Welcome back to the Salt City Seven, this week with an extra 14.286% thrown in at no extra cost to the reader.
Normally in this space, we recap a week’s worth of Jazz activity with some key topics, numbers and plays. This week, though, we’re stretching it into eight days so we can take you right to the new year1.
Next Thursday we’ll resume the normal cadence for SC7 by reliving the first 6 days of the 2016 Jazz. In the meantime, dig in.
We start this week with a look at a player who just got a lot more important to the 14-17 Jazz’s success for the season: Joe Ingles.
The Jazz just keep getting thinner and thinner, as injuries continue to pull important guys from the rotation. The latest big blow to what was supposed to be a season on the rise was the fractured ankle Alec Burks sustained last Saturday.
That injury in particular just made the Jazz a whole lot more dependent on Slo-Mo Joe. Sure, Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood will bear most of the onus left by Burks’ role on the wing and even his 14.3 points per game. But those two can’t play 48 a night, and Utah’s other wing choices include Elijah Millsap and Chris Johnson, who are both playing below replacement level.
Ingles’ PER is around replacement level, too, but those who know Joe’s game know that he’s a bit more complicated than that. In fact, he’s a bit of a walking paradox: the veteran newbie. He’s both a second-year player who has barely cracked 2,000 career minutes and the team’s senior statesman2 with a ton of professional playing experience.
Basketball-wise, he’s also hard to figure out in some ways. He’s a facilitator who barely holds onto the ball3. Indeed, he plays a bit of hot potato with the ball, but he still managed to get up 9 shots per 36 minutes, almost 69% of them threes.
That’s probably been a function of personnel, and I imagine some of that will change. With three playmaking wings and two point guards, the Jazz have mostly needed Joe to space out to the three point line and threaten the shot. Now that one of Utah’s most creative shot creators is on the shelf until at least late February, it probably behooves the Jazz to reactivate the playmaking version of Joe that doesn’t give up the ball (16.9 passes made per game, per NBA’s passes dashboard) more often than he receives it (16.4).
But the Jazz will also definitely need Ingles to do some things better if he’s going to take on a heavier role. Perhaps most notably, he often displays tactics of a smart defender, and yet his defensive outcomes don’t line up. He’s good at funneling and at getting through tight spaces on screens out front, yet he has the worst on-court team defense numbers4 on the club. He also never gets to the line, and he doesn’t help as much on the glass as a guy his size should5.
And yet, he’s important, more so with Burks sidelined. He’s got the team’s best True Shooting and a solid offensive box plus-minus. If he can extend his role and add value while Burks mends — as was the case in 2014-15 — the Jazz might just be all right.
“…(W)e made shots. You can say (vs. Minnesota), what happens in 24 hours? But a lot of the same looks we had last night, we just made ’em. You know, being at home was probably good. it’s not like we came in and shot last night or anything like that. Just sometimes you gotta step away from it and and stay confident and keep shooting.”
– Quin Snyder after the Jazz used a hot second quarter to beat the Blazers on the 31st.
The Jazz did miss a LOT of layups and open threes in an otherwise winnable game in Minneapolis on Wednesday. All told, they went 26.7% on uncontested jumpers, which just isn’t enough to win ball games6.
Sometimes that will happen, especially with the overall talent level looking as it does in the wake of injuries. Still, the Jazz won’t have many nights when they’re 12-for-45 while open, so it’s probably good they just chilled out and trusted the game to come back to them.
Utah, somewhat remarkably, played closed to even in the four games they played without both Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors. Now, the opponent slate was Blakeless L.A., talent-starved Philly, plucky-but-young Minny and Portland sans Lillard. It would have been nice to do better than tread water, but the Jazz right now are doing what they need to without so many of their studs: they’re just surviving.
Since this week’s installment is Jingles-heavy, let’s highlight a three by the Aussie that came about as the result of some early set-up and then a good P&R read by Hood.
This one caught my mostly because of the funky spacing when the play starts. The Jazz don’t start this one in the flow or from screens like most of their sets. Look at how tightly spaced the three weakside Jazz men are as Trey Burke heads into a misdirection left-side pick with Hood.
This accomplishes a few things. First, if somebody botches coverage on the Burke-Hood action and somebody decides to just go, the paint is open. But if not, now the Blazers are left to guess which of those three players on the weakside is going to be pulled into the next action, making it harder to defend. What winds up happening is that Trey Lyles comes over to pick Hood, while Jeff Withey goes to the dunker7 and Ingles runs a loop route to the corner.
Sounds simple enough, but defending this mess when you don’t know precisely who’s going where can be confusing:
From there, it just turns into good old high screen basketball with the corners spaced. Hood makes a nice little juke to the left to freeze the second defender, and then it’s just a matter of reading where the third defender comes from. He comes from the right corner, and Joe — whose release is quicker at times than the “Slo-Mo” nickname applies — lets this one go quickly enough to evade the closeout.
If we had stuck to the seven-day thing, we’d have only one game ball to give out. After I stated in last week’s “Road Ahead” that Utah could and should take care of the Clips, Sixers and Wolves, they went 1-2 before picking up the NYE win over Portland.
Jazz 97, Nuggets 88 – Hayward
Kind of a weird night for game ball, as there were no great candidates. The Jazz’s three leading scorers all missed two thirds or more of their shots, and the only player with a great plus/minus was the 1-for-7 Trey Lyles.
Hayward somehow salvaged a 24-6-4-2-1 out of that ragged game, and he also hit what would eventually prove to be the game-winner, a gutsy three that ensured the Jazz a final possession. Also considered: Jeff Withey (11 & 10) had his first career double-double, along with two blocks and two steals.
Jazz 109, Blazers 96 – Burke
Once I looked more closely, this one was really closer than I thought. Burke’s 27 were the main storyline, but a lot of guys had really good nights. Hayward’s 23 & 10 earned him his second double-double of the year, and he’s the only Jazz non-big to tally even one. Hood had an impressive 18-7-6 that featured a ton of hands-on decision-making and a game-best +54 net rating.
But from a consistency standpoint, this has to be Alfonso. If Hayward or Favors put up 27 in 29 minutes, we wouldn’t even hesitate, so Burke gets the same courtesy and gets his second Spalding.
Clear back on Thanksgiving, we told you that 14 of the Jazz’s upcoming 19 were home games, and that the Jazz had a chance to pad the W column and make up for some road-heavy play early on.
Since then, they’re 7-10.
Yes, injuries have definitely changed the trajectory, but here’s why I bring it up in this space: they have two games left of that stretch on which to still capitalize. Memphis (Saturday’s opponent) and Houston (Monday) are two underperforming teams, but both games feel like long shots with Utah’s injured list looking like it currently does. If Derrick Favors’ back suddenly gets right or if Rudy Gobert shocks us with a much earlier than expected return, those could be two important wins later down the line. All of Utah, Houston and Memphis project to be within a few games of .500, which means these are games that will count heavily down the stretch of the playoff push.
After those two home dates, the Jazz’s return to road play is as unkind as they come: a Wednesday date in San Antonio with the team that beat them by 37 in their last meeting. That kicks off a stretch where eight of the next 11 are road games, so start mentally preparing for what could be a tough 19 days in January.
Does the winky-face suggest that Rudy knows something we don’t? Either way, here’s to an exciting 2016 as it related to Jazz basketball, and a happy new year to you and yours as well!
Way to end the year fellas! Great things are coming in 2016 😉. #HappyNewYear
— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) January 1, 2016