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):
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).