Staff Scrimmage: Five Weigh in on Jazz’s First Quarter

December 3rd, 2017 | by Salt City Hoops

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

The surging Jazz have now played more than a fourth of their 2017-18 season. Now 12-11, Utah passed the quarter mark this past week, which makes it a good time to check in on some trends, key players and expectations in light of a growing sample size.

Five Salt City Hoops columnists did just that. Here are there answers to five questions about the Jazz a little more than 25 percent of the way through their season.


Who has been the Jazz’s most valuable player through these first 23 games?

Allen Schowengerdt: This is tough. Rudy Gobert deserves some mention, but has missed almost half the games. Donovan Mitchell also deserves a mention, but early inconsistency eliminates him. To me it comes down to Derrick Favors or Joe Ingles. Joe has been so consistent and rock steady even as he takes on more responsibility in the offense. But so far, Favors has been the MVP. There are definitely questions as to how he and Gobert fit together, but Favors has really done quite well in any role and has simply been dominant since Gobert went down.

Thatcher Olson: This one is very tricky. There are several players you could pick. Rodney Hood, Favors, Gobert, Ricky Rubio, or even Mitchell. However, each of those players has either started out slow, faded recently, or missed time due to injury. The most consistent and most valuable player has been Joe Ingles. He has scored, hit threes, rebounded, dished the ball, and played good defense. He has been the constant, and he has improved significantly over last year.

David Smith: I’m going to cheat and go with a tie. Mitchell has taken the Jazz and — after that brilliant 41-point explosion — the NBA by storm. The speed at which he is progressing is remarkable. He plays with incredible poise and his decision-making has improved so much. Mitchell has “it” and is already a team leader. The second player is the rejuvenated, motivated Favors. He has stepped up in a big way during Gobert’s absence. Favors has been tremendous on both ends, showing the agility, decisiveness and aggressiveness of old. His passing has been superb. On defense, while not the wall Gobert is, Favors has been a great protector. Seeing him return to 2015-16 form has been one the best parts of the early season.

Clint Johnson: Mitchell. He’s played the second most minutes this season (behind Ingles), leads the team in shots and points, and has carried an unreal burden for generating offense for himself and others for a rookie on a team with playoff aspirations. Just as importantly, he has essentially erased the trauma of Gordon Hayward’s departure in the psyche of the fanbase.

Dan Clayton: Gobert is clearly the Jazz’s best player, and Mitchell’s has been the most exciting storyline by a mile. But Favors has been the MVP so far. The Jazz are 11-4 when he goes for double digits (1-7 when he doesn’t), and his two-way importance means that even when he doesn’t have it offensively, he’s still a key player for the Jazz.

What has been the most surprising trend of the season so far?

Allen: The trend that I didn’t see coming is the Jazz offense being top 5 level in the league recently with Gobert out. He had been such an important part of the offense over the last two seasons with his ability to screen, roll, and draw multiple defenders to him. The Jazz (and really Quin Snyder) are showing just how good they can be with a well-spaced floor around one rolling big.

Thatcher: The most surprising trend has been the uptick of the offense over the last few weeks. Over the last 10 games, the Jazz have the number two offensive rating and the number 15 defensive rating. The only team hotter on offense is Houston. A couple of blowout wins inflated those numbers some, but the Jazz are playing very well on offense, and Snyder has done a lot to use the right rotations and get the most out of his players.

David: Since I covered Mitchell’s ascent in the first question, I’ll go with a negative. Rubio and Snyder are clearly trying to figure out the best ways to use him within the context of the Jazz’s schemes. While his start to the season was encouraging, the play over the last 17 or 18 outings has been the opposite. He currently is dishing out a career-low 5.0 APG (a mere 6.3/36 minutes). In 23 games, he has just three 10+ assist nights and five with eight or more. More alarming: he has doled out five dimes or less 15 times. Something just isn’t right yet. Moreover, Rubio is not playing with the same exuberance most associate with his game. The season is young yet, but there is reason for concern on this front.

Clint: The team’s offensive potency in the absence of Rubio. Many would focus on how the offense improved with Gobert out of the lineup, resulting in a four-out spread offense. But in the games Gobert has missed, Utah has significantly outscored opponents with every guard on the floor except Rubio. He’s hamstringing the offense, not driving it as expected.

Dan: It’s Mitchell, hands down. Rookies just don’t perform like this. Raw numbers aside, Mitchell had a moment in Jazz-Pelicans where he just realized he couldn’t be stopped. Think about that. Most rookies don’t even play net-positive basketball, and right now Mitchell is the go-to scorer for a likely playoff team. There have been other mildly surprising developments, but nothing beats a kid inheriting the keys to an NBA offense before his first Christmas as a pro — on a good team, no less!

What preseason prediction or inkling were you most right about, based on the first quarter?

Allen: After Utah lost Hayward and made the decision to rebuild around Gobert with primarily defense-minded acquisitions, I thought there would be times where the Jazz just wouldn’t be able to put the ball in the hoop. That trend was definitely noticeable in the first 15 games, and I think we will still see it at times the rest of the year.

