Through nearly one-eighth of the NBA season, we’re just crossing into territory where we’ve seen enough basketball to start making some conclusions. For the Jazz, it goes without saying that some of these conclusions won’t be positive ones; by the same coin, even a team performing as badly as Utah will always have some bright spots to take away. With that in mind, I’ll be checking in with the Jazz every 10 games this season – where they’ve improved, where they need work, and what’s changing over the course of the year. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the first 10 games (all numbers are before Friday night’s game unless otherwise noted):
- Fresh off a piece by some crazy guy that compared him favorably with Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon, Enes Kanter is terrorizing all opposing big men not named Brook Lopez. His jumper and post-game continue to merit the sort of over-the-top hyperbole I heaped on him, although he’s seeing more and more double-teams in the post now that teams are recognizing how inept the Jazz are in nearly every other area of their offense. Despite this, he’s shooting over 53%, tops on the Jazz by a considerable margin. He’s also been a beast on the offensive glass, collecting 3.9 offensive rebounds per game, good for sixth in the NBA. Examining this more deeply, Kanter is third in the league in contested rebound percentage among qualified players, at 63.2%, and first overall among guys playing starter minutes (25+ minutes per game) for this same category, per SportVu data on NBA.com. He’s one of only six starters league-wide who snags over 50% of his contested rebounds, a sign that his strength and his compete level are elite. Look at him out-muscling the aforementioned Lopez for a contested board (excuse the random sound blip):
If he does this for a full season, I’ll be comparing young Jazz players to all-time legends a lot more frequently.
- Hayward has been mostly positive in his expanded role this year. His scoring efficiency has largely remained intact despite his increasing usage, a perfectly acceptable result for a former third option who is now the focal point of an offense. The real success has been in the other areas of his game, where so far he appears to have made large improvements in both his rebounding (5.9 per 36 minutes compared to 3.8 last season) and assists (4.9 per 36 minutes, 3.0 last year) per basketball-reference.com. His three-point shooting has momentarily declined and his turnovers are up, but these are likely the results of far less open looks courtesy of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, and should improve as he becomes even more comfortable in his new role. Time will tell, but the baby-faced Hayward may be playing his way into the max deal the Jazz were reluctant to give him this offseason.
- Utah’s two most used lineups this year, by far, are the four-man combo of Hayward, Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Richard Jefferson, along with either John Lucas or the recently-waived Jamaal Tinsley. These two lineups have played nearly 30% of the available minutes for the Jazz, and both have been absolutely destroyed by opponents. The lineup including Lucas is being outscored by 13.1 points per 48 minutes, per NBA.com, and the Tinsley version (which we thankfully won’t see anymore) had a disgusting -32.5 rating per 48 minutes. There may not be many better options, but consider that this exact same foursome combined with Alec Burks instead of Lucas or Tinsley is actually a small positive, outscoring opponents by 8.3 points-per-48.
- By this point, it doesn’t take a microscope to see Utah’s issues on offense. The spacing is awful, there’s hardly an average jump-shooter by position on the entire roster, and no one outside of Hayward and (sometimes) Kanter has even the slightest ability to create their own shot. Their performance against the Pelicans on Wednesday was enough to elevate them away from “worst shooting team ever,” at least temporarily, but that’s about as rosy as things have gotten so far this season. Per MySynergySports.com, the Jazz are in the bottom five league-wide in points-per-possession for three of the most important play types run: pick-and-roll (26th), spot-up shooting (29th), and transition play (30th). Even the dreariest of situations usually have the occasional bright spots, though, right? The Jazz are no exception, as Synergy also shows us that Utah has had some success in other areas of their offense. They’ve been roughly league average in the post, certainly nothing to scoff at considering they lost one of the league’s premier post players over the offseason in Al Jefferson. Even better than average, though, have been simple screen-and-cut actions run for various Jazz wings. I touched on Burks’ effectiveness in these sort of sets last week, and he’s not alone in his effectiveness in this area. Check out a couple down screens for Hayward that led to good looks against a tough Chicago defense:
Jefferson and Lucas have also been above average on these sorts of actions, and the team has also had some success with simple hand-off plays that allow the receiver to obtain the ball with motion toward the hoop. And while trying to run a full offense based only on these sets would of course be foolish and predictable, a team like Utah could benefit from integrating them more heavily into their offense. For a group that’s struggled so mightily against improving NBA pick-and-roll defense, the sort of easy looks and simple decisions created by these sets would be a welcome addition. Baby steps, to be sure, but there’s really nowhere to go but up after the way things have started.
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