Salt City Seven (& Then Some): Scoring, Passing, 3 Game Balls & More

November 27th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

Normally we gather here every week to relive the stories and games from seven days in Jazzland1. Because of the holiday, you get bonus coverage this week.

Here are the big stories, key numbers, awesome plays and superb performances since our last SC7, back on November 16.

A (usually) brief exploration of a prominent theme from the week or the current state of Utah Jazz basketball.

The Jazz have won three of their last four, with a suddenly very productive offense. Over that stretch, Utah’s offense has created 113 points per 100 possessions, a huge improvement from their 100.3 offensive rating before that point.

They now have six players averaging between 10 and 18 points per game for the season, so there’s now some legit suspense on a topic we delved into prior to the season: who will lead the team in scoring this season?

It’s not the topic of greatest importance; as long as the team keeps moving the ball the way they have in the last week, coach Quin Snyder will be happy regardless of who cashes in the possession. But just for kicks, let’s look at the team’s six double-digit scorers, in reverse order of likeliness to finish in the points-per-game lead.

6. Joe Ingles (10.4 ppg)

Ingles’ chances aren’t great. He takes the fewest shots of anybody in this group, and he hardly ever gets to the free throw line2. But since nearly two thirds of Ingles’ shots are three-pointers, and since Snyder and Jazz fans would love for the Aussie forward to be less shy about taking open ones, it’s at least conceivable that he will finish the year north of his current 10.4. His chances of finishing in the lead, though, are pretty low. And that’s OK.

5. Ricky Rubio (12.9 ppg)

That 12.9 figure actually has the Spaniard fourth on the team. But it feels fair to peg him at fifth likeliest to lead for the year, since Rubio is already outperforming his career scoring average by 22 percent of so. Defenses will keep inviting him to shoot on pick-and-rolls, so the question is how many of them will he drill? He shot 44 percent from the field and 37 from three in his first eight games as a Jazz man, and then 28 and 7 in his next eight. In the last three, 52 and 63.  In other words, expect some streaks when it comes to Rubio’s shooting.

4. Derrick Favors (12.6 ppg)

Favors was this SC7 artist’s sleeper pick before the season started, one of just two Jazz players to have averaged more than 16 per game already3. Out of necessity, the Jazz have rediscovered their versatile big man’s offensive tools since Rudy Gobert’s injury. Favors has averaged 17.6 points on 10.0 field goal attempts while Gobert has been sidelined. He’s getting to the line a ton (6.0 FTA/gm over that stretch), he’s back near a point per possession as a roll man, and he remains in the top quartile among cutting play-finishers.

So why just fourth likely? Because once Gobert is back, a lot of Favors’ possessions are heading there. The Stifle Tower gets 1.47 out of the average possession he finishes out of the pick-and-roll, so once the two are back, Favors is likely going to be parked in the dunker again, or ready to take the weakside baseline jumper. In fact, after the Jazz have discovered some offensive success with 4-out basketball, it’s possible that Snyder will opt to stagger Gobert and Favors more, which would likely mean fewer minutes for no. 15.

3. Rudy Gobert (13.9 ppg)

The Jazz’s injured center started the year as one of the league’s best roll men and an improved free-throw shooter (71.7 percent). All of the ingredients were there for him to have a career year.

His percentages around the rim have dipped a little, but basically Gobert is giving fans more of what they got from him last season. It’s not crazy to imagine Gobert’s averages climbing after his eventual return either, but that’s going to require Utah’s P&R facilitators to hit open pull-ups. In Rudy’s first dozen games this season, he rarely had an unencumbered roll because teams were content to let guys like Rubio, Ingles and Donovan Mitchell shoot off the bounce. If those guys can keep defenses honest, Gobert has shown he can score. He finished with 16 or more in half of his games so far.

2. Donovan Mitchell (14.8)

There are a few reasons Mitchell isn’t likely to lead the Jazz in scoring for the year:

  • As of right now, the front-runner has nearly a 3-ppg lead on him.
  • At some point, the rookie wall could slow Mitchell a bit.
  • He still doesn’t get to the line a ton, so he’s still somewhat reliant on shot-making.

