SC7: Another Season Defined by Injuries, Contract Stuff, Tribute & More

December 23rd, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

Whew, that was a lot of basketball.

Since the last installment of the Salt City Seven, the Utah Jazz completed their first 5-games-in-7-nights stretch of the season. They’ve had two different 5-in-8 sprints, and a number of 4-in-6s. But the five games they’ve played since the last weekly column is not just the most they’ve played in any SC7 period this week — it’s the most they’ve played in any single 7-day span so far.

So how did they do?

They finished 2-3, with wins over the Celtics and Spurs bookending a run of three straight losses.

More importantly, the stretch dealt Utah more bad health news. Just 109 seconds into the murderous week, they watched their All-NBA center hobble off the court yet again, and their star rookie missed a pair of games during this run. Yet again, the Jazz season has been defined by all we don’t know about the club as a result of injuries. And that’s where we’ll start this week’s edition of the Salt City Seven.

 

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

It hardly seemed possible that the basketball gods could deal Utah a worse injury hand than they did last season. But the basketball gods like a challenge.

Already this year, Utah has missed 94 player games to injury. These aren’t bumps and bruises to bit players, either. All-NBA center Rudy Gobert has missed nearly half his team’s games, and four others have missed at least a quarter of the Jazz’s games. Rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell caught the bug this past week, missing a pair with a problem in his big toe.

Once again, the visualization of Utah’s games missed to injury so far has a lot more red than they’d like to see.

Once again, injuries are a prominent storyline to the Jazz’s season.

The Jazz have been down by three players on the average night this season, and they’re players that matter. Utah’s top three in games missed to injury are promising guard Dante Exum (33), 2017 playoff hero Joe Johnson (21) and Gobert (15).

The short-term cost of all those injuries comes in the form of losses. The long-term cost, though, might be stiffer. Utah just hasn’t had the chance to establish continuity. The Jazz don’t have a 5-man lineup that has played more than 108 minutes together so far this season. Of the other 29 teams, only Phoenix, Memphis and Atlanta don’t have a fivesome that has played more than Utah’s most-used quintet.

So it’s another one of those years where Christmas will come and go before we have a really solid idea of who the Jazz are, how the pieces fit together and how good they can be.

 

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

“Our team I think has come to play. That’s one of the things that they do. No matter who’s out there, our guys have competed. It’s good to see us respond in a couple situations.”

– Jazz coach Quin Snyder, to the Deseret News’ Ryan McDonald

This quote from after the Jazz’s win over San Antonio on Thursday reflects how the coach and his team are trying to weather the injury bug.

 

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

83

With 83 starts in the past two seasons, Hood has now unlocked a weird contract quirk. The qualifying offer — the amount the Jazz must tender as a one-year contract offer in order to make Hood a restricted free agent next summer — will now be bumped up.

Normally, the Jazz would have to offer Hood, the 23rd pick in the 2014 draft, $3,472,882. But since he has now guaranteed that he’ll average at least 41 starts between this season and last season, he now qualifies for the “starter criteria” QO, which is equal to $4,749,590.

It only really matters to cap nerds, though. Even the $4.7M figure is far too low for Hood to even consider accepting the one-year tender, and his cap hold amount1 will be $7.16 million no matter what.

Conversely, since former No. 5 pick Dante Exum hasn’t met — and probably won’t meet — the starter criteria, his QO will be dropped to that of the No. 15 pick in the draft. Instead of a $6.6 million QO, Utah will need to submit a $4.19 million offer to make him a restricted free agent. His cap hold will be just a hair under $15 million.

15

While we’re talking contract stuff, it is worth mentioning that Gobert has now missed the maximum number of games he can miss and still keep certain performance-based bonuses in play. So when he watches Saturday’s Jazz-Thunder contest from the sidelines, he’ll officially forfeit those incentives.

That will also have an impact on the Jazz’s cap math for next season, since those incentives will now be considered unlikely and won’t count toward Utah’s salary figure next July 1.

41.3

Now that former Jazz forward Carlos Boozer has officially retired from basketball, it’s worth revisiting the conversation about whether the Duke product was the Jazz’s best free agent acquisition ever.

