I’ve been able to show my worth on the defensive end by bringing that energy off the bench. That’s my role. —Ekpe Udoh
SALT LAKE CITY — New Utah Jazz big man Ekpe Udoh has only scored seven total points, has only grabbed 10 total rebounds and has averaged less than 15 minutes per game as a backup in the Jazz’s first three contests of the 2017-18 season, but by one commonly used metric, he has far and away been Utah’s MVP thus far.
In a statistic simply called plus-minus, which tracks how much a game’s score changes when a given player is on the floor, Udoh is a whopping plus-47, meaning the Jazz have outscored their opponents by 47 points when the Baylor product has hit the court.
To put that in some perspective, the next closest Utah player to Udoh is Thabo Sefolosha clear back at plus-29, and Donovan Mitchell, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks are the only other players on the Jazz roster who are in the positive.
To be sure, plus-minus certainly isn’t an end-all, be-all metric, particularly early in a season, and Utah head coach Quin Snyder isn’t a huge fan of it, as it doesn’t provide context for game situations such as which four teammates a certain player is on the floor with (or which five of the opposing team are playing).
But Udoh’s remarkable number so far, as well as his history of being well into the positive (he became somewhat of a plus-minus darling during his first NBA stint, particularly when he was with the Golden State Warriors), certainly mean he’s doing something right.
Both the eye test, as well as Snyder, back that up, as the sixth pick of the 2010 NBA draft by the Warriors has shown he deserves to be back in the league after spending the last two seasons in Europe.
“He kind of knows who he is. I mean that in a complimentary way,” Snyder said, pointing specifically to Udoh’s defensive ability and smarts on offense. “He knows not only the things he doesn’t do well, but he really gravitates to the things that he does well.
"There’s a saying, ‘Know your role, accept your role and star in your role,’ and Ekpe stars in his role, and anytime someone does that, they impact the game very, very positively, and that’s what we’ve seen from him.”
Udoh certainly has a firm idea of what his role is on this Jazz team, as he used the word while assessing his performance thus far.
“I’ve been able to show my worth on the defensive end by bringing that energy off the bench. That’s my role,” he said after Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I’ve got to continue to get better.”
What he’s not as certain about is just how he has virtually always managed to have such a positive impact on games, but he repeated the refrain of defense and energy.
“Defensively, I’m there for my teammates,” he said. “Especially coming off the bench, I’m trying to not have a letdown. We’ve been able to do that really well so far.”
Off the court, Udoh has continued a unique tradition since coming to Utah to positively impact those around him. An avid reader, he started Ekpe’s Book Club on Twitter a few years ago, where, instead of physically meeting at a location to discuss a book, Udoh will ask questions and his followers can reply using #Ekpesbookclub.
Last Tuesday, Udoh and his followers discussed “Things Fall Apart.” The catch: the discussion took place on the first night of NBA action, so while the rest of Twitter was reacting to Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury and the Houston Rockets’ narrow win over Golden State, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Udoh was discussing topics such as why the villagers in the book were open to the colonists’ religion (for the record, he said he was watching the games, too).
Two days later, he asked his followers on Twitter their thoughts on how to get kids to read more often and at a higher level and retweeted some of the responses. Then on Sunday, he indicated via Twitter that he had spent some time at Barnes & Noble when he was asked if he has chosen the next book for the book club.
“Gotta keep it going,” he said Saturday. “It’s fun. It’s right.”
The same could be said for his play on the court.