Welcome to Thursday: the warmup act for the weekend, a Jim Croce B-side, and the day for our new tradition of dropping seven nuggets of Jazz wisdom.
A few quick thoughts on one macro-level theme.
There’s no denying that Gordon Hayward has yet to play his best basketball this season. He has looked more like himself over the last three, with 18, 4 and 4 on 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from three, but overall, his numbers are sagging. A box score watcher or casual game viewer might come away thinking that Hayward’s first seven games of the campaign represent a step backward.
But box scores lie.
Sure, everyone would have liked to see the versatile forward start stronger, especially in relation to his first four games where he made barely more than a third of his shots. But what stat lines don’t tell you is that Hayward is still the most important player to the Jazz’s execution. Every single opponent has schemed against him in a way that has shifted defensive fault lines and set the table for Utah. In Quin Snyder’s equal-opportunity offensive philosophy, the right thing for the Jazz to do is to read that coverage and channel their execution to a simpler play, a better shot.
Take the Memphis game. The Jazz won and Trey Burke scored 24, but Memphis’s whole defensive game plan revolved around Hayward. Their approach was to make sure that Hayward always saw multiple bodies when he was in the middle of the floor, because they fear his driving ability, his increasingly lethal in-between game, and his ability to facilitate from there. So every time he came off a screen, he saw a wall of dark blue pushing him outside.
He took just 10 shots that night, which was the right way for him (and his team) to react to the Grizzlies’ defensive approach. He also turned those 10 shots into 18 points.
That was Memphis. Cleveland hit him with hard overplays and denied him the ball. Portland cut off his routes early in the set so he couldn’t come to the pass. Denver tried trapping him high and rotated defenders. But all of them had a game plan, and all of those game plans started with, “What are we doing about Gordon Daniel Hayward?”
And that’s just on one end of the court. He has also been playing some of the most solid defense on the team. His versatility to check bigger wings, chase zippy guys and even log some minutes defending at the four has been a major part of Utah’s defensive success.
So before you throw blame at Hayward’s feet for the Jazz’s next shaky quarter, half or game, ask yourself this: who else on this team is capable of completely altering the way teams play defensively on a night-to-night basis? Hayward has gotten good enough now that on most nights, how the Jazz play offensively is going to be a function of how an opponent decides to approach #20.
Positional Power Rankings
While Favors was slowed by the flu, Rudy had a great week: 10-11-3-2-1. But these two have been so stellar that it almost doesn’t matter to whom we grant the top spot in a given week. And nothing has changed behind them: the Jazz are still getting nowhere near enough from what we thought was a deep stable of backup bigs.
Burks has had quite the week: he’s now Utah’s top three-point shooter by percentage, and he’s also getting more free throw attempts per game than anybody else. That’s a nice combination. Hayward and Hood both need to shake shooting slumps but have each taken turns looking awesome, and Ingles is an overlooked contributor with unreal early efficiency numbers.
No change here, either: Burke continues to bring confidence and shooting off the bench, while Neto still contributes solid D and creative passing for a few minutes a night.
Spreading the Spaldings
Winning requires team excellence, but most successful outings have a guy whose results or emotional angles become intertwined with the game story itself.
A few reminders:
Jazz 96, Nuggets 84 – Burks
The toughest call so far. Absolutely no consensus in our Twitter discussion about this, because nobody played a great overall game, but multiple guys impacted the outcome. Rudy changed the game with a nutty stretch of third quarter defense. Burke hit shots early and had a 5-point play — a steal that led to clear path free throws, followed by a three — that put Utah ahead for good. Hayward had his first really solid scoring game. Booker blew up in the 4th, scoring 6 straight and then assisting the next bucket.
But when Burks is at his playmaking best like this, the Jazz look completely different. After I spent much of the previous game worrying aloud about Burks’s decisions, he had eight dimes in a game that was largely won through execution.
Jazz 89, Grizzlies 79 – Burke
As described above, Memphis bet against the Jazz’s shooters and focused on containing Hayward. Two problems: Hayward had 18-6-4 despite the scheme, and Burke had a career night stroking the ball. His six threes were a personal best, and his 24 points were the fifth-highest output of his pro career. Also considered: Hayward (obviously), Favors (a monster 12 & 16 with three steals) and Gobert (4 blocks and limiting the Grizz to 27% at the rim).
Stats of the week
Utah’s offensive rating during a 5-minute stretch of their 114-118 loss at Cleveland, from the 7:00 mark of the 4th quarter to the 2:00 mark. That’s… not good. During that stretch, they shot 2/7, didn’t get to the line once and turned over three possessions. Cleveland’s O-rating in that 5:00 was 182.3. They went 7/9, including a three, and 6/8 from the line.
The Jazz went from up 9 to trailing by 7, a death sentence with 2:00 left in a road game against an elite team.
Utah’s record when making at least one more three-point shot than their opponent. They’re 0-3 when opponents outscore them from downtown. Quite the bellwether there.
That’s the percentage of shots the Jazz are getting within three feet, per Basketball-Reference, second in the league. They’re bottom five in terms of converting those close looks, so if that number starts to rise, that’s great news for the blue, green and gold.
Dissecting a single important play.
The Jazz fell behind early at home against Memphis (13-5 at one point), but eventually got things rolling. This Gobert layup was actually the go-ahead point, and Utah led for all but 22 seconds of the remaining 37:37.
First they line up horns (double high screen) with about 13 on the shot clock, but they actually try to use it as a bit of a decoy for a well-choreographed play where Booker passes to the right wing and Hayward curls around a screen in perfect time to take a pass. The pass wasn’t there3, so they go right back into horns, without even a play-call or a signal, now with just 6 seconds to get a shot up.
It’s common in horns to have the on-ball screener slip the pick4, but Gobert actually dives, catching Brandan Wright a bit off guard. Gobert gets a step, Burks hits him with an on-time, on-target pass, and Utah takes its first lead of the night.
This play works because the Jazz knew how to quickly regroup after the play broke, at least once. The Jazz get something out of it because guys grasp the principles and know their “break glass in case of fire” options.
The Jazz player/coach quote of the week.
“We took a few more threes the last couple of games, which I like, but you’re not going to take threes if you stand in front of the line. You’re not going to take threes if you don’t make the extra pass.”
Quin Snyder, to Jody Genessy
I don’t want to make too much of a fairly innocuous quote. But it’s a bit worrisome if, six weeks after the team convened for training camp, some guys are still struggling with things as basic as literally where their coach wants them to be standing. So who is he referring to? Probably a few guys, since the big minute perimeter shooters are flat or down in 3-point attempt rate.
It’s not just the wings either: Booker and Lyles have taken just 6 combined threes in 170 minutes so far despite being encouraged to let ’em fly.
A bit of randomness.
Happy birthday, III!