24 January 2012
Four weeks and about a quarter of the way into the NBA season the Utah Jazz have found their identity. The Jazz now without a superstar have learned to depend on each other. They’re gritty, they hustle, they play with heart and chemistry, but most importantly they have each other’s backs and trust each other. Utah went 2-1 last week, picking up solid wins over the Clippers and T-Wolves and losing a hard fought battle vs the Mavericks. Overall the team had a successful week, and despite that loss I like what I am seeing.
It didn’t surprise me when Devin Harris was thrown into trade rumors this week; his play hasn’t exactly been up to “par” lately. Our starting PG averaged just under 8 points and 3 assists last week as he struggles to find his groove and place with this team. I think most of us agree that Harris isn’t in our plans for the future, but it is clear we are aiming for the playoffs this year, and the Jazz will need him to come around if they want a chance at making them in a deep Western Conference. On the other hand, second-string PG Earl Watson continues to play fantastic, good enough to make him a contestant for this week’s award. On a team with no official captains, Watson has come out and shown that he is a leader on this team. Whether he is with the bench squad, or sometimes the starters, Earl is out there running a team, a team that is almost always outplaying the opponent. His defining moment, and in my opinion the play of the week, was when our 6’ 1” guard stuck up for Derrick Favors and literally went at reigning Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki. Following a moving screen call on Favors, Dirk went on to slap the ball out of the second year forward’s hands. Watson, not exactly a fan of the move, proceeded towards Nowitzki and slapped the ball out of his hands (or at least tried to). While the act earned Watson a technical, it more importantly sent a message, a message that this team won’t back down from anyone. Earl is quickly becoming a fan favorite, and you can only wonder where the Jazz would be had he not been resigned.
(Jeremy Harmon, The Salt Lake Tribune)
CJ Miles sent a message of his own last week as he took advantage of an injured Josh Howard. Our favorite “inconsistent” wing had his best week of the season, scoring 19, 17, and 18 in three games while shooting just under 46% from the field. Miles was also a great momentum guy off the bench, averaging the second highest +/- on the team with +11 per game. We all know that CJ is much better when he is attacking the basketball instead of settling for jumpers, and he proved that last week with a much improved shot selection (Let me also note that Miles had 0 turnovers on the week). Can CJ keep up this play? If he does he may have a case to become a starter over Gordon Hayward, who still hasn’t found his way out of his slump. Hayward managed only 5.33 points last week on an ugly 21% shooting. His shot will eventually fall, but is he going to be passive or aggressive when it does? I won’t lie, I love Hayward facilitating our offense, he had 6 dimes vs Minnesota (2.33 on the week). But I don’t love Hayward deferring to teammates when he has a shot of his own. It may be hard for him to retain his starting position if he can’t produce at the levels that CJ and Howard have been.
Both Burks and Bell had nice weeks, each making solid contributions to the team. Thanks to some much improved ball (9 points, 51%) Raja has seen his playing time rise for the second consecutive week, which went up to 28 minutes last week. Burks continues to impress as he slowly but surely progresses. The rookie guard had a nice week with 8.33 points and 3.33 rebounds in just 18 minutes. He is starting to play in a more controlled fashion, not to mention his pretty good D.
Once again, the Jazz bigs played a major role in last week's wins (and near win). Paul Millsap is still,the man, and has become the key to our offense. Millsap won all of his matchup last week, which included high caliber players Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Love. Paul averaged approximately 21 points, 9 rebounds, with a nice 2.33 assists and 1.33 steals. If he keeps up this play, he will undoubtedly be worthy of an All Star selection. Whether or not he can keep it up though, is still a mystery, especially as defense’s start to key in on him (like Dallas did). @IWMTB19 (Great follow by the way) had some thoughts about this on twitter.
Utah’s other lead big man Al Jefferson, had a bit of a down week. Al scored about 17 points a game, but it was on a scary 39% shooting. Thankfully he helped out elsewhere. Jefferson was able to grab over 11 boards (something I have criticized him for) and dish out a very impressive 3 assists a game. Interestingly enough, it was Jefferson’s first week of the season he went without recording a block. Maybe the best improvement between Al and Sap is the chemistry the two of them are building together, something they didn’t have much too of last season.
Derrick Favors only played in 2 of last week’s game (sat out vs LAC), and was not able to make much of an impact in either of them. Favors had his worst week of the season, averaging just 1.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes. He was also the only player to average a negative +/- with a -4.5. You can of course thank Millsap’s increase in minutes for decline in Favors’, but you cannot deny that he is struggling. Clint pointed out on twitter that Favors’ turnover % the past few games has been far from good.
On a brighter note Enes Kanter looked good once again, with 6 points and 3.66 boards in 15 minutes last week (First week this season Kanter has had more PT than Favors). Kanter also made his first long range jumper, something some of us fans have been dying to see, and a part of his game that was much hyped before the NBA Draft.
I love our team right now, I think we all do. They are simply playing as a team, and that’s why it was so hard for me to pick a winner this week. But I’m not just going to type over 1,000 words for nothing, so here you go.
Player of the Week (Week 4)
Paul Millsap applauds my decision. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
Paul Millsap 21 pts (56%), 9 rebs, 1.33 stls, 2.33 asts, +14 (+/-)
Runner(s) up: Earl Watson, CJ Miles
Special mention: Al Jefferson
(Thanks @sproul13 for weekly stats)
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