Thatcher: Some doubted that Joe Ingles could be as effective in a larger role, but I thought he could handle it. He has proved he is up to the task. His numbers are up across the board in five more minutes per game and a slightly larger usage rate. His true shooting percentage and PER are at career highs, and he continues to be a plus on both ends of the court.

David: I felt the three free agents Dennis Lindsey signed were all shrewd additions that fit well with the team’s construct. They have certainly done that. Overall, no one has been more consistent than Thabo Sefolosha. He simply is the consummate pro who does so many things that help a team win. His trademark defense on the wings has been a boon for Utah. He not only plays the passing lanes well, but his position defense is so fun to watch. Ekpe Udoh has tailed off a bit, but his instincts and timing helps the second unit immensely. His offense leaves a lot to be desired, but really, anything he does there is the gravy. Jonas Jerebko has been one of the keys to the Jazz’s offensive flourish. He keeps the ball moving, has been tremendous from the perimeter and has even displayed some craftiness with the ball. His hustle is contagious. Lindsey did well with this trio.

Clint: Mitchell’s stardom. Even in summer league it was clear he had the same “it” factor as Gobert. The combination of confidence, work ethic, intellect, and competitiveness, when added to the physical abilities he’s gifted with, screamed impact player. I didn’t really expect the explosion we’ve seen, but neither does it surprise me.

Dan: I spent the summer nervously wondering if Hood has the aggressiveness and consistency to lead Utah’s starting unit. It’s nice to see him finding a rhythm as a bench bomber (20.6 ppg since Snyder moved him to the second unit on November 10), but that makes me wonder how he fits into the salary construct going forward. The Jazz likely view him as a starter who just happens to sub in a few minutes after tip. But if he does his best work against second units, then does that justify paying the money he’ll expect (and can probably get)?

What’s something you might have been wrong about based on these first 23 games?

Allen: So far my bullish outlook on how Rubio would help this team has not come to fruition. Bad shooting aside, he has simply turned the ball over too much and hasn’t had the focus and execution on defense that I expected. He is beginning to perform much better as of late in a slightly smaller role though.

Thatcher: I thought Rudy would take a big step forward and show he’s a true superstar. While Rudy hasn’t played poorly, he has not been the force I thought he would be. He has become a forgotten name in the DPOY race, and the Jazz have taken off offensively while he’s been injured. While his lack of big improvement has been a disappointment, I think he will prove that he is still one of the top players in the NBA in the remaining months of the season. He will be back and better than ever.

David: I won’t belabor it, but for me, it’s definitely Rubio’s play and fit. He has done a lot of good things. He’s been solid defensively and having a point guard who looks to rebound is a help. But there is a lot to be worried about at this juncture.

Clint: Rubio. I thought he would be a major advantage for Utah’s offense, able to add greater precision to Snyder’s motion offense. Other than in a spate of unreal shooting games by the Spaniard early in the year, Rubio’s inability to shoot both clogs the offense up and results in far more turnovers when he orchestrates the offense.

Dan: I never expected Rubio to suddenly convert into a lights-out shooter, and even during his early hot streak I warned about regression. But what I didn’t see coming was how much he’d struggle as a playmaker and defender. Guys have been able to beat him off the dribble even without a screen, and that throws the Jazz’s whole defensive system into panic. Rubio has definitely been the weirdest thing about the season so far — and also the trend that represents the most upside if the Jazz can figure it out.

Overall, have your expectations for the Jazz’s season changed, or are you defining success differently than you were 23 games ago?

Allen: Honestly my expectations for this team are not that different from the start of the season. It’s tough for me to imagine they could be a 4-5 seed anymore, but this could easily be a playoff team still. If they can still make the playoffs while continuing to throw more responsibility at Mitchell, then this year will really be a success.

Thatcher: Though the Jazz have been up and down in the first quarter of the season, my expectations haven’t changed. They should still be competing for one of the final playoff spots, and they are still an elite defensive team with some questions on offense. However, they do have a budding star in Mitchell. One of the darlings of the rookie class, Mitchell has proved he is a player to watch for, and he could just be the second star the Jazz are looking for. This year will be one to watch his progression and improvement.

David: Both yes and no. The litany of injuries with Gobert, Hood, Joe Johnson, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto have made it difficult to fully assess things. For a while, it appeared the Jazz would fall off a cliff. But they have responded in a big way. Their defense has been good, but the offense is what has surprised. The expectation, at least for me, was to compete for one of the lower postseason spots and right now, they are right on target.

Clint: Success requires two components. One, they have to make the playoffs. They are too talented, deep, and well coached not to in an injury-depleted West. Two, they have to figure out how to utilize Gobert and Favors in combination. It’s possible, and doing so would give the Jazz what every true contender needs: a unique advantage over every opponent.

Dan: Even with 10 Gobert-free games, no Exum and a bunch of missed games by key players like Hood, the Jazz are tied for the sixth best net rating in the league. So expectations certainly don’t need to be downgraded. Look, Utah will have trouble scoring at times. But they’re clearly going to be a good team. Now we just need to see how Snyder will adjust the rotation as guys start getting healthy — and, of course, see if the roster looks the same when the trade deadline arrives in February.

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