1. Burke Bounces Back
After a dismal night against the Hawks just 24 hours prior, a match-up against the listless and equally as banged up Timberwolves turned out to be just what Trey Burke and the ailing Jazz needed. Burke notched a season-high 28 points to lead Utah past Minnesota 101-89. Burke was 10-16 from the field and 4-6 from behind the arc, and did a great job shaking off the putrid shooting night he had the game prior when he went 2-19 from the floor, including 0-11 from three against Atlanta.
Trey has vacillated between inconsistent and downright poor performances thus far in the still-young season. Burke’s rookie campaign featured some flashes of potential, but fell far short of quelling concerns about his possible shortcomings, such as lack of elite speed and athleticism for an undersized player. A single game performance, especially against a team the caliber of the Timberwolves, should be taken with a grain of salt (if not an entire bag of ice melt,) but so too should a half-season of underwhelming performance. Trey’s decision making in this game was noticeably better than it has been recently, and his hot shooting bodes very well for a Utah team that’s paper thin in the backcourt at the moment.
2. Bench Steps Up
Not only has the injury bug bitten the Jazz recently, it appears to have invited several of its most ravenous friends along for the feast. With Alec Burks out for the season with a shoulder injury, Rodney Hood out several games nursing an injured heel, Patrick Christopher sidelined with a dislocated kneecap and Enes Kanter sitting out with a sprained ankle, I was equal parts curious and nervous to see how the bench players would perform filling in for the injury victims.
They did not disappoint.
Filling in for Kanter, Rudy Gobert posted one of the most impressive single quarters from a statistics standpoint in recent memory. In the third quarter, Gobert had 11 points on 5-6 shooting, 5 rebounds and 5 blocks. According to @jazzgamenight on Twitter, that’s the first such quarter since 2007, when Tim Duncan had 11-5-5, and only the second since the 2002-03 season. The “Stifle Tower” (or “Count Blockula” which is what I sincerely hope Trevor Booker nicknamed Gobert) continues to swat shots and drop jaws at equally impressive rates.
Speaking of Booker, he posted an impressive 9 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists. Though he had a few “out of control” moments offensively, he also showed nice touch on a baby hook shot and did an excellent job of finding open teammates, as his 6 assists will attest.
Perhaps most impressive off the bench was the performance of Jeremy Evans (remember him?) In only his 10th appearance this season, the former Slam Dunk champion racked up 9 points, which included a rare three pointer, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. For someone who has seen the court as sparsely as Evans, his ability to immediately step in and contribute is a testament to his work ethic, preparedness and professionalism. While he may not see a significant uptick in playing time unless Kanter misses significant time, having Evans in his back pocket gives Quin Snyder comfort knowing he has that level of frontcourt depth as well as flexibility with extending the rotation if need be.
3. An Impressive Few Weeks
The victory against the Timberwolves was Utah’s 6th in its last 9 games. While this would be considered a good stretch for virtually any team, it’s a torrid pace for a team like the Jazz that lost 12 of 14 earlier in the season. There were multiple eye-popping statistics produced the Jazz in that nine-game span. The defensive effort and execution has been definitively better in that stretch, much of the credit being owed to the game-changing play of Rudy Gobert. However, the whole team has contributed to the start about-face in defensive proficiency. The Jazz actually lead the NBA in fewest points allowed since December 17th, surrendering a paltry 92.5 per contest.
Though he didn’t have a great game tonight, Gordon Hayward has been a huge part of the Jazz’ tear over the past 9 contests. Hayward’s three-point shot has been going in at a nylon-scorching .606 clip, good for best in the league over that time.
Another leap/bound the Jazz have made recently is on the second game of back-to-back contests. Winless in its first four games played on zero days rest and giving up an average of 108.5 points a game, Utah has gone 3-1 in the last four such games and has given up only 95.3 points per game.
The vast improvements in multiple areas is certainly a good sign for Jazz players and fans, but one fact that should be noted is the level of competition these 6 wins have come against. Memphis was the only team the Jazz beat with a winning record, with the other victories coming against Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Minnesota twice. That said, only one of the losses, a stinker against Charlotte, came against a team with the losing record. The other two, a 4-point loss to the Clippers and a 6-point defeat to the red-hot Hawks, were nothing of which the Jazz should be ashamed.