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A Giant Is Hiding In The Mountains Of Utah

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Don’t look now, but the Utah Jazz only trail the Houston Rockets by 4 games in the standings.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are surging having won their last six games in a row. Games that Utah would have lost last year are being converted into wins. Quin Snyder is getting the hang of the very deep roster Dennis Lindsey crafted for him utilizing the Jazz’s unique blend of young talent and veteran depth. Snyder has the Utah Jazz tied for fourth in the Western Conference and only four games behind the Houston Rockets who hold the third spot in the Western conference. How did this even happen?

The Utah Jazz were supposed to struggle coming out of the gate. Throughout this season they have suffered significant injuries to Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, and Dante Exum throughout the season. The Utah Jazz have played 45 games of their 82 game schedule and haven’t had one of their 5-man lineup combinations break the 100 minute mark. Not a single one. The Utah Jazz’s projected starting lineup of Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert was 7 minutes away from being the first Utah Jazz lineup to break the fabled 100 minute mark before Rodney Hood suffered a right knee bruise and hyperextension.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Shelvin Mack, he who once was the Atlanta Hawks’ third string point guard, has played 934 minutes this season, 276 minutes more than George Hill. Jeff Withey has played more minutes than Alec Burks and Raul Neto. Dante Exum looks like a shell of his rookie self. Joe Ingles is getting significant minutes at the 2, 3, and 4 positions. George Hill has only played in 21 games. Every critic, pundit, and savvy basketball fan would have said the Utah Jazz would be in the lottery this year with these events occuring, yet the Utah Jazz are on the precipice of something special.

Back in the Utah Jazz’s rebuilding years, many fans referred to the Utah Jazz’s young core of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter as the C4, short for “Core 4.” Upon their fan anointed shoulders the Utah Jazz would return to their 90s glory, but like C4 there was unpredictability.

Gordon Hayward went back and forth between bench and starter. Alec Burks weathered benching after benching from Corbin only to be met by a rash of injuries once Quin Snyder took over. Derrick Favors seemed to be the stalwart until chronic injuries like plantar fasciitis, knee, and back troubles slowed him down. Enes Kanter had trouble getting extended minutes during the Corbin years, struggled to defend the paint during Quin Snyder’s tenure, and eventually was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for pennies on the dollar.

But things changed with Rudy Gobert. The same year Rudy Gobert was drafted, Gordon Hayward showed up to training camp like he had stolen Steve Rogers’ super soldier serum and trained with The Rock. Derrick Favors started to become more poised. The following year the Utah Jazz struck gold by drafting Dante Exum and Rodney Hood. Enes Kanter and his dismal attitude was jettisoned to Oklahoma City to make way for a 7’2 French center who would draw comparisons to Mark Eaton. Yet the most important rookie from that year was an undrafted player named Joe Ingles who is currently the second best 3 point shooter in the league who has somehow turned into a prized 3 and D player.

The Utah Jazz suffered significant injuries last year so they added savvy veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw. But Utah’s big step forward this season has come upon the relentless improvement of Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert, both who should will be All-Stars.

Gordon Hayward continues to add strength and draws free throws with ease. He’s shooting the 3 ball better this year shooting 39.7% from deep. He’s almost automatic at the line shooting 87% from the stripe. His defense is relentless and you can time your watch to him dunking an alley oop. Then there’s Gobert.

Rudy Gobert had already staked his claim on the paint in the name of the Stifle Tower, but he was a work in project on the offensive end. This year that changed. He’s catching passes that would have bounced off his hands. Gobert added strength and is not getting pushed out of position. Rudy Gobert is a force to be reckoned with and now is the leading Defensive Player of the Year candidate with the Utah Jazz having the 2nd best defensive rating in the league despite mounting injuries.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward are the main course of the Utah Jazz, George Hill is the sauce that ties the main dish to its side dishes. Hill is having a basketball renaissance this season. He’s averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. The combination of George Hill and Rudy Gobert can blow up any 1-5 or 1-4 pick and roll. George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to switch from positions 1-5 because of his large frame. George Hill and Gordon Hayward run a 1-3 pick and roll that is just a nightmare to guard. George Hill’s skillset has turned Utah’s defensive Tyrannosaurus Rex into an Indominus Rex fully equipped to handle any offensive and defensive situation.

Utah has—mostly—weathered the storm of injuries. Their lineup combinations are less experimental and more strategic. They should have two All-Stars in New Orleans, and they are only four games behind the Houston Rockets who have had favorable health and have looked much more mortal over the past 7 games going 3-4.

So here we are. Utah is healthy again. They’ve tied the Los Angeles Clippers for fourth in the West and now they have their sights set on Houston. And the best part? No one is talking about them. Look out Western Conference, a giant is hiding in the mountains of Utah.