The Utah Jazz managed to survive without Gordon Hayward when they played the New York Knicks, and if there was another game where you figured Hayward could take a rest and the Jazz would still win, it would be this game. However, that didn’t happen. Without Hayward on the court, the Jazz still remain one of the worst teams in the NBA.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. And it wasn’t just Hayward the Jazz missed last night. Alec Burks is still gone, and Rodney Hood had to leave the game early with health issues. Those are three guys who can get their own shot. What was left was a learning experience.
First, the best player on the floor was Derrick Favors, but he needs someone to give him the ball. The T-Wolves made it their priority to prevent him from getting the ball. Chase Budinger played over him most of the time, and he knew he had help from behind if someone tried lobbing it into Favors. Favors still found a way to score 19 points, but possession after possession, he’d fight for position down low only to watch the clock wind down and someone, usually Trey Burke, taking a long shot that would miss.
Now Trey Burke is getting a lot of criticism this morning, and some of it deservedly so. When his shooting is off, it is off, and he was 4-22 from the field. He was a perfect 6-6 from the free-throw line though, and the Jazz only lost by two points when his teammates missed twelve free-throws. I’ll get back to Burke, but let’s look at the free-throw problem.
The Jazz are 14-6 over their last 20 games. What would their record be over the same span if they could hit their free-throws at 80%? 19-1. They’d be 19-1 over their last 20, for a total record of
35-34. I’m not even looking at 80% of their free-throws for the entire year. Just in the last 20 games.
Feb 11 – They shoot 11-21 free throws. Jazz lose by 5 to Mavericks.
Feb 25 – They shoot 22-34 free throws. Jazz lose by 3 to Lakers.
Mar 4 – They shoot 13-21 free throws. Jazz lose by 1 to Celtics.
Mar 18 – They shoot 12-24 free throws. Jazz lose by 4 to Wizards.
Mar 21 – Jazz lose by 15 to Warriors.
Mar 23 – They shoot 19-31 free throws. Jazz lose by 2 to T-Wolves.
Those are wins they’ve been giving away. The Jazz are the fourth-worst free-throw shooting team in the league, not just for the year, but also since the All-Star break.
But back to last night. Who was willing to step up? Trey Burke. Did it pay off? No. There were spans where he overdribbled, and there were spans where he didn’t notice open guys in favor of taking his own contested shot. There were also other spans where he’d pass the ball out but with 3-4 seconds left on the shot clock, he’d get the ball back and wound up taking a long, contested shot. He was 4-22, but I could easily put some of those misses on his teammates. There was one sequence when he passed the ball to Dante Exum three times in one possession, and Exum immediately passed it back. He wanted no part of the ball for that play.
Even on those nights when Trey isn’t shooting well, the team can usually still win. He was 0-8 in their win against the Rockets. He was 2-11 in their win against the Grizzlies. He was 1-11 in their Hayward-less win against the Knicks. 22 shot attempts is the most he’s had this year.
Moving forward, and I’m talking about next year, the Jazz have the defense to make the playoffs a very real possibility, but they need better point-guard play. They’re young. Burke is 22; Exum is 19. Burke could make an Eric Bledsoe-level jump next year, or he could continue at his current pace to be more of a Darren Collison/DJ Augustin level point guard. He’s still arguably the best point guard from the 2013 draft, although Dennis Schroder is about to get some valuable playoff experience. We still don’t know what Dante Exum will be, but I still believe his ceiling is high. He’ll learn that the paint is not lava.
As far as the rest of the season goes, Jazz seem locked into the 12th seed. Whether they get it with a 35-47, 37-45, or 39-43 record, I see the Suns and Pelicans staying above them, but the Jazz will still probably tie the record of whoever gets the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
The Top Five and Bottom Five in the NBA by NetRtg:
1. Golden State Warriors
2. L.A. Clippers
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. San Antonio Spurs
5. Portland TrailBlazers
(17. Utah Jazz)
26. L.A. Lakers
27. Orlando Magic
28. Minnesota TimberWolves
29. Philadelphia 76ers
30. New York Knicks