The Utah Jazz (6-6) underwent a little bit of course correction last week, snapping a four-game losing streak with wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. Those wins wrapped a 2-1 week after Utah got blasted by the Toronto Raptors to start.
Despite the Celtics being ranked considerably higher than the Jazz in almost every ranking, those doing the ranking didn’t see fit to move Utah closer to Boston’s spot for the most part. In fact, Rotoworld had the Jazz falling one spot. They remain slogged in the double digits in the majority of the subjective rankings.
The analytical rankings, however, remain a steady high water mark for the Jazz, which I take quite a bit of comfort in. Something in the Jazz’s play makes these models to continue to believe. FiveThirtyEight even still has Utah with a 94 percent chance of making the playoffs, something that isn’t guaranteed by any means in the West.
Jae Crowder is just a little delusional when he claims the Celtics know they made a mistake by giving him up in the Kyrie Irving deal, but he has made a major impact since the Cavaliers rerouted him to Utah. He’s thriving as a tough, versatile sixth man, averaging 14.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The Jazz’s closing five, featuring Crowder at power forward with four starters, is plus-166 in 301 minutes since his arrival at last season’s trade deadline. — MacMahon
[Author’s note: Death, taxes and people underestimating Jae Crowder. Smh.]
Rudy Gobert has taken advantage of the freedom of movement rules and become a more potent offensive force. Fellow big men can’t just push Gobert around anymore, and Gobert is averaging a career-high 16.4 points per game and leading the NBA in shooting percentage. He has become one of the top lob threats in the NBA.
Everybody pitched in to get the victory in Gordon Hayward’s return to Utah. Whether or not the Jazz were as pumped up for that game as their fans cannot be determined. But Joe Ingles certainly wanted to redeem himself after three rough outings leading up to that meeting. He scored 19 combined points on 6-for-27 shooting in those contests before exploding for 27 against the Celtics.
The Jazz finally got a couple of wins at home last week (after an 0-4 start in Salt Lake City), but their defense remains a concern after allowing the Celtics (a bottom-five offense) to score a season-high 117 points per 100 possessions on Friday. The Celtics’ 17 3-pointers were the most the Jazz have allowed this season, but in general, their opponents have shot much better than they did last season on the shots the Jazz want to force (those in between the restricted area and the 3-point line). They rank 30th in opponent field goal percentage on those shots (44.1 percent) after ranking fifth last season (38.7 percent). With those two home wins in hand, they play 12 of their next 14 games on the road, with a five-game trip (their longest of the season) starting Monday in Memphis.
Utah needs greater consistency from point guard Ricky Rubio. He is shooting a frigid 33.9 percent from the field this season, including 28.0 percent from downtown. He is the only player in the league who has logged over 350 minutes but is shooting below 35% from the floor.
The only thing keeping the Jazz in the double digits for me is the performance of the starting lineup. I’ve believed for a couple of weeks now that Jae Crowder needs to be starting for this team. Friday night was just more evidence of it. The performance of the lineup of the other starters with Crowder replacing Derrick Favors is through the roof. It’s time to give starting games with it a try, as much as it pains me to say as an adamant defender of Favs, who still deserves to have a large role with this team, even if off the bench.