We are now a week into the NBA regular season and it’s a great feeling to have basketball back. It’s like being reunited with a good friend who’s been away for a while. The Utah Jazz faithful are starting to see how the changes Dennis Lindsey has enacted could fall into place. Likewise, head coach Quin Snyder is definitely showing his impact, as he is implementing a different brand of basketball. Exciting times.
As is the case with anything at this juncture of the season, there is the expected disclaimer that it’s early yet. Even so, let’s take a look at the Jazz starters and how they are each faring to start the season.
Derrick Favors: Minus his outing against the Los Angeles Clippers, Derrick Favors has been terrific. There is a different confidence to his game. When he gets the ball, he is displaying more decisiveness than last season. As David Locke has aptly predicted, Favors has been one of the players most positively affected by Snyder’s system. He is getting more touches (23.2% Usage, up from 20.8% last season) and is making the most of said touches (.583 FG% and .625 True Shooting Percentage). The playing with the pass is setting him up well inside and he’s finishing a whopping 85.7 percent of his attempts three feet or less from the basket. Even with Monday’s dud, he is sporting a 28.7 PER1.
Favors’ aggressiveness has helped him get to the line effectively (8.7 FTA/G, . 417 FTA rate) and he’s hitting 75 percent there–a huge help to his game. While he’s rebounding the ball well offensively, he is down a bit on the defensive boards. 1.5 spg and 1.5 bpg are also positives. Favors has also only turned the ball over five times in 119 minutes. It’s certainly be an exciting start for the big man in the middle.
Enes Kanter: Here’s another player who stands to benefit from the more open, fluid offense. So far, though, it has not shown on the court, though he was excellent offensively versus the Clippers front court. I’ll state the obvious here: Enes Kanter has struggled to open the season. His minutes are down (21.0 MPG) and his shooting has been affected a bit by his different role as a semi-stretch four. Kanter is actually shooting more from 0-3 feet (44.7 percent of his total shots) and he’s making those (64.7 percent). He’s a mere 1-6 on 3-pointers thus far, though. Snyder’s offense has limited his mid-range game. Should he start to stick his attempts beyond the arc (five of his attempts have been from the corners), Kanter will be a load on offense.
Defensively, it’s been a rough go. While he has faced a litany of potent scorers in the young season, Kanter has struggled with rotating to help, missed defensive assignments and on occasion, his effort. A 117 Defensive Rating is alarming. This has been the primary reason for his limited playing time. He made a few solid stops Monday, but the consistent effort is missing. Trevor Booker’s addition and Rudy Gobert’s rapid emergence are also factors to be considered.
Gordon Hayward: Stating the obvious, part two: Gordon Hayward is playing very, very well. The eventful offseason (signing the lucrative deal; playing with the USA team; adding noticeable muscle, getting married) has him playing with a renewed passion and increased confidence. Hayward is making the right decisions with the ball and it is really fun to watch the transformation. He knows he’s the leader of the team and he’s playing like it. Snyder is helping change his offensive game. His 2-point attempts past 16-feet are way down. Hayward is hitting his inside shots (80 percent), thanks in part to some great forays to the hoop. He is simply driving the ball more. Half of his shots have been from downtown2 and he’s connecting at a much more Hayward-esque 37.0 percent. This has resulting in a very nice .628 TS%.
His all-around game is right there – 7.3 RPG and 5.3 APG. His 12.2 Total Rebound Percentage is a significant jump (8.0 in 2013-14). He’s maintaining his elite passing game (23.9 AST%) while cutting down the turnovers (10.5 TOV%). Hayward is clearly the best facilitator for Utah right now. His anticipation and length on defense is proving to be a positive at the small forward position, where he has played 87 percent of his minutes. Hayward is looking to earn his $15.75M salary and he’s definitely off to an excellent start.
Trey Burke: It’s been an up-and-down start for the second-year point guard, with a little more of the down. After a stellar preseason, Burke’s game just seems off. His shooting is way off, as he’s hit just 16-48 from the floor and 2 of 17 3-pointers – 33.3 and 11.8 percent, respectively (.410 TS%). For the most part, he’s getting solid looks–they’re just not falling. On occasion, poor shot selection has also contributed. Burke has shown the ability and willingness to take the ball to the basket, where he’s finishing 70 percent of the time. He has also increased his Free Throw Rate to .271–which would be over twice as high as his low rookie mark.
Burke is also experiencing struggles facilitating the offense. His assists are down (4.8 APG and 20.7 AST%, down from 5.7 and 29.4%) and his turnovers are uncharacteristically up – 3.0 TO/G and 18.3 TOV%. His assist-to-turnover ratio has fallen from 3.0 to 1.6. To be fair, the ball is in his hands less as Snyder wants to move up court quickly. Burke is helping with that by helping advance the ball to his wing teammates. While he’s not a guy who struggles with his confidence, there has to be some pressure having Dante Exum in the fold. My guess is that it will take a little getting used to. The good thing about Burke is that he is capable of a big game and chances are, that could happen anytime. Once that does, expect to see a good jump back to more normal Trey Burke standards.
Alec Burks: First off, I am part of the crowd who was excited to see the Alec Burks extension get done last week. The talent and skills are apparent and having another solid piece to this young core in place long-term is exciting. While the start of his season has been so-so–as seen by his 13.9 PER – there is optimism around his game. Burks’ numbers are solid: 14.8 PPG , 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG. He’s yet to have that big game (like he had regularly the second half of last season), but that just feels like a matter of time.
Like most of his teammates, there has been some slight changes to his offensive game. He is still getting inside (.698 of his shots are between 0-3 feet) and free throw line (a stellar .488 FTr), but is taking more 3-pointers–5-13 thus far (38.5 percent). Burks, though, is shooting just 40 percent on those close shots–down from 64.4 percent last year. There are no doubts this will jump back up. A very positive development is his 95.2 percent free throw shooting. For a guy who lives at the line like Burks does, being able to hit those at a high level can enhance his game in big ways. He has shown flashes defensively, but too needs to demonstrate more consistency – 116 Defensive Rating.
All in all, it’s been an encouraging start. Seeing all five get good playing time together will benefit the team. They will hopefully grow together, but if not, the coaching staff and front office will have a better idea of what they truly have.
Next up, a look at the bench players’ starts.