So, last night's game in Portland was pretty fun, even though the Jazz finished on the losing end of the scoreline. These are ideal games for this season. Wins and losses don't matter that much. The bigger questions are: Is the team competitive? Do they give up when faced with adversity, especially on the road? Are we better now than we were a month ago?
Judging by last night, the answers are yes, no, and heck yes. The Jazz had multiple opportunities to fold last night -- the start of the third quarter, when they committed five fouls in four minutes, or midway through the fourth, when former Jazzman Wesley Matthews was lighting it up from long range. But they never backed down, and they never let Portland get comfortable. True, it took some desperation three-pointers to do that, but that's what good teams do. And we're starting to see the seeds of what a "good" Jazz team looks like with this roster.
One interesting tidbit about this team and this season is they're playing almost as well on the road as at home. Utah is 9-14 at EnergySolutions Arena, and 8-17 everywhere else. They score a bit less on the road, and their opponents score a bit more, but that margin has narrowed in the last month. And the Jazz have had a couple of huge wins (at Memphis, at Chicago) and several more winnable, close losses (at Atlanta, at OKC, at Portland last night). They've been blown out too, of course, but for a team as young as the Jazz, with a new head coach, to basically split your wins in half road-vs-home is impressive.
ESPN's Tom Haberstroh says home court in the NBA is not the advantage it once was, pointing to technological advances, more 3-point shooting and more docile home crowds as possible reasons. For the Jazz's part, playing in SLC is certainly not the daunting task it once was, though that has a lot more to do with the talent on the roster than the fans or any other change in team or league operations.
I'm sure Jazz fans would rather see big wins at home, but I think road wins and close road losses will do more for this team's development. Whether it's part of a league-wide trend or not, I'm encouraged by performances like last night's.
One player who made clutch contributions to last night's rally: Joe Ingles. In the absence of Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, the 27-year-old "rookie" has locked down a starting position, and he's averaged 31.5 minutes per game over the Jazz's last six games (the team has gone 3-3 in that stretch). His counting stats are far from mind-blowing, but his January averages are very promising: 6.5 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.6 steals. With that versatility, combined with 38 percent 3PT in January, the effect he's has on the Jazz is obvious.
Here's Ben Dowsett from Salt City Hoops with more:
His team is feeling the difference while he's on the floor, as well. Jingles posted Utah's best per-possession net rating while on the floor for the month of January (among rotation players), and on the flip side, they've been at their worst when he sits down. Their shooting declines noticeably when he's replaced by a lesser threat like Elijah Millsap, and despite Ingles' promotion to the starting lineup recently against more skilled opponents, they've defended at a well above average rate while he plays.
Ingles has reached seventh place in ESPN's rookie rankings, and with the minutes he's getting (and Dante Exum's struggles), there's no reason to think Joe won't keep climbing.
Three FanPosts this week. First, marvin_is_joe has a bone to pick with another team's fanbase:
Shaq vs Kobe is long over but shouldnt Laker fans know who the NBA logo is? I ask this in every conversation passing a Laker fan I can and only about 25% of them can answer. Hey that NBA logo, blue and red with the silhoutte of a person dribbling a ball, "Who is that?" Try it some time, they dont know the logo, they dont know hes a legendary player let alone a Laker. Jerry West should come out and really talk about the lameness of Laker fans everywhere.
Uber_snotling has a lament for the Jazz's backcourt:
...is there any competition for worst backcourt in the NBA?
The table only shows players playing at least 10 minutes per game and is rank ordered by PER. The bottom line is the Jazz are currently sporting players who all have below-average PER, WS/48, VORP, and negative BPM socres.
And would it be worthwhile to add a savvy veteran to the roster (e.g., Andre Miller) to provide some replacement level talent for our frontcourt to work with? In other words, is the play of our backcourt detrimental to the development of our above-average frontcourt?
Lastly, Beeblebrox42 examines the concept of "championship windows" and applies it to current contenders:
I've been thinking about how stacked the west has been the last few years and decided to start looking at teams that are currently on a championship push. I wanted to know when current teams would fade or have to make significant changes. I started by narrowing the league down to those teams that are on pace for a 50+ win season (or were when I started pulling the numbers), and then I added in a few teams that would likely be on that pace if it weren't for injury (Indiana & OKC)... then I added Cleveland, because reasons.
Hot on the heels of Derrick Favors' twins announcement, Gordon Hayward has news of his own. Via his personal blog site:
Robyn is pregnant with a baby girl. She's due to join us in mid-June.
I'm really excited about becoming a dad. We're starting the next chapter of our lives together, and I'm ready for it. We found out that Robyn was pregnant a while ago, but we didn't tell anybody because we wanted to make sure everything went well in the first trimester. She went for a checkup recently and everything looks good so far. Since Robyn is going to start showing soon, I figured now was as good a time as any to share the news with everyone.
Mid-June, eh? That's some good baby-making planning there, Gordo. Way to conceive for the offseason.
An intrepid designer on imgur cobbled together team-personalized versions of the NBA's Larry O'Brien championship trophy. Here's the Jazz's. Whaddya think?