1. The Fatigue Factor
It was painfully obvious the Jazz were in the second game of a back-to-back Saturday night in Charlotte. The team looked lethargic all night long, leading to them settling for a multitude of outside jump shots offensively and a dearth of bona fide stops on the defensive end. With a few exceptions, the only thing that stopped the Hornets from getting to the rim and/or scoring was a missed shot, not an outstanding defensive play by a member of the Utah roster. Enes Kanter particularly seemed to have no legs, as nearly every one of his 6 misses on the night caught front iron.
Trey Burke’s struggles continued as the slumping point guard managed 10 points on 4-13 shooting from the field. More concerning to me is the paltry 2 assists registered by Burke. On multiple occasions, Burke couldn’t or didn’t get the ball to Favors when he was either wide open or had a smaller Hornet guarding him. Favors was really the only efficient offensive scorer in the first half, and was keeping pace with Big Al Jefferson, each trading blows with the other by scoring with ease. Curiously, Favors only ended up with 8 shot attempts for the game, and was very quiet in the second half. I chalk that up primarily to the inefficiency of the offense being run and the fatigue factor from the previous night’s game as well as the fact that he played only 18 minutes.
2. Rudy Gobert Continues to Impress
Gobert had one of the few impressive performances for Utah against Charlotte. Gobert recorded his first career double-double, scoring 11 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. He also had two blocks and one steal, and curiously played more minutes than did the starting front-court players Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. His ability to change the game on defense is not news to Jazz fans at this point, but it continues to amaze me how dramatically different opposing players attack the basket when Gobert is out compared to when he’s in. As soon as he checks in, boldness and confidence is replaced by timidity, with what would have been dunk or lay-up attempts transformed into rushed floaters or jump shots well before getting within range of Gobert’s go-go-Gadget arms.
The combination of inconsistent play by Kanter on the defensive end, Gobert’s rapid improvement and the often-poor results of the starting unit thus may be the perfect storm to convince Quin Snyder a change is needed to the starting lineup. While an argument could be made that someone like Burke is more deserving of losing his starting gig than Kanter, it’s a difficult task to argue that anyone but Gobert should be moved into the starting lineup should a change occur. Concerns over playing Favors and Gobert together were somewhat alleviated when the two were manning the restricted area together against the Hornets, which admittedly came in brief spurts. While common basketball sense would say to attack the lineup by going small and/or putting in a stretch 4, Favors guarded Marvin Williams for a stretch while Favors and Gobert were both on the floor and did a more-than-capable job of it.
3. Extending the Rotation
Swing man Joe Ingles had the best game of his Jazz career against the Hornets, going 5-8 from the field including 3-6 from 3-point land on his way to scoring 13 points, along with 4 rebounds and 1 assist. I mentioned in the Triple Team of Utah’s last game against Orlando that Ingles’ minutes seemed to have been re-allocated to Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, and so Ingles may not have registered the 16 minutes he got had the game been more in doubt. That being said, Ingles looked demonstrably more energized and engaged than the rest of the rotation players who, sans Gobert, looked like they were slogging through mud the entire game.
In most circumstances, I would tend to favor a shorter rotation, say 8 or 9 deep: small enough for each player to intimately understand the nuances of each of his teammates, but large enough so the players aren’t completely gassed by the end of the nights. With the current Jazz roster, I often wonder if Coach Snyder would be better off extending it out to 11 or even 12, exchanging having what he considers to be superior talent on the floor for having excited players and fresh legs. It certainly couldn’t have hurt against the Hornets. If we’re really honest with ourselves, is there a tremendous distance between the worst rotation player and the first or second reserve? Jeremy Evans played considerable minutes for Utah the past few years, yet is receiving DNP-CDs pretty much every single night. Steve Novak’s ability to stretch the floor has yet to be utilized. I’m not going full Popovich and advocating to sit the entire starting lineup every so often strictly for rest’s sake. I simply think back to the 2003-04 season, when Jerry Sloan took a team with a considerable dearth of talent to the brink of the playoffs, often by gutting it out and playing 11-12 players a game . With a playoff berth clearly out of the picture, it couldn’t hurt to mix and match and try new things.