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The National Media can't stop talking about the Utah Jazz -- The Downbeat #1572

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Why I think the Houston Rockets suck, SI recognizes Jazz surging on defense, The Top 15 players in this year's draft, Rudy Gobert for MIP, and MARCH MADNESS

I guess this is what happens when you beat big market teams
I guess this is what happens when you beat big market teams
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sorry this is late, and sorry for the lack of content yesterday -- there just wasn't a lot of Jazz news unless I missed some stuff.

Today the Utah Jazz play game two of their season high five game home stand (historical home stand data here), it's against the Houston Rockets. I must be a full-time hater because I never 'get' why this team wins games. This season they are 43-21, and winning 67.2% of their games. The previous decade (2004-05 to 2013-14) saw the team go 463-341, and win 57.6% of their games. They've gone for over 50 games five times during that period, and will do so again this year barring some sort of asteroid impact. I agree that Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, and Kevin McHale are good to great coaches. Guys like Yao Ming do not come too often, but wing players like Tracy McGrady and James Harden are a dime a dozen right? I guess they aren't, seeing how in the 40+ year history of this franchise we haven't had one. Ever.

Harden is in my Top 5 for MVP this year, and it took me until earlier this month to even recognize how well he is playing on offense this year.

I guess I'm just a Houston hater. The one time I've been there in my life it was unbearable with humidity (this coming from someone who used to live in a part of the world who had a yearly monsoon). But I don't hate the Houston Rockets because of their weather. I guess I don't really respect them that much because since their two NBA Finals seasons they have made the playoffs 11 of 19 seasons, but only got out of the 1st round of the playoffs 3 / 11 times.

They may have "RINGZZZ" on their side, but it begins to look more like a fluke when they've only advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs in 12 of their 48 seasons in the league (25%). The Jazz, the mighty Utah Jazz, have advanced to the 2nd round in 14 of their grand total 41 seasons in the league (34%). This is the most reductive way of overlooking a team, I admit. Houston routinely wins a lot of games, but they aren't really a playoff fixture.

Also, we heard that the Houston Rockets all couldn't get dates, and had to take their mom to the prom.

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Sports Illustrated nee SB Nation's Ben Golliver finds that the Utah Jazz are surging on defense right now. In the same article he finds that the Rockets are surging on offense right now too. So, it's only fitting that these two teams meet tonight. Golliver writes:

Let's take a momentary break from all the playoff talk to salute Rudy Gobert, the key to the Jazz's amazing midseason turnaround on defense. Utah's 8.9 point improvement since Jan. 1 is the best in the league, topping even hard-charging Charlotte, who has gotten back to playing the type of basketball that made Steve Clifford a Coach of the Year candidate in 2014.

Biggest Defensive Rating Gains: Pre-Jan. 1 to Post-Jan. 1

  1. Jazz: +8.9
  2. Hornets: +7.9
  3. Heat: +6
  4. Lakers: +5.1
  5. Bucks: +4.1
  6. Dallas: +3.7

The 7-foot-1 French center was a late first-round pick in the 2013 draft, and he looked like a fairly raw project as recently as last year's Las Vegas Summer League. But this season? You can keep Hassan Whiteside. Give me Gobert, who is averaging 11.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes and has "Franchise Cornerstone" written all over him.

Dumping Enes Kanter at the deadline was an easy call for Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, as Gobert dramatically improves Utah's defensive rating (from 107.1 when he's off the court to 100.1 when he's on the court), while Kanter was a net-negative on that end. Jazz fans forced to endure a multi-year rebuilding program will be glad to know that the developing core is putting up winning numbers: Utah enjoys a +3.5 net rating when Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward share the floor this season.

Before the season, Utah was a dark horse pick by some to make a run at a playoff spot. That didn't materialize, but the Jazz's defense since Jan. 1 ranks sixth in the NBA, which is heartening. Gobert is an absurdly talented rim protector whose game should take another major leap forward in year three. The other members of Utah's core should continue progressing, meaning that it's time to buy stock in these guys now before it becomes the hip thing to do next September.

- Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated, 2015

You know what the funny thing is? There's almost TOO much being written about the Jazz right now by the national media. I'm not accustomed to it, and it is frankly dizzying. The last time our team was good was back in the infancy of the 24/7 / immediate / always online sports world. You still couldn't find video evidence of every good NBA player doing good things on the court, and the analytics revolution was not quite there yet to give 'daps' to the Jazz teams of Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko. What the world just saw was a team that lost to the Lakers three years in a row.

Now we have a team that is going to finish on the wrong side of .500 that everyone gets to read about. It's topsy-turvey. But at least I know that this revolution will be digitized, and streamed live to a cloud. So I should start working out again, because I have just enough time to look "handsome enough" for a blogger before our team makes the playoffs again.

