SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz just may be the most balanced team in the NBA this year. That is, unless it's the San Antonio Spurs, Utah's opponent Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz have six players averaging in double figures — their five starters plus Gordon Hayward — and another player just under 10 points a game in Derrick Favors at 9.3 ppg. The Spurs also have six players averaging in double figures, one of just a handful of teams in the NBA that can claim that distinction, along with the Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves.
However, if you want to break it down further and limit it to players that have played in the majority of their team's games, the Jazz and Nuggets stand alone (the T-Wolves have two players that have played in fewer than 10 games, while the Bobcats and Spurs each have one who has played fewer than 10 games).
Over the course of the season, the Jazz have had seven different players lead the team in scoring in individual games, and no one more than Al Jefferson's six. Even reserve center Enes Kanter has led the team in scoring.
The question is whether it's a good thing to have a balanced team with so many players averaging in double figures, or if it's better to have a team with a couple of great scorers.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin certainly wouldn't mind having a superstar like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James to work with, but he's happy to have numerous scoring options with so many players sharing the wealth.
"It's just how we're built right now and that's what we work with," he said. "You have to go with who you are. We're a team with a lot of different guys capable of stepping up on different nights. We count on everybody and we let the game develop and see who's going good that particular game."
Earl Watson has played more than 800 games in the league for five different franchises, and he sees only a positive in the Jazz's well-balanced unit.
"I think it's an advantage because it keeps constant pressure on the court," he says. "It keeps us diverse in many ways, so (other teams) have to prepare for almost two different teams and the preparation for our opponents is more intense than usual."
Watson believes you don't have to have a big scorer to win championships, pointing to the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, who beat the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. The Pistons were led by Richard Hamilton with 17.6 points per game and had seven players averaging nine or more points.
"Look at the Detroit Pistons when they won it over the Lakers — nobody expected their team to win," he said. "But the great thing about that team was that everybody came in and they had their own identity and they all believed it was for the best cause and they sacrificed."
This year's group might just be the most balanced Utah Jazz team in history. Going back to 1979-80, the first season in Utah, only five times has the team ended the season with as many as six players averaging in double figures. However, in each of those years, at least one player had played in fewer than half the games, either because of an injury or a trade, which skews the numbers.
For example, two years ago, the Jazz had six double-digit scorers, but one was Devin Harris, who played in just 17 games. The all-time record was 1983-84 when seven players averaged double figures, but that included the injured Adrian Dantley, who only played in 22 games, and John Drew (injured) and Danny Schayes (traded), who played in 44 and 50 games, respectively.
Ironically, in 1997-98, arguably the best team in Jazz history, only three players averaged double-figures scoring that year — Karl Malone (27.0 ppg), Jeff Hornacek (14.3 ppg) and John Stockton (12.0 ppg).
The Spurs certainly have the bigger names than the Jazz with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but they're also getting great production from players such as Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard, who has missed the last three weeks with a knee injury.
All are averaging in double figures and, in the last two games alone, Green hit seven 3-pointers for 23 points against Charlotte on Saturday and Neal knocked down seven 3-pointers for 29 points in an overtime win over Houston on Monday.
Look what the Spurs did in their game at Miami a couple of weeks ago, when they got in trouble from the league office for leaving their three stars at home along with Green. The "other" Spurs, including the likes of Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter, gave the defending champion Heat all they could handle before losing in the final minute by five.
After tonight's game, the Jazz go to Phoenix for a game Friday before returning home for a game against Memphis on Saturday.
No. of players averaging double-figures scoring*
6 — 2 (Utah, Denver)
5 — 8
4 — 18
3 — 2
*Includes players who have played in at least half of their team's games
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