1. Utah’s shortened bench almost came back against Atlanta.
We’ve talked a lot about how Utah’s bench is pretty shallow this season: beyond Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker, no other player has a PER greater than 10. But in tonight’s game, Utah’s bench kept them in the game with an 8-0 run in the 1st, a 7-0 run in the second, a 10-2 run spanning the 3rd and 4th quarters, and a 12-1 run late in the 4th. Each of those runs featured at least 2 of Dante Exum, Jingles1, and Rudy Gobert. Trevor Booker often played a role too.
Dante Exum had his career high tonight with 13 points, as he was 5-9 on the floor. Even better, his length garnered him 3 steals on the defensive end. Dante’s an interesting player at this point: he’s a 3 and D player right now (7 of his 9 FGA were from beyond downtown), something that I’m not sure any 19 year old has been in the NBA. Remember, these were skills that we were told would have to be coming later for Dante, instead, these are his strengths. On the other hand, he’s shown next to no ability to get to the rim on his own, and simply doesn’t attack the hoop very frequently, if ever. The scouting reports indicated that would be his initial contribution, but it’s been nonexistent. It’s just strange.
Meanwhile, he’s the only Jazzman putting up a positive +/- when he’s on the floor right now, a remarkable fact given that NBA rookies nearly always have negative +/- impact. This probably is too positive towards Exum as adjusted plus/minus, taking into account the various lineups on the floor, rates him as a small negative2. Still, it’s a good sign. Quin Snyder commented on Exum’s play after the game, saying,
“I want Dante to play like he doesn’t have all those years in front of him, like he doesn’t have all those minutes in front of him. And when he does, we see him attacking and see juice and energy and competitiveness, and that’s I think we all have to recognize how hard that is when you’re 19.”
Rudy Gobert also played well tonight, getting 4 blocks tonight. He makes a shocking amount of difference on the floor when he’s in the paint: even when he doesn’t block the shot, I counted two times when his length turned a jump shot into an easily intercepted pass. Tonight was his 4th game in a row with at least 2 blocks, and he looks like the defensive future for the Jazz.
2. It’s good the bench played well, because they’re moving into the starting lineup tomorrow.
We’re probably going to see Exum move into the starting lineup tomorrow out of sheer necessity: Ian Clark is the only shooting guard who can prevent this now, and Quin’s shown a reluctance to give Clark minutes before tonight. Meanwhile, with Enes Kanter out, we’ll see one of Trevor Booker or Rudy Gobert start. My money would be on Booker, given Kanter’s role as a mid-range capable big, and Minnesota’s starting five, but we’ll see.
If it is Exum and Booker, though, it’s not exactly clear what the bench looks like: maybe Clark/Ingles/Novak/Evans/Gobert? That lineup has really limited scoring, though both Clark and Ingles have shown an ability to playmake a little. It would be really long inside 3 with Evans and Gobert, which would be fun, at least. Still, that that lineup is a possibility shows how thin the Jazz are right now.
3. Trey Burke’s shooting night.
Trey Burke went 2-19 tonight, but that wasn’t the most discouraging stat from his game tonight. Instead, his 0-11 performance from 3 was only the 2nd time in NBA regular season history that a player shot at least 11 3-point attempts without a make.4 It was a topsy-turvy performance from his game on Tuesday, in which he went 10-21 and led the Jazz with a team-high 26 points.
Neither Trey Burke nor Quin Snyder seemed too concerned about the poor shooting performance. Quin Snyder defended the shots Burke took, saying “I thought he had a lot of clean looks, they just didn’t go in – it was one of those nights.” And Trey said that, while he wasn’t demoralized, he was upset about his shooting performance. That being said, he continued, “You can’t get too high after good games or too low after bad games… I feel like I got good shots, most of the shots I got were open looks.”
Indeed, 10 of Trey’s shots tonight were uncontested, according to SportVu, only 1 of those went down. It seems like teams are more eager to drop or rotate off of Trey, giving him relatively open looks. The Jazz’s offense is an equal-opportunity one, designed to get a shot to whoever is most open. Unfortunately, that probably explains Burke leading the team in FGA in 3 of the last 4 games5 despite only shooting 35.5%(!) from the field for the season.
The offense could probably be more efficient if it force fed shots to Hayward and Favors rather than Burke, but given that this season is all about developing habits, it makes total sense to run the offense in a more egalitarian fashion, especially as the Jazz may acquire or develop a new starting PG in the years to come.