The past few days have seen the Utah Jazz fill the void left by Gordon Hayward leaving for the Boston Celtics by building on their biggest strength, defense. By signing players like Thabo Sepholosha, Jonas Jerebko and Epke Udoh, the Jazz will have a clear identity of strong defense at every position on the floor. With Rudy Gobert as it’s cornerstone, it’s easy to see the Jazz defense ranked #1 in the league. But don’t count out the Jazz offense just yet.
Led by Gordon Hayward and George Hill last season, it’s easy to look at the Jazz and assume their offense will be much worse next season. But because of one of the most underrated moves this off-season—the trade for Ricky Rubio—the Jazz offense will be better next season then you might think.
Last season, George Hill and Gordon Hayward combined for 7.7 assists per game. Ricky Rubio averaged 9.1. In one player we’ve improved our assists per game already.
Of course, people will argue that we’re missing the shooting from Hayward and Hill, and they’re right, having great shooting helps make having a good offense easier. So let’s compare a little bit...
Now, let’s take a look at the starting lineup around Rubio last season and a simplified look at their shooting.
Minnesota Timberwolves 2016-2017 Starting Lineup.csv
The first thing you’ll notice is that the highest percentage from three was Zach LaVine who shot 38.7 percent. What’s most interesting about Zach Lavine is after he was injured the Wolves record actually improved. Reminder: defense REALLY matters.
Also looking at the table, you can see that the Towns and Wiggins were the biggest offensive threats from the Wolves, both with a respectable 3P% around 36%. Dieng also shot a high percentage but only shot 43 three pointers for the year, so he doesn’t really count.
Now, when you look at the most likely starting lineup for the Jazz here’s what you have...
Utah Jazz 2016-2017 Starting Lineup.csv
Replacing Gordon Hayward and George Hill in this lineup is Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio. Last season Hayward shot just under 40% from three and George Hill shot 40%. The Jazz actually had more shooters last year, at a higher percentage but a defensive efficiency rating worse than the Warriors. You think passing matters?
Another difference to consider with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves is that the Jazz have two bigs that don’t space the floor in terms of 3pt shooting. It’s a contrasting style and different than a lot of the teams in the NBA playing with at least one shooting big man.
It’s also the reason I’m still not sure if Derrick Favors is a long term fit on this team. Is the missing piece to our offense a high level shooting big? Maybe. Favors has shown flashes of a long range shot, if he could find a way to incorporate that into his game maybe it’s something we don’t need to worry about.
But it’s safe to say that in our starting lineup, Rubio has two great shooters to pass to on the perimeter, Ingles being one of the best shooters in the NBA, and in ALL OF NBA HISTORY TO BE QUITE HONEST, and Rodney Hood.
We also have the best rolling big man in the league in Rudy Gobert who will now have a point guard looking to feed the Gobzilla till buildings crumble and the people flee the carnage.
Now, consider that 15 shots a game went to Gordon Hayward, an efficient shooter who hit threes at just under 40%. Ricky Rubio is going to be feeding all these players and spreading those shots around. Ingles shot the ball 5.5 times a game last season. You can bet he’s going to be asked to shoot more. Rudy Gobert shot the ball only 7.7 times per game last season. Those two players alone will get more shots and at their level of efficiency, we could see an uptick in our offense. Maybe even a great one.
The other thing we have not considered is before last season, Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward weren’t even considered our best players, Derrick Favors was. If “the Beast” can get healthy and return to the player we know and love, we could have a monstrous front court fed by one of the best passers in the league.
But that’s just our offense. Having the best defense in the league will win you a lot of games. The Jazz have a clear identity with a punishing defense that teams will come to Vivint arena saying, “We have to play the Jazz again?” But it’s the offense that has a real chance to surprise people.
Gordon Hayward signing with the Boston Celtics was a big loss, but the ball being spread around the floor by Ricky Rubio may have people forgetting about him very soon.
[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Ricky Rubio was signed by Utah. He was traded to Utah. It has been corrected.]