Last night’s Lakers game was depressing, encouraging, exhilarating, frustrating, demoralizing, and a host of many other conflicting emotions, and somehow all at the same time. The first 20 minutes of the game were fun and exciting to watch, a brand of Jazz basketball—with scrappy defense, a fast pace of play, and some great passing—that has been missing most of the year. Unfortunately, that was followed by a scoring drought and a crazy run by a severely depleted Lakers team, and another Lakers run in the fourth that put the game out of reach. So, what are some positives? What are some glimpses in the Lakers game, specifically, but that we’ve seen in the last few weeks, as well, that are encouraging, moving forward?
Alec Burks has improved his three-point shot. He hit one near the 7-minute mark in the first quarter against the Lakers—off a good drive-and-dish pass from Gordon Hayward—that looked so smooth. And that was a few plays after a typical, contortionist-type move in the lane by Burks. His other three (he was 2-for-2 from three in the game) was in the second half in the right corner. He’s playing so much more in control than he used to and has added more nuance to his game; it’s really cool to see now that he’s getting consistent and significant playing time.
The Lakers broadcast put up a stat box when Burks was shooting free throws: “Averaging 15.2 ppg in April, 51% FG, 88% FT.” Those are some great numbers, and he only missed two shots last night. The fantastic thing about Burks is that he’s almost always attacking. He’s learned that you can’t drive to the basket every single play, that you have to mix it up, but he’s blending attacking and creating and shooting from the outside incredibly well. Burks might be the player I’m most excited to see break out next season.
Side note: Swaggy P reminds me of Burks, the way his body moves when he’s dribbling on the perimeter and trying to find a hole to drive to the basket. Anyone else notice that?
Passing. In the first part of the first half, there were some really encouraging passes, some really good spacing, and some exciting plays. With four minutes to go in the first quarter, a Evans set a pick for Burks, and when Evans rolled and got the ball, he was doubled in the key (seriously, LA?), only to pass it off perfectly to an open Favors for a two-handed dunk. It was a beautifully executed play, and seeing that passing and cutting from the young players was encouraging. The next play, on defense, Favors blocked the ball, and then Hayward took the ball down, passed it to Favors, who passed it immediately back to Hayward for a three. Later, there was a great pick and roll between Burke and Favors. Nearing the end of the first half, there was a beautiful pick and roll between Burke and Kanter, for a Kanter dunk. One of the most interesting things to me about that play, however, is that Burke didn’t celebrate; he didn’t start backpedaling to get on defense. He jumped forward to start putting pressure on the Lakers as they were bringing the ball inbounds. He’s all business.
Gordon Hayward was absolutely on fire in the first half, and then disappeared in the second. During the first half, I thought, My goodness, he gets up for these Lakers games. He had 16 points and was hitting just about everything he was throwing up. He was getting rebounds and taking the ball coast to coast for two-handed dunks, he was deflecting passes on defense, he was attacking the basket with reckless abandon, and he was setting up teammates. The Gordon Hayward of the first half is a player to get really excited about, especially if he’s surrounded with more talent. But his comments after the game that he’s learned he can be “The Guy” on a team don’t ring true to me. As much as I love Hayward’s game, if he’s your numero uno guy, you’re going to be a struggling team. But if he can find a way to be more consistent and dictate matchups next season, he’ll be another fun one to watch.
Mini Glimpses. Jeremy Evans has hops. This isn’t new to any Jazz fan with eyes over the last few years, but seeing him get blocked on a layup only to take it back up immediately for the jam is still a cool display of athleticism. Trey Burke’s become a better distributor. He still looks for his shot far too much, in my opinion, but he’s doing a better job of setting up his teammates, as evidenced by his increasing assist totals: 46 assists in the last five games.
These glimpses were encouraging, given the number of discouraging moments, times, and trends we’ve seen this season. Will the defense be better next year? Will Alec Burks become the top scorer on the team? Will Burke maintain his clutchness? What glimpses from this game—and this season—have you looking forward to the future?