For today’s conversation I took some time out with Clint Peterson. Clint is a practiced purveyor of basketball tales for such stalwarts as ESPN’s TrueHoop Network, the Utah Jazz and many independent establishments including Purple and Blues. He is a Twitter troublemaker at @Clintonite33, accredited illustrator, attentive single father and frequent accidental celebrity stalker. We talked about the Utah Jazz, Trey Burke and what the Blazers might do with their small ball lineup.
More Jazz vs. Blazers: Read my answers to Clint’s questions over at Purple and Blues.
1. Portland has one of the best offenses in the league and the Jazz are one of the worst defensive units. How do they even begin to think about stopping a team like the Blazers, even if they are injury-depleted?
During the Utah Jazz’s recent three-game win streak, pre-All-Star break, they found success with — GASP — excellent defensive schemes such as the one that held LeBron James to a season worst performance by mucking up the game to control the pace and tempo forcing the opposition into passes and shots they weren’t comfortable with.
Despite an overall poor BasketballReference D-rating, the team’s defense has been steadily improving. It’s just hugely skewed by a couple of factors that include a D-rating system that favors defensive rebounding heavily and how badly the Jazz started the season defensively when Trey Burke was injured.
2. How has the evolution of Trey Burke gone over the course of the season and what should Portland expect from him that they didn’t see earlier in the year?
Once the broken pointer finger on Burke’s primary hand healed he jumped right out of the gate and straight into the Rookie of the Year race, only to run headlong into the metaphorical rookie wall and scouting reports. Aside from more minutes than in the first two meetings of the season between the Blazers and Jazz, 25.5 MPG average, Burke has been taking more threes, 6.1 per game this month compared to 1.5 average in his first two stints against Portland.
Coming off of his fourth double-double of the season on assists and points, versus Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets, you can also expect to see at least five assists as opposed to his 3.0 average this season in the two previous tilts, and if this one is close late watch out for Trey to clutch up. Like Damian Lillard, the kid has a propensity for daggers making the potential for a late shootout with his Taco Bells Skills Challenge ‘mate from Weber State scintillating.
Trey is sneaky quick. How fun was that, by the way?!
3. Has Gordon Hayward started to plateau to his talent ceiling or do you think there’s a noticeable gain to be had left as he moves forward?
Nah, not even close. NBA players don’t typically plateau statistically or talent-wise until between 15,000-18,000 NBA minutes. Hayward, despite leading the NBA in total minutes played for about half of this season, is only a shade over 7,000 for his career.
The big knock on Gordon Hayward this season is his field goal percentage and shot location — he was taking far too many long twos, that dreaded lowest efficiency shot in basketball.
What’s really crazy is that Hayward has yet to post a triple-double in his career. He’s been within three assists or rebounds of one six times this season, including three times in the last four games.
With Gordon Hayward, it’s really a matter of role. Out of necessity he’s been the young Jazz’s number one option with defenses keying in on him. As the other youngsters on the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster continue to develop much of that pressure on Hayward will lessen and he’ll again be able to thrive as a triple threat in a role more suited to his talents.
4. With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap no longer around, how have Kanter and Favors worked together to develop as a pair?
The Utah Jazz are 0-Infinity when Enes Kanter starts this season. They didn’t work at all together early in the season leading to Ty Corbin pulling Kanter from the starting lineup and inserting Marvin Williams instead, a move that has served all involved well — it’s looking increasingly likely that Marv may be a member of the Jazz next season and beyond.
Ty Corbin has continued to work on Favors and Kanter together, a bit at a time, with results on the up and up after a few adjustments, mainly to what Enes was doing in his time on the floor. One such adjustment was tweaking how the pair of young bigs approached pick-and-roll defense, allowing Kanter to get burned less and Favors to sag back into the paint to protect the rim better with his athleticism and natural instincts.
Another factor in recent improvement has been getting Kanter to re-focus on the natural ability that got him drafted in the first place: His prowess for rebounding. After a lengthy stretch of low-single-digit rebounding games, Enes has pulled down double-digit rebounds three times in seven games this month for his best monthly average to date this season of 7.7 per game.
That said, I don’t think we’ll see Derrick Favors play tonight. He’s had a nagging hip strain. Cue the injury segue way…
5. Portland is going to play small ball with a few of their key players out due to injury. How do you think the Jazz will handle that strategy and what might they do to take advantage of it?
This actually plays into the Jazz’s hands, giving Utah a better shot at victory than they might normally have. As we alluded to in the first question, the Jazz coaching staff will try to muck up the game and force your boys into taking lots of shots far from the paint — a strategy that could quickly backfire with Portland’s propensity for getting hot from behind the arc.
Small ball will help certain Jazz players like Trey Burke, Marvin Williams and Gordon Hayward excel.
And in this same vein, here’s a couple more to keep your eye on tonight: Alec Burks has been red hot, especially finishing from the baseline, his preferred path to the basket, and getting to the free throw line, as well as Jeremy Evans, who is coming off a career high 13 rebounds and has a sneaky smooth jumper that’s helped open up his cuts to the rim for those fantastic finishes.
In fact, guess what my computer wallpaper still is…
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