So much was going on last week that we barely touched on Derrick Favors’ return. We’ll start there this week, but we also have game balls to give out, a massively important play to share, numbers, quotes and we’ll end on a different type of star search in our Just For Fun section.
There was a play on Monday night that showed just how much the Jazz have missed Favors.
OK, there were actually several. But let’s start with this one.
Chicago ran a high pick-and-roll toward the outside. The Jazz usually like to defend that by having the big man hang back and shadow the ball handler — it’s a tough angle to ask bigs to jump out to cut off the guard.
Then the Bulls employed the savvy counter. The screener just flipped the pick, so now his teammate has a screen going to the middle of the floor. That’s where the Jazz use some situational1 traps, switches and hedges, because they don’t like to give guards the middle of the floor to work with. But when the big is far back on the first screen, flipping it can create problems for the defense because most bigs can’t cover that ground effectively, so the ball handler can usually find some room to work with at the top of the key, or get a running head start and force help.
But not this time. Favors had no problem sliding over to “gold” the guard coming over the top. That gave the other defender a chance to recover, and then Favors was back to his man, and the Bulls’ attempt to screen and rescreen had yielded nothing.
It’s the type of play that reminds you how unique his contributions to the Jazz defense are. He’s so versatile in space, which gives the Jazz a whole new dimension.
But it’s beyond physical ability. Favors is extremely focused and studious regarding the litany of different pick-and-roll scenarios and the way his coach wants each one handled. Remember, Quin Snyder is the guy who literally wrote a 7-page dissertation for FIBA Assist Magazine about how to react differently and in real-time to the P&R based on the angle. location, spacing and personnel of every single screen.
That’s hard. Favors isn’t just equipped to show, trap, switch or do whatever else Snyder’s framework calls for; the more impressive thing is that he knows.
He’s also a great off-ball helper, and his help-and-get-back ability is the best of all Jazz bigs. He’s just a wicked smart defender, with above average mobility and fast response times.
His return hasn’t just made things easier on defense, either. As a roll man, he attracts a lot more attention than Trevor Booker or Trey Lyles. Even when his short-roll jumper was off against Denver, the threat of Favors catching below the foul line is enough to bring in a third and sometimes even fourth defender, opening up shooters or baseline movement. And they don’t have to run P&R every time, either; Favors gives them their one true post-up option.
The bottom line is that having Favors healthy again is extremely meaningful. When the Jazz were mostly healthy at 9-9, they had the adjusted point differential of a 48-win team. That differential understandably slipped while they went through long stretches without Favors, Rudy Gobert and Alec Burks. Now, since reuniting their star big men five games ago, they’re 4-1 with a net rating of +11.7.
Suddenly, the Jazz look like they could be the team that those early models saw.
Snyder gushed the other night about how Gordon Hayward has been taking over games on both ends of the court.
So for this week’s play breakdown, let’s watch what might be one of the single most important plays of the Jazz season so far.
Raul Neto makes two straight ballsy ventures into the paint, but finds three Bulls walling off any interior passing options. He finds Favors with :07 left on the shot clock at this point, and Favors smartly decides to get the ball in the hands of a playmaker. As soon as Joe Ingles dribbles toward the middle, Jimmy Butler steps out to deny Hayward the ball.
From that point, it’s a play much like the blind pig stuff we talked about last week. In fact, by the time Hayward goes into motion to punish the Butler overplay, you can actually see Favors calling for the ball so he can make that little relay pass.
Instead, Joe realizes he can get the pass directly to Hayward. Pause the video around the :17 mark and marvel at how little space he had to get the ball through. Favors then screens Butler, and Bobby Portis is just plain frozen as the help man. Game over.
For a day, Rodney Hood had brought his three-point percentage up past his 2014-15 number of 36.5%. His cold shooting against Denver dropped it just a bit, but this is still a significant development, especially after his tough start.
In honor of a great Gobert feature by SI’s Ben Reiter, I feel compelled to tell you that Stifle’s block list is up to 196 different guys, after he got Emmanuel Mudiay on Wednesday night. At this point, we have to be wondering: who will be the 200th NBA player he blocks? Probably someone from the Mavs, Pelicans or Celtics.
The Jazz made this a week of heavy lifting in the Game Ball department by winning all three of their games in this installment.
Jazz 103, Timberwolves 90 – Favors
You could make a case for Rodney Hood, but the story of the game was Favors, full stop. His return to the starting lineup. His and Rudy’s struggles early against a mobile Minny frontline that was making shots. The coverage adjustments to capitalize on Favors’ agility. The way his defense, along with two buckets and a couple of threes by Trey Burke, fueled a 14-0 run to end the third quarter.
Jazz 105, Bulls 96 – Hayward
A star’s game, period. Only Dray, Blake, Westbrook and Harden have had games this season with that output (27-12-7), but it’s not even about numbers. It’s about the way he made massive plays at both ends and outdueled Jimmy Butler. Neto deserves mention for the best night of basketball he’s ever had on this continent — scoring, defense, offensive creation.
Jazz 85, Nuggets 81 – Favors
Nobody really had it on offense, so this game became a battle of stops. And nobody did more stopping than Favors. Six blocks, many of which came in the stretch that turned the game for Utah. The Jazz held Denver to 35 second-half points, and Favors was a huge part of that. Oh, and he already had 16 & 11.
“You know, he can hit my hotline bling.”
That’s what Trey Lyles said about the prospect of hanging out with fellow Canadian Drake when he’s in Toronto. Air Saskatoon is a replacement addition to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, where he’ll join Neto on the team of 1st and 2nd-year players from outside the U.S.
Could this be the week the Jazz get back to .500? They’d need a 3-1 week to do it.
I’ve always loved the way the Knicks handle celebrities at their games. They don’t just quickly display a shot of the famous guest on the video board; first, they run a clip of that person acting, singing or otherwise performing in their most recognizable setting. Then they show the celeb, usually to nice applause, because they first reminded fans why they like that person.
Seeing this again at MSG prompted an interesting conversation the next night with a dinner group that included beat writers Andy Larsen and Jody Genessy: who should the Jazz recruit as their signature celebrity fans?
The Jazz’s current celebrity fan situation is in a pretty sorry state. When CBS Sports recently did a list of celebrity fans, the best they could come up with for the Jazz was Zac Efron, because he had attended a single playoff game in 20083. Grantland4 did a similar exercise and chose Macklemore because he wore a Jazz jersey once. C’mon.
We need to find better. This is a top priority.
The ideal candidate will have some Utah ties (but also be famous beyond the Beehive) and lend a few cool points. It doesn’t have to be like Jay-Z, Olivia Munn or Jack Nicholson, but a little cachet wouldn’t hurt. The Sundance Film Festival occasionally brings a star or two into the arena5, but I’m talking about more that than: filling the position of standing Jazz fan.
Here are my top candidates, in no order at all.