So the Utah Jazz were finally defeated, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. Still, the result is less than desired, but the actual game play is much improved. I guess this entire season the official spin is going to be about improvement. That's cool. I think part of what needs to be understood here is that it's not just 100% improvement that influences what we see on the court. There's some percentage of it which was latent and "there" last season, but for a variety of reasons was not encouraged to be shown during games. You don't need to look much farther than Enes Kanter. He would be, today going into his fourth season in the NBA, a better face up threat and three point shooter if he didn't just start adding this dimension to his game this training camp. It is impossible to argue that he would be this rudimentary at it going into his fourth year if his previous coaches set that up to be part of his game from the get-go. They didn't, and this is where we are.
For their efforts, though, Kanter is a very solid rock in the paint when he plays with confidence and is allowed to be very physical. That part wasn't screwed up at all as Enes had to battle against three older brothers for his first two years on the team. It's hard to say for certain where Kanter is right now in his development. Or if we can even put limits to where his game is supposed to be in the present. (Where does he compare to Jonas Valanciunas, for example?)
But I am greatly encouraged by how this team is playing right now. And that is the big picture issue. This isn't just a team that is improving from one season to the next. This is a team that is playing quite well within the vacuum of every single game they've had so far. This isn't a team that is approaching good play. It's a team that is playing well right now. And that distinction brings me back to the mystery of the last few seasons.
It can't all be improvement from one season to the next. There are more layers here to delve into.
I'm obviously crazy, and crazy about the Utah Jazz. Less people are as high on the team as we Jazz fans are. Matt Moore (of every where) posted a piece on which teams you need to focus in on for NBA League Pass. (There is an option to select just five teams) Within it, Moore details some very solid ground rules for figuring out which teams you need to pick.
- Number of National TV Appearances
- Division Games
- Broadcast Crews
- Fun level / competitiveness
I would advice you all to check out the full version of the article that explains why these factors matter, and which teams he would pick. So again, check it here.
Because I occasionally don a "Jazz homer" hat, let's look at where our kids could match-up. You don't pick NBA League pass teams if they are on national TV all the time. Everyone knows this. I think the Jazz qualify with having only 3 National TV games (only three teams have fewer: the Orland Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Milwaukee Bucks). So for #1 we're in. I think the Jazz quality 5/5 here.
The North West division isn't 'pure hawtness' like some other divisions out there, but you have the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers -- two playoff teams. The super speedy Denver Nuggets with Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, and Nate Robinson are always a pleasure to watch, especially with JaVale McGee up to his old tricks this year. And last, but not least, you have the very young Minnesota Timberwolves willed with their Wiggins / LaVine / Rubioops. So that's two highlight teams and two playoff teams. That's not bad. Condition #2 isn't that bad for the Jazz either. I'd give the Jazz 3/5 here.
If you are going to ding the Jazz it's their broadcast crew of Craig Bolerjack, Matt Harping, and Mr. Charisma Steve Brown. I would rather listen to K-Pop songs (about, uh, neurotransmission? signal conduction?) for two hours than those three. Most people with ears would as well. I get that the people the Jazz have hired to do their broadcasts are there to keep things G rated, and all about "family fun", but the tangents about fry sauce, each other's hair, and countless other things that have nothing to do with the game dumb down the listening audience. The alternative, listening to state sponsored radio guys, is pointless when looking at league pass. I won't give them zero, so it's a whopping 1/5 for broad cast crew.
If the first five games of the preseason are any indication, with lots of dunks, three pointers (especially from bigs) and a quick pace of play fun is going to be out of control. And more importantly, this is going to be a highly competitive team. They are either blowing out teams worse than them / hurt, or fighting tooth and nail on the road for last minute losses. Easily 5/5 here.
As for #LeaguePassAlert -- you have a starting lineup of the former NCAA player of the year; a kid who almost beat Duke with a prayer who was one of the last cuts for Team USA this summer; a defensive juggernaut; a guy who had a 20/20 game under the age of 20; and someone who makes crazy shots seem almost boring to him. THEN you have a guy like Rudy Gobert off the bench, and Dante Exum who everyone wants to see more and more off. That's not even counting a former summer league MVP, and a Dunk Contest winner. And a goofy white guy who does a football celebration which references a wrestling belt, after hitting open jumpers. This team is, at WORST, a 4/5 here.
That's 18 out of 25 on my arbitrary scale. If you factor in the Jazz tip off (thanks mountain time zone) that's another benefit as it allows you to focus on one of the early games, and still have enough time to watch a late game in full -- with the Jazz as a palate cleanser in between.
