1. Rudy Gobert!
Normally, I wouldn’t actually start an article simply by exclaiming a player’s name. But what is summer league about if not for outrageous optimism over player performances?
Rudy Gobert was simply fantastic tonight, especially in the first half. In that half, he was easily the most impactful player on the floor: scoring 11 points on 5-5 shooting, garnering 5 rebounds, and rejecting 4 shots in just 11:30 of play. 1 Even better, it came against NBA grade competition: this Bucks team features legitimate NBA players in Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nate Wolters.
So is this a new and improved Rudy Gobert? Quin Snyder thinks so. When asked if there’s a difference between Gobert’s play last season (largely watched on tape), and what he’s seen so far this year, Snyder responded: “He’s putting himself in position to make more plays defensively.” Indeed, the shot-blocking ability has never been in question, but it was the positioning that impressed: Gobert could cover a pick and roll, then move quickly to the paint to cover the roll man and/or any action inside. When helping, Gobert moved quickly to the ball, trusting his teammates to pick up his man behind him. It was a strategy that worked well for the Jazz, and honestly erased some defensive mistakes on the perimeter.
Will that improvement translate into minutes during the season? Quin Snyder doesn’t want to say too quickly, but did say “If he plays like that, and defends like that, he’s got an opportunity to improve our team.” That sounds like music to Jazz fans’ ears, many of whom wanted to see more of Gobert as the season progressed. We’ve seen that perhaps the most important player for a team defense is an effective rim protector, and Rudy Gobert could be the man in the middle of the future.
2. Rodney Hood!
Rodney Hood will be the lead of most reporters’ stories tonight, and rightfully so. He was also fantastic, getting a game-high 29 points on ridiculous shooting (11-15 overall, 7-10 from 3) in a complete 180 from Saturday’s game, in which he shot just 1-10 from 3. As Kevin Pelton noted, I think we can conclude he’s a streaky shooter.
Hood noted in the post-game interview that the shots he got tonight were about the same quality as the ones he missed Saturday, but said that the Jazz staff had been working on his form over the past 48 hours, knowing that 1-10 wasn’t good enough: “At practice yesterday, working with coach [Antonio] Lang and Johnnie [Bryant], just getting my shot up quicker. I was getting rapid-fire shots, holding my follow through, jumping straight or forward rather than leaning back. Just simple things.” That shooting difference was worth 18 points for the Jazz, certainly time well spent by the coaching staff.
The thing about both of Hood’s games that impressed me, more than the shooting actually, is that he was able to contribute in secondary ways. 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals shows that he can contribute beyond just shooting, which can keep him in games should the shots not be falling. Those secondary skills are the biggest difference between someone like Kyle Korver, who can stay on the floor in nearly all situations, to a limited specialist like Steve Novak or Anthony Morrow. Rodney Hood looks more like the former than the latter, and that’s really encouraging, especially given the models that worried about those same secondary skills.
3. The Jazz’s improved spacing led to ball movement and open looks.
Besides the play of the Jazz’s youth, the teamwork and ball movement displayed tonight also impressed. This was largely due to the spacing on the floor, preventing the defense from recovering once the Jazz were able to gain an advantage (usually on a pick). Check this screenshot out, for example:
Trey Burke has the ball, and both Brock Motum2 and Rudy Gobert are available for Burke to use as screeners. Rodney Hood and Dante Exum are available in either corner for kick out threes, as well as to stay out of the way for the picks up top. Once Burke can gain an advantage, either by going around the screen and penetrating into the paint or by passing to either roll man, the help men on Hood and Exum have to make a choice on whether or not to help the immediate threat in the paint. If they do, Hood and Exum get a wide open corner 3, the most efficient shot in the game. If they don’t, Burke, Motum, or Gobert can use their finishing skills in the paint with little distress. It’s difficult to stop.
We may see the Jazz go with this sort of empty-post look more and more this season, just as Atlanta 3 used it to great success in their playoff series this spring. While it’s not the “Jazz Basketball” of yore, it’s a great look that opposing teams will struggle to deal with.