As the 2015-16 season winds down, the Utah Jazz cling to growing playoff hopes -- thanks in part to the efforts of a few unlikely players. We'll discuss their efforts, prepare for the road trip ahead, and check out your FanPosts. It's your Tuesday Downbeat, so take a big bite.
Let's talk about Shelvin Mack.
In 16 games with the Jazz, the former Butler Bulldog is averaging 12.7 points, 5.9 assists, 4 rebounds and just under a steal per game. That's...well, significantly better than Trey Burke (10.6 pts, 2.4 ast, 1.8 reb, 0.6 stl) or Raul Neto (6.2 pts, 2.2 ast, 1.4 reb, 0.8 stl). Mack is hitting threes at a 47 percent clip, almost 14 percentage points above his career average of .332. He's threatening triple-doubles on the regular. He has been, in short, a revelation.
In fact, when Amar took a look at the number of Utah Jazz players in the last decade who've finished at least two games with at least 7 points, assists and rebounds, here's the list he came up with: D-Will, Hayward, AK, Boozer, Millsap, Burke, Earl Watson (!) and Mack. That's it. That's the list. That's a who's who of Jazz stars and high draft picks from the last ten years. (Well, and Earl.)
Shelvin Mack doing that twice in 16 games (and averaging consistently quality performances otherwise) is straight bonkers. It's like he got stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque time warp and spent 100 years transforming himself into exactly the point guard the Jazz needed.
Here's Andy Larsen's take, as posted on KSL last week:
This is an incredibly sad but true stat: No other Jazz point guard has had eight assists in a game this season. Mack's done it five times since he's been traded for in only 14 chances. [Editor's note: Now seven times in 16 chances.]
I thought Jazz radio play-by-play man David Locke put it really well in his postgame article Thursday night: "The offense is based on getting an advantage and building on it. Mack is the first (point guard) who is doing exactly that."
Raul Neto and Trey Burke are too small to really attack the advantages created for them in the paint, but Mack's ability to finish near the rim out to 15 feet changes that.
I take this not only as an encouraging sign that Mack's production can continue, but that Dante Exum can replicate it next season. Assuming all is well physically, Dante's size and ability to attack the rim are similar, if not superior, to Mack's.
As Andy indicates, the Jazz's point-guard platoon has been so dire this season that we may be giving Mack more credit than he deserves. Getting anything at all from the position feels like a huge boon.
Then again, here's the list of NBA guards this season averaging at least 12-6-4 (minimum 50 games): Steph Curry, James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard.
Obviously, Mack's not in that league -- every other player mentioned above is averaging over 20 points a game, not just 12 -- and he's only put up these numbers in 16 games. (The ever-present "small sample size" voice in my head was screaming at me as I typed that previous paragraph.) But 12-6-4 is plenty decent, and at this point I'll gladly take it. And if Mack can help Dante progress next year, so much the better.
Unlikely Savior #2: Trey Lyles.
I say "unlikely," and maybe that's unfair to Young Mamba. Maybe "surprising" is nearer the mark. I could tell as early as Summer League that Lyles had a smart head on his shoulders -- high "basketball IQ," as the kids say -- and a nice passing touch for a big man. But hoo boy, his shooting in those first few months was not pretty. He frequently looked lost on defense. It just seemed the NBA game was a little too fast for him.
What a difference a few months -- and some extended playing time due to injuries -- can make. In 14 games since Jan. 1 where Lyles played 20+ minutes, he averaged 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. And it's not just when he gets more court time. In the month of March alone, Lyles has scored in double digits three times when playing UNDER 20 minutes. Dude is making the most of his opportunities, is what I'm saying.
On top of that, we have his little fracas with Channing Frye, which has been documented elsewhere. I will make mention, however, of our own dear moni's coverage of it, wherein she quotes Hubie Brown:
Hubie Brown on Lyles v. Frye: "I give Lyles a lot of credit, because he stood his ground. He didn't do anything, all right? He didn't push off. What he did was, he stood his ground, 'cause he's not gonna allow you to intimidate him, ok, and I like that. I don't care what they call here, I like what Lyles did."
Exactly. Good to see a Jazzman standing up for himself.
I honestly wasn't sure at the start of the season whether Trey Lyles would be a bust, midseason trade bait, or a long-term piece. It seems more and more that the latter is most likely. At the very least, Lyles is instant big-man offense off the bench, and that's pretty valuable itself.
Two FanPosts this week: its_computers updates their power rankings, and Jordan Cummings ponders the league's most ridiculous lineups. No excerpts this week since they're kinda small, but be a pal and click through, won't you?
Can't remember if anyone mentioned this getting-to-know-you interview with Shelvin Mack when it first ran, but it's even more relevant now that he's put up such consistent numbers:
Even though you're only a few weeks in, what have you learned so far from playing for the Utah Jazz?
Mainly how much of a team environment it is. It kind of has that college feel. With most pro teams not everyone is together all the time, but it's different here. It's very much a team vibe. It's been great to get out and play.
Not surprising that the Jazz feel more like college to Mack, since he's back with his Butler buddy G-Time. But I think there's more to this remark. The Jazz have invested a lot into this group of players, removing pieces that didn't fit and tinkering with the ones that could adapt. One advantage the old Jazz teams always had was locker-room consistency, and I think that's what Mack is identifying here.
It's easy in the pro game to fall into cliques and see divides between youth and veterans. That's not how this Jazz team is constructed, since even the "veterans" on the team aren't that old, and the gap between team leaders and rookies isn't very wide. Combine that with the somewhat "star"-less roster, and add in a "player's coach" like Quin Snyder, and you get an exceptionally harmonious locker room. And while that effect isn't exactly quantifiable, I think it's important for this team's growth.
Because Twitter's 10-year anniversary was yesterday, and because Amar is Amar, he found every Jazz player's first tweet.
wassup twitter— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) June 15, 2012
Oh, Rudy. If you only knew what Twitter had in store for you.
And you got murdered by Goku, Majin buu. https://t.co/SsmMFcg4oV— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) November 19, 2015