It's been a while but we have to do more of these Jam Sessions.Today we're talking about the Utah Jazz (duh), their play after the NBA All-Star break, their defense, and more! It's part review of what we've seen over the last few weeks, and a part off-season preview. So let's start!
1. How refreshing was it to watch how this team played after the All-Star break?
Basketball John: I think it's been refreshing since the beginning of the season, even with Enes Kanter still on the team. The change in the team feel was evident from training camp with the Jazz finally shedding the last remnants of players and coaches that weren't in the long-term plans. Even though the losing was still painful, the team lived up to Dennis Lindsey's October promise of expected results starting to show in February. I don't think enough credit has been given to Quin Snyder for coming in and transforming a young team -- one giving rookies so many minutes -- and having everyone buy into the system on both offense and defense. Even after that rough start, the Jazz are already ten games ahead in the win column this season.
Peter J. Novak: I think the better question is: "How refreshing was it to watch how this team played starting with the Summer League in July?" In either case, the answer is "extremely refreshing." Whereas the last few years have been marred by a coaching staff with different career objectives than the team's front office, we now have a cohesive functioning team once again. Young players with promise and potential have been given the lion's share of minutes, which has led to a group of individual players whom have grown significantly throughout the course of the season. THIS is how a team develops and rebuilds.
YuccaMan: Post All-Star break has been like dreaming you're hooking up with Norah Jones or Dana Scully. If they can keep it up next season, that's like pinching yourself and realizing that it isn't actually a dream anymore ... it's real.
But in a way, it's only the flair of icing on an already good season. The Jazz had improved so much already ... even though the record didn't show it yet, the evidence (statistical and anecdotal) were everywhere. It was almost like the team's performance was specifically designed to convince anyone who was still skeptical of the improvement. The entire season has been a blast. The past two months have been simply joyous.
TazzJazzFan: Very, given what we went through during The Winters Our Discontent. Even after the growing pains of earlier this season it was amazing to watch the team collectively realise "Hang on, we CAN do this!"
Utes89: Refreshing? I'd go more with exciting. Exhilarating. Awesome. ... And then we fell into that gray zone where we weren't good enough for the playoff chase and were too good to get a top-5/7 pick (without lottery luck), and it became all about watching the guys develop even more as a team. Which was even more fun. ... And it seems like the team is actually getting better and going somewhere positive, which has been a while in the making. Plus, Rodney Hood & Rudy Gobert & well, everyone.
JuMu: Great, for the first time in at least a couple years, this Jazz team actually looks like it is just a season away from making the playoffs. Our frontcourt turns me on to no end, and our backcourt should be at least twice as good with a (hopefully) healthy Rodney Hood and Alec Burks and a non-teenaged Dante Exum.
2. Are you surprised with the defense?
Basketball John: I have to say I am surprised with the defense. I don't think even the manliest Old Spice commercial could have washed the stink off of our early season defense. Only the incompetent Lakers defense kept the Jazz from having the worst defensive rating in the league. The defense was already improving before Kanter was traded which in and of itself is a small miracle. Rudy Gobert has not doubt been a large part of that. That doesn't discount the defensive contributions of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum, or another rookie in Elijah Millsap. Gobert though allows everyone else to gamble just a bit more and to play better team defense. He's a better communicator on defense that Kanter was.
So the pieces were all there. It's just been phenomenal to see it all come together. That Charlotte game giving up just 66 points. Or the Houston game where they held them to 91 points. The Jazz have a shot at finishing the season as a top-ten defensive team despite that horrendous start.
We all had expectations, but I don't think anyone saw it coming this fast.
Peter J. Novak: I am not surprised by the individual defensive efforts of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. I am surprised that we are at a point where they start together and they lead one of the better defensive units in the league, while playing with the same perimeter players with the exception of Dante Exum. It should not surprise us that the quick and lengthy Exum has excelled on defense over smaller point guards, but the improved defense from Gordon Hayward and fill in the blank shooting guard has been a bright surprise. One respected NBA beat writer, Tim Kawakami, has gone so far to have Gordon Hayward on his annual No Defense team (Mercury News, 2015). Thus it is quite a bright surprise that Hayward is now playing very competent NBA defense and is no longer a liability in this area as he was under the previous coaching regime.
