Since our last installment of the Salt City Seven, a weekly wrap-up column of all things Jazz, Utah’s star has returned, its starting point guard got hurt, and the squad started an East coast swing 2-1. Let’s dive into our weekly examination of the Jazz through seven different lenses, starting with a big question about Utah’s big men.
Over the summer, I wondered aloud whether the Jazz had relented on their decision to unleash the smashmouth tandem of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, especially down the stretch of games. The impetus for doing so was the realization that, after last year’s All-Star break, the pair of star-quality big men played just 59 fourth-quarter and overtime minutes together. Fifty-nine. Gobert and Favors were both available for 26 of those fourth quarters and two overtimes, meaning that the two played in just 18% of the available late-game minutes.
So far this year, it’s more of the same. Utah has played eight games where both bigs were available, meaning that there are 96 possible 4Q minutes. So far, they have collaborated for just eight. An average of one minute together per fourth quarter.
Actually, those eight minutes were spread across just three games. In five of the eight games they were both available, they never played a second together after the third quarter.
There are a few reasons this phenomenon is, at the very least, a curious one.
The Jazz rely heavily on the pair for the rest of the game. Gobert and Favors have played 86 total minutes together, making them the 16th most common player pair so far this season.
They work well together. For as much as people like to call into question the wisdom of playing two traditional, non-stretch bigs together, the Jazz do well when that combination is deployed. For the season, the two have a net ratings of +9.4, and actually bring the team’s offensive rating up with their 111.4 production. That performance also holds up in the fourth quarter: +13.5 in those eight minutes together1.
They’re not afraid to use other 2-big lineups. Several different big man combinations have more than the eight 4Q minutes of Gobert-Favors. Favors and Trey Lyles have played 20 together in the 4th. Gobert and Lyles have played 11. Gobert and Boris Diaw played nine together already even though Diaw only played the season’s first three games. Why will the Jazz play with those two-big combinations, but not with the guys who are arguably two of their best three players?
Matchups don’t always explain it. I get wanting to match up small when Carmelo Anthony is the opposing team’s PF, because that’s a tough cover for Favors even at his most spry. But other times, the Jazz seem to just give away that advantage. For example, every 4Q lineup the Hornets played on Wednesday night included two big men2 that you could guard with Favors and Gobert. Or hell, you could have had Favors slide over to non-shooting wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and plant a big wing on the spot-shooting Marvin Williams. Instead, the Jazz went mostly small and the Hornets erased a lead and won the game.
The Jazz will have invested a ton in both guys. Starting next season, Gobert will earn $102 million over the next four years. Favors is playing out the back half of a $48 million contract extension and may get a new pact that takes him right to his new max level. The Jazz could very well be paying the pair $50 million combined next season, and yet somehow are shy about playing the two together late.
Maybe as Favors gets more comfortable following a leg injury that has visibly hampered his movement in some games, coach Quin Snyder will start leveraging the duo more. In the meantime, it remains at least a little weird to see two of Utah’s best players rarely be put in a situation where they can impact a game together in the closing stages.
“Anytime you have a player of his caliber, everyone gets to do what they are good at a little easier. There is a trickle-down effect.”
-Snyder, to the Deseret News, regarding Gordon Hayward’s return from injury.
Last week, we speculated about how Hayward might be brought along slowly after missing the first six games of the season.
Not so much.
Hayward has simply been awesome. He’s averaging 26-6-3, and that’s with his three-point shot still being a work in progress3. His usage (33%) will probably come back to earth when George Hill is healthy again, but wow: Hayward has come out hungry.
Snyder continued: “More than anything, guys look to him and he wants that right now, and you see he is comfortable doing it.”
Speaking of Hill, that is his team-high Box Plus-Minus figure. BPM is an estimate, derived from box score stats, of the impact a player had to the team’s net points per 100. But it’s not just BPM; most advanced stats that attempt to measure macro value currently rate Hill as the Jazz’s most important player thus far.
