Now that we’re 14 games away from the finish line of the season, what have been some of the storylines that have been surprising? What were you not expecting? Here are a few for me:
One of the really surprising storylines for me this season has been the blowout losses, essentially bookending the season. I expected it more at the beginning of the season with the injuries to Trey Burke and Marvin Williams. But with only 14 games remaining, if we’ve really seen as much development as has been talked about, should we be losing games by 38 points to teams without their best—and most defensive-minded—player? And allowing the opposing team to shoot 52% from 3?
We’ve lost the last two games by a combined 56 points. Our last 10 losses have been by a total of 163 points, or 16.3 per game (gotta love easy math!), including a 26-point shellacking to the worst team in the league—Milwaukee. We knew March was going to be a difficult stretch, heavy on road games and with several sets of back-to-back games, but to lose by 26 points, 38 points, etc. is difficult to take.
Draft Discussion/To Tank or Not to Tank
There’s been an interesting split with Jazz fans as to who they’d ideally pick in the draft, if the Jazz were lucky enough to get the #1 pick. It seems like the debate has been between Jabari or Wiggins, with Jabari getting more love, but Wiggins picking up the pace, especially after his 41-point outburst recently. The dark horse candidate among Jazz fans has been Joel Embiid, though the uncertainty with his injured back has tempered some of that talk recently. Jazz fans seem to be torn between this dilemma: do you pick for upside or do you pick the most ready-to-contribute player right away so you can compete next year? Do you pick the potential two-way Paul George-type player or the dominant wing scorer who can score in a variety of ways?
The other fascinating debate among Jazz fans has been tanking/rebuilding vs. winning every night. How badly do you think the Jazz need a superstar? And is the draft the only way to do that for a small-market team like Utah? How strategic should a team be when vying for a potential superstar in a draft? Does that fall on the GM? On the coach? Is it okay if those two don’t have aligned goals? It’s been an ongoing discussion among Jazz fans all season on Twitter, on blogs, and in person, and it’s made for some very entertaining debates. Thank you, Jazz fans!
Brandon Rush’s (lack of) game this season.
Another surprising storyline has been Brandon Rush. I got the feeling that Rush was one of the pieces of the Golden State trade that was supposed to be valuable, a potential low-risk, high-reward type of situation. The Jazz have had some success with players who are a year past a knee injury and perhaps undervalued because of the rough year immediately after the injury: Al Jefferson is the first who comes to mind there. Given Rush’s 3-and-D abilities, his game could have been a perfect fit for a team that has lacked both the three and defense. Unfortunately, Rush hasn’t been able to get comfortable either with his knee or the system and played himself out of the rotation weeks ago. He’s shooting 34.1% from the field and 34.8% from three, with a TS% of .438. He’s logged 412 minutes on the season, more than Rudy Gobert (388) but fewer than John Lucas III (571).
Diante Garrett’s surprising backup play. Both David J. Smith and I have written articles about Garrett’s play; while he hasn’t been a major player for this Jazz team, his solid backup PG play has been refreshing, and his height and length on defense has been essential at times. Considering he’s one of those D-League pickups, his story has been a very nice one for the team this year.
Derrick Favors’ offensive game. Favors has shown flashes of very polished, very nice moves on the offensive end. Considering that’s always been the least-developed, most raw part of his game, seeing multiple glimpses in each game of an ever-expanding offensive arsenal has been fun. Hopefully he can string more of those moves together to become a very good two-way player.
Gordon Hayward’s and Alec Burks’ assist totals. Both Hayward and Burks have surprised me with the increase in their assist numbers this year. We’ve always seen Hayward as a facilitator, a point-forward type of player, but to have multiple games of double-digit assists has been wonderful. Burks, too, has shown a lot of improvement in getting teammates involved and setting them up for good shots.
So, what about you? What storylines have been unexpected for you?