The Triple Team: Three Thoughts on Jazz at Bucks 1/22/15

January 23rd, 2015 | by Clint Johnson
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Soooooo nasty! (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)


The Jazz won their first game in two years without the services of Derrick Favors.  It was a… weird win.

We’ll take it!

1. The Start of the Dante Exum Era?

With attention on Derrick Favors’ absence from the team for personal reasons, Quin Snyder snuck up on everyone and sprung Dante Exum’s first ever start over young starter incumbent, Trey Burke.  His explanation: 1) hope that playing Exum minutes with the starters would free up the struggling rookie clearly lacking confidence in his ability to drive an offense; and 2) hope that a mightily struggling Trey Burke could get his game on from the pine and add some desperately needed scoring off the bench.

Burke contributed from the bench about what he was as a starter: 10 points on 11 shots, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers.  Nothing to write home about, but also a much more respectable line for a bench player getting 24 minutes rather than a starter getting 30+.  Frankly, the 11 shots were possibly the key stat for a player with a painful .459 TS% on the season.

As for Exum, as has become the norm, it’s extremely difficult to know just how to feel after his second performance as a starter.  Why?

He scored 15 point on 12 shots, every single one coming on his 5 made threes (on ten attempts).  That 50% shooting from range from a prospect with questionable shooting is good.

His only two drives to the basket, both incredibly high percentage shots, he missed.  Those misses, but more those attempts, from a physically gifted blur of a guard is not good.

He produced 5 assists, orchestrating the offense more frequently than seen in a long time.  That’s good.

He also frequently looked overwhelmed when the Bucks applied their predatory pressure, turning the ball over (3 times) and stalling the offense while demonstrating little ability to escape the pressure.  That’s bad.

A few times while switched on to much larger and stronger players, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Exum fronted the post with such determination the Bucks never managed an entry pass. That’s good.

At times when asked to chase speedy Brandon Knight off screens, he looked both unaware of where to go and managed to smack into a screen and stick to it tenaciously.  That’s bad.

In short, Exum deepened the impression he believes he’s a 3 and D player in the league, which isn’t the path that leads anywhere near his exciting ceiling.  He contributed but with a formula that makes it hard to project just what value he may add to the team going forward.

2. Gordon Hayward:  Tough Guy

Hayward played one of his best games of the season.  24 points on only 13 shots, 2 of 4 from three, with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.  He did have 6 turnovers, but watching the game, those only impressed me more.  Because Hayward more than any Jazz player won this game, and he did it by being old school Jazz tough.

Last season, when Hayward had yet to grow into the role of the stud who stirs the Jazz offense, he would go through spurts of conscienceless attacking of the hoop, bullying his way through much contact and into even more.  After a while, he’d break down, physically, mentally, every way under the strain and ease up, settle for the mid-range jump shots that smart NBA defenses funnel players into.

The Bucks played aggressive, physical defense, but this season’s strengthened Hayward never pulled back on the throttle.  He shot 12 free throws (making 10), 10 of them coming in the 4th quarter alone.  All this in spite of being undercut on a drive and crashing the court in a gaggle of limbs that had me thinking he had two new joints, one on leg and one on arm.  A little flex of his wrist and he got up and kept coming.

By the final two minutes, the Bucks resorted to trapping Hayward before he could even think of driving.  He promptly turned the ball over twice, giving the Bucks another last attempt to win a game they, in all honesty, probably should have won.

But they didn’t, and Hayward played them to the point where they had to take the ball out of his hands beyond the three point line.  That’s what stars do.

3. Favors, Kanter, and Gobert, Oh My!

Good problems are still problems, and right now, the Jazz frontcourt is a good problem.

They have a 23-year-old F/C who is 10th in the league in PER, trailing only 7 All-NBA stalwarts and the two most dominant young bigs in the game, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.  Taken purely on production, a young All-Star, without question, with loads of still-untapped potential.

Then they have a 7’1″ Frenchman who is part Kracken, as only a semi-mystical being can muster an 8.3 BLK%, a full 2 points higher than second place Anthony Davis.  Given the awesome defensive impact already displayed, a potential future NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Finally, they have a 22-year-old F/C who just produced 23+ points and 15+ rebounds in back to back games on the road.  The only other players that age to accomplish the same feat in any two games this season: surefire max money bigs Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.

Three of the Jazz’s four best players essentially play the same position, especially in a league drifting further and further toward the stretch four.  Can a team really build around one perimeter star and three big money, big production bigs?  In today’s game?

