The NBA gods have broken a fundamental playground rule: Don’t kick a man when he’s down.
The Jazz are down alright.
George Hill and Gordon Hayward’s departures left a void of nearly 40 points per game.
Then came the kick where it counts: Exum is going to miss significant time in the 2018 season with a shoulder injury. No two ways around it, that news stings. While the organization, players and fans have all expressed their heartbreak over the latest news, it doesn’t erase the fact that the Jazz season is underway and they have no easy answer for how to score.The Jazz
So, the Jazz are down, but the question remains: Are they out?
Utah’s offseason wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Jazz signed Ricky Rubio, one of the top assist men in the league. Rookie Donovan Mitchell took to Utah and its fanbase, Ingles re-signed, and Gobert is, well, Gobert. Utah has assets and the right coach at the helm to keep the team focused on the road ahead. No viable way to use the same offensive strategy as last season exists, so the Jazz will have to make some tweaks. If the Jazz are open to suggestions, they may want to look at a team which made it to the NBA Finals with a dominant center, a few great three-point shooters, veteran leadership, and only one player who averaged over 20 ppg: the 2009 Orlando Magic.
I realize the comparisons won’t be perfect so take your grain of salt, but the Utah Jazz presently have the pieces to run a quasi-Magic offense for stretches of next season. While Gobert is a different player than Dwight Howard, he’s a dominant center in the league and averaged only .3 blocks per game last season less than Howard did in his prime. The Magic’s top four three-point shooters netted a combined average of 42.35 percent on threes; Hood, Ingles and Johnson averaged 40.8 percent-shooting last season. The Magic’s point guard averaged 5.3 assists per game, Rubio has never averaged less than seven. With adjustments, this Magic offense could serve the Jazz well and help get points on the board.
The Magic often spaced the floor with three shooters on the three-point line, Howard in the paint, and the point guard who could drive as seen in this image of the NBA finals.
Howard’s offense came from the paint with rim-punishing dunks, and teams had to cover him well. With the three-point shooting threats in Jameer Nelson, Brian Cook, Courtney Lee, JJ Redick and Rashard Lewis, the defense had to keep a body on them to keep them honest as well.
A wide open floor for the point guard to drive in and dish out. Between an athletic Howard and three-point shooters ready to shoot, defenses had to keep alert. When the defense focused too much on the paint, the magic punished teams with a barrage of threes.
If defenses pushed too hard on the three-point shooters, Howard made the opponents pay in the paint.
While the Jazz, don’t have as many three-point shooters as Orlando did in ’09, or a Dwight Howard playing arguably the best basketball of his career, they don’t have to. The Jazz don’t have to recreate the Magic; they can successfully integrate pieces of this offense around their stalwart defense.
Rudy Gobert led the Jazz in field goal percentage last season at .661, there is no way defenses can slack off of him. In fact, the opposite is true, with his less-than-stellar free-throw shooting, defenders will want to foul him to prevent open dunks. Putting a defender or two in the paint to slow Gobert can only help a healthy Rodney Hood, a lights-out Joe Ingles, and Joe Johnson. What’s more, a healthy Alec Burks hit the first four of five threes during this season’s preseason games.
The addition of Rubio leaves him free to handle the ball and drive into the paint, sneak Gobert a pass that leads to easy points, sling a pass to a comrade behind the line for a trey, or, gulp, shoot. Unfortunately, Rubio’s shooting woes have been well-documented and cannot be ignored. Why then, can this offense still work? Because the key is not a Jazz player, it’s Snyder.
Snyder led Ingles, Hill, Hayward, and Gobert to career years at different ages and periods of their respective careers in 2017. Rubio has stated that in two short months he has already talked more with Snyder than any other coach in his career. Believe this, folks: Quin has plans for Rubio and he will be utilized in a way different than any other up to this point in his career. If Snyder can instill in Rubio the confidence to even shoot an average percentage from the paint, the Jazz will be dishing and driving in no time.
While losing Hill, Hayward and probably Exum for the 2018 season is discouraging news, the Jazz are still in capable hands. Using an offense designed around a dominant center, three-point shooting, and team basketball is just what the doctor ordered.
The NBA gods have been unkind to the Jazz this offseason, but I believe Snyder may just have the pieces to get the basketball gods to bring a little love to Utah this season.
Dustin Jensen is a Utah native studying accounting at the University of Utah. He enjoys running and is a Utah Jazz fanatic. You can e-mail Dustin at [email protected].