The Jazz are just who we thought they’d be.
Utah’s 99 – 71 demolition of Philadelphia on the Sixers’ home floor displayed practically all the likely hallmarks of the team going forward. What will certainly once again be a strong contender for worst team in the NBA1 served as little more than a canvas upon which Utah could etch an early-season statement of identity.
The Jazz outscored the Sixers by at least four points every quarter while allowing only 19, 14, 20, and 18 points respectively. They essentially flayed Philadelphia’s offense: 10 steals and eight blocked shots while allowing only a measly 63 field goal attempts — and only 19 makes (30.2%). The Jazz outscored their overmatched opponent 40 – 22 in the paint, 23 – 9 on second chance points, and 10 – 7 on fast break points.
While the Jazz offense showed marked improvement on multiple fronts, honestly, it wasn’t needed. This was a game where the Jazz could have strangled the opponent’s offense into the low 60s if they’d really needed to. But they didn’t need to, and the domination wasn’t a product of desperation or pointed desire.
It’s just who they are.
The Player Behind the Player of the Game: Derrick Favors
It’s hard to understand how someone could lead the team with 20 points on top of 12 rebounds, one assist, three steals, and two blocks and be the guy behind the guy. But this was a defensive smack-down, and Rudy Gobert laid the smack.
Gobert’s six blocks and 11 rebounds tell about half the impact he had on the game. His team-leading plus/minus of +34 is more illustrative of what it was like to see him in action. Gobert didn’t prey upon the Sixers’ young and grossly outmatched prospects, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel; he gobbled them up then, recognized how much he enjoyed it, then vomited them up to eat them alive once more. Anyone who watched the game must have ended the night with exactly the same thought I did: How in all in heaven and earth did Gobert only get six blocks?
For the first time this year, Gobzilla proved he can still rampage across the NBA cityscape, flexing and kicking and swaggering through the key that every soul in the building knew he owned. It was a show!
As is often the case, it was Derrick Favors stable presence that allowed Gobert to Gob-out as the monster. Favors snatched the rebounds Gobert scared far from any chance at going in, tipped away dribbles and passes when the Frenchman was outflanked, and added two far less demonstrative swats of his own.
Against Detroit and in the preseason, Gobert repeatedly showed frustrated body language when his “kill everything!” approach to defending the paint resulted in easy scores on short interior passes or offensive rebounds due to lack of teammate rotation protecting his back. Experiences like that cause hesitation, such as Gobert’s out-of-character inability to even get a hand up when Reggie Jackson beat the Jazz with an easy layup two nights ago.
Gobert can only be a defensive monster when he isn’t punished for contesting everything, and Favors is security the likes of which no other rim protector in the league has. When Gobert knows he can chase everything within reach, like tonight, its striking just how much really is available to him defensively. But it all depends on that far quieter defensive anchor ready to reinforce him near the hoop.
Rodney Hood and Trey Burke both bounced back from discouraging games at Detroit. Hood followed his 0 – 7 performance from three point range with a 3 – 6 return to form, helping him reach team runner-up scoring honors with 17. Meanwhile, Burke followed his lost-looking, two-shot enigma against the Pistons with ten points on ten shots and, most important of all, a game-high six assists.
Each of these players will be counted on this season to do what they did tonight. Hood is the best shooter on the Jazz. He can’t hide from deep shots the way others are trying to do so far this season. Burke, on the other hand, is beginning a monumentally challenging transformation from a high usage scoring guard to a balanced orchestrator in a back-up role. Each delivered exactly what is hoped for and needed from them in the thorough trouncing of the Sixers. If these games become the norm for these two, the Jazz will be awfully hard to beat.
Be Patient, Hayward (and with Hayward)
Favors is looking like a franchise centerpiece, Gobert joined Hood and Burke with breakout games, Raul Neto is still perfect from the three point line after another 2 – 2 night, Burks is playing like a 6th man star, Booker bounced back into the fray with a highlight dunk, and Tibor Pleiss even garnered his first NBA points on a smooth little lefty hook from a few feet out.
The only significant Jazz contributor yet to find his groove is the team’s captain and possible best player, Gordon Hayward. And it’s clear that while he’s handling it well, he isn’t happy about it.
To be clear, Hayward hasn’t been bad. 13 points (on 11 shots), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, a steal, and a block each against Detroit is genuine contribution. But three of six shooting from the free throw line and large stretches of invisibility in a game that went down to the wire isn’t what anyone has come to expect from the Jazz captain.
Instead of a breakout, Hayward delivered another steady game tonight: 12 points (on 12 shots), seven rebounds, four assists, and a steal. And of course, the team didn’t need him to go into a phone booth against the overmatched Sixers.
Yet two games in, he’s shooting 35% from the field, 20% from three, and 67% from the line. He’s being outshot by Hood, outscored by Burks and Hood, out-assisted by Burke and Hood, and is appearing merely useful while Favors and Gobert reinforce their indispensability. The offense once rested fully on Hayward’s ever broadening shoulders; now, he isn’t sure where he fits inside it.
The irritation is clear in small gestures and expressions, but overall the captain has managed to keep it under control. This is vital as the team grows into a more diverse and (hopefully) more potent offense. Hayward is as good as he’s ever been. He needs to trust that and stay patient, and so do Jazz fans.