Since longtime lead singer Scott Weiland's passing last week, I've been listening to a lot of Stone Temple Pilots. (Those of you under the age of 30 are free to say, "Wait, who?") STP were never my favorite band, but they had a bigger impact on my youth than I realized at first. There's no real relevance here, except to explain the reference in the title and give me an excuse to embed the song below. Take a listen and we'll get to the hoops.
Last night was the first chance I've had to watch a Jazz game live from start to finish in a week or so. Not the best one to pick for my return, I guess. For every good thing the Jazz did to keep themselves in the game -- three-point shooting chief among them, including a late resurgence from Rodney Hood (after a dismal first half) -- there seemed to be a worse mistake immediately thereafter.
This is Utah Jazz basketball in 2015 AG -- Absent Gobert. The gambles that Jazz perimeter defenders have been able to take, knowing Rudy was behind them to help, burned them time and time again last night. And the Kings are uniquely suited to take advantage, with DeMarcus Cousins able to operate freely inside, drivers like Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay sailing unhindered to the basket, and spot-up shooters like Omri Casspi and Marco Bellinelli teeing up from outside. (That the Kings can't defend worth a lick themselves is one of the only reasons Utah managed to stay in the game as long as they did.)
I feel comfortable in predicting that this won't be the last poor defensive showing from the Jazz without Rudy in the middle. But it could turn out to be a blessing...if Quin Snyder and the young Jazz role players learn from the experience. On multiple occasions, I saw Hood and Trey Lyles (who had a nice offensive first half) get caught ball-watching and move too slowly on defensive rotations. That's something that can be pointed out and corrected with more experience.
In the meantime, the Jazz will keep tripping on the holes in their paper defense. But even without Gobert, they can get stops when they need to, as they did against Indiana (Paul George's career night notwithstanding). It's going to take a fundamental change in defensive style, knowing Rudy isn't there to back them up, but it may be useful in the long run.
Speaking of that game against the Pacers, Hardwood Paroxysm's Jeff Siegel posted a great in-depth look at the Jazz's offense, including a glance at the now-famed Wing T lineup:
These sort of simple actions aren't hard for teams to implement, but they often come with a variety of options and require adept ball-handlers and shooters to run correctly. Hayward has developed into a perfect wing to be able to play this style; he's big enough to play the 4 in small-ball situations, can step out and shoot the three, and can get into the paint and navigate the pick-and-roll like a point guard. Hayward is one of the few wings in the league who allows his team to be able to run lineups without a true point guard; the Jazz have played 105 minutes without Neto or Burke on the floor, handing the keys over to Hayward as well as Burks and Hood. The Motion offense doesn't require a team to have a single, ball-dominant point guard to run the offense, but instead relies upon the vision and decision-making of all five players to find the best shot. Those 105 minutes without Neto or Burke have produced an offensive efficiency of 115.4 points per 100 possessions for the Jazz, with Favors and Gobert shooting a combined 64.7% from the field.
I love the Wing T's versatility and uniqueness, but it also underscores the fact that the Jazz just don't have adequate point-guard play right now. Raul Neto is showing flashes of at least being able to occupy the Dante Exum corner-3 role, and Trey Burke will get his usual (if inefficient) 12+ points a night, but it's not enough. It's a bummer to dwell on, but I really wish I could see this team with a healthy Exum (and Gobert). There's such potential here, and I'd hate for the Jazz to miss their window.
One FanPost for you this week, as Jordan Cummings expresses himself regarding one Kobe Bean Bryant:
It has been argued by many people that Kobe is one of the all-time greats; he is even compared to Michael Jordan (usually by Lakers fans born after 1993). Don't get me wrong, Kobe is an all-time talent. Definitely one of the greatest players the NBA has seen. But nowhere close to top 10, and he *might* crack the top 15, but even that would be something of a stretch in my opinion.
I recently argued that Kobe is the most overrated athlete in any sport, ever, and that Kobe at his best wasn't even close to MJ at his most average. Jazzyman argued that the gap between Kobe and MJ was not as great as I claimed, so I dug my teeth into the stats. Here is what I found.
Click through for the findings. And the sweet, sweet hatred.
One guy I definitely don't hate as much as some Jazz fans once did is Deron Williams. He's been having something of a resurgence back in his hometown of Dallas, and his former teammates say that escaping the Brooklyn spotlight and returning to a more Utah-esque atmosphere has done him a world of good:
Perhaps Williams' former teammate, Paul Pierce, summed it up best when he said, "Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once [Kevin Garnett and I] got there, that's not what he wanted to be. He just didn't want to be that.
"I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him."
Nevertheless, Williams has excelled as a supporting player with the Mavericks, averaging 15.2 points and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 42.5 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from 3-point range and 92.9 percent from the free-throw line.
"He looked comfortable. He got away from New York," Knicks max player Carmelo Anthony said. "Some people can handle it and some people can't. He's a guy who needed to get away from this where he can be himself and get some clarity and get back to Deron Williams that we all used to love."
Hard not to wish he could be finding that peace back here in SLC, especially when the Jazz are in such dire need of solid point-guard play. I mean, I'd definitely rather have Derrick Favors and all the assets that came with him in the original trade, but I do wish things could've turned out differently with D-Will. I'm happy for him now, in any case.
Two Jazzmen appear in this HoopsHype gallery of the top 25 tallest players in NBA history. Can you name them without looking? (EDIT: Amar actually found four players with Jazz ties. I completely forgot about one of them, probably because I was in South Africa when he was playing.)