Any major relocation or culture change will require an adjustment phase, even for professional basketball players. For rookies Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, both hailing from Down Under, this process has been evident to the naked eye all year long. But the tides have begun to change, and there’s no better example than Saturday night’s blowout win over Brooklyn.
Jingles posted 16 points for a new career high, but it was his continued aggression that really raised eyebrows. After developing an early impression as a teammate who was perhaps unselfish to the point of detriment to his team, refusing to take all but the most open shots and actively slowing the offense, Ingles has come out of his shell in a recent stretch of strong play. He’s shooting decimals under 40 percent from beyond the arc (39.5 percent to be exact) in January, and his usage percentage is steadily increasing as his level of comfort grows exponentially within the offense.
“Obviously I’ve always known I could shoot it, but it was more trying to get the guys involved, being that kind of middle-man,” Ingles said in the locker room after the game. “But when they’re in your ear every day telling you to shoot it, and you make it in practice every day – so yeah, just shooting the open ones.”
It was a sentiment echoed by his coach, with Quin Snyder talking candidly about his desire for Ingles (Exum, as well – more below) to make shooting the ball less of a thinking process and more of a habit, one where the decision is made before he gets the ball. The message seems to be getting through; far from the timidness he’s displayed at points this year, Jingles even attempted something of a “heat-check” triple once he found himself in a good rhythm (he missed it, but no one minded).
Exum, for his part, is slowly developing into the more all-around role many had foreseen for him early on. He continues to shoot the long ball well when left open, going 3-5 tonight, but it’s his improvement as a passer that’s most noticeable. He had likely his best game as a pro in this regard against the Nets, taking several penetrations a step or two further than he typically has so far this year and finding several excellent, incisive passes. His teammates weren’t sure-handed on a couple occasions and likely cost him a few assists in the box score, but the steps he’s taking with both his vision and willingness to prod the defense a bit further are plain to see.
Snyder was of the same mind, saying after the game, “It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but the more he attacks with the ball, the better a passer he is. He’s not kind of telegraphing his passes, he’s not trying to fit passes, he’s just playing instinctively. He’s got really good court vision, he’s good decision-maker, but it’s a little bit like what I said with Joe: I want him to make the read before he gets the ball, and when he does that he’s capable of making plays.”
Both Aussies are gradually finding their comfort zone with the Jazz, a microcosm for the team as a whole in many ways. It’s an encouraging sign going forward, and one that should continue progressing as both continue to figure things out both individually and with their teammates.
|Derrick Favors, PF 31 MIN | 3-7 FG | 3-4 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +23 +/-Favors was mostly quiet on a night when the Jazz didn’t need any heroics from him. He finished the first half with zero points and just two rebounds before posting a respectable line in the second, and while he wasn’t hugely impactful, he made no glaring errors on either end and had only one turnover.|
|Gordon Hayward, SF 31 MIN | 10-14 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 24 PTS | +19 +/-Gordon got cooking early and finished with a very efficient night while never looking particularly urgent or challenged. He was a bit sloppy with five turnovers and didn’t quite get his teammates as involved as he often does, but 24 points on just 14 shots more than makes up for a couple bad smudges given the game context.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 30 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +29 +/-Along with his above-noted career high in points, Jingles continued his strong work recently as a distributor, dishing five dimes – four with the game still a competitive contest in the first half. He may not be as young as the typical rookie, but continues to make strides at a similar rate to many.|
|Enes Kanter, C 28 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +25 +/-The Jazz outscored Brooklyn by 25 points with Kanter on the court, the second-best figure on the team behind only Ingles. Enes didn’t have quite his usual touch and wasn’t able to get to the line, but he was solid down low and made several noticeable defensive plays. He continues to quietly impress even as Rudy Gobert breathes down his neck for playing time, finishing with nine more minutes than the big Frenchman tonight, though the non-competitive nature of the game surely played a role here.|
|Dante Exum, SG 29 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +20 +/-Exum’s stroke was present again, and while he’s certainly no Kyle Korver, it can’t be long at this point before opponents realize he’s a bit too accurate to be left wide open in the corners. Dante is fitting in instantly with the starting unit after his recent promotion and should continue to draw high minute totals.|
|Trevor Booker, PF 15 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | +10 +/-Booker saw the short end of the minutes stick among Jazz bigs tonight (just under 15 minutes), largely anonymous in those he did play. But he had two blocks, and the Nets were held to a minuscule 65.3 per-100-possession offensive rating while he was on the court, second only to Elijah Millsap.|
|Jeremy Evans, SF 2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3 +/-Evans gets this grade simply for his monster swat, garbage time or not. It was fun to watch.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 20 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +9 +/-Like the rest of the team, no Herculean effort was required from Gobert against Brooklyn. He chipped in with 11 boards and another couple heady assists to add to his total, but went without a block (gasp) and will certainly be saving his best for a more competitive game after playing just 19 minutes and change.|
|Trey Burke, PG 26 MIN | 7-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 19 PTS | +20 +/-Burke thrived for the second consecutive game since coming off the bench behind Exum, nailing four triples and 15 points in the second quarter alone to help blow the game open for the Jazz. He looks at ease with bench-heavy units, and has worked well with Dante when both share the floor, which they’ve done for 20 combined minutes since the starting change. He has a ways to go yet, but tonight was another strong positive step.|
|Ian Clark, SG 5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2 +/-Five minutes of garbage time work was all Clark would see in this game as he continues to struggle for minutes even with a depleted wing rotation. But he was fine in these minutes, including a simple fast break layup after helping cause a steal.|
|Elliot Williams, SG 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +1 +/-Williams gets a grade because he entered the game. He missed his only shot and had one assist in 3:27 of heavy garbage time.|
|Elijah Millsap, SG 19 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | +14 +/-Another Jazzman who operated in relative anonymity tonight was Millsap, who played his usual aggressive defense but was mostly unchallenged both here and on the offensive end. He’s doing a better job making incisive decisions when the ball finds him, though, likely a point of emphasis from his coach.|
Quin’s points of emphasis continue to show through for his team more and more each night, and he’s clearly reaching his group. It’s a true joy to see a young team take tangible steps from earlier in the year – Snyder deserves a ton of credit and is on track to find himself in COY discussions in future years when Utah competes for a playoff spot in the West.