Let’s get one more Salt City Seven in before 2017, shall we?
In this week’s modular recap of all things Jazz, we examine the schedule, hear from the coach, break down the biggest possession of the week and more. Let’s dive in.
This week, the Jazz will complete a stretch we’ve been talking about since around Thanksgiving. Starting with their November 23 date with the Nuggets, the Jazz entered a run where they’d play 14 of 19 at home.
Entering Thursday’s matchup with the league-worst Sixers, Utah is 12-5 in that stretch. After they host Philadelphia and Phoenix to finish out the calendar year, they’ll likely be 14-5. Sure, there are games they could and should have won, but by and large, they did what they needed to do over this more cushy portion of their schedule.
Now they’ll pay the piper, but just for a bit. Utah will start 2017 with five straight games in the Central and Eastern Time Zones, but then come back to the Wasatch Front where they’ll play nine of the next 12.
And, they’ll likely approach that stretch with their starting lineup intact. George Hill is expected to return today, which means that for just the second time this season, Utah will have him, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert available for a game. With that crew back together in time for Utah’s imminent trip and then January’s home-heavy run, the Jazz are in a position to make a move. But they’ll owe the schedule-makers some road trips starting in mid February.
Opponent-wise, they actually haven’t had it too easy thus far. Of the teams currently slated in the West’s top nine, only Memphis has played a tougher average opponent than the Jazz per Basketball Reference’s strength of schedule metric.
So all things told, the Jazz are in OK shape, and with Hill coming back into the fold, it’s time to discern how good this squad can really be at full strength.
“At some point we’ve gotta defend our players for what we’re doing. For this team to be 18-12 right now1, it’s remarkable. I mean, seriously… You know, take a starting backcourt away from another team in the league. Go ahead. Try to figure out… how good they are.”
-Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
If you haven’t heard/read Snyder’s entire diatribe from before the Toronto game, make sure you do. KSL’s (and our) Andy Larsen chronicled both the content and the intensity of Snyder’s interview from Friday where he tried, with some passion, to put into context the team’s performance over a couple of months that have been riddled with health challenges and fluctuating rotations.
It’s not just guys being out, the third-year coach was quick to point out. It’s the extended minutes that others have had to pick up to keep the rotation afloat. It’s the added pressure on guys like Gordon Hayward who bear more of the scouting report. And it’s the awkward matchups created by approaching each game with an improvised strategy based on available personnel2.
There’s a difference between making excuses and standing up for your guys. To me, this impassioned speech sounded like the latter.
“It’s just guys that are playing with a lot of grit. And I want to appreciate that. I want them to know what they’re doing is appreciated.”
A light schedule and a home loss conspired to make this week a little light in the Spalding department. We do have a little bit of leather to dole out, though, after the Jazz’s 1-1 week.
Jazz 102, Lakers 100: Gordon Hayward
The case for Joe Ingles is totally understandable, and he was certainly the folk hero of this game with his late-game defensive stops and a timely three that ultimately proved a game-winner. But it’s pretty impossible to look past 31-9-3, numbers that only six other players have matched in road games this season3. He made it clear early who the best player on the court was with his 12 first-quarter points, and just kept going. Apologies to Jingles, who has become a somewhat frequent runner-up, but Hayward was just really damn good on Tuesday.
But let’s talk more about that performance by José English…
This was probably the biggest shot of the week, and the reason Jingles threatened to wrest a game ball away from Hayward despite the latter’s 31-point night. It’s also reminiscent of the premise to 2006’s Lucky Number Slevin, a crime thriller based around a fictional grift called the Kansas City Shuffle — “they look right, and you go left.”
Actually, it’s the inverse. Watch how concerned the Lakers’ defense is with the action on the left side of the floor, a simple off-ball screen they run all the time to get Hayward the ball. While dang near the entire Laker squad is looking left, the Jazz whip a pass to the right to get the NBA’s leading three-point shooter an open look that eventually became a game-winner.
The Lakers were determined to switch everything on this play, which makes it hard to get a guy open simply by screening. Some sleight of hand was needed to dupe this switching defense into a mistake.
