Salt City Seven: Jazz Add Jae, Rubio’s Rolling, a Dominant Week & More

February 9th, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

(Melissa Majchrzak via

The Jazz continue to roll, extending their win streak to seven with four more victories, all on the road. And yet, obviously, that’s not even close to being the main story in Jazzland this week.

We’ll get to the Jazz’s surge as part of our weekly recap of the big stories, stats and performances of the last seven days. But first things first: let’s break down what the Jazz can expect to get from their newest teammate. 


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

As expected, Utah did some tinkering before Thursday’s trade deadline. They didn’t make a blockbuster deal, either because none materialized or because the front office chose to trust in the recent resurgence. But they swung one deal that landed them an intriguing, versatile wing.

The Jazz acquired Jae Crowder and some far-off draft considerations1 from Cleveland, and Sacramento provided them a place to park Joe Johnson’s salary so that the veteran can be bought out and explore his playoff options. The cost of all of that was not unsubstantial: the Jazz send their second leading scorer, Rodney Hood, to Cleveland and some cash to the Kings. (Utah also acquired erstwhile star Derrick Rose, but they’ll release him, per multiple reports.)

In Crowder, the Jazz acquire a multi-positional player who, at his best, makes a positive impact on both ends. In the last of his three seasons with Boston, he shot 40 percent from three, averaged 14-6-2, and acted as a one-size-fits-all defensive ace in the hole. 

His 53 games in Cleveland were a different story. Crowder has struggled on both ends this season, and the Jazz clearly made this deal hoping they’ll get Celtic Jae as opposed to the Ohio version. The hope isn’t unfounded; Crowder flourished in the structured offense and disciplined team defense that Celtic coach Brad Stevens has installed in Beantown. Crowder, the Jazz hope, is a system guy in search of a system.

Cleveland’s offense has never felt less structured than this year. More than 10 percent of their possessions are straight isos, a top-three figure in the league, and they make the fourth fewest amount of passes per game. It’s not a great environment for someone who learned how to thrive in a pass-and-cut system predicated on player movement and quick, collective decision-making. They also had cultural issues, with widespread reports of in-fighting and factions. Listen to recent podcasts with Zach Lowe, Brian Windhorst and others and you’ll come away with an understanding of just how asphyxiating the clubhouse mess has been in The Land. 

If extracting himself from that drama is a quick elixir for the 27-year-old Crowder, then the Jazz might have gotten a player. There’s some risk that Crowder’s half-season slump is not just a symptom of bad chemistry and a simplistic offense, but there are some obvious reason why he could fit far better in a Utah system that’s built on some similar principles to Boston’s.

He was a very efficient shooter in Boston, mostly because he took the right kinds of shots. He’s primarily a catch-and-shoot three guy, not necessarily someone the Jazz will have run the pick-and-roll as they did with Hood. But Crowder isn’t merely a stand-still shooter, then or now. Give him an open route to the basket and he has enough handles and craftiness to get there.

He also moves well without the ball. He was one of the best finishers off the cut last season (98th percentile), and even in Cleveland’s sometimes motion-starved offense, he has sneaked into the paint often enough to still be above league average in that regard. Watch him find the right off-ball routes here, whether both on off-ball cuts and while rolling wide to create an angle for a pass and finish out of the pick-and-roll.

Those types of actions will be available in Quin Snyder’s system, similar to Stevens’ with its layers of actions, screens and misdirection. The Jazz might have to simplify their sets a bit while Jae learns the ins and outs of one of the thickest playbooks in the NBA, but some of that stuff is instinctual, too.

No, he’s not as offensively dynamic or versatile as the player he replaces, but he fits well if he can keep attacking those seams in the defense and canning open threes. And that’s just one end of the court. Crowder’s rise to relevance started on the defensive end, where he can check multiple positions. He doesn’t pick up a ton of steals or blocks — he just attaches himself to the guy, big or small, and makes life generally difficult.

He’s most valuable as a perimeter defender, which is why I think the Cavs misutilized him a little on that end, too. In their small lineups, they’d often have Crowder pick up the power forward so that LeBron wouldn’t have to. He’s an adequate post defender, but having having him parked on a big somewhat neuters his value as a help defender or someone who can switch out front in almost any situation.  There’s not a position on the floor Jae can’t guard (when he’s plugged in), and he can guard any pick-and-roll scheme the Jazz want to deploy on a given night.

In other words, it likely won’t take Crowder long to win over Jazz fans.

If he does pan out at something closer to the Boston version, then he’s on one of the best contracts in the league. He’s locked in for two more years at just $15 million total. At that salary, he instantly becomes one of Utah’s best trade assets, especially if his performance indeed starts to rebound.



