The big basketball-related Jazz stories of the past week have all centered around George Hill. And the biggest news involved Rudy Gobert. But before we get to that, there something bigger we need to discuss.
The Jazz’s star is ready to go.
The week’s big Jazz storyline.
On October 7, Gordon Hayward’s left ring finger got caught in a teammate’s jersey and broke. Thirty days later — on November 6 — the Jazz star’s finger is healed to the point where he is ready to make his season debut.
He’ll do so in a gym where he has had big games before. On Hayward’s last trip to Madison Square Garden, he posted 27-3-5 in a close loss. The year before that, he logged 33 points, six assists and four steals, and went toe-to-toe with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony down the stretch.
Expect a more modest line this time; he’ll mostly likely play fewer minutes as he brings himself back to game shape. The Jazz’s modus operandi on injury reintegrations so far has been to ease guys back in. Hayward’s injury was limited to an upper-body digit, so he didn’t miss out on conditioning activities altogether. But NBA game speed is different from anything Hayward could do on a bike or a treadmill, so he’ll need some acclimation time as well.
Still, his return probably means that someone currently getting rotation minutes is going to be on the outside looking in for a while. Rodney Hood’s role is certainly safe, Joe Johnson has been a crucial emergency scoring weapon, and Dante Exum is too important to the franchise’s future. This probably largely comes down to Shelvin Mack and Joe Ingles, who are averaging nearly identical minutes thus far (17.7 and 17.6, respectively).
If Ingles drops from the rotation, Utah loses its second best three-point shooter (behind Johnson), a savvy creator and a smart team defender. The bench unit would become Mack-Exum-Johnson as soon as Hayward is ready to reassume his starting role.
Alternatively, coach Quin Snyder could elect to move Exum back to point guard alongside Ingles and Johnson in the bench unit. Both of those wings can create anyway, so it wouldn’t put too much strain on the young Exum, who has gradually been assuming more creation responsibilities even on possessions when he’s playing alongside another point guard.
Snyder seems to really like what he gets out of both Mack and Ingles, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes.
One thing’s for sure: regardless of who it impacts at the back of the rotation, getting Hayward back will be a huge boon for Utah.
Jazz news or trends in the words of the players and staff themselves.
“I love the organization, I love the coach, I like to live in Utah and I like the way the team is building. My goal in my career is to get a championship and I think we’re going in the right direction and I want to be part of that.”
Rudy Gobert, via the Deseret News
I already chimed in on the Gobert extension in a Q&A earlier this week, but it wouldn’t be a Salt City Seven if we didn’t take a minute to celebrate perhaps the biggest franchise news of the week.
Gobert is unique. Not a lot of players possess his mix of tools and skills. That makes his value hard to peg relative to NBA guys whose output we can measure in more straightforward ways. But make no mistake about it: Gobert is one of the most impactful big mean in the entire league.
In fact, some have him ranked as one of the best guys in the league in terms of value added. FiveThirtyEight.com projects the “wins above replacement player” of every player in the league, and their mean projection for Rudy (7.2) is the 20th highest in the association, per research done by Andy Bailey of Today’s Fastbreak. FiveThirtyEight also projects Hayward and Derrick Favors within the top 30, meaning that the Jazz have three guys who are good enough to be the most valuable player on at least some NBA teams.
Bailey has compiled rankings from a number of NBA sites and reports that Rudy’s composite ranking is right around 35th best in the NBA. But only 538’s ranking is done without any human subjectivity.
Bottom line: Gobert could add enough value in macro terms to be a fringe All-Star this year, and he just turned 24. He’ll get a lot better and — at least for the foreseeable future — he’ll do so while wearing Jazz colors.
Stats of note from the week or the season so far.
So far this season, Gobert is holding opponents to 14-of-42 shooting at the rim, even better than last season’s league-leading 41% rim defense. Per NBA stats, opponents shoot 9.9 percentage points worse than their usual clip when the Stifle Tower is nearby.
The best offensive rating of any Jazz player pair so far1 is that of the Joes. Johnson and Ingles also have a pretty decent defensive rating in their 27 minutes of joint action, giving them the best net rating on the team. This could be pretty relevant news for Utah, given Alec Burks’ recent injury news. Joe-Squared might be the Jazz’s bench wing tandem for a while.
Ingles is also featured in the Jazz’s best defensive pairing (along with Derrick Favors), a pretty good indication that the Aussie just knows how to help his team.
Wins are usually team accomplishments, but we’ll try to find the hero of each Jazz win, either in traditional terms of because of some interesting storyline or moment that will define how we remember and talk about a particular game.
