Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have been a dynamic duo for the Utah Jazz this season, as many expected. The tandem’s defense has picked up where it left off. They are dominating things on that end, forcing opposing teams to adjust to them. Both have also shown positive jumps offensively. The future is bright for the pair, and for the franchise as a result.
There have been a few occasions in the early season where foul trouble or illness has caused one or both to sit at inopportune junctures. That is why reserve Trevor Booker is so important to the team’s success. So far, things have been rough for the rugged, always-hustling forward. And the Jazz need him desperately. A look into his performance thus paints a less-than-rosy picture.
The raw numbers surely stick out, especially when considering the playing time is the exact same. Take a gander:
That is a huge drop-off offensively. To put it in perspective, Booker’s per-36-minutes scoring has plummeted from 13.1 points to just 6.2. Booker has only one double-figure night under his belt, or eight percent of the games this season. In fact, he has only scored more than four points twice. Booker recorded 17 last season, eclipsing 10 points in 22 percent of his appearances. While not a world-beating scorer, it added some much-needed punch off the pine. This was especially useful in Burks’ absence.
A closer look at the shooting and it becomes more worrisome1:
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One of Booker’s forte’s last season was his ability to finish around the basket. He had an uncanny way of doing so, despite having a height disadvantage on most evenings. Booker ran the floor and provided some inside spark off the bench. This year has been been entirely different. Booker has had a difficult time, missing shots he normally would make, including some bunnies. There does not seem to be the same comfort around the basket. Booker is playing a bulk of his minutes with the second unit, which means a lot of time with Alec Burks and Trey Burke. With the former’s slashing ability, and the latter’s increased penchant for going to the basket, the may be a bit less room for Booker to operate. Even so, he is attempting nearly the same amount of shots per outing — they simply are not going in. His 29 percent shooting is a precipitous decrease for a player who has never shot worse the 49 percent2. His 31 true shooting percentage is abysmal. It certainly does not help that Booker has only two free throw attempts in 237 minutes played, a very disappointing number for a guy who spends a lot of time inside.
Another important aspect of his game last season, while shown modestly, was his perimeter marksmanship. Booker was solid from mid-range and showed that he could consistently hit 3-pointers. In his first four seasons, he was only 1-10 from downtown in 4,764 minutes. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder strongly encouraged both Booker and Enes Kanter to fire away, and the former Washington Wizard responded by hitting 29 3-pointers. While he only attempted about one trey a game, it still helped open things up — especially for a team that struggled from beyond the arc.
Again, this season has been a different story here. Yes, he has started just 1 of 8, but the bigger story is his reticence in shooting them. There have been several instances where Booker has passed on a wide open 3-point attempt. On others, ill-timed pump fakes have allowed defenders to close in on him. This allows opposing teams to back off from him a touch, thus making the court smaller. It has also contributed to his 14.4 usage percentage. With a second unit that is working on its offensive consistency3, it needs Booker to re-emerge as a threat. His confidence on that end of the court is noticeably different. He did have this moment the other night:
He does not have the same oomph defensively. Booker still works hard, but there have been some challenging nights on that end. As SCH’s Ben Dowsett pointed out, he is committing an alarming number of loose ball fouls.
After posting an admirable player efficiency rating of 15.0 or better four of his five seasons, Booker is at just 6.5. He simply is not having much of a positive effect on the court. Every player struggles at some point in the grueling 82-game season, and perhaps this is that spell for Booker. But it has been a rough go for sixth-year forward, and with 18 percent of the season in the rear view mirror, we are starting to escape small sample size territory.
There are thankfully some things going for him. To perhaps compensate for offensive woes, Booker has been very good on the boards. He is rebounding better on both ends of the court4. Booker is also contributing to the Jazz’s #12 ranking in steals, with a nice 2.0 STL%. He is always hustling, diving for loose balls and sacrificing his body for his team. Those aspects will always be constants for Booker. Hustle certainly is a skill and talent.
It is apparent that rookies Trey Lyles and Tibor Pleiss are long-term projects. Jeff Withey has been solid in limited minutes. That makes Booker’s role all the more important. As the team’s third big, Utah needs him to regain some of his form from last season. They picked up his $5 million option because of what he showed. Fortunately for both Booker and the Jazz, there is still time to right the ship. With a home-heavy schedule in December, this could be a good time for him to make his comeback. Utah definitely needs him as the season progresses.