The last three teams the Utah Jazz have defeated are the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Miami Heat. The Spurs and the Heat have won the last three championships, and the Thunder are planning on knocking down that door sooner, rather than later. So if you are a Utah Jazz fan we can be happy about being a team that can take down the best teams in the league. That's the decidedly "half full" point of view. The "half empty" point of view is that while it is nice to beat OKC, SAS, and MIA . . . it's not like those wins have happened in close succession. In fact it took the Jazz five weeks to win three games, period; let alone games against big name teams.
If we're going to laud anyone right now we have to tip our hats to fellow small market team, the Memphis Grizzlies. Not only do they make things with with two bigmen who are paint oriented, but they've been doing it against the best teams in the league this season. The 21-4 Grizz just knocked down the Golden State Warriors on the 16th, then beat the Spurs in their gym in Triple OT. They've also handled the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, The Thunder, Phoenix Suns, and New Orleans Pelicans. The only Western power they lost to recently (that they didn't also beat more recently) was the Houston Rockets.
They are asserting dominance with their style of play and their on court performance. I feel like most of us admire the Grizzlies for their defensive work and ability to play their style of ball. It's been decades since the Jazz were that commanding that they forced the tempo of the game and made other teams do what they wanted.
I guess what I'm saying here is that the Memphis Grizzlies are the Stannis Baratheon of the Western Conference right now. Looking at the standings I think that makes the Utah Jazz Hot Pie. We're young, and know what we're good at -- and improving over time. But right now the Jazz are no threat to the rest of the NBA elite . . . which may be why we keep killing them? (Maybe we're the Arya Stark instead?)
We're a little Dante Exum crazy, and I get it. We want him to play more because we obviously love what we see. He IS playing more on this road trip and producing on both ends of the court. He has good chemistry with Joe Ingles and seems to be beating guys back door for dunks; and his shot seems to be falling with more consistency now. Defensively no one wants to be guarded by him, and it shows. Well, NBA.com 's David Aldridge posted a Q&A with him a few days back. It's at the end of this really long blog post here, but I'm going to post some of it here as well.
There are no more secrets in basketball. There is no way anyone with big talent, anywhere on earth, is going to slip through the cracks and emerge, fully formed, like that awful baseball movie The Scout a few years ago. And so, the story that Australian teenager Dante Exum was some kind of secret, known to just a few people, is just that, a story. Most everyone knew about Exum after his coming out party at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit, when his freakish athletic ability and raw potential watered the eyes of many an old man. After that, the only question was who would pull the trigger and take the leap of faith that the 19 year old could make the jump from playing against Australian high schoolers to NBA adults.
The Jazz, rebuilding in earnest and willing to gamble for a superstar, took Exum with the fifth pick overall in last June's Draft. They've taken the slow, steady approach to bringing him along; even though they want him to be more aggressive when he's out on the court -- "I'm coaching him hard," Quin Snyder said Sunday -- he hasn't supplanted second-year incumbent Trey Burke at the point. His numbers are modest, if Utah's hopes for him down the road are not.
Like the Hawks, the Jazz are an extension of the Spurs, with general manager Dennis Lindsey a former San Antonio front office member, and a big believer in player development. Snyder worked for R.C. Buford and the Spurs as head coach of the Austin Toros, San Antonio's D-League team, from 2007 to 2010. Succeeding Snyder in Austin was Brad Jones, who coached the Toros from 2010 to 2012 -- and then re-joined the Jazz, where he'd been a scout before going to the D-League. And, of course, Jones is now on Snyder's staff in Utah. The young staff is tasked with working with, and on, Utah's young players, and fostering rapid improvement. Exum will have to show he can add a consistent jumper to his explosiveness and length, and he will get every chance to in the SLC.
David Aldridge: After being in the league for six weeks or so, and being immersed in the culture and life as a pro, what's your main takeaway about the NBA so far?
Dante Exum: It doesn't get any easier. I knew coming in, from where I played before, that it was going to be hard. But as my body starts to fatigue, and I get tired, and we go on long road trips, I've got to stay focused and try to play the best I can.
DA: They haven't played you heavy minutes so far. What have they told you about their approach in bringing you along this season?
DE: It's going to be a long season for me to learn. That's been the main thing. Coach has gone through tape with me, in areas I can improve. It's just kind of gradually putting me into a bigger role.