Jazz 96, Lakers 89: George Hill
You could make a case for Gobert (13-13-4) or even for Derrick Favors (15 & 9 in limited minutes) and I’d listen. But this game really seemed to belong to Hill. It wasn’t just the 23 points2, 10 of which came during a 31-24 fourth quarter. It wasn’t even the one turnover in 35 minutes. It was the fact that whenever Hill was on the court, the Jazz looked like a different team. For example, Utah’s offensive rating with Hill was 113, compared to 77 when he sat.
Jazz 106, Spurs 91: George Hill
Trey Lyles (15) and Shelvin Mack (14) got a lot of mentions in our game ball discussion because of their scoring off the bench. But most people seemed to acknowledge that this one wasn’t even that tough of a decision. How’s this for hot: Hill was 6-for-7 on contested shots. At one pont in the final quarter, he scored or assisted on 13 straight points. He finished with 22 points, seven assists and no turnovers.
Jazz 97, Mavs 81: George Hill
No, the copy-paste function on my computer didn’t go crazy. He was just that good this past week. I strongly considered Hood, and Gobert deserves some credit for his crazy rim defense and a +47 net rating. But Hill was again special. He played 12 minutes more than Gobert, posted an effective field goal percentage of 73.3% (!!) and again took over a fourth quarter. Of his 25-6-4 night, 10 points and four assists came in the fourth quarter, including a stepback deuce that started the decisive 14-6 run.
A look at a particular play and the actions the Jazz used to score.
The Jazz did a lot of cool stuff this week I’d love to dissect here — and I promise I will as the season goes along. For this week, though, we’ll go for scale instead of cleverness; this was one of the most important plays of the week.
The Spurs had stormed from behind to pull to within a bucket. That’s usually about the time to start planning the funeral. What followed was a whole bunch of George Hill, starting with this pull-up three behind a screen.
This is a SLOB play — sideline out of bounds — that the Jazz ran out of a timeout. If your eyes are only on Hill, it’s about as simple a play as they come. It’s just a single pindown to bring Hill to the ball, followed by a high on-ball pick-and-roll.
It’s everything else about this play that makes it work. Watch Gobert set a screen for Lyles. It’s misdirection, and it works: watch Pau Gasol get frozen as he’s not sure whether he needs to help on that action. Tony Parker also turns his head towards Lyles. Then Gobert turns and sets the screen for Hill. Parker goes under (probably because Pau is out of helping position), and look at how wide open Hill is when he goes up (on the second freeze frame).
Meanwhile, Hood keeps Kawhi Leonard completely preoccupied in the paint. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had been making it a point to shut Hood down, so the Jazz used that to their advantage.
A look at the Jazz games between now and the next Salt City Seven.
Sunday at NYK: The Knicks don’t really look like the Super Team the recently acquired Derrick Rose foresaw, but they’ll be coming off a double-digit road win. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Jazz as favorites (58-42), but this one could go either way.
Monday at PHI: The Sixers came within a single point of getting their first win at the expense of the NBA champs on Saturday night, just a reminder of how weird the league can be sometimes. It also means they’re still winless, even though Joel Embiid has been one of the most exciting stories in the young season. The former #3 overall pick is averaging 17 & 6 (with 2.7 blocks) despite being limited to 20 minutes3 as he works his way back from injuries.
Wednesday at CHA: On the one hand, the Hornets are 4-1 and have the league’s fourth-tightest defense in the league. On the other hand, their four wins came against Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Miami, four projected lottery teams. In other words, it might be too early to figure out exactly what Charlotte is going to do this year. One thing’s for sure: Kemba Walker (24.4 ppg, 42.4% from three) is playing good ball.
Random stuff to make you chuckle and/or cheer.
We’re going to use this space to talk about Gobert’s block list for a second straight week, justto make an important clarification.
A concerned reader reached out to say that he remembered Gobert blocking some of the All-Stars we listed as having thus far dodged the ignominy. Naturally, this led to some feverish research and rechecking. After investigating, I can say with certainty that the list was correct.
Which is to say that Gobert has never been credited with a block against those stars. That’s not the same thing as saying he hasn’t gotten them. Maybe he swatted somebody in a preseason game. Maybe he got someone after a whistle. A block shot that comes after a foul4 doesn’t count on the official stat sheet — which is kind of silly, but true. Even though a Rudy swat might have erased the chance for a 3-point play, the official scorers view it as a block that never happened — which they sort of have to since, officially, the attempt never existed either.
Gobert did block both DeAndre Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki — along with first-timers Luol Deng and D’Angelo Russell. That brings his total count to 217 he has been credited with blocking. It also means he has gotten all but nine of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 All-Stars and All-NBA players5.