1. The Core Four showed a lot of ability.
With the injury to Trey Burke, there’s no need to fabricate new names for the Jazz’s dynamic young team; the moniker “Core Four” suffices. And indeed, Utah’s fabled Core Four did not did not disappoint: The Four (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks) combined for 66 points on the night. Perhaps more impressive, each contributed without scoring: Favors showed off a newfound willingness to pass out of trouble when the defense dove toward him, garnering 5 assists (although he did accumulate 6 turnovers to go with them). Kanter regained his rebounding focus after struggling in the preseason. Hayward managed to accumulate 3 steals to go along with his 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
But, for the Jazz at least, the night’s best performance belonged to Alec Burks. For the game he finished with 24 points, just short of his career high. Included in those 24 were these 2 off of this incredible reverse layup, efforted in with significant english:
Scoring 11 points in the 4th quarter on 4-5 shooting, Burks singlehandledly brought the Jazz back late in the game. Even better, he showed an ability to contribute off the ball, something that’s been a significant worry for the Jazz; Burks contributed 6 assists and 6 rebounds to the overall effort. While it’s doubtful all nights will be as encouraging as this one, the night’s Core Four performances will put a smile on Jazz fans faces.
2. Turnovers and fouls cost the Jazz the game.
Despite the positives, and there were many, the inexperience of the Jazz displayed itself at times. The Jazz accumulated 22 turnovers. That’s generally going to be far too many to win any given game. Perhaps more damaging was the 28 personal fouls the Jazz committed during the game leading to 33 OKC free throws, including 24 by free throw master Kevin Durant. As a result, the Jazz lost the game despite outshooting their opponents, 46% to 41%.
While Durant is adept at drawing fouls, the 24 free throw attempts he garnered tonight were the second-highest total of his career. In other words, the Jazz shouldn’t be satisfied to chalk his 42 points up to greatness, but should instead look to minimize easy free throw opportunities for star players. Fouling too much has always been a Jazz bugaboo, but in a new era of leadership and personnel, fouling less could be one opportunity for improvement.
3. The Thunder’s offensive execution is not particularly impressive without Russell Westbrook.
Yes, Kevin Durant saved them this win with his 42 point performance. But how many more times can Durant step up to that degree? Despite an entire training camp and preseason without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder didn’t particularly appear to feature any creative offensive sets designed to get non-KD players open or close to the basket. The Thunder accumulated just 9 assists for the night, and the lack of ball movement was entirely responsible for their 41% shooting performance.
Royce Young of Daily Thunder assures me that things were different during Oklahoma City’s preseason, and that there’s potential for this team to show off the kind of speedy, efficient passing that’s a staple of successful NBA offenses. But in tonight’s game and last year’s postseason efforts, that hasn’t been on display whatsoever. Playoff defenses are notably stingy, but the Jazz’s defense, especially on game 1 of the season, should probably be easier to break down for a veteran team. It wasn’t, and that has to be worrisome for Thunder fans.