Right as the video starts, Ingles is setting a down screen for Gobert. Nick Young is confused about whether to switch, so when Rudy then fakes a screen for Shelvin Mack, D’Angelo Russell has to follow him to the left wing even though Young is late to help on that switch out top.
Meanwhile, Julius Randle never switched onto Ingles on the initial down screen — probably because he’s worried about being the last line of defense should Hayward shake free. Joe Johnson only had one man to screen — his own — to ensure Ingles would have an open look. Here’s a still while the pass was on its way. Two guys are worried about the Hayward screen, Russell is still closing out to Mack, Johnson’s guy can’t get around that flare screen, and Randle is thinking, “Oh, crap.”
It’s not really Randle’s fault — Luol Deng was probably supposed to switch out on that screen. He gets caught looking toward the left wing at the time Ingles gets around the pick, and then Johnson might get away with holding him a little to delay the recovery.
It’s a nice Kansas City — er, Adelaide Shuffle. All eyes were on that left side, and before Hayward even made it around the Gobert screen, Ingles had the ball and was launching the game-winner.
This week I’m going to cheat and give you a bunch of numbers, all on the same topic.
I’ve had some fans posit to me recently that Hayward struggles to handle the pressure, scrutiny and whatever else of being involved in games in front of a national TV audience. Without looking, that felt like selective memory to me. It’s easy to think other teams’ stars make 100% of their shots on the biggest stages, because those moments are replayed over and over, while their misses aren’t shown on SportsCenter. With one’s own guys — the dudes we see 82 times a year — our mental sample includes all of their good and bad moments, so it’s easy to magnify the times we were let down.
Luckily, for a question like this, there is a 100% objective way to look at it: here are Hayward’s stats from his 11 appearances4 on ESPN, TNT and NBATV from the past two seasons, compared to his overall averages from the same period.
Statistically speaking, there is basically no difference between the Hayward fans have seen since the start of last season and the one they see when brighter lights shine on the versatile star wing. It could just be that it’s easy to focus in on his 6-point night against the Warriors or his eight points against Chicago5 and forget that he also topped 30 against Houston, Denver and — this week — LA.
And in terms of team results, the Jazz are 7-4 in those 11 games6 (.636) as compared to 59-55 (.518) overall. That’s pretty impressive considering that, in most cases, the reason they’re on national TV in the first place is because they’re usually playing someone good.
In this day and age, pretty much all games are nationally televised anyway, with every minute of the NBA season available via League Pass. But to the extent that there’s a different tenor around ESPN, TNT and NBATV games, rest assured: on the whole, neither Hayward nor the Jazz are coming up short in those settings.
Utah’s two-game week (since our last SC7) means that things have to even out. They have four games coming in the next 168 hours.
Thursday vs. Sixers: Once again, the Sixers find themselves dead last in the NBA. But they were 30th when they made their late December trip to SLC last year, too, and yet the Jazz needed a few things to go right in the final minute to escape with a win. As long as Utah focuses, this one should be drama-free.
Saturday vs. Suns: The Suns aren’t much better, tied for fewest wins in the Western Conference going into Wednesday’s games. Phoenix is one of the highest-pace teams in the NBA, but they are not at all efficient and they struggle to defend.
Monday at Nets: The Jazz start 2017 in my neighborhood, where they’ll face the league’s second-worst team by adjusted point differential. Jeremy Lin is back, though, so they’re probably not as bad as their record. Lin is averaging 13 points and nearly 6 assists since returning in the middle of December, and he and Brook Lopez helm a scrappy group with some sneaky wing depth, but the Jazz should still be favored.
Tuesday at Celtics: Without a doubt, this is Utah’s toughest game in this 7-night stretch. That’s not to say Boston hasn’t had some growing pains. They were teetering right around .500 until reeling of six wins in their last seven. But Isaiah Thomas — averaging 27 and 6 on the year — is exactly the type of guard the Jazz have struggled to defend this season.
Here’s hoping that our SCH readers all had the merriest of holiday seasons.
Blessed to be able to impact people’s lives in a positive way. Merry Christmas 🎄🎁🎅🏽! pic.twitter.com/AY89zokP2Q
— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) December 25, 2016