Believe it or not, one month of the NBA season is past us. It has been an exciting start for the Utah Jazz, full of impressive road wins, a few disappointing losses and some nail-biters versus some of the NBA’s elite teams.
We recently took a look at the Utah Jazz bench. With one-fifth of the season in the books, let us shift the focus to the opening five. With a bench that is a bit low on experience, head coach Quin Snyder has been dependent on his starters. For the most part, they are coming through for him, too. Here is a brief look at each of them.
Gordon Hayward (18.1 PPG, 42.5 FG%, 35.9 3%, 79.1 FT%, 4.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.9 SPG in 34.9 MPG)
Yes, Hayward had his struggles to start the season. Much has been said about that. There were a few off nights with his shooting and the assists are down. And in some games, he did not have the same bounce as last season. But here we are one month in and he’s putting up 18, 5 and 3. In November, he actually put up 19.5 PPG and has upped that to 23 PPG over the past five outings1 More importantly, the moxie has returned. He was the best player on the court against the Los Angeles Clippers and was excellent in the heartbreaking loss to the Golden State Warriors. Hayward is playing like the leader he is and should continue to round into form. Look for his numbers to continue to improve, including his 16.6 PER.
Derrick Favors (16.7 PPG, 54.7 FG%, 68.9 FT%, 8.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG in 31.0 MPG)
Any praise Favors is receiving is extremely well-deserved. Simply put, he has been the Jazz’s best and most consistent player. Take out his two flu-affected games and Favors comes in a 18.3 PPG and 8.9 RPG. The big man has five 20-point games in those 13 outings2, or in 39 percent of Utah’s games. Last season, he was at 29 percent. Favors has never shot the ball better, hitting at 51.2 percent from 10-16 foot. The free throw line jumper has been money all season. He is seventh in the NBA in steals, 11th in field goal percentage and eighth in PER (26.4). His 3.4 steal percentage is the league’s best for a big. It is clear that Favors worked hard over the offseason and it is paying off. He is demanding the ball and is being aggressive and decisive when he gets it. Should he continue his strong play and Utah finds itself in the West’s top eight come February, Favors should have a very strong case to be named to the All-Star team.
Rudy Gobert (9.2 PPG, 56.0 FG%, 61.4 FT%, 10.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG in 34.2 MPG)
Gobert picked up where he left off from his flourishing finish last season. In actuality, his numbers are slightly down. Teams are preparing more for him, especially after he caught some opponents off guard in February, March and April. Even so, he is making his presence known and has clearly established himself as one of the NBA’s best centers. The towering Frenchman has snatched 10 or more boards in 10 of his 14 appearances and has five double-doubles in the past eight games. Gobert’s passing abilities help open things up, especially for Favors. He continues to be such an incredible force defensively, altering teams offensive schemes constantly. Gobert is sixth in rebounds, third in blocked shots. It would be a positive development for him to get back to his 20+ rebound percentage, as he currently sits at 18.5. Gobert could also cut down the turnovers, which have gone up a bit. All in all, a fine start to his first full season as the Jazz’s man in the middle.
Rodney Hood (13.1 PPG, 42.3 FG%, 28.6 3%, 87.2 FT%, 3.1 APG, 2.2 RPG, 1.3 SPG in 30.1 MPG)
Hood continues to show why he was one of the steals of the 2014 Draft. Firmly entrenched as the starting shooting guard, Hood has provided Snyder with another offensive weapon, a guy who can create both for himself and his teammates. He is simply a ball player who has a vast offensive repertoire. He has really improved his 2-point shooting, spiking from 54.5 percent to 58.3. This includes a 54.5 percent clip between three and 10 feet; this can be attributed to his crafty ability to get to that spot. Hood lulls opponents and then strikes. His 3-point shooting has been a concern, particularly after connecting at 42 percent post-All-Star break last season. Hood is getting good looks, but they are not going down. He is pacing the team in assists and has seven games with at least four dimes. It would be nice to see him crash the boards a bit more. Overall, Hood has been impressive. Once the treys start to fall more consistently, he could round into a 14-16 PPG scorer in just his second season. Not too shabby for the 23rd pick.
Raul Neto (4.3 PPG, 33.8 FG%, 32.3 3%, 57.1 FT%, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 RPG in 17.8 MPG)
True, the shooting numbers look ghastly. But Neto has been fairly solid as he embarks on his NBA career. He has proven to be a pest defensively, an able facilitator and a guy who hustles each minute he is on the court. The game is starting to slow down a bit for him, though he clearly lacks consistently. Neto does not back down when facing the endless gauntlet of the league’s stellar point guards. He does enough to get under their skin. The shooting must improve. Neto finishes well — 66.7 percent — but has been horrendous from the perimeter. He comes in at a mere 18.2 percent on jumpers 10-16 feet out and 33.3 percent just beyond that. Not good. This is when expectations need to be considered. Neto was brought in to be a third point guard, with the ability to slowly be groomed for more down the line. Dante Exum’s injury pressed him into early duty and while there will be a lot of growing pains, his development will be accelerated by the season’s end.
The Jazz clearly have a very talented core. In Hayward, Favors and Gobert, Utah may have a top 10 player at three positions. If the playoffs are the main goal this season, getting there will largely occur on the starters’ shoulders.