Salt City Seven: The Truth About ROY, Gobert’s Impact, the Playoff Fight & More

March 30th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

Will Mitchell win ROY? Does it matter? (Gregory Shamus via espn.com)

For one of the final times this season, let’s relive the week.

Every Friday1 here at Salt City Hoops, we drop these seven sections as a means of recapping all the big stories and themes from the previous seven days. This week, we’ll talk about Utah’s 1-2 week, early results from a returning point guard, again emphasize the dominance of Rudy Gobert, and more.

 

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

The increasingly trenchant Rookie of the Year debate rages on, concentrated specifically around Salt Lake City and Philadelphia. Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons are both enjoying special seasons, and both are hinting at superstar futures.

As if it’s not enough to have two rookies playing at this level in year one, both youngsters are co-leading teams that are relevant, which isn’t always the case with ROY favorites. Both the Sixers and Jazz have realistic shots to be top-4 seeds in their respective conferences, whereas so many ROY contenders and even winners in years past have been on middling to bad teams that needed them to shoot and score liberally. That these two are having the seasons they’re having AND toiling for good squads fighting for homecourt in the playoffs is really remarkable.

Still, the most irascible fans on either side still choose to make their guy’s case by making it sound like the other’s accomplishments are less impressive. That’s an intellectually dishonest way to go about the argument in a year as special as this one. And the furor behind those debates ignores a pesky truth about the Rookie of the Year exercise overall:

It… kinda doesn’t matter.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, awards matter, especially as it relates to Hall of Fame points and overall legacy. Securing an MVP of Defensive Player  of the Year award can bolster a player’s chances of making it to Springfield and cement the way we think about their place in the history of the game. Rookie of the Year just doesn’t have those implications. No sane person has ever said, “Well I didn’t think Tyreke Evans was an all-time great, but then he did win Rookie of the Year, so…” Conversely, when people sit down to articulate the case for LeBron James in the all-time greats discussion, nobody’s saying, “AND he won Rookie of the Year!”

Those are extreme cases, but scan the last couple of decades’ worth of ROY winners and they pretty much all fall into those two buckets. Some are players who won the award because of unique circumstances but who we know didn’t have Hall-worthy careers (Reke, Michael Carter-Williams, Emeka Okafor), and the others are guys who don’t even need that bullet point on their résumé because of everything else they’ve achieved over their careers (Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan).

And on the other hand, it’s not like not winning disqualifies a player for all-time great status. Karl Malone didn’t win it. John Stockton didn’t win it. Of the four players to make it as 2018 HOF inductees, two were ROY winners and the other two didn’t even make all-rookie.

It’s sort of like draft order. In the moment, being drafted sixth instead of fourth matters greatly to a player, but it just doesn’t have any enduring impact on how we evaluate the impact and legacy of players. Winning (or not winning) ROY is a lot like that. It’s nice for the player, will make a nice mantle piece for somebody, and it generates a bunch of discussion at the time. But five years from now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now, we won’t evaluate Mitchell’s, Simmons’, Evans’, LeBron’s or anybody else’s career based on whether or not they won ROY.

Have fun with it. Cape for your guy. Enjoy the discussion.

Just try to remember that the stakes on this particular award outcome are pretty low, and that both candidates are deserving players having special seasons. If Simmons wins — and as of right now, he’s still the front runner — it’s not a slight towards the prodigious Mitchell. Only one guy will end the season with a trophy, but both are extremely likely to blossom into impactful stars.

 

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

It’s hard for people that don’t watch the games to evaluate players for something different than the stats, pure stats. Points, rebounds, assists … that’s why usually people look at the box score and see that, and say, ‘Oh, this guy played the best.’ I don’t blame them. I’m just trying to help my team, and my team, my staff, they know what I bring to the table.”

– Rudy Gobert on his impact

This great quote comes from a WaPo article by Tim Bontemps about Gobert’s place in the leaguewide pecking order, and includes other great commentary from Quin Snyder and Joe Ingles about the ways the Stifle Tower impacts the game. 

Ignoring for a second that this quote could be read as a massive retweet of our beloved Game Ball tradition, Gobert is absolutely right. Box score watchers and casual fans may not realize on a given night just how dominant Gobert is.

“Rudy can dominate a game and go 4 for 6 from the field and have 11 rebounds and two blocked shots,” Snyder said in the same article. “That’s unusual. And it’s really hard to see that for me, for everyone. All of a sudden you look back and see Rudy played great because all these things happened because of him being out there.”

More NBA pundits are talking about Gobert as the favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, and the reality is that he very well may have impacted the NBA season more with his defense in 56 games than other candidates will in their 70-80. But, as with the ROY race mentioned above, a lot of voters will first want to weigh how the Jazz finish the season from a record and seeding standpoint.

