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?