One loss with 81 games to go is hardly cause for panic. But for those so inclined, the Jazz’s 87 – 92 loss to the Pistons provided plentiful reinforcement for existing anxiety. Practically every concern heading into the season played out in the loss.
Inability to generate turnovers? 10 total for Detroit. Check.
A questionable bench? Other than instant Sixth Man of the Year candidate Alec Burks1 (18 pts, 6 rbs, 1 ast), the rest of the pine mob contributed four points on eight shots. Check.
Poor perimeter shooting? Two of 12 from deep (16.7%). Triple check.
Yet the Jazz’s greatest deficiency hurt them every bit as much as these more obvious grousing points: as of now, the Utah Jazz are incapable of entering the ball into the post. Worse, it appears as much a lack of willingness and awareness as lack of ability.
Derrick Favors was the best player on the floor tonight. He scored 26 points on 15 shots, including 6 of 8 from the line, and added six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. But his offensive consistency was the most impressive facet of his evening. He scored seven points on 3 of 3 shooting in the first, eight points on 4 of 5 shooting in the second, and nine points of 3 of 6 shooting in the third. That’s 24 points on 14 shots.
Then in a fourth quarter where the Jazz were consistently down but within reach, Favors shot the ball once.
This is a game where the Jazz’s best interior scorer should have shot the ball 25 times and headed to the line for 15 freebees. For much of the game he was guarded by Ersan Ilyasova, who when confronted by Favors’ two low post touches yielded an uncontested dunk and a desperate shooting foul. Yet additional deep touches were few and far between, and non-existent in post-up situations.
This continues a trend several years in the making: sporadic and poorly thrown post entry passes, inability to take advantage of smalls switching onto Favors, and allowing the team’s only interior scoring threat to disappear for large stretches of the game, especially in key moments.
The Jazz are a young team still battling several notable flaws, but their inability to maximize the value of Derrick Favors’ interior scoring is glaring. He is not only their best all-around player, he is their best player.2 Tonight, Favors led the Jazz with 26 points when he could have had 40. If the team improves its ability to feed the ball into the interior, Favors will have a monster season and the Jazz will be truly frightening. If not, I think earning a playoff spot will be more than they can deliver.
The Player Behind the Player of the Game: Rodney Hood
Of the Jazz’s three staring-caliber wings, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Rodney Hood, the young second-year player from Duke struggled the most with his shot, going 6 of 15 overall and a demoralizing 0 of 7 from three. Yet an eye to the long-term interest of the team shows he, more than his wingmates, stood up in support of Favors’ interior dominance.
While Hood missed all seven of his threes, at least he took them.
Raul Neto, a rookie point with a broken shot3, took and made two WIDE OPEN threes. The rest of the Jazz — and I mean the entire rest of the Jazz roster –attempted three shots from distance. Three. Two by Hayward and one by Joe Ingles.4
The Jazz must shoot better to attain their goal of making the playoffs. But to even make that a possibility, they have to possess the confidence and courage to take open shots that are there. If Hayward, Burks5, and Trey Burke combine for two attempted three point shots a game, it won’t matter how much Favors is rolling. There won’t be a defender who steps a foot outside twelve feet.
Props to Hood for taking the shots he needs to take, missing, and keeping his finger on the trigger. The Jazz need their veterans to show such guts.
If there is such a thing as a perfect start for a role-playing point guard on the Utah Jazz, Raul Neto just had it: eight points on six shots, including hitting both attempts from deep, three assists to one turnover, a rebound, and an entry back into a game after a nasty-looking twisted knee.
Toughness? Offensive efficiency and low usage? Respectable defense when healthy and gutsy defense when gimpy?
I was a major skeptic of Neto heading into the season. Not now. I think this kid will do just fine in Utah.
Booker’s Suspension Turns Costly
I loved it when Trevor Booker palm-slapped Roy Hibbert up the front of his melon in the preseason. Talk about buyer’s remorse! The only bench big Quin Snyder tapped all evening was rookie Trey Lyles, who managed a depressing -15 plus/minus in a scant 8:14 of play.
Booker’s testiness and aggression is needed on a team of mellow personalities. But he has to keep that fire constructively hot rather than raging out of control. This team needs some front court stability off the bench, and without the senior citizen on the Jazz roster, that was sadly lacking tonight.
For Now, Multiple Offensive Options Means Uncertainty
For two years now, Gordon Hayward has slogged under an offensive burden greater than anyone desired. Tonight showed those days are over. Both Rodney Hood (15 FGA) and Alec Burks (14 FGA) took more shots than the Jazz’s offensive leader (11 FGA). While I don’t expect that to be true most nights, the days of Hayward being the only stick that stirs Utah’s offense are gone.
Having three perimeter players who can both initiate offense and score from multiple levels will prove invaluable to the team’s continued development, but at the start of the season, it’s clear no one knows how to fit three sticks in the same jug. It’s transparent that at this point, the Jazz have little ability to utilize their three wings in unison, allowing for synergy.
In Rodney Hood’s only efficient quarter (the 2nd), he shot 4 of 5 from the field. Meanwhile, Hayward and Burks combined for three shot attempts.
Then in the fourth quarter, No-Conscience Burks6 dragged the slogging Jazz offense along with 4 of 9 shooting. Again, Hayward took only a single field goal attempt in that span, a total matched by Hood until two desperation shots at the very end of the game.
Snyder’s motion offense is designed to bring multiple offensive weapons to bear on an opponent simultaneously through unselfishness and frequent ball movement. Tonight, the Jazz’s offensive orchestrators took turns leading the way single file. That isn’t the plan and isn’t an approach the Jazz’s second-year coach will tolerate. These three versatile players will learn how to feed off of rather than compete against each other, but its a synchronicity they don’t possess now.