Speaking of which…

 

Keeping track of Utah’s playoff chances

Utah three losses in the last five games all but removes any waning hope of rising to No. 3, but the Jazz are still in OK shape overall if they get their stuff together. FiveThirtyEight still gives them an 87 percent chance at the playoffs and currently projects them to finish with 47 wins. That would land them in a 4-way tie per the current projections, and Utah’s 7-5 record against the similarly projected Spurs, Pelicans and Thunder would give the Jazz the No. 4 or 5 seed in that scenario.

But for that to happen, they have to win games.

Here’s the landscape:

The race remains tight with 13 days to go.

 

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

96.5

Seven games into Dante Exum’s return, the point guard is sporting a 96.5 defensive rating, picking up his reputation as a pest who disrupts with his length and squeezes through tight spaces in pick-and-roll defense. Exum has made his share of defensive mistakes — including a couple costly ones in guarding the explosive Terry Rozier in Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics — but overall, this is an encouraging number, because this is where he needs to hang his hat for a while. It’s his defense that gives him a pretty safe floor as a rotational difference-maker.

+19.2

The best net rating during Utah’s 1-2 week belonged to Derrick Favors. In the last 168 hours, Favors has scored at an extremely efficient clip2 while rebounding at a quasi-Gobertlike rate and defending well on and off the ball. So why did the versatile big man play just 82 minutes in those three contests? Some of it is dictated by matchups. Golden State and especially Boston played with smaller lineups that don’t present an easy defensive alignment for Utah’s two-big lineups. But still, it’s worth pointing out the the Jazz won by 33 in Favors’ minutes against the Spurs, Dubs and Celtics, and lost by 21 when he sat.

.483

So far this season, Ricky Rubio has largely been the bellwether for Utah, and their funks have roughly coincided with Rubio’s shooting slumps. But Rubio’s true shooting this week was .554, including 46 percent on 3-pointers. So what’s been missing from the offense? Mitchell’s .483 TS mark for those three games was a real factor for the Jazz. A team can live with a guy having an off-week, but it’s harder to endure that kind of shooting from the primary offensive threat. Mitchell averaged 25 shots per game in the last week, and made fewer than 10 of them. It’s normal for a rookie guard to have stretches like that, but Utah has to get Donovan recalibrated if they’re going to finish strong.

 

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

This play is so Snyderesque. It’s straight out of halftime, so you know it was a designed piece, and it has all the fluff, misdirection and layered actions of a Snyder-scribed play.

That rainbow cut by Mitchell looks like pure fluff3, but it does make Favors’ man have to think for half a second. Because he’s worried about Mitchell catching behind Favors’ flare screen, he’s not quite ready for the backpick that Ingles sets on him at the same time.

That’s where the meat of the action occurs. Last year, we talked about how the Jazz would free Gordon Hayward to receive the ball by using him as an off-ball screener first. They do that here with Ingles, whose man has to show hard to keep Favors from the basket. Because of that, he’s about 10 feet behind the Australian sharpshooter by the time he gets the dribble handoff from Rudy Gobert. Wide open, Ingles cans a three.

Utah uses this tactic a lot. Here’s another one from just a couple of minutes later. Ingles gets the same result when he heads to the perimeter after setting a cross screen for Favors, only this time the big jumps out on him and leaves Gobert an avenue to the rim.

(Of course, first he takes a second to entertain Nick Young. Because he’s Joe.)

 

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

Only one victorious Spalding to dole out this week, but it does mean we get to welcome a new entrant into the 2017-18 Game Ball brotherhood.

Jazz 110, Warriors 91: Dante Exum

Sometimes it’s a tough call between the actual game MVP and the emotional/narrative pick. This time, the Tweeps were insistent enough that we went with the latter. Gobert likely had the biggest absolute impact, with an efficient 17 & 15, four blocks and his usual paint protection. But Exum had his best game since the return, and he and Jae Crowder really helped the Jazz get right after a sloppy start. Crowder made five of his first six shots, and Exum really calmed down a Jazz offense that had been spasmodic early on. When the Jazz took control with a 22-8 run, Exum scored or set up 15 of those points. He finished the night with 13 points and five assists. Crowder had 14, and Ingles was once again a plus-minus god (+30) despite a rough shooting night.

 

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

What a cool moment this week at Vivint SmartHome Arena.

From this son of an awesome, 3-time cancer surviving mom, this week’s efforts by the Jazz, Rubio and sponsor Qualtrics were pretty awesome. 

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

2 Comments

  1. Roberto says:

    Mitchell can concede ROY to Simmons because No 45 will win Finals MVP😀😀😀😀

  2. Roberto says:

    Donova M can concede ROY to Simmons because no. 45 will win Finals MVP 😀😀😀

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