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We're not quite there yet . . . and we're going to the lotto for at least one more trip, this season. Here are the Top 15 players according to ESPN's Chad Ford:

Player Pos Ht Wt Fom Age
1 Jahlil Okafor C 6'11 275 Duke 19.2
2 Karl-Anthony Towns C 6'11 250 Kentucky 19.3
3 Emmanuel Mudiay PG 6'5 196 China 19.0
4 D'Angelo Russell PG 6'5 176 Ohio St 19.0
5 Kristaps Porzingis PF 6'11 220 Latvia 19.6
6 Kevon Looney PF 6'10 210 UCLA 19.0
7 Willie Cauley-Stein C 7'0 240 Kentucky 21.5
8 Mario Hezonja SF 6'7 200 Croatia 20.0
9 Myles Turner PF 7'0 240 Texas 18.9
10 Justise Winslow SF 6'6 222 Duke 18.9
11 Kelly Oubre SF 6'7 204 Kansas 19.2
12 Stanley Johnson SF 6'7 237 Arizona 18.7
13 Frank Kaminsky C 7'0 234 Wisconsin 21.9
14 Bobby Portis PF 6'11 231 Arkansas 20.0
15 Devin Booker SG 6'6 195 Kentucky 18.3

If you have been following along at all, I tend to fall in love with some kid who has a crazy name pretty early in the draft process, and write a lot about that player. So the three players I have crushes on right now are Ilimane Diop (6'11 center from Senegal, not likely to be drafted), Amida Brimah (7'0 center from UCONN), and potential early 2nd rounder Timothe Luwawu (6'7 SG from France).

The only time the Jazz got the players I wanted (via trades, or whatever) were Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko, Dee Brown, Trey Burke, and Rudy Gobert -- in recent history. So I'm obviously batting 1.000 on this draft thing.

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Basketball John found this article by wunderkind Alex Kennedy at Basketball Insiders about the Most Improved Player race. His candidates are Khris Middleton (Bucks), Draymond Green (Warriors), Hassan Whiteside (Heat), everyone's new boyfriend Jimmy Butler (Bulls), and the 2015 MIP snub Rudy Gobert (Jazz). About Rudy he writes:

When the Jazz selected Gobert with the 27th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, they knew he had a ton of upside. However, he was believed to be very raw and a multi-year project, so nobody expected him to make an impact right away.

However, in just his second NBA season, he has become Utah's starting center. Gobert's strong play led to Enes Kanter's minutes decreasing, so the big man became disgruntled. Gobert made him expendable, and the Jazz traded Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder last month.

In 15 games as a starting center this season, Gobert is averaging 9.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 1.1 steals in 33.5 minutes. These are by far his career-highs, as he averaged just 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, .9 blocks and .2 steals in 9.6 minutes last year. He went from barely being a rotation player last season to being a monster for Utah this year.

Gobert is way ahead of schedule in his development at 22 years old, and today the Jazz look very smart for drafting the 7'1 big man with a 7'8.5 wingspan. Not only has Gobert emerged as Utah's best center, he has arguably been the best defensive big man in the NBA. If this seems like an exaggeration, consider these numbers:

  • Through December 31, Utah was 27th in the league in per-possession defense (when Gobert averaged just 16.5 minutes in October, 15.8 minutes in November and 21.7 minutes in December). But since February 1 (when Gobert's minutes significantly increased), the Jazz are the league's top defensive unit, as Dowsett pointed out in his DPOY article. It's no coincidence that Utah's improvement on that end has coincided with Gobert's increase in minutes. When he's on the floor, the Jazz's defensive rating is 99.9 versus 106.9 when he's off the floor.
  • Gobert leads the NBA in defensive box plus-minus (5.0), points saved per 36 minutes (4.16), block percentage (7.7 percent) and opponents' field goal percentage at the rim (39 percent). He's ninth in the NBA in box plus-minus trailing only All-Stars Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.
  • Gobert is third in the NBA in blocks per game (2.3), behind only Anthony Davis (2.8) and Serge Ibaka (2.5). Gobert would likely be first had he started playing more minutes earlier in the season. On the year, he is averaging just 23.5 minutes per game compared to 35.7 minutes for Davis and 33.2 minutes for Ibaka. With 19 games left in the season and Gobert playing 35.8 minutes per night this month, it's still possible that he'll pass Davis and Ibaka to lead the NBA in blocks per game.

While Gobert has been a beast on the defensive end, he has also been better than expected on offense. He still has a lot of room for improvement obviously, but he's not the raw liability that many thought he'd be when he was going through the pre-draft process.

As a starting center, he has averaged 9.6 points on 60.9 percent shooting from the field. He has also been very good on the offensive glass, with the fourth-best offensive rebound percentage in the NBA (14.1 percent). His high field goal percentage, efficiency and ability to give Utah extra opportunities has increased his offensive rating to ninth-best in the NBA (121.8). For similar reasons, big men Tyson Chandler (134.9) and DeAndre Jordan (127.6) are ranked one and two in the category, which is an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions.

In most years, Gobert would be a lock for this award because his improvement from last season to this season is night and day; he seemingly came out of nowhere to become a dominant interior force. However, this isn't most years and there are a number of excellent choices for the award this season in addition to "The Stifle Tower" (a great nickname, by the way).

- Alex Kennedy, Basketball Insiders, 2015

I am biased, and I believe that Gobert should be in strong consideration for MIP. However, it is likely that he will not get it. There are other awards out there, savage awards. Like the 6th Man of the year. Apparently, Rudy, despite starting NOW, has come off the bench for enough games this season to be still in consideration for this award.

That would be some consolation for sure . . . it's been a very long time since a Jazz player won any hardware. (Quick Quiz: Who was it, and what award was it?) (And no, it's not Deron Williams being listed as one of the most Overrated NBA Players, this year.

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Oh, it's March. There appears to be a yearly illness that happens for those of us who watch NCAA Basketball. On the 15th, this Sunday, is Selection Sunday. If you are interested in playing in this tournament -- if we were to have one or two -- please indicate accordingly in the poll below.