Jazz’s Patience, Development on Display in Win Against Kings’ Lottery Talent

October 17th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

The Kings are stocked with top-10 picks, but on Wednesday night, the Jazz’s developmental successes were on display. (Game still)

The season debut for the Utah Jazz ended in a 123-117 win over the Sacramento Kings, but it wasn’t a first impression you want to remember.

Ricky Rubio tallied a single point while backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell went 3-for-12 in the first half. There were 18 total turnovers for Utah and some ugly, empty possessions along the way, too. After destroying the Kings in the a preseason game a week ago, Utah found themselves in a surprising 18-4 hole early.

Yet, eventually, the Jazz got win #1 out of 82. 

Utah’s depth and focus kept the Jazz afloat, at it will throughout the season, as the reserves gave them the surge to take home a victory. Jae Crowder popped off the bench for a plus-19 performance. Dante Exum was exceptional in picking up the slack on Rubio’s off night, as the Australian added 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and a plus-21 on the scoreboard. Not to be outdone, Alec Burks delivered an astounding plus-25 along with his own 13 points. 

Thanks to these three, plus the experience to simply will their way to a win, the Jazz went on a 40-17 run after the initial hole to make a win doable when the second half started.

Mitchell ended up with 24, albeit on an 8-for-21 shooting night. Joe Ingles paced the Jazz with 22, while Rudy Gobert (19 with 15 boards) and Derrick Favors (18 & 9 on a steady diet of pick-and-roll) both came up big. 

Ultimately, a win is a win. And, despite the shaky start, Utah’s win wasn’t all that unexpected given that Sacramento is still on a decade-long search for talent.

The Kings & Jazz : Disparate Draft Results

While the Jazz have a track record for retaining draft picks, maximizing talent, and finding diamonds in the rough, the Kings’ recent draft history is, um, less impressive.  

  • In 2010, the Kings drafted both DeMarcus Cousins (5th overall) and Hassan Whiteside (second round). Whiteside would flourish only later, long after his 19 games in two years with the Kings. That makes him a “could have been” story for the Kings. As for Cousins, many are familiar with his story. Boogie was Sacramento’s superstar-caliber player, yet never got the Kings out of the lottery and into the playoffs. And now, he’s gone.
  • In 2011, they selected Bismack Biyombo at #7 who never dressed in a Kings uniform. They traded the big man for journeyman John Salmons and for #10 pick Jimmer Fredette, whom they would waive in his third season.
  • In 2012, they selected Kansas’ Thomas Robinson 5th overall. Robinson played 51 games before getting shipped to Houston and beginning his bounce from team-to-team-to team carousel. 
  • They used the 7th overall pick in 2013 to name Ben McLemore their guy. He lasted four seasons, topping out at 12 points per game in 32 minutes a night in his sophomore season until everything dipped dramatically in the years that followed.
  • Nik Stauskas was taken in 2014, played a season (only started once) and then was shipped to Philidelphia the next year in a salary-driven trade. He was another lottery pick, 8th overall this time.
  • Willey Cauley-Stein was selected 5th overall in 2015, and hey! He’s actually still around in the purple uniforms. He averaged 13 & 7 (plus a block a game) in 73 games and 58 starts last year. There seems to be upside and potential…. right?
  • Marquese Chriss was taken 8th overall in 2016 but sent to Phoenix immediately for Euro veteran Bogdan Bogdanovic and some other pieces.
  • The Stauskas trade also meant Sacramento would later get a downgraded lottery pick in 2017: De’Aaron Fox instead of Jayson Tatum.
  • Fox and Marvin Bagley, no. 2 overall pick from this past draft, are the lottery talents that Sacramento hopes will pan out as part of the future core, along with Bogdanovic.

The point is that Sacramento doesn’t necessarily draft top talent, despite being in the lottery every year in the last decade. On top of that, they are constantly hitting shuffle on their ancient iPod and cycling through young talent instead of developing and retaining their players. 

Oh, and more bad news for Kings fans: depending on where they end up record-wise this year, the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers will get their 2019 pick, the last piece of that same Stauskas trade1.

In short: what are the Kings doing? 

If you were to compile a list of dysfunctional franchise from the 2010s, the Kings would be at the top of the list. The draft picks, sure, but also the hot potato of coaches2, and the questionable free agency decisions, too. In fact, confounding things further is that management gave money to George Hill (no longer there), Vince Carter (gone), and Zach Randolph (told by Coach Dave Joerger he’d see reduced minutes this year) to be the veteran mentors, but who also diverted minutes from the developing prospects. They had the money so they gave the money out. Are/were those players good fits or part of the long-term outlook? Not really. 