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

“He’s part of the Jazz family. We love him… Rodney was a successful player, a successful pick that netted us a very good player. We just thank him for all his efforts. We’re Rodney Hood fans, and Rodney Hood should be celebrated when he comes back.”

– Dennis Lindsay, following the Hood-Crowder trade

You don’t get to add good players via trade without giving something good up, and Hood will certainly be missed on a team that is already light on scorers.

So why did they deal him? There are a lot of indications out there that the relationship between Hood and the Jazz had reached a crossroads. Mitchell’s rise reframed his role and changed what the Jazz needed from that spot. He also had a pending payday this summer, but the Jazz didn’t move him simply to avoid paying him; good players cost money. But they had to consider how likely it was that they’d pay (or match) the market rate given how his place in the pecking order was redefined. Availability was an obvious concern, as was the fact that Hood’s best nights on an individual basis didn’t always line up to Jazz wins. Utah was 10-16 in games where Hood scored 15 or more, 6-7 when he didn’t reach 15, and 10-5 when he didn’t play at all — although certainly some of that can be explained by opponent strength and who else was available for the Jazz. 

Hood’s a good player and will have a long, successful career. Crowder may just be better suited to the play the role that the Jazz need.

Johnson was going to leave either way, as the Jazz had seemingly committed to giving him a shot to make his own destiny prior to the playoffs. We’ve covered his struggles this season in this very column, but Johnson was a pro who helped Utah scale the mountain of relevance last year. His Jazz career lasted just 110 regular seasons games, but his playoff performance alone probably cements him as the third most important free agent acquisition in club history.

Just at noteworthy is the player who didn’t move: Derrick Favors. It had been widely believed that the Jazz would move the free agent-to-be based on the assumption that he’s a certain goner on July 1. If we suppose that Tony Jones’ “great source” on this tweet is who it sounds like, maybe Favors is pretty happy where he is. He’s playing his best basketball in a long while, and he appears to be both having fun and enjoying his new teammates. 

Look, there’s still the question of how much Snyder likes to use Gobert and Favors together, and the answer to that question could limit how much the Jazz can justify paying him to stay. But the longer the Jazz sustain their current level of play, the more we have to allow for the possibility that they’ll revisit the idea of keeping him around. And even if he does leave, there’s still a chance the Jazz can recoup some value, since teams may be interested in Favors that don’t have the cap room to sign him outright. 



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


By far my favorite stat of the week: that’s the amount of time in this week’s four games that the Jazz trailed, out of 192 possible minutes. They haven’t been winning, they’ve been straight dominating. They trailed for 1:03 early in Phoenix before running away, for 5:33 in the first quarter in San Antonio, and for :50 in New Orleans. They never trailed in Memphis. All road games.

$3.71 million and $2.39 million

This week’s deals also created two small trade exceptions for Utah, the latter in the amount of Hood’s salary and the former in the amount of Johnson’s less Crowder’s. They can use those exceptions for up to one year to trade for a player making no more than the amount of each exception plus $100,000. Trade exceptions can’t be combined with each other or aggregated with other salary — so, for example, the Jazz can’t package these two exceptions to bring back a player making $6M.

Utah also has the $2.6M disabled player exception from Thabo Sefolosha’s injury. That could be valuable if the Jazz decide to go after any of the players who hit free agency via a buyout, because other exceptions like the minimum salary exception and the midlevel begin to prorate down, while a DPE doesn’t. So while a team offering the minimum can really only offer a fraction of that amount, Utah can offer anything up to the full $2.6M if they choose to. They may choose instead to give some G League dudes a shot on 10-day contracts, but the DPE gives them the option to bid if someone they like becomes available.

The Thabo DPE expires on March 10. 


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

It would be a little weird if we did the playbook section without looking at some Ricky Rubio buckets, wouldn’t it? 

Ricky is in the middle of his best offensive stretch as a Jazz player — and maybe ever. Since our last Salt City Seven, the Spaniard averaged 24.3 points per game, the result of 62 percent three-point shooting and more than seven trips to the free throw line per game. Lately he has just been barreling past screens and attacking open space, but let’s take a look at a small adjustment that has made it possible.

Notice where the bigs are on both of these plays. That’s a small adjustment the Jazz have made to counter the spacing effects of having two non-spacing bigs next to Rubio: more often, they’re having both bigs start high to unclog the paint. On the first of these two plays, both big men are up past the elbows, lifting the defensive bigs. And on the second, Gobert is high and Favors is outside near the left corner. That way, when Rubio (or Mitchell) comes off the pick, he’s accelerating into a whole bunch of daylight. 