But it’s pretty impressive that Mitchell has put himself in a position where it’s not crazy to put him in the conversation. He has now led the team in scoring (or tied for the lead) in more games than anybody: eight times after his 24-point effort on Saturday. After a bumpy start to his rookie season, Mitchell is averaging nearly 21 per game over his last 15 outings.

He has gone for 19+ eight times already, making him the only rookie to do that this season. In fact, he’s one of just 17 rookies since the turn of the century to hit that mark at least eight times in his first 20 games.

1. Rodney Hood (17.7)

Mitchell and Hood have essentially the same usage and take the same number of shots, so the 2017-18 Jazz scoring crown will likely come down to shot-making. And as of right now, Hood has the edge.

The move to the bench seems to have really helped Hood clarify his role in the offense. He has been way more aggressive as a reserve sniper, with over 30% usage in nine games off the bench. He’s also shooting much better as a sub. He shot 40% from the field and 36.4% from three as a starter, and since becoming the offensively fulcrum of the second unit he’s up to 43.6% and 43.1%, respectively.

He’s capable of taking over a quarter or a half offensively, and right now that’s not really true for anybody else4. Because of that, he’ll keep getting his 15 or so shots per game, so as long as he keeps canning 40 percent of his threes, it will be hard for anybody to wrest the top spot away from him.

If that happens, it will be pretty remarkable. Since 1990, only five players who spent an entire season with a team have led that team in scoring while coming off the bench at least half the time5. Leading the Jazz in scoring in a bench role would have to make Hood a frontrunner for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award6.

 

Words from a Jazz player or coach about a relevant or timely topic.

“There’s been steady progress in our decision making… We know where we are on the floor, and we make the right plays. We’re getting better at passing the ball as a group, just collectively. It’s been a real point of emphasis. Whether it’s using ball fakes or not looking down a pass or passing the ball quickly.”

-Snyder, in Saturday’s postgame presser

Passing has been a big part of Utah’s recent success. They’ve shared 364.5 passes per game over their current 3-1 stretch. Before that, they were averaging 320.1. That’s still well above league average, but an extra 44 passes per game is no small deal. They’re not actually using significantly more clock, they’re just squeezing more passes into their average possession, which is helping them find the best shot.

Mitchell thinks it’s just part of the process of guys getting to know each other better, and told the Deseret News that he feels right now guys are “playing with happiness and having fun.”

Snyder continued: “I thought we were incredibly unselfish and offensively we were connected trying to help each other.”

 

Stats and figures that help tell prominent stories from the week.

Here are a couple of other things they’re doing differently over this four-game stretch:

  • They’re averaging 10% more drives than their season-long figure.
  • Their effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot attempts is at 62.5 percent, up from 50.9 percent in the prior 16 games.
  • Their percentage of assisted field goals has climbed from 55 to 63.
  • While their block percentage is at an unusually low 6.4%7, they’re finding other ways to defend. They sport a 99.3 DRtg in the last four games.

 

A quick dissection of an awesome bit of Jazz offense from the week.

The Jazz’s two wins supplied a total of 87 buckets to choose from. So the fact that the play highlighted here came from a loss should be evidence of how fun this little bit of trickeration was.

In each of the past two weeks, we’ve talked about Spain pick-and-roll, a variation of the high pick where a second screener comes in behind to back-screen the help guy. The Jazz run it a lot, and teams know that. So much so that, in this case, Snyder’s able to use it as a decoy.

The Jazz line up as though they’re going to deploy Spain P&R, which causes Ben Simmons to start shadowing Donovan Mitchell’s movement in case he has to help on the drive.

But the Jazz have other designs. Favors turns around sets a flare screen to allow Ingles to pop out to the three-point line. Simmons gets caught on the wrong side of the pick, and Jingles gets what basically amounts to a practice shot.

Freeze frame: Jazz trick Philly to free Jingles for 3

Quick hitter and a fun wrinkle — even if the Jazz didn’t capitalize and find a way back in the game.

 

Doling out credit for Jazz wins, one imaginary Spalding at a time.

The extra long SC7 window means we get to give away three game balls instead of two.

Jazz 125, Magic 85: Rodney Hood

Few guys can take over the game offensively quite like Hood did for a lengthy stretch. Favors paced the Jazz early and finished with 25 and 11 on 10-for-12 shooting, and There were a number of qualitative reasons why the aggressive Raul Neto finished with a game-high +44 for the evening. But when a player does what Hood did, it’s darn near automatic that he’ll walk away with the leather. He scored 15 in just 6:31 of third-quarter play, and finished with 31 for the night. He canned seven threes, grabbed five boards and was the story of the night in broad terms. Easy button.

