It’s a common theme heard when referencing great teams, particularly those who have been so for multiple years: Does this team have an extra gear whenever they feel like it? It’s a fair question much of the time – teams that have proven their ability to win when it counts most can at times be excused for something of a lack of effort through an 82-game slog where there may be periods that simply aren’t as vital.
Is it possible, though, that this year’s Jazz group, one yet to achieve anything on a grand scale of any sort, is already beginning to develop such a switch, particularly as it relates to their level of competition on a nightly basis?
“I don’t think it’s effort – I wouldn’t say it’s effort,” Dante Exum told me when I asked him as much. “I think it’s just, kind of, coming to play. Having that mindset, you know, to bury every team. It’s hurt us a few times this season, and it’s something we’re working to get rid of.”
Utah may not be feeling the effect on the scoreboard or in areas where it truly counts just yet, but Dante may be onto something. They got away with it tonight against a hapless Kings squad missing several vital pieces, and have done so a couple other times this season, but it continues to be strange to see a team that’s competed with (and at times dominated) some of the league’s top groups seem to play down to their opponent. And for a team looking to take that next developmental step next year and hopefully compete for a slot in the playoffs, mindset is absolutely an important factor.
For his part, fellow Aussie Joe Ingles saw the lapse, and those like it, as more of a standard occurrence in a league with so many games and such a nightly burden. At the same time, though, he was quick to note that it’s not a positive trend, and one the team will have to look at in the future.
“I think we’ve shown that we can come out against the best teams and compete, and win,” Joe told me postgame. “There’s gonna be nights when you’re not kind of completely with it. And tonight was a little slower, probably, than what we wanted to…It’s gonna happen every now and then, and we’ve just gotta find that way to make it not happen so much.”
Every game will matter next season if the Jazz hope to make their playoff push in what should still be a loaded Western conference. The group is young, and it’s understandable on some level why motivation is a bit low, particularly while the finish line is within view in a year where the team is out of playoff contention. But it’s an item to add to the offseason list, and expect coach Quin Snyder to have noted it already.
|Derrick Favors, PF 22 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 18 PTS | +9 +/-Derrick was once again Utah’s rock when they needed him down the stretch, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the second half on 5-6 shooting and anchoring a Jazz D that stifled the Kings near the end of the game.|
|Gordon Hayward, SF 20 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -4 +/-As I wrote on SCH Tuesday, Hayward is clearly feeling the effects of fatigue late in a year where the burden on him has been incredible. He saw his second straight game under 20 minutes tonight, and didn’t look energized at all when he did play.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 30 MIN | 4-7 FG | 4-8 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +4 +/-Like many of his teammates tonight, Rudy seemed a bit lethargic in the first half, but stormed back in the second with a few thunderous dunks and his usual suffocating defense. His offensive game continues to show little improvements game by game.|
|Rodney Hood, SG 33 MIN | 7-14 FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +8 +/-Hood was once again magnificent, taking charge in Hayward’s absence and creating offense for a team that badly needs it. He had eight boards (he’s underrated on the glass) and four assists, and still looks like perhaps the steal of the 2014 Draft.|
|Dante Exum, SG 33 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +13 +/-He wasn’t quite as aggressive as his last couple games before tonight, but Exum continually found himself open from deep tonight and made the most of it. He has a big summer ahead of him, and will hope to close the year on a strong note heading into it.|
|Trevor Booker, PF 28 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2-4 FT | 9 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +15 +/-As part of a five-man big rotation for Utah on this night, Booker did a little of everything. He’s proven himself quite adaptable and willing to give his full effort regardless of the circumstance, quite the worthwhile trait for the role the Jazz have him in.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 22 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | +11 +/-Ingles was quietly excellent on this night, logging only 22 minutes but making several big plays and shots to bail the Jazz out of sticky situations. The Jazz were a team-best plus-30.3 points per-100-possessions with him on the floor.|
|Jeremy Evans, SF 9 MIN | 0-0 FG | 4-4 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2 +/-He managed three fouls in just over nine minutes of court time, and seemed a step behind even against Sacramento’s typical bench unit. These may be his final few days in a Jazz uniform, as unfortunate as it is to say.|
|Chris Johnson, SF 17 MIN | 1-4 FG | 3-3 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +2 +/-Johnson is getting minutes over Elijah Millsap as Quin Snyder tries to give him a look before the year is out, but to this eye, it remains uncertain whether he’s capable of playing at a rotation level in the NBA.|
|Trey Burke, PG 21 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 11 PTS | +3 +/-Trey had a rough go of it on his first night back off an injury, committing five turnovers in just over 20 minutes and not quite appearing to be in the flow of the game. He avoided a catastrophic derailing of Utah’s offense, however, which does count as progress given some of his other recent showings.|
It’s hard to even give Snyder a grade at this point, as he’s clearly tinkering with the depth on his roster and looking to make sure his top players enter the offseason healthy and able to work on improving their skills before next season.