Remember, this was an elite team in the early 2000s, with a core that gave the Utah Jazz fits in playoffs while each fan base challenged the other to be more annoying, more intense, and more passionate. The Kings who the dynastic L.A. Lakers to overtime of Game Seven in a close and controversial3 Western Conference Finals. Vlade Divac, Jason Williams, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and then-coach Rick Carlisle led a fun show with a fast-paced offense and passes off the elbow. Oh, and don’t forget All-NBA forward Chris Webber, whose jersey hangs in the rafters.

This is a team that would sell out games. The mutual respect between the franchises was noticeable, such as when Arco Arena fans gave John Stockton a standing ovation in what proved to be his final game. 

To compare and contrast where the Kings and Jazz are from then to now is to compare and contrast Deron Williams and Raymond Felton in 2005…. and in 2018. 

Watching that California team operate over the years makes a fan grateful for the stability that a Gail Miller-led organization brings to the Salt Lake Valley. The coaching staff is respected and appreciated, therefore, consistent with every year. The front office has a history of doing the right things, taking the high road, and making thorough and sound decisions. When you put these things together, the players within the Jazz system (with a few exceptions) enjoy being part of the team and family in Utah. 

The Kings have talent. Bagley and Fox could become a duo. Harry Giles, a former five-star recruit and the top player in the entire 2016 class, had to sit out his first year with an ACL injury but is back and has shown flashes of his former five-star recruit self. Justin Jackson, a small forward out of North Carolina, has upside and potential. There’s even the sharp-shooter Buddy Hield who was traded for Cousins and Divac loved as a Steph Curry-like athlete.

What remains to be seen is whether the Kings can remain patient while all that young talent develops.

Back to Wednesday Night

Case in point to Sacramento’s young talent: on Wednesday night, the King’s starters outscored the Jazz starters in the first and third quarters (34-30 and 32-25, respectively). The Jazz were on their heels as the pace of play was elevated in Sacramento’s favor. They were getting good looks and just hitting shots. It was clicking, albeit for two-ish quarters, but it was clicking. 

Look at some of the stat lines for those young pups:

  • Cauley-Stein: 23 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks; all of which against reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Hield: chipped in 19 points, but added the big shots and playmaking to close the game and keep the Kings in striking distance as the fourth quarter burned on.
  • Fox: 21 points, seven assists, and a +21 performance while running circles around Rubio and causing Coach Snyder to bench Tricky Ricky in the fourth quarter due to Fox’s quickness and handles. 

Those in Sacramento may need to say some heartfelt prayers for health and a bit of developmental luck, but the talent pool is real in Sacramento. Unlike the last few years, however, the Kings need to let these players just play, fail and get back up, and develop. In the process, these players need an environment that is stable and toxic-free, which is something that usually isn’t associated with the Kings’ Crown.

There may be something there. Given the last few years, that’s something.

Fun Stat

Points in the paint were about even (62-54 in Sacramento’s favor), as were fast break points (17-14 Kings). However, the Jazz only scored two midrange points all night; the Kings had 22. As a basketball nerd, it’s awesome to see Jazz basketball modernize into their own strengths and what is effective for them; mid-range isn’t either of those. 

Fun Fact

When the Jazz started Gobert, Favors, Ingles, Mitchell and Rubio it became the FIRST time in franchise history that their opening night starting five was the same as the starting five the previous year. If you recall, Rodney Hood was slated to start last year but had some combination of ‘yips’ and gastric distress and needed to run to the bathroom right at the tip. Coach Quin Snyder motioned to rookie Mitchell and the Spida got his first career start. 

 

 

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    With Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles and Nemanja Bjelica now on the team and (apparently) ahead of Skal Labissiere in the rotation for Sacramento, I wonder if Labissiere might be available in a trade.

    Labissiere needs to become a more physical player, but has obvious lottery-level talent on both offense and defense. I would like to see the Jazz pick him up and develop him as a stretch-4/stretch-5 player. He can really shoot–from the mid-range out to the 3-point line–and also has the instincts, size and length to be a good rim protector on defense. His primary weakness is that he is rail-thin and needs to get stronger and bulk up, and also needs to learn to bang and be more physical in the paint. I think those traits can be taught much easier than height, length, athleticism and shooting touch.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      There aren’t many NBA-level players with Labissiere’s height, length and skill-set, and I think the Jazz should jump on trying to acquire him while he’s not valued very highly by Sacramento. He’s still on a minimal rookie contract for two more seasons ($1.54 mil. this season and $2.3 mil. next season), and so he would be a low risk/high reward type of player.

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