DA: How are defenses attacking you when you have the ball?
DE: I think I've noticed they're trying to be a little more physical with me. Definitely up the court, and trying to pressure me up the court. But as a rookie, that's what I'm going to get. I've noticed some (teams), they're playing halfcourt D, and once I get on (the ball), one of the players looks at his coach, and they're up in me, trying to pick me up the court. So it's just little things like that. It helps me get comfortable bringing the ball up and being secure with the ball.
DA: The shot chart shows that most of your shots so far are jumpers. Are teams going under on screen/rolls or sagging off you in the halfcourt to take away your length on drives to the rim?
DE: Not necessarily. They've still been pressuring me. I think I've been getting a lot of my shots on the back side of pick and rolls, being on the opposite side, against the split line helping a bit too much.
DA: What do you think you can improve on right away, this season, as opposed to down the road?
DE: I think just coming off on balls and attacking more. That's where I've kind of excelled with my getting here. And where I want to keep taking my game. Just being able to get into the paint and make the right decision.
Yeah, it's quite long. So click on the link to get to the rest of it. There are good bits to read, but I think it's obvious that Exum is forthcoming with personal information, and information about how this team is constructed and how they interact. I recommend reading it! Not Sold? Here's another excerpt!
DA: What is the craziest thing that your teammates have said that you, as a rookie, have to do or pay for?
DE: They've actually been really good to me. Enes Kanter tries to treat me like a rookie (laughs), but he's the real rookie around here. They've been really good to me. We rotate meals, paying for meals. And the worst thing is that I have to carry a pink backpack (from the movie "Frozen"). But you know, I rock that pink backpack pretty well.
Yes, hopefully guys like Dante, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert are on the team for a long while, so Moni can document the funny stuff they do for our enjoyment. Also, visit Moni's site: Jazzfanantical.Wordpress.com !
So much text! I know, let's go back to Rudy Gobert's eurostep:
This is why I feel like Gobert has so much more innate talent than Mark Eaton, Felton Spencer, Greg Ostertag, and Kyrylo Fesenko. He's an actual athlete, and has been playing basketball his whole life, in addition to other sports. Greg Ostertag used to be a little league pitcher (not really an athlete). Mark Eaton used to play water polo, so, *kinda*. Fesenko used to watch Alf at a pretty competitive level in The Ukraine. But this Gobert guy has mooove. Like, I'm talking about Julia Roberts "My best Friend's Wedding" trailer style moves. (I haven't seen the movie, but that trailer was on TV all the time on NBC.)
Even though the team is winning more right now, they are still probably headed for the lotto this year. Assuming that everyone on contract returns, and all the free agents do not, the team will be comprised of this on draft night:
- Point Guards: Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Raul Neto (rights only)
- Wings: Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Toure' Murry (non-guaranteed)
- Bigs: Derrick Favors, Trevor Booker (non-guaranteed), Steve Novak, Rudy Gobert, Ante Tomic (rights only)
Missing, obviously, will be RFA Enes Kanter, and free agents Jeremy Evans, Ian Clark, and Joe Ingles (the latter two were undrafted guys, and Wesley Matthews can tell you about how free agency works for them). If the team is going to the lotto (likely) and keeps their lotto pick (also likely), what kind of player do you want to add -- if we're going by what the team needs. (So, not Best Player Available)
I haven't yet started my scouting for this year's draft beyond putting the guys from my Top 150 list last year who didn't declare for the draft into a spreadsheet this year. On paper we still need everything, though. But most of all we need the game time to get these guys the experience they need to be good at the NBA level.
But enough about me, what kind of player will the roster above be needing most?
Wow, #1500 Downbeats? That's a lot of music. A lot of notes.
I can only hope to be alive for the next #1500 (you never know, like maybe I'll get eaten by Bigfoot tomorrow?), and of course, I hope all of you remain Utah Jazz fans until we're a playoff contender again, at least. Stick with this team. Every game we have more and more evidence to suggest that we're getting better. And it's not just media fluff anymore. (E.g. "Fans owe a lot to Richard Jefferson" style claptrap.)
This is a fun team to watch, root for, and analyze. I will say that writing was a chore the last few seasons when we could write the recap at halftime and take a nap and just fill in the final score. But this era of the Jazz will be truly one where you don't want to miss a single beat.