Key Matchup: Utah Jazz @ Portland Trail Blazers

Bruce Ely / The Oregonian
Bruce Ely / The Oregonian

Because this season cannot be measured by wins and losses, I have decided it’s beneficial to focus in on key match ups this year.  As this has been dubbed a “season of discovery”, this helps us judge improvement as the season progresses.  By doing so we won’t get as disappointed when we lose as many games as we could lose.  The match up for the Utah Jazz  game tonight against the Trail Blazers that we should focus on is:

Gordon Hayward vs Nic Batum

Gordon Hayward and Nic Batum are very similar sign players.  Both players are very long wings at 6’8”.  They are both very young at 23 and 24 years old respectively.  Both players are regularly asked to guard the other team’s best wing scorer.  Both players are known as “Jack of all trades” type players.  Neither player is an effective number one option on offense, but both players are close to elite role players.  Both players are two of my favorite in the NBA as they are the guys how do everything for their teams, but never receive the credit they deserve.

The Blazers have started the season out blazing, pardon the pun, to a 16-3 record.  Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews are rightfully getting a large portion of the credit.  However, Batum is second behind only Matthews in net points at +84 for Rip City.  This means that the Blazers have outscored their opponents by 84 point while he has been on the floor.  Nic is absolutely essential to their success.

Lillard and LA draw a lot of attention offensively.  This leaves Nic Batum as a 3rd or 4th option offensively, and he thrives in this role.  As Lillard drives, or Aldridge is doubled in the post, Batum gets a ton of catch and shoot 3’s.  Nic Batum is currently getting 5.1 catch and shoot opportunities per game, and he is smoking them.  Batum shoots 43.9% from 3, and 42.3% from the field on these catch and shoot opportunities.

Looking at Batum’s shot chart, we can see that he knows he strengths, and sticks to them.  Batum has two areas where he shoots above league average.  From 3, and under the basket.  We already analyzed his shooting from deep, so let’s look at his under the basket numbers.  According to the Sports Vue database, Batum completes 70% of drives.  Again this is because of people sagging off him to cover the other offensive studs on the floor.  When this happens the team kicks back to him and he is able to drive to the bucket, where he completes at an outstanding rate.


Offensively Batum is the perfect complement to Lillard and Aldridge.  He uses 70.77% of his shots under the basket or behind the arch, and completes on those shots above the league average.

This year, due to necessity, Hayward has been our number one option offensively.  Let’s face it, that is not who he is.  Hayward ideally would be in a role similar to that of Batum, playing as an incredible role player with some offensive studs.  Recently however, the Jazz have been able to spread the offense out, and give him less of the offensive load.

Hayward has been a different player since the return of Trey Burke.  His presence allows Hayward to not be the only play creator on the floor.  In the Rockets game, Hayward did have 29 points, but Trey Burke took just as many shots as he did.  Why did he thrive in that game?  His shots were assisted!  Hayward is much more comfortable being the secondary ball handler.

He followed this game up with a pretty crappy one against the Pacers.  The Pacers are the number one defensive team in the NBA, and there was a ton of pressure on Hayward this game.  He has been very vocal about how much it drove him nuts to be home in Indiana this summer listening to the hype on Paul George.  Hayward went out there and forced things because he wanted to prove a point.  What was great though, was that Kanter and Favors had great offensive games.  They commanded the ball, which lead to a lot of open shots for Hayward.  If we can move toward Hayward being the second offensive option, he will thrive for the remainder of the season.  Trey Burke is showing that he has the killer instinct, and may be that go to option that will make Hayward’s life easier.

Pay attention to Hayward’s shots tonight.  Batum is an excellent defender because of his height, and crazy long arms.  The Jazz need to go to one of the bigs early as they have less proficient defenders on them tonight.  If they do this it will force Batum to double down on the bigs, and give Hayward open shots.  I do think Hayward will lead the team in points tonight, but I think to do so he cannot be the leader in shot attempts.

Whatever happens tonight, let’s enjoy it.  This season is a win-win situation for us Jazz fans!  When we win we get to see the growth and development of our young guys.  How can you not want to see this group succeed?  They are awesome!  When we lose, we get to fantasize of Jabari Parker being that go to option next year with Hayward and Burke getting him the ball.  So no matter the outcome, let’s enjoy this matchup against an awesome team.