The year may be coming to a close, but in reality, this is just the start of what’s to come.
The Jazz wrapped up their home season Monday night with a resounding win over the Mavs, and will finish the 82-game year Wednesday night in Houston. But although the lockers will be cleaned out Thursday and many players will leave town for vacations, the talk around the locker room and in the hallways hardly feels like that of a campaign that’s come to an end.
“It’s the beginning of something. It’s something special,” Rodney Hood told me after the home finale. “We’ve been gelling together, getting better over the course of the season – through injuries, through new guys, throughout the season.”
In nearly every fashion, it feels as though this Jazz team can barely even see their collective ceiling, much less scrape it. They’ve seen a previously unimaginable rise from Rudy Gobert, ascension to borderline All-Star territory from Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood, and a level of cohesion and synergy that would have seemed impossible to any outside observer watching the group last season.1 They’ve got a prodigy as their coach of the future, one who has managed to turn the league’s worst defense into a veritable powerhouse and has kept the team competitive despite multiple injuries to rotation players and a rotating cast of rookies and D-League call-ups. Of course, true to form, said prodigy only views the prevailing attitude in the air as another extension of his team’s process.
“I hadn’t really thought of that,” Quin Snyder said when I asked him about this sense of continuity. “I think we just try to keep doing what we’re doing, regardless of what the situation is. Whether it’s the eighth, ninth guy, whether it’s pre-playoffs, after playoffs, someone that’s in playoff contention, someone that’s not, someone that’s already made it…we’ll just take the next game, the next day, the next month – and pretty soon next season will be here.”
It’s as much about growth together, as a team, as it is about the development of particular skills and concepts. The value of cohesiveness in a league that’s trending more and more toward dependence on five-man units that lack weak spots isn’t lost on Utah’s young group, and they know that their experience with each other is just as valuable as anything they’re gleaning individually.
“This group hasn’t been together for a long amount of time, so our chemistry is only going to get better, and we’re looking forward to that,” Trevor Booker told me postgame. “The chemistry is working right now, and I’m sure it’s going to keep improving.”
And for those of us in our armchairs or at our computers on the media row, it’s hard to feel any differently. It feels like ages ago that the franchise was slogging through a lost season, wondering how they’d dig out from the first major rut following Jerry Sloan’s wonderfully consistent reign. All eyes are forward now, and for many2, the clock is already almost ready to begin ticking toward October 2015. In the end, Hood perhaps summed it up most succinctly:
“We know we’ve got big plans for the future.”
|Trevor Booker, PF 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-4 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +10 +/-Booker combined with Rudy Gobert to absolutely annihilate the Mavs down low. The two combined for eight offensive boards and 29 total. Booker’s workmanlike approach continues to endear him to fans and coaches alike.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 27 MIN | 6-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +3 +/-Quietly excellent on the night, Ingles once again contributed in multiple areas. He’s developed his isolation game to such a degree that he’s now become a go-to guy late in the shot clock with Gordon Hayward done for the year, and he made a couple more big shots in that manner tonight.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 33 MIN | 9-16 FG | 2-3 FT | 17 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +15 +/-The Stifle Tower gave the ESA fans one more big game to cheer about, dominating Dallas on both ends of the floor. He easily set his season-high in field-goal attempts, making over 50 percent of them, and had three blocks to go along with 20 points and 17 boards.|
|Rodney Hood, SG 27 MIN | 2-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +9 +/-Hood had perhaps his first decidedly bad game in recent weeks, struggling from the field and not really making much of an impact on either side. He’s excused for the occasional stinker, of course, given his recent performances.|
|Dante Exum, SG 28 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +3 +/-As he continues to make small strides with his offensive repertoire every game, Exum embodies the “just getting started” theme from above more than any other Jazz player. Waiting six months to see him in another live NBA game will be legitimately difficult.|
|Grant Jerrett, PF 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +2 +/-Jerrett was on and off offensively, but did an excellent job down low on defense in his first extended NBA minutes. His positioning is solid, and if he can add a few things to his offensive game, he may have a shot in the NBA.|
|Jeremy Evans, SF 16 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | +6 +/-Evans gets this grade not for his performance, but for his five years of unwavering dedication to this Jazz franchise, even as he never was able to find consistent playing time. He’s the consummate professional, and perhaps the most well-liked player in the locker room and by fans. If this was your final game in ESA, Jeremy, then we hope you know how much this team and city appreciates all you’ve done.|
|Chris Johnson, SF 23 MIN | 5-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +20 +/-Johnson had his strongest night offensively for the Jazz, sinking all three of his attempts from deep and tossing in a couple nice cuts away from the ball. These are the areas he’ll need to improve even further to make it as a rotation player in the NBA.|
|Bryce Cotton, PG 26 MIN | 8-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +6 +/-In a season full of revelations, Cotton saved his show for last. His one-handed throw-down of an alley-oop was one of the highlights of the season, and he played easily his best game as a pro otherwise as well. He’s earned a well-deserved look over the summer and next season, and is a wonderfully mature individual to boot.|
|Elijah Millsap, SG 13 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +10 +/-Millsap continues to ride the short end of the minutes stick recently, but to this eye, this practice from Quin Snyder is more to get a look at other guys. Millsap seems to be the perfect depth guy once Utah’s wing core is at full strength, and here’s hoping he’s on the opening day roster in October.|
Once again, as these are the final grades I’ll give for this season, Quin’s mark is a full-season one. He’s been absolutely incredible for this team in every facet, from player development to on-court adjustments to his dealings with the media. Jazz fans should be thankful their franchise has such a great coach at the helm as they begin their climb back to elite status.