Forgive me for the lateness of this Downbeat. I'm still recovering from my unexpected experience attending the Jazz-Grizzlies game on Saturday night. (I'll get to that below, and I hope you'll pardon the self-indulgence.)
Great time to be a Jazz fan, though, huh? And we're just getting started.
Let's just get this out of the way: This is where I sat on Saturday night.
That's me, the pudgy dude in the Dante Exum jersey, glued to his phone. (Hello, ladies.)
I'm just gonna go ahead and clarify that this isn't my usual seat. The story is common enough for folks living and working in SLC: a friend gets free tickets from work, they're somewhere in the lower bowl, you agree to go, you have a better seat than you could afford otherwise.
Except in this case, the friend works for Vivint. And Vivint's name is now on the building. And Vivint apparently gets tickets right freaking behind Greg Freaking Miller. So.
guys this is weeeeeird pic.twitter.com/H0WhRpEv7N— Layton Shumway (@theshums) November 8, 2015
I promise I'm not bringing all this up just to brag. (Like, what would I be bragging about? "There's this guy who works for a very successful company in a successful but mostly anonymous way and he didn't fully understand what he was getting when he was offered free courtside tickets and guess what I AM ACQUAINTED WITH THAT GUY"?) I'm bringing it up because sitting that close offered me a different and unique perspective, one even the media doesn't get (because the Jazz sit them in the corner above the team tunnel in a few isolated rows).
So, Observations From Sitting Courtside:
Quin Snyder is ALWAYS coaching. He moves up and down the sideline constantly, yelling out plays and instructions, gesturing orders to his assistants, and basically trying to murder people with his brain. The well-documented habit of pulling players aside as they come out of the game is 100% true, and the players seem to expect and welcome it.
The most striking moment for me came on a play in the first half, as the Jazz got back on defense. Quin took one look at the offensive set the Grizzlies were preparing, then immediately began screaming to Rudy Gobert. "Rudy! RUDY! POST-UP! POST-UP! POST-UP!"
At that moment, the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol was not, in fact, posting up. He was out on the right wing, preparing to set a screen for the ball handler, Mike Conley. But after a flurry of motion and back screens, guess where Gasol ended up? On the right block, posting up.
Rudy, meanwhile, had seemed slightly confused at Snyder's instruction, because Gasol was so far away from the basket. By the time Gasol settled into position, Rudy had managed to stay between him and the basket, but he didn't seem quite as solidly set as he could have been.
I can't remember if Gasol scored on the play, because I looked away to see Quin Snyder, apoplectic with fury. He had seen the whole thing coming, every second.
The man knows things, is what I'm trying to say.
Speaking of Rudy: The hunger is REAL. He wants to block every shot, clog every passing lane, snag every rebound and dunk every put-back. The Grizzlies, veteran team that they are, took advantage of Gobert's enthusiasm at times with intelligent pump fakes and passing. (If any of them could shoot worth a darn, that game could have ended very differently.) But everything about Rudy screams "I want to prove how much better than you I am." It's a blast to watch up close.
he's tall pic.twitter.com/23YXhDmoHz— Layton Shumway (@theshums) November 8, 2015
Trey Burke is trying his butt off. (I suppose that's evident in the box score, but it goes beyond his three-point shooting.) He made smarter decisions with the ball than I have seen him make, including not forcing the issue on outnumbered fast breaks.
Unfortunately, for all his trying, he's still a step behind defensively. He simply couldn't get around screens fast enough to stay with Mike Conley or even Beno Udrih. The Jazz hid him on Tony Allen at times, but for all of Burke's offensive efficiency, he was still just +1 in plus/minus for the game.
Still, I loved watching him bury all those threes (and so did the team; you could tell they all knew how much a night like that meant to him and them).
Speaking of Treys, Trey Lyles wants to play more. He only got off the bench for a moment at the end of the first quarter, in what seemed to be an effort to make sure another big didn't get a silly foul on a wasted possession. He exited immediately thereafter, with a sigh and a little rueful shake of his head. It's gotta be a strange experience to be a superstar all your life, including on a team full of superstars at Kentucky, and go from that to getting six minutes a game (or six seconds, in Saturday's case).
let's go alfonso pic.twitter.com/s2bhoshbF6— Layton Shumway (@theshums) November 8, 2015
Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles are both very, very smart basketball players. Hood has a quiet intelligence that you can just see in his eyes when you're that close. It radiates from him on every play. He also listens to Quin Snyder like every word out of his mouth is scripture. I don't know if it's the Duke connection or the I-can-kill-you-with-my-brain thing, but it's there. Even when Hood makes mistakes, they seem to be because his body isn't responding fast enough to keep up with his brain. But I think that will come with time. He's like a new form of artificial intelligence that has just gained sentience. IT'S LEARNING.
Meanwhile, Ingles is like an infantry field commander. He talks as much or more than anyone on the court, and more than once I saw him pull Quin aside, instead of the other way around, to give him reports and insight from his on-court perspective. I don't always believe in the "glue guy" narrative, the whole "he does things that don't show up in the box score" thing. But this was the first time I could see absolute proof of the impact Ingles has -- not just on the court, but in the respect Snyder clearly has for his intelligence.
Gordon Hayward probably had the best game of his young season, and the bench was bouncing after his 15-point first quarter. Then...well, he kinda vanished for the rest of the game. In the box score, anyway. On the court, Hayward was still the focal point of the Jazz offense, and the reason Trey Burke was open for his catch-and-shoot threes was due to good spacing and ball rotation that resulted from the Grizzlies defense focusing on Hayward. The team absolutely looks to Gordon to initiate the offense and basically be the straw that stirs the drink. That's easy to forget when looking at his poor shooting numbers to start the season.
Having said that...Derrick Favors is making The Leap right before our eyes. Coming into the game, I was afraid that Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol would put a damper on his early-season success. Not even close.
Favors is shorter than Gasol and thinner than Z-Bo. But from courtside it seemed like he towered over both of them. Favors got to pretty much anywhere he wanted on the court. He dominated the glass. He kept plays alive with tip-ins and tap-backs. He was fantastic. And while he might not be as imperative to the Jazz's offense as Hayward...I think he might be the Jazz's best player.
One final thought: The Jazz didn't even play that well on Saturday night. They turned the ball over 21 times, and their great three-point percentage counteracted an otherwise middling shooting night. But when they're clicking, they are almost radioactive with potential energy. (RIP EnergySolutions Arena.) It's going to be fantastic to watch this team flourish -- courtside or otherwise.