The Utah Jazz (3-3) are starting a five-game eastern conference road trip by traveling to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks (2-3). Here are five things you can keep your eye on during Sunday’s matinee.
We’ve all heard the news that small forward Gordon Hayward will make his season debut for the Jazz on Sunday. The notion is extremely encouraging for Jazz fans who were expecting not to see Hayward for six weeks. Instead, he sat only six games.
Last year Gordon Hayward averaged 19.7 points per game shooting 43.3 percent overall and 34.9 percent from deep. That production will be welcome on a team that currently ranks 29th in points per game (94.0).
At this point what everyone’s waiting to see from G-time is how he is going to look coming off of his injury. The finger he dislocated/broke is on his non-shooting hand, but it is still likely that it will affect his shot along with how he handles the ball; especially if he hasn’t quite gotten over it mentally.
Who’s Getting Benched?
Assuming Gordon Hayward gets the start, the question remains as to who he will replace in the starting lineup. Right now Rodney Hood is averaging about 17/5/1 with Joe Johnson averaging 14/3/3. Both are shooting well overall and from three-point land (42.4 and 55.0 percent respectively).
In all honesty, it’s most likely going to be Johnson who gets yanked. Hood is a bigger piece for the Jazz long term despite not being Joe freaking Johnson and he is producing a lot of offense. But still, stranger things have happened.
The Point Guards (on both sides)
This off-season the most significant acquisitions for both the Jazz and Knicks was a point guard. George Hill for the Jazz, Derrick Rose for the Knicks.
George Hill has clearly been the MVP for Utah through their first six games. He’s leading the Jazz in both points (20.0) and assists (4.3) per game. His outstanding start to the season has been the reason Utah has not struggled as much as some of us feared without Hayward, Alec Burks, and a full-strength Derrick Favors.
On the other hand, Derrick Rose is no doubt a shadow of his old self. So far this season he has taken more shots (81) than he has scored points (80). It’s a little surprising considering Rose leads the Knicks in touches per game (73.6) but does not lead his team in any category.
Behind both these guards is a contingent of capable backups. For the Jazz, Dante Exum, and Shelvin Mack have performed well. For the Knicks, Brandon Jennings has been their best player off the bench. He leads all non-starters in points (8.6), assists (4.2), and is second in rebounds (3.0).
Derrick Favors’ Offense
Favors has been terribly inefficient so far this season. He has shot 14-42 from the field, a whopping 33.3 percent. If the Jazz want to have a chance to compete with anybody, that needs to improve. He is the only interior scorer the team has, and as such he needs to be much better.
Derrick’s return from injury may have its part in why he is struggling. But it is clear that he needs to improve. Keep an eye on how he does against the Knicks.
Knicks’ Offense Scheme
Jazz fans are very familiar with Knicks head coach Jeff Hornecek. He was hired by the Knicks in the off-season and has been trying to teach his offensive scheme to his team. It has been a struggle, but they have managed to score 100.8 points per game, 19th in the league.
Hornecek’s offense has what he calls “triangle aspects” which, as his description indicates, has roots in the triangle offense made famous by current Knicks president Phil Jackson during his coaching career.
One of the struggles they’ve had has been getting the ball to their budding star Kristaps Porzingis. He’s averaged 17.0 points a game so far this season, but Hornacek has admitted that he should be getting the ball more when they have a mismatch.
We’ll see how the Knicks attack the Jazz’s twin tower defense.