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Downbeat #2027 - Happy Birthday Fes (and more stories)

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From the way the team is playing to a silly game about wing players

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets, Game 5 Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wow, three days in a row? This is beginning to be habit-forming!

As of right now the Utah Jazz (18-13) are sitting in 7th out of 15 in the Western Conference, and 9th out of 30 in the entire NBA. That’s not bad when you look at it like that. Yes, losing three games in a row (a blowout to a clearly superior team, a baffling loss to an inferior team, and a tough game against a team that is better than them) hurts. But it’s not the end of the world. Relinquishing the lead in the division (now 0.5 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder) wasn’t something we expected after the tremendous run the team has been on. But again, when was the last time the Jazz actually won the division? It was in 2008, and that was nearly a decade ago. So things have improved a lot over the previous few seasons for sure.

Capturing the division title, and hanging a banner up for that, would be cool. And I think it’s likely to happen this season. In the old days that meant having homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. It’s not the old days anymore. But actually winning something after years of being out-classed would do a lot to help further energize this rabid fanbase.

You know, not that we should need that. By record alone this Jazz team is a Top 10 team in the entire NBA. By Defensive rating the team is #4, and by Offensive rating the team is #8. By the ‘four factors’ the Jazz are Top 10 in two offensive factors, and three defensive factors as well. And that’s EVEN WITH ALL OF THE INJURIES!

Our idealism and hope for fewer injuries made us envision a 45+ win season and a chance at claiming greatness from the get-go. This team has some warts still, more exposed when guys are out, but this is still a good team.

Even if the recent bias we may have could be a less than positive one. Frankly, this team needs to go on a three game win streak to finish December and I think we’ll all be buzzing again. (And it’s entirely plausible for the Jazz to do that, with the opponents being the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Phoenix Suns.)

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

So, TL;DR — the Jazz are good.

The injuries have been numerous this season.

  • Alec Burks (6th man) - 31 games
  • George Hill (starting PG) - 20 games
  • Derrick Favors (starting PF) - 15 games
  • Gordon Hayward (starting SF) - 7 games
  • Rodney Hood (starting SG) - 5 games
  • Dante Exum (back-up PG) - 2 games

Because injuries happen, the problem has been that multiple players have been out at the same time. The consequence is that the Utah Jazz starting line-up (Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and iron man Rudy Gobert) have played in just one game together, for a grand total of 12 minutes. The unseen problem here is that the assumed bench unit (not that we got for hockey subs) of Exum, Burks, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, and Boris Diaw have played in zero games together, for zero minutes.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

That’s been no fun at all. And in the games where the Jazz see the other team sneaking ahead we see where a competent and healthy bench could really help.

So Trey Lyles, good or nah? If you look at his rookie class, he currently sits at 9th best in Win Shares. (Behind the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Kaminsky, Larry Nance Jr., and Boban Marjanovic) That’s not bad for the 12th pick in the draft as he’s ahead of some dudes who went ahead of him, like Justise Winslow. (Full list here via Basketball-Reference.com) And of late we’ve seen Lyles come off the bench and play well — and this could again be recency bias here, but he looked like he’s heading in the right direction after what he did against the Toronto Raptors.

Last season he had 18 games of 10-19 points, and one game of 20-29 points. This season (only 31 games through) he has had 13 games of 10-19 points, and one game of 20-29 points. Probably more encouraging for his development as a modern NBA power forward is the fact that he went 7/14 from deep over his last three games. That’s still fewer than 5 threes taken a night (Kevin Love, for example, is hoisting up 6.4 a game). But the most Mehmet Okur ever shot was 4.2 threes a game. (That was his All-Star season back in 2006-2007) Times have changed and especially in Quin Snyder’s offense where wing players are spending more and more time driving to the rim the need for floor spacers has never been higher.

Last season, as a guy who started the season as a teen, he shot .438 / .383 / .695. This season he is shooting .402 / .322 / .805. He is taking over two more threes a game and over three more shots from the field. His USG% has climbed from .179 to .227. He’s “Mamba”-ing it more, and his volatility has increased. As a scorer off the bench the “shoot first” mentality isn’t bad. But if he’s going to be a future starter he can’t be averse to passing. And even in the Toronto game I think we saw a few situations where he did fail to make the necessary passes in order to help the team offense perform as best as it could.

But you don’t want him to NOT be aggressive either, right? It’s really a double edged sword for a developing player who just last month became old enough to well, I had to look it up. So if you are interested, you can click here.

As for me, I am biased. I think he has a skill set that will help him bring something to this team that it hasn’t had since Memo, and before that, Donyell Marshall.

The problems for all of us are on the defensive end so far. And young players rarely come out of the draft ready to defend NBA men.

Cut, Trade away, or Start:

  • David Benoit (6 seasons, 179 starts, 19.7 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.5 bpg),
  • C.J. Miles (7 seasons, 159 starts, 19.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.3 bpg),
  • and Blue Edwards (4 seasons, 186 starts, 24.5 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.4 bpg)

All values from their playing days in a Utah Jazz jersey, regular season stats only.

Obviously, it’s the 24th of December. So we say Happy Birthday to former Utah Jazz bigman Kyrylo Fesenko!

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 2 Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Happy Birthday Fes! And Happy Christmas Eve to everyone else!