Schedule Spotlight: October/November

October 24th, 2016 | by Clint Johnson

How long into the new season will it take before all four of Alec Burks, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward are on-court for the Jazz? [Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty Images]

How long into the new season will it take before all four of Alec Burks, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward are on-court for the Jazz? [Melissa Majchrzak NBAE/Getty Images]

At the end of each month, SCH’s resident schedule expert, Clint Johnson is going to take a look at the month ahead, breaking down where the team is at and what is coming. This month’s edition drops a little early to account for late-October games.

State of the Jazz

There’s no more ducking expectations. Utah has too much talent, too much depth, too many eyes watching to invoke the “no skipping steps” defense if the club disappoints this season. That makes expectations fairly simple, and they generally combine into two great overriding goals:

  1. Make the playoffs. Period.
  2. Compete for home court in the first round.

The team’s footing to start the season in pursuit of those goals is tenuous, primarily because of the injured finger of the team’s best offensive player, Gordon Hayward. Anticipated to return sometime in mid-November, Hayward’s absence will make an already brutal first two weeks of the season even more difficult. The challenge is further compounded by the need to establish chemistry in a squad with numerous new pieces: veteran trade prizes George Hill and Boris Diaw, veteran free agent Joe Johnson, and previously injured players Dante Exumand Alec Burks.

That said, for the first time in too many years, the Jazz have enough depth and talent – even without Hayward –  to have a reasonable chance to win almost any game in the first month-plus of the season. The question will be whether they can gel quickly enough keep things afloat until the return of their captain.

If the Jazz emerge from November with nine or 10 wins, it should be considered a quality start, given the schedule.

Who’s Hot?

Rudy Gobert: Because of injuries, the Stifle Tower is the only starting holdover from last season to play in all six preseason games. That play can best be summarized in one word: complete. Arguably the most impactful defensive force in the league that past two seasons showed remarkable offensive growth, scoring 14.8 points on nearly 63-percent shooting from the field. Best of all, he got to the free throw line nearly eight times a game and hit 74.5-percent of his attempts, massive improvement on last season’s 57-percent and his career 59-percent marks. If Gobert displays anything resembling his preseason offense throughout this season, it may completely change his on-court impact for the better.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY Sports

Trey Lyles: While the 20-year-old is still a significant defensive liability, his offensive aptitude only grows more apparent. Through the preseason he averaged 10 points in only 20 minutes per game while making nearly 46-percent of four three point attempts a contest, which led the team. He adds a unique dimension as a backup to Derrick Favors and Gobert and looks poised to hit the regular season running.

Dante Exum: 8.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.5 rebounds on 38-percent from the field and 29-percent from three doesn’t seem to profile a player who has experienced a breakout. But when that player is a 21-year-old who jumped to the league from Australian high school then missed his entire sophomore season with a knee injury, expectations for a breakout are different. In back-to-back games against Phoenix and the Clippers, Exum scored 18 and 15 points respectively while dishing out nine total assists. In his rookie season, he tallied 15 points and five assists exactly once. In six preseason games, he matched or bettered that career game twice. Most encouragingly, fully half of his field goal attempts came from nine feet or nearer the rim, proving both willingness to attack the hoop and that Exum has lost none of the intoxicating speed that so fascinated NBA scouts. If the preseason is indication, expect Exum to be a more positively impactful, if not consistent, player than many expected this year.

Who’s Not Hot (Yet)?

George Hill: More is expected of Hill than any Jazz off-season addition, and for good reason. But he never hit his stride in the preseason, shooting only 36-percent from field and distributing only 2.5 assists a game, fewer than both his backups, Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack. But Jazz fans shouldn’t worry. Hill is adjusting to a new team ravaged by injuries to the starting lineup, and even off his game he shot a respectable 36-percent from three and helped the Jazz be 2.8 points per game better than their opponents while he was on the floor. Expect Hill to be back to his super-solid career self in not much time.

Joe Johnson: The Jazz’s second-biggest off-season acquisition to Hill is stumbling toward the starters’ gate as well, particularly with his jump shot. The career 37-percent three point shooter managed only 18-percent in the preseason. That’s so bad it isn’t indication of difficulty adjusting, at least not only; that’s a slump. Shooters have them. And Johnson has 15 years experience that says it won’t linger.

