Every week, we put the best Jazz analysis, stats, quotes and stories in one place and call it the Salt City Seven. This week’s edition is a love fest for Utah’s tallest player, props for their shortest player, and mentions just about everybody in between. Plus playoff race, game balls for a 4-0 week and more.
It would be hard to overstate how good Rudy Gobert has been in the past week.
The Jazz won all four games since our last SC7 installment, and their starting center was at least the co-MVP of all four wins. He’s wreaking his usual havoc on defense, and still terrorizing people who don’t fully respect his lethal roll game. And now, we’re starting to see early glimmers of a guy who can make moves in space.
Let’s start with the basics. In the last week, Gobert averaged 16 points and 14 rebounds. He shot 75.8% from the field, including 71.3% when contested. He allowed just 36% shooting at the rim in the 33 attempts he challenged1, part of how the Jazz were able to achieve a 96.6 DRtg in his 146 minutes2.
Against Sacramento, he also became just the third NBA player this season to score a tying or go-ahead bucket in the final five seconds of regulation and overtime in the same game, per ESPN Stats. In fact, one of those buckets was a great example of just how comfortable he’s getting with the ball, and not just in close.
A lot of Gobert chatter this year has centered around how much better he has gotten at catching and scoring the ball, but what we’re seeing recently is a level beyond that. The game-tying layup he scored against the Kings required a degree of mobility and finesse that Gobert just didn’t consistently display a year ago. He catches the ball literally beyond the top of the circle, takes two long strides while veering around a defender, then leans back toward the hoop while softly laying it off the glass with some English. The Jazz’s 7’1″ center made a dribble move from 22 feet out to tie the game. It required a degree of mobility and finesse that Gobert simply didn’t consistently display earlier in his career.
As impressive as that play was in its context, an equally jaw-dropping play might have gone under-recognized because it didn’t immediately lead to a bucket3. Watch this pirouette move on the perimeter:
If that didn’t excite you as a Jazz fan, it should! The reason it might look familiar is because you’ve seen guys like Blake Griffin do it when they feel the pressure going one direction4. That’s an incredibly tough move for any big man to make out on the floor, especially from a live dribble and going from the right to left hand. You can see how if the bounce were a little tighter, he’d be able to turn the corner and go a half beat earlier, but that’s a pretty small nit to pick when you have a giant human making spin dribble moves out in space.
The added agility and comfort with the ball helps Gobert round out a pretty lethal game as a playmaker behind the high P&R. He is already an elite finisher as a roll man, and has gotten much better at recognizing where the third defender is coming from if someone tries to stunt him. Those reads lead to a lot of fun pocket passes or whips over to the weak corner that throw the defense out of balance. He’s also getting much better at finding tougher angles for passes when he surveys from the high post or the elbow.
The development here is just tremendous. It was enough for most Jazz fans when he became a guy who could catch and finish with more reliability. The abilities he’s starting to test now are so far beyond that, and he’s still pushing the envelope without being limited by a fear of messing up. More and more, Gobert is operating at the outer limits of his comfort zone and learning that maybe those limits are imaginary ones.
So the win over Houston puts the No. 3 seed back in play, right? Not so fast.
The third spot is still a long shot, even with the tiebreaker now in Utah’s favor. They still trail the Rockets by three in the loss column, and the Rockets simply don’t have a ton of losses still to come. If the Rox lose only the games where FiveThirtyEight gives them less than a 50% chance of winning, they’ll finish at 57-25, a mark that the Jazz would need to go 16-1 to equal. Chances are Houston will lose more than those four5, but given Utah’s rough schedule, it would take a lot of unexpected losses by the Rockets to drop the Rockets to the point where Utah could realistically catch up.
On the bright side, Utah’s prospects of hanging onto No. 4 got a lot better with the win in Houston. The Grizzlies and Thunder are both on losing streaks, and the Clippers are teetering. L.A. certainly has an easier remaining schedule than Utah, though, and they have a 2-0 lead in the season series with both a home and road date to go. Should Utah stay ahead of the Thunder, the NW Division title would help them in a secondary tiebreak situation with the Clips, but that’s only relevant if the Jazz find a way to win both remaining games against the Angelinos.
Here’s how it’s shaking out. We’re close enough to the finish line that I’m switching formats to show you individual opponents.
With three minutes remaining in the third quarter in Houston, the Rockets had suddenly made a game of it. The Jazz were in a mini-funk and James Harden had been getting to the free throw line. They needed a bucket to stop the run.
What they came up with was this beauty that made me do a double take: a high post split away from the ball.