With 41.3 VORP-based wins added, Booz contributed more victories to the Jazz than any other player that was originally acquired as a free agent. He’s 10th overall, behind players the Jazz drafted (Karl Malone, John Stockton, Andrei Kirilenko, Mark Eaton, Paul Millsap, Bryon Russell and Gordon Hayward) or acquired via trade (Adrian Dantley, Jeff Hornacek). No Jazz man originally signed as a free agent has scored more field goals or grabbed more rebounds, and only Mehmet Okur, acquired in that same 2004 offseason, scored more points.

Boozer averaged 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in his 354 regular season Jazz games, and he got even better in the playoffs: 20.3 and 12.5. Perhaps his defining game in a Jazz uniform came in a road game seven, when his 35 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists helped the Jazz advance past the Houston Rockets.

 

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

The Jazz’s ball handlers get positively giddy whenever they get a big switched onto them. What happens afterward is hardly ever worth the giddiness.

Often, Utah’s guards take the switch as an excuse to stage a dribbling exhibition before settling for a tough pull-up over a bigger defender. There are times when that’s the right play to make, but often the Jazz get blinders on in this situation.

That’s not the only way to attack a switch, though. Watch Ricky Rubio leverage a switch to create an advantage for his team instead poking around the perimeter looking to find one for himself.

The Jazz force the switch by doing exactly what Rubio should do every time a sagging defender challenges his pull-up game on the pick-and-roll: he attacks the empty space and forces LaMarcus Aldridge to come out on him. But then he attacks Aldridge off the dribble, which brings over help from the weak side. Favors sees the corner guy come over and smartly seals him off, and Johnson moves slightly out of the corner to give Rubio the angle on the pass and make the recovery harder.

It’s a smart read by all three guys, and more importantly it’s the right way to attack a switch.

 

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

Utah’s 2-3 week means we have two game balls to hand out. And this time around, they go to repeat customers.

Jazz 107, Celtics 95: Ricky Rubio

Ekpe Udoh would have been the pick if this was based solely on narrative. The Jazz (and Udoh) had no idea he would be called upon after Gobert and Favors went out with back-to-back injuries, but the center stepped in with 29 big minutes, nine boards, and a plus-12 for the night. But let’s not overthink this one: Rubio was the game MVP. It was one of those nights where Rubio wasn’t just hitting shots but being aggressive. It led to a 22-7-5 line (on 10-for-15 shooting), and a game-high plus-15 in his minutes. He also led a great team defensive effort, including by being responsible for looking after Kyrie Irving for much of the game.

Jazz 100, Spurs 89: Rodney Hood

Again, no need to work too hard on this one. Hood not only led the Jazz with 29, but he looked the part of a primary scorer, especially late. Right after coach Quin Snyder told TNT that Hood needed to be the guy as the Jazz headed into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead, Hood made his coach look smart. He had 11 in that quarter, including a crazy sequence where he scored nine of the Jazz’s points in the 13-2 run that clinched the game.

 

A look at the Jazz’s postseason probabilities

Rather than just pass along percentages from different playoff odds models, let’s quickly check in on the other Western Conference teams vying for a spot behind the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs.

  • Timberwolves: They’ve won three of four since a home OT loss to Philadelphia. They’re still not defending well, which is weird given their coach and recent acquisitions, but they’re healthy and probably a virtual lock to make it.
  • Thunder: They’ve won five of six, but one of those required three overtimes (@ Philly), two were one-possession games, and a fourth was a 5-point difference. Their only convincing win in that stretch was, well, Utah.
  • Nuggets: 3-4 in their last seven, but all of the wins were legit. They won in Detroit, sewed one up vs. the Pels in overtime, and took it to the Blazers in Portland on Friday. Nikola Jokic is back for them, but Paul Millsap will be out long-term.
  • Pelicans: Their main guys are all healthy again, but they’re 4-8 since November 25. They have a soft patch coming, though.
  • Blazers: Damian Lillard’s hamstring caused him to miss a game. With or without Dame, Portland needs to play better; they’re 3-8 since peaking at a season-high five games above .500.
  • Clippers: At 13-18, we suddenly need to start including L.A. in this discussion. They’ve won three straight and six of nine despite being a M*A*S*H unit, and their latest win was a shocker over the Rockets in Houston.

 

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

Since this is our last SC7 before the holiday, let me enlist the help of Jingles and his lovely wife Renae to mark the occasion and wish all readers and friends a Merry Christmas, a fantastic holiday season and a happy new year.

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

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