A trio of observations about the Jazz come-from-behind win on the road over the New Orleans Pelicans tonight, as soon as I finish stroking my beard.
1. Steve Who?
It’s surprising, given how badly the Jazz have needed outside shooting this season, that free agent forward Steve Novak has played so little. The team’s coaching staff, instead, has chosen to give most of their bench minutes to younger players.
Going into Monday night, Novak had played 80 minutes all season, with a season high of 16 minutes and 9 points coming in a loss against Golden State way back in late November.
And, then, suddenly, the sweet-shooting Novak showed up in New Orleans, hitting 4-5 3 pointers in his 12 minutes. His two 3s late in the third quarter helped fuel the key run that brought the Jazz back into the game.
Joe Ingles’ back spasms for the second straight game — plus Trevor Booker’s gradual decline in minutes the past month — has opened up a window for Novak. Interesting to see if he stays in Snyder’s rotation.
2. Broken Wings.
It was a rough night for the Jazz’ guards. Dante Exum, Elijah Millsap and Trey Burke shot a combined 4 for 29, and it wasn’t just on offense where they struggled. Pelicans guards Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon combined for 49 points and torched nearly everyone guarding them, especially in the first half, when the Jazz perimeter defense was a smoldering dumpster fire. Gordon nearly led the Pelicans back after the Jazz seized the lead late, until Hayward silenced him late in the fourth.
Trey Burke had a particularly forgettable game, shooting 0 for 10 in 20 minutes. So much so, that he played sparingly in the second half, perhaps in part because he’s simply not big or athletic enough to guard Evans or Gordon.
I’m fully in favor of the Elijah Millsap experiment. The Jazz should be looking far and wide for wings who can play some D and/or shoot. So why not try the guy who’s older brother will be a coveted free agent this offseason?
However, so far, Millsap has flat out struggled to show he belongs on an NBA roster. He’s eager on defense, but too much so, leading to a slew of fouls. Bizarrely, against Tyreke Evans — a strong driver but a weak outside shooter — Millsap repeatedly hounded him from just past half court. And then, time after time, Evans blew by him, leading to layups and easy basket for his teammates.
On offense, Millsap turns the ball over at a very high rate (on more than 20 percent of his possessions) and shoots the ball very poorly everywhere but from 3, where’s he at a respectable .394 percent.
3. Mea Culpa
Gordon Hayward had yet another terrific game, especially late. From halfway through the third quarter, when the Jazz were down 64-50 against a team missing three of their top four scorers (not just Anthony Davis, but Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday too), Hayward scored 23 of his 32 points, plus he added 7 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block.
Check out the play-by-play of the fourth quarter for the Jazz, and note Hayward’s name constantly appearing. It was, again, a star turn.
Last summer, when the Jazz had to decide whether to match the Hornets’ offer of $60 million for Hayward, I was one of a few to argue perhaps they shouldn’t. I recognized the team had little choice, but I felt like few observers were pointing out that Hayward’s shooting numbers had been trending steadily — and worryingly — downward for his first years.
“It’s fair to say that 2013-14 Gordon Hayward shot the ball very poorly, continuing a disturbing slide. Those trends will have to reverse — significantly — if he is to play close to a $15 million per year level.”
Well, guess what, they have. Hayward FG% is up to .462, the highest since his rookie season. His three-point percentage is at an excellent .392, up from .304 last year. The frequency with which he draws fouls is at a career high. Add it all together, and Hayward’s True Shooting Percentage is a career high .582, which among small forwards who play at least 30 minutes a game, leaves him fourth. Behind guys named Kevin Durant, DeMarre Carroll (!) and LeBron James.
I’ve never been so delighted to be wrong in my life.