NBA.com 's Steve Aschburner broke down one of the unheralded things about John Stockton last week. It was that he was actually a member of the X-Men and has super mutant healing powers. Well, not exactly. But in it he details how John stands alone at the top of the mountain of Hall of Famers who played in nearly every game possible. John played in 1,504 of 1,526 regular season games over his career. That translates to being available for 98.6% of his games over his very long career. By comparison, the next player on the list of his relative size, weight, and strength is Allen Iverson -- who is showing up in a very distant 81.9% of his regular season games.
"Staying healthy is a skill" is the way some old-school types have put it, and while that might be too broad - neglecting simple ingredients such as luck and good genes - there is no doubt that durability is an asset. To a player and to his team.
Check out the article here, and of course, the handy list of players ranked by their availability percentage. And yes, Karl Malone is on the list, sitting at #5 -- and we know he'd be higher if he wasn't suspended for so many games. (Real Jazz fans know that prior to that Lakers season that was all in our imaginations, he didn't really miss games with the Jazz for injury, but instead because of league suspensions.)
The question for us is which current Jazz player is likely to be a relative Ironman? Outside shot could be Dant Exum, who is just too darn quick to get hurt. A more serious answer is probably Rodney Hood. He's not too heavy and not likely to put himself in danger on the court. Derrick Favors has plantar fasciitis which he needs to keep track of. Rudy Gobert is way too tall and bigmen do get injuries from high impact play. Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks have both had nicks and wounds here or there. And Trey, well, Trey is one of those "smaller guards" that we all worry about each time he has to go through a bigman's screen.
Despite losing their last game the Jazz have only given up 73, 105, 89, 86, and 101 points so far this season. The points for / points against averages are 104.0 for the Jazz, and 90.8 for the bad guys. The overall +/- for the preseason is +66, and the average margin of victory is +13.2 points. Yes, it's preseason. But yes, the Jazz have played against the Portland Trail Blazers twice, the Los Angeles Clippers twice, and the Los Angeles Lakers once. It's all not just a mirage. There's some substance there. Well, increasing substance there as the NBA inches closer to the regular season start.
It's not just teams having poor shooting nights either. This team is doing something good -- and while the majority of the talk was either on transition defense of the new offense, the real deal is on defense. Period. Not letting the other team set up smoothly. Contesting shots without fouling. Boxing out. Team rebounding on the defensive glass. It's all working so far.
I'm not going to say that the pick and roll defense looks great, it doesn't.
But I do see a lot of things to like. The proverbial ace in the hole for Quin Snyder this year will have to be bench length: Dante Exum, Toure' Murry, Carrick Felix, Rodney Hood, Trevor Booker, Jeremy Evans, and this Rudy Gobert guy all have either above average athleticism (via their pre-draft combine results), or have longer arms than they should (again, from their anthropometric results).
Not everyone is a freak of nature; but on our bench there are plenty of specimens who will surely test our opponents with. But more on our defense a little later on today . . .
Remember Blue Edwards? Sure you do. If not, here's a refresher.
Yeah, Blue started 186 of his 261 games in a Jazz uniform over 4 incomplete seasons. And for his career he started in 452 of 704 games. Let's be real, by today's standards Blue doesn't have what it takes to start at shooting guard, not with his career 1.3 three attempts per game (where he made only 33.5%). But he was a good defender, athletic, and not shy about finishing in the paint. Advanced metrics don't love him, but he was good enough for our teams back then. Of course, going over to a Jeff Hornacek (from Jeff Malone) was an upgrade. But Blue had some good years with the Jazz on and off the bench.
For those curious, when you compare Blue's first three years in the league against Alec Burks' first three you get some interesting results. It's hard to argue against Burks as the better player (better handles, better range, gets to the line more, etc), but Edwards played way more minutes (thanks in part to no Lockout shortened rookie year) and was just a fantastic finisher. To be critical of Alec would be to point out that he does not have incremental finishing ability. He either needs to be open from outside, or deep in the jungle amongst the trees. As a result, well, as a result his career FG% looks the way it does.
You don't necessarily want your young prospects to emulate Blue Edwards, but in the case of Alec, I think that he could learn how to better balance his effectiveness on the floor at different ranges. Or failing that, don't cheat on your wife and impregnate a woman of a difference race who has a child in a foreign country which ends up being turned into a Lifetime network made-for-TV movie.
But if we are taking the rule from #3 to beat #5, the answer is obviously Enes Kanter.