses in games decided by five points or fewer.

However, the good news of falling out of the playoff picture will be more minutes for the younger players, like T.J. Warren, who is coming off a 17-point, 8-for-12 shooting performance against the Golden State Warriors.

Head coach Jeff Hornacek noted that the two standout rookies in tonight’s game, T.J. Warren and Rudy Gobert, are similar in the way they’ve surprised the rest of the league over the last few weeks.

“When you draft these guys, you see something in their abilities, maybe something unique that could work at the NBA level,” he said. “With those two guys, they’re different, but both organizations saw something in these guys that, with some learning, going through the process a little bit, they’re going to be great players.

“We have T.J. Warren, and we saw that unique knack to make shots. They may look like they’re off-balance, but really they’re not, that’s his shot. Now that he’s been through it and now that he’s getting some opportunities, you see how he can play.”

Both teams are still a piece or two away from contending in the brutal West. Both teams are heading for the NBA Draft lottery. But most of all, both teams still have bright futures despite the unfortunate circumstances of their 2014-15 season.

Next: Phoenix Suns: How Their Defense Improved And Their Offense Died

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