The adjustment has helped Favors, too. He can score when he’s just parked in the “dunker2,” but he has always been at his most lethal when he gets the pass with his momentum going toward the hoop. Having him start outside and then dive in with a head of steam makes better use of his strengths.

That minor adjustment is part of why the Rubio-Gobert-Favors trio has suddenly been working after a two-month slog to start the season. That group’s Net Rating — which was minus-15.9 before Rudy’s latest injury — is plus-19.5 since the big man returned, and the offense is producing 115.6 points per 100 possessions when those three team up.


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

Four road games. Four victories. The Jazz’s perfect week means we have some serious work to do here at Game Ball headquarters.

Jazz 129, Suns 97: Donovan Mitchell

This one was the easiest decision in a long time: if you get 40 (on 19 shots, no less), you’re probably taking home the imaginary game ball. He also added six dimes, five boards and two steals, and it was the smoothest 40 I can remember. He got there without ever going hero-ball or taking over the Jazz offense. Here was his scoring by quarter: 9, 12, 8, 11. Just a tremendous night for the rookie.

Jazz 120, Spurs 111: Ricky Rubio

His 34 points (career high) and nine assists don’t even quite tell the story of how Rubio just carved up the Spurs’ defense all night. His reads were perfect, he was aggressive all night and his shots were dropping. He was excellent defensively, too. Royce O’Neale had his own career night, and Favors and Gobert were both really important to the defensive game plan — but the Octopus made this one fairly easy.

Jazz 133, Pels 109: Rodney Hood

A parting gift to Rodney, who added one more superb offensive performance to his Utah highlight reel before being dealt to Cleveland this week. Jingles was great all around, and Gobert had a strong game with 19 & 10 and also put Anthony Davis in a straight jacket. But it’d be hypocritical not to recognize Hood one more time. He missed just twice in 14 tries from the field, and he was perfect from deep. 

Jazz 92, Grizzlies 88: Ricky Rubio

Coming out of this grindfest with 29 is probably even more impressive than his 34 in San Antonio. Other Utah ball handlers weren’t handling Memphis’ intense pressure all that well, so Rubio’s steadying influence was particularly important. He scored the Jazz’s final six points, extending the Jazz lead to 10 before back-to-back Memphis threes made the final score look closer than it really was.


Keeping track of Utah’s playoff chances

As of this writing, five Western Conference teams are tied in the loss column with 25. The Jazz’s seven-game win streak has them parked on 28.

  • Reasons for playoff optimism: the Jazz have an easier remaining schedule than any of those five teams. OKC (a near playoff lock at this point) has the next easiest, followed by the rest of the Pels, Nugs, Clips and Blazers, who are all clustered together.
  • Reason for playoff pessimism: Three games is a sizable gap, especially with just 26 to 30 games left for everybody. The Clippers didn’t tank-trade DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams like some people expected and the Pelicans’ acquisition of Nikola Mirotic could help them weather DeMarcus Cousins’ injury.

For the moment, at least, the predictive models like Utah’s chances. B-Ref has them at 55% to get in, ESPN has them at 60% and FiveThirtyEight says 78%.

In next week’s columns, we’ll debut the playoff race charts that have become so popular in each of the past two seasons.


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

There’s a strange satisfaction in tracking what we’ve come to call “trade trails”: strings of connected transactions where one asset leads to another, sometimes for years at a time.

The most epic Jazz trade trail is the one that resulted from the Jazz signing Gail Goodrich in 1976. As was custom back then, the NBA arranged a swap of draft picks with the Lakers as compensation for the Jazz signing their free agent3. One of those assets became Jack Givens, who was traded for Joe Meriweather, later dealt for Spencer Haywood, then Adrian Dantley and — if we skip over a few more transactions – Andrei Kirilenko. The trail finally ran cold after AK-47’s 10-year Jazz career ended, but that thread lasted from 1976 to 2011 and supplied the Jazz with two All-Stars.

The most elaborate active trade trail just got slightly longer. Check out this beautiful mess.

From John Amaechi to Jae Crowder (click to enlarge)

In reality, the Hood-Crowder deal is barely connected to the larger Deron Williams trade trail: two assets from the Hood deal were combined with pieces from the Enes Kanter trade to allow the Jazz to dump Tibor Pleiss and draft Tony Bradley. But we’re running out of room on the page to show all these interconnected transactions.

The Jazz have “lost” some of these individual deals, but on the aggregate, this is a monument to asset management. Even if you ignore that many of the players in grey contributed for several seasons before being moved, comparing just the blue and green cells is a pretty cool story. The Jazz have three starter-caliber players4 and a young prospect that they acquired by leveraging their cap space, players who they were mostly done with anyway, and their 2005 draft pick. 


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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