The First Utah Jazz Game Ball Awards

November 20th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
You can tell Favors wants that game ball. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

You can tell Favors wants that game ball. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the NBA can’t give away a game ball at the end of every contest. They reuse basketballs for a few games before retiring one, so actual Spaldings are only available on certain nights to commemorate special performances.

But, luckily for the Utah Jazz, we at SCH can give out as many metaphorical game balls as we want.

Now that the Jazz have enough wins to make this exercise interesting, I introduce to you the Unofficial Utah Jazz Game Ball Rankings. Each Jazz victory has multiple heroes, but here we find the one whose feats are most tied to the club’s reasons for winning a particular contest.

There are many ways to earn a Spalding. The game ball will be awarded based on one, some or all of the following criteria (or something else I make up as I go along):

  • A dominating performance or career night.
  • Any time you start a sentence with, “You can’t talk about this game without mentioning…”, whatever comes next probably determines who got the proverbial game ball that night.
  • Something historical happening. Let’s be honest: the night Stockton overtook Magic as the all-time assists leader, he was taking home that ball even if he went 2-for-27 and knocked over Larry’s Sprite with an out-of-bounds turnover.
  • A break-out game that we’ll look back on and say, “That was the night when So-and-so did such-and-such on his way to becoming a something-or-other.” 1
  • Something amazing happens that directly impacts the outcome of the game. Like instant-vine amazing or top-play-on-SportsCenter amazing. And even that might not be enough if the rest of that player’s game is “meh” or someone trumps him.
  • Random emotional angles, redemption stories and feel-good moments that we can’t anticipate now but we’ll know when we see them. You might hate him now, but but you loved when Derek Fisher flew across the country to give the Jazz a major emotional shot in the arm and torch the Warriors with a timely three. He only had 5 points, but anybody in the building2 would have given him the game ball, without question and with wet eyes. Or when some someone turns in a big performance in response to some criticism or a snub of some kind, getting some monkey or another off their back.
  • By being, both in macro terms and in a very specific and empirical way, the best player on the court on a given night.
  • Sorry, game balls only go to winning teams. No game balls in losses. Conversely, a game ball goes out for every win, even though not all wins are as memorable or impressive.

The final arbiter of game ball decisions will be this guy. The dispute process is as follows: whine about it, write your congressional representative, angrily tweet at me in all caps, remember that this doesn’t matter at all and is just for fun.3 Seriously, though: I hope these start some fun discussions, so comment away when you think I have misappropriated a leather sphere.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s give out our first batch of game balls. I’ll update the cumulative rankings every 5 wins or so4.

Jazz 118, Suns 91. Game ball: Derrick Favors

It wasn’t just the 32 points, 9 rebounds and 8/9 from the line, although I think Derrick getting touches AND free throw trips is going to be important for the Jazz to succeed5. He keyed a great defensive performance against a dangerous offensive team. Favors’ D rating in that game was 88, per Basketball-Reference. 88! All of his points came in the paint or at the line.

Other candidates: Quin Snyder (got the actual game ball from the team to commemorate his first W), Gordon Hayward (24 & 10).

Jazz 102, Cavs 100. Game ball: Gordon Hayward

This one shouldn’t even need discussion. Even before The Shot of the Year, Gordon had taken over the contest, coming up with key stops and creating for himself and others. But let’s be honest. It has a lot do with this. This also meets the coming-out party criterion, judging from the amount of “he’s arrived” press Hayward got locally and nationally after drilling that 20-footer. And that postgame interview

Other candidates: Favors (21 & 10 on 13 shots), Enes Kanter (18 on 13 shots).

Jazz 97, Pistons 96. Game ball: Gordon Hayward.

For 43 minutes, Hayward was having a rather pedestrian outing. In fact, with five minutes left, Hayward was stuck on six points and the Jazz trailed 86-91. But then it was G-Time. Gordon scored the Jazz’s final 11 points, including the go-ahead three. He did miss a free throw and a three in the final 1:30, but the Jazz were able to hold on with good defense. And really, outscoring the other team 11-5 in the clutch all by your lonesome is as game ball-worthy as it gets.

Other candidates: Kanter (helped Utah to an early lead), Joe Ingles (might have been remembered as the Jingles game — 3/3 from downtown — if not for Hayward’s late explosion).

Jazz 102, Knicks 100. Game ball: Gordon Hayward.

I’m not going to lie: this one was close. Like, photo finish close. And no, I don’t mean the game, which was decided in the final nano-second. I mean the game ball decision. Because some of my criteria dictate that it has to be Trey, author of The Shot of the Year Part II. But you can’t ignore what Hayward did all game long in this one. 33-6-3-4 while, oh by the way, having to guard one of the most capable scorers in the known universe. Carmelo also likes to lead with his elbows and high forearms, so Hayward pretty much had to serve as a piñata on one end and then go hit floaters, convert and-1s and thread passes to Favors under the rim on the other end. I was at this game, and Knick fans were in fact heaping tons of respect on Hayward (whether or not they knew his name before the game). Fact: Hayward was demonstrably the best Jazz player on the court that night.

Other candidates: Burke (the buzzer beater, plus 11 other points and 8 assists), Favors (21 & 12).

Jazz 98, Thunder 81. Game ball: Quin Snyder.

Trey Burke, who had a nice outing himself, said it best in his walk-off interview: “I think Coach Snyder did it all.” Not quite. Burke, Burks and Kanter all had their best games of the season inside the lines, but just outside them, Snyder woke up a team that was in a classic come-home-game funk. Snyder didn’t like what he was seeing and actually got his first technical foul as a head coach. The Thunder cashed that in, but Snyder was hardly done. He stayed up, only now he was yelling at his players, trying to get his lifeless pupils to “Wake up!” They did just that, going on a 10-0 spurt that changed the complexion of the game.

On a night when nobody else brought the intensity, Snyder did. His gestictacular6 episode “set the tone throughout the whole building,” according to Burke. The Jazz outscored OKC 70-31 after that.

Other candidates: Burks played a damn fine game (kept Jazz close early, 20 points on 8 shots, first Jazz guard ever to hit 14+ rebounds in a game), Burke (9 assists, unstoppable in the 3rd).

gameball

5 wins, 5 game balls in the inaugural rankings.

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 and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

3 Comments

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    The rest of the team needs to get some game balls.

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