Have you heard the phrase about “knowing just enough to be dangerous”? That’s where we as a Jazz community are right now.
We finally have real basketball to dissect, with the first 48 minutes of the new-era Jazz behind us. This is potentially dangerous ground because, hungry to find meaning, we ought not draw hasty conclusions based on a single evening’s worth of data points. I try to avoid pulling anything too specific from a solitary game, but there were some general themes on display last night.
1. This team has enough talent to compete.
They might not win a whole bunch of games, but Utah’s young core is going to go for it and, particularly at home, they’re going to be in a lot of their games. The final outcome might have been a let-down, but the first night of real 2013-14 Jazz basketball was fun, encouraging and competitive.
Let’s take a look at a couple more general themes reiterated by last night’s game.
2. This Jazz team can score… if they share the ball.
After an entire summer of people wondering out loud whether the Jazz would be able to find offense, the team answered with six players in double figures and a 98-point outing.
But be careful about getting too excited. They did that largely because four different players had 5+ assists, which won’t be the case every night. In fact, the second quarter saw them stagnate quite a bit, with an offensive rating of just 79 for the quarter. They hit an even worse (albeit shorter) dry spell in the decisive fourth quarter that probably cost them the game (more on this 4Q funk in a minute). Both stretches involved a lack of ball movement.
If the Jazz could have kept their turnover total in the teens and hit a few more of their free throws, they would have broken the century mark and likely won the game. So I think the worries about where the points will come from, while not unfounded, will largely be answered by committee.
3. The Jazz could use some help from Brandon Rush & Marvin Williams.
I’m sincerely happy for Mike Harris (13 points in 22 minutes for his Jazz debut), but I’m confused at the praise he’s getting for defending Kevin Durant. Yes, Durant had a rough spell in the fourth quarter, going 0-for-4 with two turnovers from the 9:51 mark to 4:01, mostly while being guarded by Harris. But he still scored 15 of OKC’s 20 points in the quarter, and nobody should be doing a celebratory dance after a guy goes to the line 24 times, tying a Jazz opponent record for freebies.
The other area where Utah could use from help from their tandem of injured wings is from deep. After a rough preseason from behind the three point line, Utah netted just 27% of its triples last night.
4. Derrick Favors & Gordon Hayward will play as much as their foul count will let them.
Corbin seems ready to stick with Favors & Hayward pretty heavily. Favors got 43 minutes against the Thunder and rewarded his coach with a nice do-it-all line of 15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and a couple of blocks.
Hayward saw significantly less time because of foul trouble, but Corbin played him as much he dared. This was made obvious by the fact that he kept him on the floor with two fouls early, brought him back to end the half despite having three fouls, and inserted him into the fourth-quarter lineup even at the expense of a hot Alec Burks.
We’ve heard that these two are going to the leaders, and if game 1 is any indication, I think the “minutes played” column will bear that out.
5. How good Jazz can be will depend a lot on Jamaal Tinsley’s role and Trey Burke’s healthy return.
That’s a polite way of saying that the Jazz didn’t get a ton of encouragement from John Lucas III in the opener. Corbin didn’t have a lot of options given that Tinsley is limited by his conditioning; Burks saw a few minutes at point, but right now this team is relying on Lucas as its floor general, and I’m not sure that’s his ideal role.
I’m not anti-Lucas at all, and I actually think he is a nice value pickup if all you’re looking to do is give Burke a back-up that will give the team a different look without really challenging the rookie’s minutes (which is what he was hired to do). But the situation has changed now, and I think the team is biding its time until a purer point is available, especially down the stretch.
Lucas’ fourth quarter against OKC was pretty underwhelming: 0/2 with 0 assists and a turnover. The team performed better during Tinsley’s short stint, too. It was a 12-point OKC lead when Lucas sat down in the third quarter, and 14 by the time Tinsley took point guard duties from Burks. Over the next 6+ minutes with Tinsley in, the Jazz went on a 15-7 run. When Tinsley handed the reins back to Lucas, the Jazz would come up empty on five of their next seven possessions.
To be fair, Lucas was a net 0 in second-half +/-, which is precisely why extrapolating too much out of a couple isolated stretches is a shaky proposition. But I think for the Jazz to close games effectively, they need either Tinsley or Burke to be ready to serve as floor generals for the bulk of games so that JL3 can return to his role as the change-of-pace bench guard.
6. Rudy Gobert doesn’t want to wait.
Gobert only scored a bucket in his NBA debut, but he made his presence felt. He grabbed a rebound for every 3.3 minutes played and, while he came up empty on blocks, he was absolutely a paint deterrent.
Gobert checked in at the 4:10 mark of the third quarter and checked out with 2:58 left in the game. In that 13:12 stretch, OKC did not score in the paint. In fact, OKC only scored 16 points over that 13+ minute stretch – 13 points off of jumpers and three points from the line.
Gobert shouldn’t get all of the defensive credit, but if the rim defense is that good when he’s on the floor, Corbin’s going to have a hard time giving the backup center minutes back to Andris Biedrins.
7. Utah will have to compete on the glass to compete on the scoreboard.
Enes Kanter had just one rebound at the half and the Jazz were getting a nine-point shellacking thanks in large part to a grundle of second-chance points by OKC. In the second half, Kanter and his peers stepped it up and the Jazz made it close. But Utah isn’t going to be good enough this year to win despite giving extra possessions to its opponents.
8. This will be a fun team to watch.
What else did you draw from Utah’s season-opening 98-101 loss to OKC? Join the conversation in the comments section below.