The Utah Jazz are averaging 91.3 points per game since the All-Star break.
The Utah Jazz are holding opponents to 83.4 points per game since the All-Star break.
The Utah Jazz are 8-2 since the All-Star break.
Let's just say I'm not overly concerned about how "ugly" they look doing it.
The Jazz teams of recent years probably would have folded against the Knicks last night. This team didn't. They know they should beat teams like New York, even without the help of Gordon Hayward. And they got it done, by holding the Knicks to 39 percent shooting, getting timely stops and turnovers, and letting Derrick Favors go full Hulk.
DJJazzyJody, who had last night off, basically wrote the article I wanted to write on Tuesday morning: Ugly or not, the Jazz finally know who they are, and that's making all the difference.
"We're getting better. We're getting more confident," Gobert said. "I think we're building an identity. It feels good."
There's no surprise what the identity is, either.
"Defensive. Defensive pride. I think it's (being) unselfish and helping each other defensively and protecting the paint," Gobert said when asked to expound on the team's identity.
"If you want to win, we know that we're going to play defense. That's very important."
Pardon me. I just need to swoon for a second.
(Don't you judge me.)
I know it isn't quantifiable, but I can't overstate how important having that team identity is. I think every truly great team has one. They know it, and almost more importantly, their opponents know it.
That's why I love that quote from Young Rud. He gets it. He gets the value of intimidating other teams. He wants everyone who sees UTA on the schedule to think, "Crap. Really? We have to play them? Can we just, like, NOT play them? Is that cool? It's not, is it?"
It's not even about making other teams think they'll lose. It's about making other teams worry about what it will cost to win. I'm getting all tingly just thinking about it. No matter how ugly it looks.
...Okay, I need a cold shower.
Hang on; we're not done with Young Rud yet. (In The Great Gobert Nickname Wars of 2015, I support the moniker the other players use.)
Over at Vice, Evan Hall points out that Gobert isn't just helping the Jazz win ugly -- he's actively destroying what other teams try to build offensively:
As I watched Utah's 16-point win over Portland, a game in which Gobert blocked five shots and anchored a merciless annihilation of a top-10 NBA offense, I kept thinking about the original 1954 Godzilla. There's visceral appeal to Godzilla in that movie, ugly as its effects may look to us now, that goes beyond Godzilla's basic Big Ole Lizard charms. He's an out-of-control monster, but the real shock comes from the way in which he is juxtaposed with simple fixtures of modernity. Godzilla tearing down rows of power lines; Godzilla stomping on corner stores; Godzilla torching suburban mini-mansions. The more Godzilla destroys, the more the viewer marvels at how many shiny things there are to flatten.
This is what Rudy Gobert does to NBA games. This is how he shows us just how far NBA offenses have come. The Blazers, the Mavericks, and the Spurs each sport offenses that represent something like the pinnacle of the modern game. They are tall and shimmering monuments to progress. On a bleak night in March, after sixty games of staring at them, it can be easy to forget just how tall those skyscrapers really stand. Rudy Gobert, as he levels them to rubble, reminds us.
This plays into the whole identity of intimidation I mentioned earlier. These days, if you want a win against the Jazz, you will have to do something special, something unusual...something you're not accustomed to or comfortable with. You might still win, but it won't be easy, and it will NOT be fun. The Utah Jazz are the Fun Police, and Rudy Gobert is the Secretary General of Fun-terpol.
FanPost time! Three good ones this week. First, Uber_snotling rates Quin Snyder on each of Dennis Lindsey's infamous "three Ds":
If the last two months are any indication, the Jazz should be a top-5 defense next year. This is a huge turnaround from the beginning of the season and is a clear sign of success for coach Quin and the team.
Next, JLaw923 looks at the weakest part of the current Jazz roster, the backcourt:
It's not hard to see where the Jazz' weakness lies, at least offensively. Hayward and Favors anchor the forward positions, and Rudy gets his putbacks and occasional salutatory dunks. Between Dante and Slow-mo-Joe, the current starting back court averages a whopping 8.7 points. Combined. That obviously won't cut it.
And parkturd has a revamp of the NBA playoff seeding system that might have put the Jazz in the postseason more often in past years:
Mostly the playoff structure would stay the same as it is now, however, if any team from 9th to 15th in a conference had a better record than the 8th or higher teams in the opposite conference, then those group of teams would have a mini playoff bracket to determine which teams would be inserted into the inferior conference's regular playoff bracket.
Thanks for the posts, y'all! Have a cold one, on me.
With the Jazz playing so well lately, it's almost hard to remember how badly the team played earlier in the season. Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver points out that, while the Jazz didn't meet those sleeper expectations, the market is bullish for next season:
Before the season, Utah was a dark horse pick by some to make a run at a playoff spot. That didn't materialize, but the Jazz's defense since Jan. 1 ranks sixth in the NBA, which is heartening. Gobert is an absurdly talented rim protector whose game should take another major leap forward in year three. The other members of Utah's core should continue progressing, meaning that it's time to buy stock in these guys now before it becomes the hip thing to do next September.
It's pretty much impossible for any NBA observer to not notice the strides the Jazz have made, but after years of rebuilding and mediocrity, it's nice to get some positive attention.
Not Jazz-related, but Grantland's sprawling longread discussion of the best fictional basketball players in movie history is highly entertaining. (Spoilers: The top spot goes to exactly who you'd think.)