YuccaMan: Yes. I thought having a defense in the middle was a reasonable hope for this year ... not to go two solid months as the best in the NBA. While Gobert is the obvious focal point, everyone has contributed. Favors is defending up to what I had expected. Hayward's been strong. Exum has been great. Everybody is contributing, and it's been a blast.
TazzJazzFan: Pleased, not surprised. They always had the physical ability, they just needed to learn how to play NBA-style Team defence. It's a trust and understanding thing. It's also helpful to have the Most Improved Defensive Player of the Year anchoring your D.
Utes89: I'm always surprised when a NBA team plays defense. I know that's a really bad generalization, but I can't help it. Mostly because if teams play really good defense, they're going to get called for a foul. At least that's been my experience with the NBA. But then, we do have actual defensive talent now. No more Morris Almond & Gordan Giricek running around pissing Jerry Sloan off.
JuMu: I am pleased more than surprised, considering the defensive talent on this roster. The surprising part to me is how much this team has evolved on defense within the same season.
3. The Jazz play pretty slowly right now, do you think they can increase the pace next season without trading away some of their defensive prowess?
Basketball John: The slow pace keeps the Jazz in games when their offense isn't clicking. If they can improve their offensive efficiency next season, then it behooves them to increase the pace. Lots of missed shots leads to lots of fast break opportunities for the other team an the Jazz have focused on limiting those opportunities. The Warriors are both a good and a bad example of this. Good in that they lead the league in pace, defensive rating and have a top three offensive rating. They're a bad example though in that they have far more talent that the Jazz to pull it off.
Peter J. Novak: Some. For as long as Quin Snyder will be playing the Gobert and Favors frontcourt we should expect that the Jazz will play at a farily low pace. I do expect Snyder to redesign some of his offense next year to account for the two big men, but this shouldn't change the pace of play all that match.
YuccaMan: I still think their pace is an illusion. I think this just because I was a shot clock watcher last year ... it drove me nuts that they'd walk the ball up and not even make the first pass or cut until the shot clock was at about 13. This year has been so different ... the first pass/cut is usually at about 19 or 18 seconds. Really, the slow pace is, in my opinion, because the team has so few real offensive weapons right now. As they get better, as Exum and Gobert develop more offensive attacks, as the general talent of the team improves, I think it will take less time to work the offense to a reasonable shot, and the pace will go up dramatically. I actually think this will be a major jump next year,
TazzJazzFan: Know the phrase "First you crawl before you walk"? That's the Jazz right now. We're winning games because of our defence, and D is the bedrock on which you build an offence. Another year learning the system (especially our guards learning how to manage fast breaks properly) and you will see more speed and transition wrinkles added... plus, pressure defence often leads to transition points.
Utes89: I'd have to say yes. If we can't, we're in lots of trouble. Because we can't get much slower. (Watch them prove me wrong next season, by being even slower.)
JuMu: I'm curious to see how the Jazz play with a faster pace, I mean they can't possibly play any slower, right?....RIGHT?! I haven't looked into it, but I'm not so sure the correlation between pace and defensive efficiency is that strong. I mean the Jazz were one of the slowest paces last year yet were one of the worst defensive teams as well.
4. Which Utah Jazz player has been the biggest surprise this season?
Basketball John: Rankings are where it's at, right?
MIP Jazz players ranked:
- Rudy Gobert - Stifle Tower. Enough said.
- Gordon Hayward - Usage is way up and so is his PER.
- Derrick Favors - Quietly playing at an All-star level.
- Trey Burke - About the same as last season.
- Trevor Booker - About the same as his Washington years.
- Jeremy Evans - Not much PT.
