These are the five guys who made sweet sweet music against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Al Jefferson: The game against Milwaukee was, probably, one of the more complete games of Jefferson’s Jazz career. He finished with 26 points (9 free throw attempts, 1.53 points per shot!!!), 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. In 35 minutes he also reached the mark that DeMarcus Cousins reached in assists last night – zero. (If you don’t get why this is something I’m pointing out then you’re lucky enough not to follow me on twitter) I liked what Al did in this game on offense. In particular 14 of his 17 shots were from 9 feet or in. (In previous games when his fg% was lower he was taking more jumpers from outside the paint – and we all think that’s not his forte) He went 4/7 at the rim, ad 5/7 from "Wheezie" range. He did not do much when it came to chasing his man around the court though. Drew Gooden had 24 points (who among other things went 6/9 from 16 to 23 feet out). Drew, of course, started at center because Andrew Bogut was unavailable to play in this game for personal reasons. One can imagine that Bogut would have presented a greater challenge in the paint for Jefferson than Gooden and Larry Sanders. Basketball-reference tells us that for his career Al averages 12.8 ppg (43.9 fg%), and 8.5 rpg head to head against Andrew. If you were going to nit-pick (and I think I am here, I can admit that), you worry about his passing. Jefferson played 35 minutes and didn’t get a single assist. I’m not going to eat his lunch for that, but I will eat it for his continual decision making which leads to him taking contested shots against double and triple teams, instead of passing it out to his team mates. Over the last few games we’ve seen him do this around 5 times. He knows it’s a problem, and he will improve on it. I believe that Jefferson isn’t at his peak just yet. Let’s not forget that he played in zero pre-season games this year. He’s behind everyone else, and he’s still getting 20/10 games.
Paul Millsap: Millsap had a Mansap type of game, seemingly reverting to his hyper efficiency from his "off the bench" days behind Carlos Boozer. In only 26 minutes of action he had 13 and 12, missing only one shot from the field, and only one shot from the free throw line. He also added 2 blocks, 2 assists, and 1 steal. I pity him because he should be the 3rd best guy on a team going for a ring, and not the best guy on a lotto team. I think his continued efficiency pushes him ahead of Jefferson on the totem pole. Jefferson had his best game, efficiency-wise against the Bucks, and got a great 1.53 points per shot. In the same game Paul Millsap had a 1.86 points per shot value. Millsap has been the only guy to make the Jazz quintet every game this season.
Derrick Favors: Derrick Favors played only 21 minutes in this game, and to be fair – Big Al and Millsap were just cooking the other team, so it’s not like he was on the bench behind guys having poor games. In those 21 minutes he had 6 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks, a steal, and a number of amazing plays. He doesn’t have the sloth-like quickness of Big Al, and he doesn’t have the short stature of Millsap. Physically he has no rival this side of Orlando. I would have liked to have seen him play a little more, maybe 4 or 5 more minutes (he only had 3 fouls), but I’m not the head coach. He did have the best +/- value on the team, at +12.
Gordon Hayward: The Precious had that good shooting night that he deserved to have after the last few stinkers. Before the game against Milwaukee, for the season, Hayward was shooting 37.1 fg%. After the game against Milwaukee he had bumped up his shooting for the season to 42.9 fg%. That’s nearly 6% in the span of one game. Sure, sample size augments how big a game it was for Hayward, but it’s all true. A few more good shooting games like this and he’ll recover his confidence; especially if the Jazz continue to find him shots in the paint. He made all of them against a Bogut-less Bucks. He did have 5 fouls and an absurd 1 assist against 4 turn overs though. Before that game he was averaging 4 apg, with a 4:1 assist to turn over ratio. Not anymore.
Alec Burks: Part of me wanted to reward Enes Kanter for his 5 / 5 / 1 in 13 minutes, but Burks delivered in his first bit of action in non-garbage time. In the olden days of the lockout I concluded that the #12 draft picks that had good careers were the guys who came into the league with an NBA level skill. Burks is continuing to prove that he has an NBA level skill – getting to the line. As a rookie he has gone to the free throw line 8th most on the entire team. He’s 11th on the team (13 guys) in total minutes played. Against the Bucks he went to the line 10 times. If you do the math (and you know I did), it means he’s getting to the line for a FT shot once every 4.3 minutes of floor time. As a point of reference, our team’s season Usage Rate leader (Al Jefferson), gets to the line for a FT shot once every 10.7 minutes of floor time. This is a pretty clear disparity. Looking towards the future, having a guy who is a magnet for getting calls is a recipe for winning close games and going to the playoffs. Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade are all examples of this. Burks also added 6 assists (3:1 assist to turn over ratio), 2 rebounds, and 1 block. So yeah, star in the making.