Derrick Favors: This has nothing to do with production. Favors’ 14 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks on 56-percent from the field in 23 minutes of play is near ideal. What isn’t is the five of six preseason games missed with an injury called IT Band Syndrome. Iliotibial Band Syndrome is fairly common with runners and, here’s what’s scary, is a classic overuse injury. It recalls shades of the mysterious back spasms that cost Favors a 16-game stretch last season, including losses to Minnesota, Sacramento, and what proved at season’s end to be two crushing losses to Houston. What may well have been an overuse injury to Favors probably cost the Jazz the playoffs last year, and it looks like another may keep him from taking the court opening night. The team’s new depth should buoy the team in Hayward’s absence alone, but any game without arguably the team’s two best players may well be a different story.

Schedule Breakdown

nov-schedule

NBA.com

Games: 19 (8 home, 11 road)

Back to Backs: 4 (2 road/home, 2 road/road)

Key Stretch: 10 Games (7 road) in 16 days, including three back to backs

Likely Wins: 7  — LAL (10/28), @PHI (11/7, second game of back to back, NBA TV), @ORL (11/11, first game of back to back), MEM (11/14), @DEN (11/20, second game of back to back), DEN (11/23), @ MIN (11/28)

Likely Losses: 3 — @LAC (10/30), @SAS (11/1, first game of back to back), SAS (11/4)

Toss Ups: 9 — @POR (10/25), DAL (11/2, second game of back to back), @NYK (11/6, first game of back to back), @CHA (11/9), @MIA (11/12, second game of back to back and five road games in seven nights), CHI (11/17 TNT), @HOU (11/19), ATL (11/20), HOU (11/29, second game of back to back, NBA TV)

Must Win Games

Lakers at home (10/28): With three of their first four games on the road against top five teams in the west last season, Utah’s only clear win in the first two weeks of the schedule is the Lakers. The Jazz have more talent and depth and are going against a new head coach, all on the first home game of the season.

Mavericks at home (11/2): Sandwiched between two games against the Spurs and as the back-end of a back to back, this still looks to be the most manageable win to start the season outside of the Lakers. Dallas is a team many are projecting as vulnerable to falling out of the playoffs, so it’s one the Jazz must routinely beat to take their place.

Sixers on the road (11/7): While the second game of a road back to back, it will be early in a long trip to the east coast to face a clearly inferior team. Given the difficulty of the first two weeks of the schedule, a poor road stretch here could put the team in a hole difficult to climb out of after the return of Hayward. This win should help keep the team afloat.

Must-Watch Games

Blazers on the road (10/25): A contest between the West’s unexpected risers last season and anticipated risers this season, it looks to be a clash between a top-three backcourt in the NBA and the Jazz’s elite duo of bigs (as long as Favors plays). But most of all, it’s the first game of the most anticipated season in recent Jazz memory.

Hawks at home (11/25): While the departure of Al Horford and continued presence of Paul Millsap adds intrigue, the biggest draw of this game is the matchup between two new starting point guards: Hill for the Jazz and Dennis Schroeder for the Hawks. Atlanta went young while Utah vetted up. How will each strategy play out?

Rockets at home (11/29): Not only did Houston out-battle the Jazz at the wire last season, leaving plenty of motivation for revenge, but Mike D’Antoni’s hyper-offensive approach combined with a roster built to score, while defending no one, should result in crazy overs for betters this season.

Variable

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AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Burks’ return. Both Hayward’s and (hopefully) to a lesser degree Favors’ recovery from injury are major stories to start the season, but nothing provides the variability of outcomes as does integrating Burks. The Colorado product’s knack for attacking the rim, excellent three point shooting1, and seemingly perpetual injuries make his impact impossible to predict. If healthy and on his game, he has the talent to be a difference maker even on a squad as deep as the Jazz – but the better part of two years injured could cost him precious chemistry he never really gets a chance to make up, or Quin Snyder may find he prefers another of his wing options better, or if worst comes again, it wouldn’t really surprise many if Burks ended up injured again. On a team with loads of promise and not much certainty starting the season, Burks will be a free radical that could do anything.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

2 Comments

  1. LKA says:

    With the depoth I would not play any of the starterw more than 32 min per game. Of course depending on the opponient. Lyles/Diaw could get some of favors minutes. Bolomboy too because the extra two players are already out for a few games.I would not play Favors at center at all but give the minutes to Withey and Diaw. With this deep bence there will be no reason to not rest the starters.

  2. Pingback: Schedule Spotlight: December | Salt City Hoops

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