We’ve talked about splitting the post a few times, even back before the days of the SC76. It involves two players cutting over the same high post player in opposite directions. Usually one of the three involved in the equation, and it’s easy for defenses to get confused as to who’s switching, who’s staying, who’s showing, etc. Here they run if OFF the ball, and both Hayward’s and Alec Burks’ defenders get way lost.
First they run a little 2-5 screen across the lane to get Boris deep position in the low post. This is the same screen the Sloan-era Jazz ran about a gajillion times for Karl Malone. Houston was trying to “hide” Harden on Diaw defensively, but Boris can see right over him and make plays from the low post area.
Then Joe Ingles cut through, and that’s when Hayward and Burks split the high post guy (Jeff Withey) to get open. The spacing isn’t actually perfect7, but it doesn’t matter. Trevor Ariza is a good 10 feet from Hayward before he realizes what’s happening, and Withey rescreens him a little with the hip just for good measure. He just doesn’t have a chance at getting out to that wide open Hayward look.
“You could really just feel our team come together. And you saw that reflected in Raul Neto’s play, and Jeff Withey what he did. I thought Alec had one of his best games since he’s been back just as far as what he was able to do and his comfort level… So to really have what they really call a total team effort, that’s what felt good. And I think it felt good to our team.”
– Quin Snyder on team radio, after the Jazz upset the Rocket in Houston
We’ll do Game Ball here in a second and recognize the MVP performances and memorable achievements of Utah’s 4-0 weeks. But after one of the Jazz’s three best wins of the year, it would be a mistake to not mention the roles played by some of Utah’s deep reserves who stepped up in a pinch with solid decisions and good overall games.
Neto was particularly good, earning the lion’s share of the fourth quarter minutes at point8 despite having been on the shelf for most of the year. He made smart cuts, bodied the Houston guards, and even picked up a couple of blocks.
“People forget he started like the entire year last year up until All-Star break,” Snyder added in the same interview. “So to go from that to essentially at the beginning of the year being our fourth point guard, DNPing, [then] to the D-League, and then last night to play 20 minutes in probably one of our biggest wins of the year, you gotta respect that.”
Snyder mentioned that while Dante Exum has “separated himself defensively” to win the backup point guard role, the Jazz get a different kind of defensive contribution from Neto. “When he goes in the game, and he gets up and presses it defensively and makes a play and really tries to think like a point guard, his teammates have confidence in him.”
Jazz 112, Nets 97: George Hill
This wasn’t a particularly hard one after Hill had his best overall game in a Jazz uniform. His 34 points were a high since Hill donned the note, and he shot 10-for-12, dished seven assists, went to the line a season-high 12 times, and won his minutes by 26 points. Derrick Favors (19-12-3 on 8-for-9 shooting) looked like he might win it early, but Hill made this an easy call.
Jazz 110, Kings 109: Gobert
You read above, right? One of three in the entire league to tie or go ahead in the final five seconds of the fourth AND overtime of a same game? Even aside from that, Gobert was tremendous. His line of 16-23-3-1-3 probably would have been enough even if he weren’t the hero… twice. Rodney Hood deserves credit for keeping the Jazz in it with his early shot-making (28 points and four threes on the night), and was the favorite to get the Spalding until Gobert made the game his.
Jazz 88, Pelicans 83: Gobert
You could pick Hayward (23-7-2) and I would have no complaints. A lot of people liked Joe Ingles for his 4-for-5 three-point performance and his refusal to back down. And Derrick Favors was far more important than he gets credit for9. But this was another one where Gobert controlled the game late. Here’s what Gobert did after the Pelicans cut it to five inside the three-minute mark: tipped in a missed three, stole from Boogie to lead to an Ingles three, dunked to seal the game, and then wryly explained that, “I wasn’t an All-Star, so I’m not as great (as Boogie and AD).” Oh and 15-16-3-2-2 and 0-for-6 rim defense.
Jazz 115, Rockets 108: Gobert
After Snyder called this “a total team effort,” I almost feel bad reducing it to one guy. And again, I’d listen to arguments for 80% of the starting lineup. Hayward was typically awesome. Hood, who Houston’s announcers say always torches the Rockets10, had 19-6-3 in his return to the starting lineup. And Joe Johnson gets narrative points for starting at power forward and sinking the dagger three. But again… Rudy. Nine points and five rebounds of his 23-and-10 night came in the fourth quarter. It was his third highest scoring output of the season, and the Jazz are 15-3 when he gets at least 16.
Ingles’ shooting percentage from deep in the last 14 games. After a bit of a slump, he’s back to his usual self in that department.
Utah is still fifth in the league in clutch rating, but weirdly, it has more to do with their offense (#3) than their defense (#10). They are the best team in the league in clutch eFG%, as well as clutch rebound percentage.
— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) March 9, 2017