We all know what has transpired since the All-Star break. The Utah Jazz have gone 8-2, which happens to be the NBA’s second best record since that time. They have defeated a number of playoff teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Jazz came within a Tyler Zeller lay-up from sweeping a four-game road trip. While they have been playing .500+ ball the past two months, it is the past few weeks that have people taking notice.
Head coach Quin Snyder has the team humming. They are working hard and having fun doing so. While the now is looking very good, it is giving the league a look at what the future might hold.
With this in mind, it might be helpful to see how the players are faring since the break, which also happens to coincide with the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder that sent Enes Kanter to the Midwest. First, let’s take a look at the starters.
Derrick Favors: 18.8 PPG (55.3% FGs, 67.7% FTs), 9.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 BPG
As many have noted, while Rudy Gobert is getting a lot of attention – and deservedly so – Derrick Favors has been tremendous, doing this mostly under the radar. He definitely picked things up against the New York Knicks, helping pick up the slack in Gordon Hayward’s absence. But beyond that, though, he has been consistently good. He is essentially up in every major category, minus blocked shots. Favors is displaying a broader repertoire of offensive moves, bruising inside while also connecting from mid-range. Favors has five double-doubles in that span and has scored 15 or more nine times, with four 20+ outings. To boot, he has also been Utah’s most consistent player in the fourth quarter.
His Usage Percentage (USG%) has gone up to 24.5 (from 23.1 pre-All-Star game). Favors is demanding the ball and his teammates are helping make that happen. With Kanter gone, there simply are more touches to be spread around and Favors is a prime recipient. His aggressiveness is helping him draw more fouls (4.4/game), subsequently getting to the line more. As a result, the big man has been responsible for 29.2% of the Jazz’s points when he’s on the floor.
Now paired with Gobert, the effect has been better than the most optimistic might have predicted. With Favors on the court, the Jazz have an Offensive Rating (OffRtg) of 100.4 and Defensive Rating (DefRtg)1 of 87.4. That is +13.0, an absolutely amazing stat. Gobert has opened things up for him in major ways. Favors has adjusted very well to the move to his more natural power forward position. His speed and anticipation help his stay with speedier opponents2, while his length makes his very imposing. Together, the duo is causing for some suffocating defense, while earning their keep offensively.
His game is oozing confidence and it is exciting to see.
Gordon Hayward: 18.9 PPG (40.1% FGs, 25% 3s, 84.7% FTs), 4.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.6 SPG
Gordon Hayward has had a tougher go of it since the extended break. While his raw numbers are still very good, they are down across the board. His shooting has been a particular concern, with his percentages reminding some of last season’s3. His USG% has skyrocketed to 29.3 and he is still responsible for 29.9% of Utah’s points, so hopefully Hayward starts to regain the shooting touch that has been so terrific this season. His lower back strain, which kept him out of Monday’s game against New York, is most likely a factor.
There are still a lot of positives. Hayward’s OffRtg is 98.4 and his DefRtg, 91.4, good for +7.0 overall. He is drawing a bit more fouls (5.1) and is earning more second-chance points (2.0, up from 1.5). He is still facilitating the ball well and continues to be a pest defensively.
Rudy Gobert: 9.7 PPG (54.7% FGs, 65.9% FTs), 13.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 3.0 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 33.5 MPG
Gobert is the main reason why, whether right or wrong, the national media is starting to take notice of the positives coming out of Salt Lake City. His move to the starting lineup has electrified things, both on the court and from the perspective of the fan base. Gobert plays with such a nonstop, contagious energy. It has simply infused the team and while he certainly does not deserve all the credit behind the Jazz’s defensive awakening, he is undeniably a big catalyst – both literally and figuratively.
Gobert’s presence has may be most felt on the boards. His Rebounding percentage (REB%) has climbed to 22.3 (up from a very good 19.2), including a stellar 31.1 mark on the defensive end. Not that Enes Kanter was a slouch in this area: he is a good rebounder; Gobert just inhales rebounds, which contributes to his defensive presence. His NetRtg is 3.9–it’s actually a bit surprising that it is not higher, as no one alters the game more.
The Frenchman’s passing has been a big help to a team that is improving its ball movement and cohesion as the season progresses. It simply is not fair for a player that big to pass the ball that well. Gobert’s assist totals should continue to go up. He has had to adjust to playing more minutes against higher level opponents, as evidenced by the noticeable drop in eFG% (54.7, down from 62.9).
Dante Exum: 4.6 PPG (40% FGs, 44.4% 3s, 100% FTs), 2.5 APG, 2.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 22.3 MPG
The rookie point guard’s numbers look quite consistent from his pre-ASG stats, but Exum is starting to make some progress, scoring 11.0 PPG the past two outings. The 3-point shooting has been great to see, both for the team and for the youngster’s confidence. His overall offense is looking better (56.3 TS%), though his USG% is actually getting lower (11.5).
Exum is clearly relying on his outside shot, with 78.3% of his points coming from beyond the arc. He still is reticent to take the ball to the hoop (thus the glaring lack of free throw attempts), but is starting to make some small strides. He had a few forays to the basket versus the Knicks, setting up his teammates for a few nice looks.
Good things are happening when Exum is on the court. With an OffRtg of 103.6 and a DefRtg of 88.9, he has a remarkable 14.7 NetRtg. His Assist Ratio has climbed to 31.7. Exum’s turnovers have also risen, but as Snyder says, that is welcome–it shows he is starting to experiment more as to what he can and cannot do on the court.
Joe Ingles: 5.5 PPG (43.8% FGs, 37.5% 3s, 100% FTs), 2.7 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 24.4 MPG
He of the many nicknames has continued to be a glue guy whose impact is harder to see statistically, but is certainly felt on the court. Ingles has been shooting the ball fairly well, consistently sticking his outside jumpers. That is a big help on a team that is so up and down from the perimeter, especially with the attention Favors is commanding. His two jumpers in the fourth quarter against New York helped build the cushion that Utah never relinquished. Half of Ingles’ points come from 3-point land.
Ingles is not afraid to mix it up and keeps playing solid positional defense. He has a NetRtg of 10.6, including a stout 87.1 DefRtg. Ingles also really helps the team’s ball movement, shown by his 28.8 Assist Ratio (which is actually a drop).
All in all this quintet is playing extremely well together. The Jazz are starting games well, especially on defense. The starters are setting the tone for Utah’s success.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the reserves.