1. Jazz got out to a great start!
As everyone knows, the Jazz have had many slow starts this season, falling routinely behind by double digits in the first quarter. Tonight against the Heat, they were immediately hot, especially from long range. The Jazz raced out to a 33-16 lead at the end of the first quarter, on the strength of 4 of 5 shooting from downtown.
The Heat outscored the Jazz in the second quarter, but only by 3, and the Jazz’s first half lead of 14 was fed largely by their otherwordly 8 of 11 first half shooting from 3. Gordon Hayward was by far their best first-half offensive weapon, scoring 18, nearly keeping pace with Dwyane Wade, who notched 23.
Clearly some of the hot start was luck — the Jazz haven’t suddenly turned into Kyle Korver from long range — but it was refreshing nonetheless.
And, importantly, that big lead allowed them to weather several difficult stretches early in the third and fourth quarters where the Heat cut the lead to single digits, behind what was an absolutely epic Wade night. He suddenly looked 25 years old again, scoring 42 points on 19 shots.
2. The youth on the bench got more minutes.
For most of this admittedly-young season, the youngest Jazzmen — Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert — have been playing roughly 15 to 18 minutes a game. Exum has remained largely in that range until tonight, when he got 24 minutes, remaining in the game for a particularly long stretch especially in the first half, when Alec Burks had a few fouls.
Exum played one of his finest games as a Jazzman, notching 10 points on 4-5 shooting. Not coincidentally, the team outscored the Jazz by 15 while he was on the floor, a welcome trend given that Jazz bench units have struggled find the basket and been routinely outscored. Exum even played a few minutes alongside point guard Trey Burke, a new wrinkle that could offer him additional opportunities to stay on the court.
Gobert actually played fewer minutes than the past two games — 19, down from 33 and 31 — but that’s because Derrick Favors returned from a two-game absence. But his minutes have slowly crept upward, and he certainly played well tonight, hitting both the shots he took and grabbing 9 rebounds in those 19 minutes.
3. Those rookie minute increases are balanced by a reduced role for the bench vets.
Along with the boost in minutes for Exum and Gobert, two other Jazz bench players — Trevor Booker and Joe Ingles — played fewer minutes than their season averages. And, frankly, that’s a good thing,
For Joe Ingles, this loss of minutes continues a trend. After playing at least 20 minutes in 10 of 14 games from Nov. 9 to Dec. 5, Ingles has played markedly less in the past six, averaging 10-12 minutes, before getting 14 tonight. Those minutes, by and large, have gone to Rodney Hood, who returned from a foot injury.
Hood is hardly lighting it up — his shooting and efficiency numbers remain poor — but the 22-year-old rookie at least has the potential to improve and become the floor-stretching wing the Jazz hope he’ll become.
Ingles, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, is having a historically unusual season. And, frankly, that’s a euphemism for poor. His PER is 7 and he’s the second lowest per-minute scorer in the NBA. His alleged superior skill is passing, but while his assist numbers remain excellent, his turnover numbers are surprisingly high. In the first half of tonight’s game, for example, he whipped an awkward cross-court pass to Dante Exum that skidded low and went out of bounds. In the second half, at one point, he telegraphed an attempted pass to Kanter in the paint that was easily stolen by the Heat.
Those poor passes add up: He currently has the 60th worst turnover ratio of 67 qualified small forwards, according to ESPN’s numbers.
Booker’s minutes, on the other hand, have been fairly steady at about 20 minutes per game. But in tonight’s game he only played 12 — not because of any decision Snyder made because he was ejected at the end of the first half after two quick whistles.
Does Booker deserve his consistent bench role? On one hand, he remains the strong rebounder and energy guy I profiled in the pre-season, often drawing cheers for his willingness to dive to the floor or out of bounds for a loose ball.
However, his game has clear weaknesses: He hasn’t added long-range shooting — he’s taking 1 a game, the most of his career, but hitting just 29 percent. His offensive game consists of a mix of dunks and nifty left hand hooks, but little else. He hardly ever shoots free throws and turns the ball over a surprising amount. On a bench unit with several players that really have very little to do on offense — Ingles and Gobert, primarly — he’s being asked to do quite a bit, as evidenced by his career-high usage rate.
Of course, one great night in Miami probably doesn’t suddently mean hot starts, more minutes for Exum and Gobert and a diminished role for Ingles and Booker. But it sure was a fun night and hopefully a harbinger of more to come.