SALT LAKE CITY — With 9:30 remaining in the second quarter of the Utah Jazz’s game against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, Jazz point guard Raul Neto checked in for the first time after missing the previous six games because of left hamstring tightness.
On Utah’s first offensive possession with Neto at floor general, he used a screen from Derrick Favors at the top of the 3-point line to drive right and toward the basket. With Favors rolling hard down the center of the lane, Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton opted to leave Favors to prevent Neto from getting a layup.
Neto rose up as if to try the shot, but by then, Favors was at the basket, and Neto curled a pass around Ayton. Favors slammed it home for 2 points.
Two minutes later, the pair started a play the same way, but this time Neto drove left and dropped a pass off to Favors in the middle of the lane and Favors put up a soft floater for 2 more points.
The plays are indicative of how well Favors and Neto are playing individually and collectively. In the last two contests combined, both Jazz wins, Favors has scored 35 points to go along with 18 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals.
Neto’s numbers of seven points, six assists, two steals and a block might seem considerably more modest, but Utah is plus-16 with him on the floor (exactly even with Favors), and he’s allowed Ricky Rubio to rest without forcing Donovan Mitchell or Joe Ingles to play point guard as Dante Exum has struggled and ultimately left Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves after partially tearing his right patellar tendon.
Exum will be out indefinitely
While it’s an ultimate example of small sample size, in the 15 minutes Favors and Neto have shared on the floor the last two games, the Jazz have a net rating of a whopping 51.0, but there’s a bigger story there: In 183 minutes the pair has shared the floor this season, they have a net rating of 18.1, by far the highest of any two-man pairing on the team that has played that many minutes together.
“Just being aggressive,” Favors said of his recent offensive play after Thursday’s win. “I know I’m not going to be a big part of the offense most nights, so just being aggressive. It’s finding my spots, not going every time, just finding my spots to be aggressive. Just trying to put pressure on the rim and the offensive boards.”
Typically the third string point guard, Neto said he does feel some responsibility for producing while Utah isn’t at full strength at the position.
“I think guys have been pretty good, Donovan and Joe, playing the point guard even if that’s not their first position, but of course you feel it because you need a point guard to control the rhythm of the game, to know when to attack, when to call a play for this guy or for the other guys,” he said.4 comments on this story
Those around Favors and Neto have certainly noticed their contributions, especially as of late, with Mitchell calling Favors “a different animal right now” and head coach Quin Snyder noting that Neto is “not only a stabilizing force, but he’s a catalyst in a lot of ways.”
Favors on Thursday recognized the importance of continuing to play well as the Jazz will face the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at home. Brooklyn is the only team Utah will play in its next 12 games that is currently over .500.
“Have to come in focused, motivated, knowing that we are playing for a playoff spot and they are playing for a playoff spot, too,” Favors said, “so it’s going to be a good game, but we have to come in focused and just ready to go from the jump.”