Bottom line is, Hill’s absence is pretty impactful. The Jazz got by against Philly, but could have seriously used him in their fall-from-ahead loss at Charlotte. This weekend’s back-to-back will be a test for the Jazz despite the Florida teams’ sluggish starts, and then in the coming days the Jazz face some pretty capable point guards. Hopefully the team’s most value-added player will be ready to go soon.
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 114, Knicks 109: Gordon Hayward
Gordon probably could have won this on narrative points alone: the second his likely early return was leaked out, he was the game ball front-runner. But let’s not forget he was also the MVP of a big road win. He matched two Knicks for game-high scoring (28), and after New York extended to a double-digit lead, G-Time scored 10 of Utah’s points in a 20-8 run to take the lead. Rodney Hood’s 12-point quarter earns him mention, Hill was awesome again and Gobert had the play of the game4… but last year’s game ball champion gets on the board.
Jazz 109, Sixers 84: Derrick Favors
Long before this one was settled, I turned to my brother and remarked that, stats aside, Favors looked more comfortable at both ends than he had all year. His eventual line of 16, 14 and three blocks backed me up, but this isn’t even about counting stats. He protected the rim5, contested everything, found his midrange jumper, and just generally looked like the Fav we know. That’s not to overlook one of those Hayward nights (20-7-5) that are way too easy to overlook, and Hood also has a strong case.
Since we were briefly on the subject of Rudy’s wicked dunk against the Knicks, we might as well break that down in our weekly look at a Jazz play. After all, it was the defining play in the defining quarter of the biggest Jazz win of the week.
There’s actually a lot going on here, but we’re going to focus on two actions — both little bits of misdirection.
First, the Jazz line up in 3-1-5 horns6, making it look like Hayward is going to use either the Gobert screen or the Hill screen. But it’s not actually a screen for Hayward at all — Hill acts like he’s going to screen to Hayward’s right, but at the last second, he cuts hard across the top and right into a screen set by Gobert. Derrick Rose, thinking the Hill-Hayward screen was the real action he needed to defend, winds up totally lost and now has to frantically chase.
The ball winds up in the other corner after a “show” by the weakside defender (Melo), cutting off Gobert’s roll. And that’s where the second bit of misdirection happens.
Rose for some reason7 decides to overplay from the top, giving Hill the baseline. Now Porzingis has to help, so Utah does something clever to take the only other defender out of the play: a fake screen. Gobert inches up like he’s going to screen for Joe, but he doesn’t. Melo either falls asleep or is worried about anticipating the pick, and by the time he realizes the pick isn’t coming and Gobert’s gone, it’s far too late. Look where things are when Melo finally turns his head: Gobert’s going to the rim, the pass is halfway to him, and Porzingis’ momentum is going the wrong way to offer much resistance.
Friday at Orlando: Orlando is following a similar rebuilding path to Utah’s, but they’re a bit behind the Jazz in that process. They have amassed young talent and hired a smart coach, but are still figuring out who is good and still looking up at most of the East. So they’re kind of like the Jazz of two years ago. So far don’t have any wins8 that would make us rethink their spot in the Eastern Conference power structure, although they came close at Cleveland.
Saturday at Miami: Utah’s better than Miami by just about any objective measure, but don’t underestimate the fact that the Jazz will be playing their fifth game in seven days. This game also gives us the next chapter of Gobert vs. Hassan Whiteside.
Monday vs. Memphis: After the Jazz complete their current busy road trip, things calm down considerably. They play just two games in the following six days, both at home. Memphis has mostly looked underwhelming so far. They’re 4-4, but have yet to beat a team who is widely considered a sure bet for the playoffs. Their wins all came at home, too, including two in OT (Wiz & Pellies) and two really close ones (Minny and Denver). Jazz should be heavily favored here.
— Jazz Bear (@utahjazzbear) November 11, 2016
Thanks to all those who, with their service, remind us of the power of American resiliency and set the example for all of us to fight for what’s right and defend our values.