- (Incomplete). Alec Burks
Peter J. Novak: Besides the no brainer answer of Rudy Gobert, I would say Trey Burke...and not in a good way. Burke put together what appeared to be a competent rookie campaign with a growing sense of understanding of the NBA game. I think its arguable that Burke regressed this year, or at the very least saw his play level off. The front office went into this year with the expectation that the team had 2 good point guards who would be difficult to keep off the court, but rather it has been a struggle to follow up on which player actually deserves that court time, with the slight edge going to Dante Exum as a starter as a result of his superior defense and non-shot chucking.
YuccaMan: Gobert. I dont' know if I've ever seen such a ridiculous climb from bench-warming obscurity to legit, talked about by fans everywhere budding star. Joe Ingles gets an honorable mention to me. He wasn't on the roster at training camp. He showed up basically for the first game and got playing time, showing he could do exactly one thing well: pass. And over the season he's become a pest defensively, a decent ball handler, a decent spot up 3-point shooter, and designated "dude I wish I could just hang out with for a while" on the team. His relationship with Dante is awesome (Joe wants Dante with him on a desert island so he can kill and eat Dante if he gets hungry, for example). I love Joe Ingles.
TazzJazzFan: Rudy. We all hoped and dreamed, but... *low whistle* This kid can PLAY. Once he gets a 15 foot jumper and has a summer at P3...
Utes89: Well obviously Rudy. Everyone is going to say Rudy, I would assume. Rodney Hood has been really good too, IMO, but not up to the level of Rudy this past half (or more) of the season.
JuMu: I think any person who doesn't answer Rudy on this was either a founding member of the Gobert Groupies or has psychic powers. I mean, we have a sophomore on this team in contention for DPOY who played less minutes than Miroslav Radujica last season!!!! That is just unreal and one of the more inspiring underdog stories out there.
5. Bigger moment for the Jazz this off-season; the NBA Draft or NBA Free Agency?
Basketball John: What about a trade? I think that brings in someone with more of an impact than the Jazz could acquire through the draft (barring winning the lotto) or free agency (biggest impact players are RFAs). The front office of the Jazz has admitted that the team is further along than they expected for the season. Does that mean they can skip a step now? Can they splurge for a player that will help them get to the playoffs next season? Free agency has not been a strength for the team. There are a lot more names coming up in 2016 than in 2015. Locking up a FA in 2015, before the salary cap explosion happens, is appealing. With a ton of FAs flooding the market in 2016, I believe that will be when they look to add a marquis name, well marquis for the Jazz at least.
This season, it will be all about the draft and building on what is currently in place.
Peter J. Novak: As long as the Jazz are located in Salt Lake City, the answer to that question will be the draft. I do not expect the team to move but rather pick up another player to challenge the starters and/or provide adequate backup minutes in the short term.
YuccaMan: Personally, I'm not convinced that this is the year the Jazz go after someone via free agency. So I guess it's the draft by default ... though this rumor of Tomic may be the biggest deal (I'm scared to get too hopeful).
TazzJazzFan: Draft, because in my opinion that determines the Free Agency path we take. Another high draft pick changes everything; either a trade up, or a trade for, or draft for needs and fill gaps from FA
Utes89: Draft. Always the draft. The draft is even bigger than the actual season. Always. I mean, that is the one day of the year where some guy on the Jazz is actually on stage and gets seen by everyone. And someone wears a Jazz hat and it looks like the Jazz are equal to other teams! (Plus, we already have a starting 5 - any free agent would have to be willing to be a bench player. Not gonna get a big impact player to agree to that, most likely.)
JuMu: Free agency, unless Dennis Lindsey is planning on trading up big time in the draft. I'm curious of what happens regarding the Tomic situation as well if we get any other bench depth or backcourt help.
Thanks a lot Basketball John, Peter, Yuccaman, TazzJazzFan, Utes89, and JuMu! I think this is probably going to be one of the last few drafts we worry about for a very long time. I can't wait for it though, it'll be awesome!