Other Observations

  • The Jazz won this game playing a style they can’t really replicate while the Bucks barely lost playing a style they absolutely can.  They won the same way Indiana beat the Jazz at ESA, with hot shooting from three (14 – 31, 45.2%) and the free throw line (23 – 28, 82.1%).  For a team without plentiful deadly shooters, that isn’t a dependable path to many wins.  Meanwhile, the Bucks, with loads more athleticism and energy than polish, forced 22 turnovers (and I mean forced, the Jazz didn’t give them away), scored 32 points off those turnovers, and piled on 21 second-chance points in the bargain.  That’s exactly the way they’ll play all season. Sniping worked tonight, but the Bucks should be more comfortable with their losing formula this game than the Jazz’s winning one.
  • It was refreshing to see a team punish an opponent for going small.  Multiple times tonight when Jason Kidd tried to get away having Jared Dudley guard Enes Kanter, the Jazz got the clearly insulted and very strong Turk the ball in the post and he bullied his way for scores.
  • Ingles and Dudley have old man YMCA games.
  • The Bucks have a lot to look forward to, but man, do they have no half court offense.  When pressure’s on, just none.
  • The Jazz need Rudy Gobert.  Not just his length, his energy, his potential–they need his attitude.  This game alone he snarled at a ref and got away with it (after a foul against Rudy the ref called, no less!), launched a front kick at anyone brazen enough to be near him while he swatted a shot into the stands (no credit for the block on an Exum foul, unfortunately), and swaggered his way off the floor when the buzzer went off, leaving an extremely whiny (and clearly terrified) Zaza Pachulia (a 4 – 14 Zaza Pachulia) in his wake.



Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.


  1. Angie Treasure says:

    I think it’s a bit preemptive to say Dante sees himself as a 3 and D guy. Just because those have been his strengths so far doesn’t mean he’s not intending to add other aspects to his game as he gets more comfortable. We’ve gotta take it one step at a time with the 19-year-old.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      That could be true; or better said, on some level certainly is. But it’s also clear that, in spite of consistent encouragement from the coaching staff to be more aggressive and more frequently breaking the paint, he currently responds to the pressure of competition by relying on two predominant skills: spot up shooting and defense. That likely illustrates a deep down belief that, at least at this point, these are his best ways to contribute against the caliber of opponent he now faces. At some point, he will have to reach the firm belief his best way to compete is to use his speed and attack. Now, he has to will himself to do that. That’s got to change. It may well change, we don’t know. But it will have to.

      • Don says:

        Send him to the D-League for 10 days and tell him to penetrate every time he touches the ball.

        I know it will never happen, but I wish it could.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          A number of people have made this suggestion. I just don’t know. He’s genuinely contributing when he plays, particularly with his simple measurables on the defensive end. But clearly, he needs to increase his confidence attacking the rim, that’s sure.

  2. Matt says:

    “Three of the Jazz’s four best players essentially play the same position”
    Most teams play two “bigs” at a time. There are 96 minutes per game for those *two* positions. As long as at least one of Favors, Gobert, and Kanter are happy to come off the bench, I don’t see any problem.

    Unless . . . it truly has become imperative for a team to have a stretch 4. But, that doesn’t really describe the PF on the reigning champion team. The main skill lacking from our current bigs, IMO, is passing. Favors and Gobert shows signs that they could become good passers but not so much Kanter.

    • casey says:

      Boris Diaw- Stretch 4

      • Clint Johnson says:

        Yup. 2014 Spurs – Diaw. 2012/2013 Heat – Battier/Bosh/James. 2011 Mavs – Notwitzki. Even the 2010 Lakers gave a lot of time at the position to Lamar Odom. The last team to win it all without relying heavily on a stretch four was Boston in 2008, and even they had Garnett, who at that point was largely a shooter from 12 – 18 feet.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      You certainly make good points. Here’s how I appraise the situation: which role would a player best fit? Being a lone big with four perimeter players or playing with an obvious center.

      Gobert is easy: a dominant rim protector with an offense that essentially deteriorates beyond three feet of the rim. Traditional classification: center.

      Kanter: He may have the potential to stretch the floor with his shooting, but right now he’s shooting 59.9% inside 8 feet of the hoop and 30.3% from 16 to 24 ft. Also, much like Al Jefferson, he’s a better defender if asked to guard an exclusive post player because he can use his strength. Add that to his meager passing skills and dominant rebounding ability, and he’s a traditional center.