Jazz 110, Bulls 80: Derrick Favors

This was basically as easy as the last one; Fav was probably the best player on the court for most of the night. Net rating bears that theory out: the Jazz’s offense hummed while Favors was sinking jumpers, working the post and getting to the free throw line, to the tune of a 117 ORtg. The defense held the Bulls (hapless as they are) to 73.5, the lowest among rotation players. His final line of 23 and 7 on just 11 shots doesn’t even adequately explain how core he was to several key stretches.

Jazz 121, Bucks 108: Joe Ingles

The Twitter debate on this one mostly came down to Ingles and Mitchell. The latter joined Wesley “Don’t Call Me Wes” Matthews as the only Jazz rookies to ever drop six triples in a game, and his 24-4-4 line as a 21-year-old is pretty special stuff (even if he did a lot of his damage with the Jazz sitting on a fourth quarter lead). Hood should have been more involved in the conversation, too: 21 points on a variety of moves, including two emphatic dunks and a dominant third quarter. Ultimately, I went with Joe. The cagey veteran set the tone with early defensive pressure on the wings8, dished nine assists, and knocked down five triples of his own. He was also responsible for guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo at times.

 

A look at the Jazz’s postseason probabilities

This week was a pretty good illustration of why obsessing over playoff odds in November can be unnecessarily stressful.

Going into the Jazz’s 40-point win over Orlando, FiveThirtyEight.com was projecting Utah to a season total of 36 wins. After that one win, the odds bumped Utah to 40, because their calculation uses average point differential as a measure of quality to predict future outcomes. And while it was a convincing win, it’s not actually worth four when they count ’em up in April.

All this is to say it’s probably best not to get too caught up in every dip and bump in the projections. The Jazz are what they are, at least as they weather their current injury situation.

A smarter way to look at the projections at this stage is to look at teams around the Jazz and keep an eye on their trajectory. The Nuggets are currently tracking to sixth in the West, but they have their own injury news to deal with. The Blazers, Pelicans are both reachable with their 45-win projection, and the free-falling Grizzlies and Clippers are now headed to the 30s based on their current momentum.

Those are the teams to watch. Utah needs to finish ahead of three of them.

 

Because, at the end of the day, this should be fun.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a bona fide Jazzgasm, so let’s end with a Spursgasm.

In the whole video lasts about nine seconds, but in the course of about :04, all five Jazz players touch the ball. It leaves Ingles’ hands with :21 on the shot clock, setting up a one-dribble drive and kick by Neto, then touch passes by Jonas Jerebko and Mitchell land the ball in Fav’s hand with :17 on the shot. Dang.

Enjoy, and we’ll be back to our regular SC7 schedule this week.

Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

4 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Toally ageee with not getting caught up in the ups and downs of the season. The Jazz are now starting a crew with only two starters from last year. This is hard to overcome. It takes time to develop chemistry and figure where each player likes his shots or how he cuts. Mitchell will inevitably have ups and downs. Remember the Jazz are missing 3 major players they expected to have playing now. Four if you consider they expected to have Hayward. So I believe they are doing pretty well. Bradley looks as if he is a bad pick; though he is really young. Just don’t see the skill set of full court athleticism. Royce could get more court time. Thabo, Jonas, and Ekpe are really super additions.

    By the way. Thanks Dan for the insights.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      I still think it is a bit early to label Bradley as a bust. He is very young, and needs to get much, much stronger to be able to compete with the grown men-freaks of the NBA. The Jazz clearly picked him as a long-term project, and as undeveloped as he currently is, it makes one wonder if he will develop enough during his rookie contract to ever be of much use to the Jazz. He has shown flashes of talent, but as the Jazz have seen with Dante Exum, Joel Bolomboy and Trey Lyles, unless those flashes of talent lead to more consistent performance fairly quickly, it becomes difficult for a young player to ever become a useful rotation player in the NBA.

  2. Pingback: Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive | Salt City Hoops

  3. Pingback: SC7: Long December, How Good Are the Jazz, Passing History & More | Salt City Hoops

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