      Favors: The most difficult case. He may have the agility to guard on the perimeter (I think he does and, if so asked, can do so by cutting back to a more natural weight) and may one day have the jump shot to stretch the floor (he’s actually shooting 39.3% between 16 and 24 feet). That said, he’s most effective offensively as a pick and roll threat surrounded by shooters and is tied for 20th in the league in BLK%. In isolation, he makes more sense as a center than a power forward in the modern game – thus the Jazz encouraging him to take that role.

      Right now, all three players would best fit on the offensive end with a stretch four.

      Last, your point about passing is right on. I agree with your assessment, and it is that passing ability (I think the high/low post game will become a major part of the Jazz offense eventually) combined with my belief that Favors will eventually stretch the floor sufficiently that makes me think the Favors/Gobert duo will be extremely potent.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    If it truly has become imperative for an NBA team to have a stretch-4 PF to compete in today’s NBA, the Jazz need to draft Kristaps Porzingas in this year’s draft, who looks like he has a skill set containing some of the best elements of the skill sets of both Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitski (and looks like he could realistically play both the SF and the stretch-4 PF positions very well in the NBA–imagine a 7’0″ SF who is a dead-eye at shooting 3-point shots and who can effortlessly drive through traffic to the rim, on a Jazz team with 6’6″ Exum at PG, 6’8″ Hayward at SG, 6’10” Favors at PF, and 7’1″ Gobert at C).

    Otherwise, the Jazz need to draft Stanley Johnson, who looks like the ideal prototype of an all-star level 3-and-D wing player.

    But please–could the basketball gods give the Jazz one of those two players as its 2015 draft pick.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Back up that starting line-up with a bench of Burke at PG, Burks at PG/SG, Hood and Ingles at SG/SF, Booker at PF, and Kanter at PF/C, and you have a very good young team with good depth. The only thing necessary at that point to become a potential contender will be good coaching and experience.

      • Spencer says:

        I am 100% agreement here. It seems too easy.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        I haven’t seen that much of Porzingas since last season’s scouting for the draft, so I won’t commit one way or the other. I will say that, if the choice were mine, I would start Favors and Gobert together. Their frightful defense more than compensates for the imperfect fit on offense. Long term, I think there’s no reason to believe that either of them will not be able to hit an open 15 foot jumper well enough to demand to be guarded.

        The question then becomes whether or not to invest in Kanter. Practicality makes me think that, whether the Jazz retain his services through restricted free agency or not, I suspect they’ll be better off using those resources to strengthen a perimeter position.

        I would grab Stanley Johnson in a heartbeat in this draft. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he becomes the best player of the bunch.

    • Mewko says:

      Justise Winslow is in a bit of a slump for January, and his stock has fallen. But he could return back to his top 5 status soon, because he is so athletic and has upside. Lockdown defender.

      I wouldn’t mind the basketball gods delivering us a versatile guy that can play 2 guard, 2-way player, and be a good offensive weapon, 20-ish points per game.
      I’ve got my eyes on Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Kelly Oubre, and D’Angelo Russell. Hopefully they can have good years, and one of them will fall to about the 7th or 8th pick.
      If not, than Trey Burke, Alec Burks, and our stash of draft picks are good trade bait to trade up in the draft, or trade for a veteran two-way guard (Arron Afflalo).

      Would the Jazz be willing to trade for Afflalo? D. Lindsey said that they check out player’s personalities. Afflalo elbowed G-Time in the head in 2011-12, and caused Alec Burks’ shoulder to act up again this year. Lance Stephenson has bad attitude too.

      • Clint Johnson says:

        I like Winslow too. I don’t see likely All-Star potential, but I see career starter potential with the attitude, measureables, and personality to do whatever the team needs him to do – a great fifth guy to round up an already strong lineup. My preference at this point is Johnson, Winslow, then Oubre. Personally, I don’t like Russell for the Jazz and don’t like Hezonja for anyone. Bad attitude.

        Afflalo is 29, and I don’t think the Jazz believe their window will open for another three seasons or so. My guess is if they decide to cash in some assets it would be for someone younger or for a veteran specifically attained to improve the culture and chemistry in order to help development, someone like Luol Deng, for example

        • Mewko says:

          Thanks for talking about the draft. I’m not very active in following it this year, like I was last year.
          Last year we were looking for a franchise cornerstone, and experts speculated that the 2014 class would have 5 or maybe 6 game changers.

          This year, Hayward and Favors have emerged, and can be good sidekicks on a championship team.

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