01 March 2012
There hasn't always been a lot to celebrate about this Jazz season in Utah, but a spot as bright as a nova was brought to us courtesy Jeremy Evans over the All-Star break when he made Utah a state of champions by winning the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest in spectacular fashion. Fittingly, in a leap year, on a leap day, Governor Gary Herbert honored the man his teammates simply call "Elevator" by giving him his own day: Jeremy Evans Day.
It's officially official. Evans is forever more "The Human Pogo Stick." Dammit. Boler and Harp need to be banned from handing out heinous nicks.
Nevertheless, we're proud to be able to call Evans our own. Perma-grins abounded when Jazz CEO Greg Miller met with our guv to congratulate Evans on his finest moment. He was even rewarded with a little playing time to celebrate by, which he made the most of by landing himself in the night's Top 10 plays on a nice cut fed by five-dime beast Al Jefferson.
Via Deseret News, Jim Urquhart, Associated Press -- See all 27 photos
"I wanna see what the... vets have?!"
We've been overrun with fan and media sentiments of wanting to see the Jazz's young guns. All game. Every game. You literally can't go anywhere, read or listen to anything, without being bombarded by it. The prevailing thought process includes, "I already know what the vets have. I wanna see what the young guys have."
What more do you really expect to see from the team's third-highest minutes-total, Gordon Hayward, the Jazz's only player to start all 34 games? Hayward even led the Jazz in minutes played on the season at one point. What you see is what you get for now. More PT isn't gonna make him shoot better than the .424 from the field we're getting now. Earl Watson said he wanted to see 10-15 point-per-game from G-Time. If he were to hit closer to 50% of his 10.3 FGAs per-game, plus continue to make about 80% of his 3.7 FTAs per-game he'd be there, easy.
Derrick Favors? At the beginning of the season when many were calling for him to start over Al Jefferson I said he was still about a half season away from being ready to even think about starting over either Al or Paul Millsap. So far, his numbers have stayed the course, overall, starter or reliever, deviating only slightly in a couple of categories from what he was putting up previously. If anything, his career low field goal percentage indicates a step back, not forward, although it's possible this can be attributed to his learning process in the post in trying to obtain a reliable go-to move or two -- not a bad thing, but it shows that he's not yet at the level needed to compete night in and night out at against the league's toughest position.
Maybe the most important progression we've seen from Favors is his defensive rebounding rate being at a career high, over 20% for the first time, at 20.9%, and his tying a career high for assists versus the Houston Rockets with three. In the Jazz's offensive sets in the flex the big men have to be able to dish out dimes to cutters for the team to put up points. Stagnation is the ugly alternative, an option that can be attributed to not only isolation sets, but guys without the ball not doing their job either -- cutting hard like they're supposed to. When they do, guys like Al, Paul, and now even Favors and Evans will pass, as we saw against the Rockets, Al, Favors, and Evans combining for 10 of the Jazz's 27 assists in a blowout victory.
I told you everything about Enes Kanter on Twitter before he ever put on a Jazz uniform. We knew he'd be a great rebounder, already, and after watching every available bit of film and EuroBasket I added that he was extremely coachable, intelligent, and willing to learn, as well as a solid man defender, while warning that he'd have trouble finishing at the rim, lacked a post move, and had a tendency to try and bull his way to the basket, lowering his head and shoulder garnering whistles. That's exactly who he's turned out to be thus far. Seeing more of him won't change these habits right now, only enforce tendencies that form long-term bad habits. When he's ready, you'll know it. Until then, he needs to keep working on those feet to create shots that aren't so easily turned back, and confidence in his range, a part of his game we know he has, save the confidence part. He'll only get better defensively as he learns to rotate properly without looking so lost, an area we've seen signs of progression in.
If you've been paying attention without bias, the only real enigma when it comes to the young guns is Alec Burks. His play is increasingly putting pressure on Ty Corbin to put him out there for more and longer stints.
On the other hand, once you thought you'd seen it all from the vets they throw you a curveball.
Coming into the season, Al Jefferson was widely touted as a black hole. Few saw the signs of change coming from this "old dog" (who's not really old at all), saying he'd peaked, that he couldn't get any better, that he was stuck in his ways. And yet here he is, a willing and capable passer. And just when you thought that was all, that the count was full and he'd walk the hitter with the bases loaded, he throws you a splitter you never saw coming.
The Jazz haven't had a defensive director. Until last night. Earl Watson noted in the postgame that he'd never seen Jefferson be so vocal on the floor, directing traffic, calling out rotations and screens, reinforcing the effort from his 'mates.
The result of filling this formerly-gaping hole in the Jazz's game is two-fold -- not only does it make the entire defense better when you have a vocal anchor who can see the opposition unfolding, said anchor no longer has to act alone as a last line of defense, a role impossible for all but a handful of stellar stoppers. It's a leadership role, one young players don't do instinctively, one that the Jazz's young players would likely not learn, at least not properly, on their own without years of painful experience.
Jefferson stepping up into this role is huge for the Jazz. Not only does it make his own job easier, but it makes Devin Harris' job easier too, helping him to be able to anticipate the offense coming at him, allowing him to make a snap decision in an instant instead of guessing where he might have to go to head off a play, then giving up on it in frustration from the silence, save the squeak of sneakers and snapping of twine. Harris was able to dictate where Kyle Lowry would direct his own offense from, keeping the Rockets from getting what they wanted, when they wanted, where they wanted, making them play a game they weren't comfortable with.
And Harris dictated the pace offensively as well, showing us the skills that made him a desirable All-Star a few seasons ago. Few thought he still had that in him, or that he cared to show it to the likes of us, we, a fanbase that spent the first half of the season saying we didn't want him. Lauded as a leader, albeit it a quiet one, at one point after a broken play, Harris pulled aside Hayward, a player with some 60 more games experience in the offense, pointing out a moment where the sophomore had gone astray in the offense. After a quiet discussion and some nodding, we saw the Jazz's offense respond with a run that put the game away for good.
Yes, it's important that the young guys get experience and see real floortime. But it's equally important for them to learn the lessons many of the veterans had to the hard way, through a whole lotta losin'. Working together will accelerate the development process more than simple trial and error ever could. And it avoids the dreaded pit of despair that is the constant frustration of being blown out by mediocre competition, eventually creating an environment conducive only to creating the desire to produce for one's self for that next contract instead of for the good of the team.
Last night showed us that old dogs can indeed still learn new tricks, that we haven't seen by a long shot what they to give. Learning is a lifelong process, one most successfully employed with a little help from your friends and teammates. Devin Harris and Al Jefferson aren't vets by a lot. In fact, they're just coming into their own as leaders, and last night they together bookended an impressive display of growth for this young Jazz team.
Preaching more patience
• Through Jerry Sloan's first 62 games as a head coach, with a future Hall of Famer in Artis Gilmore, his team went 19-43, a .306 winning percent
• Through Ty Corbin's first 62 games as a head coach he's gone 24-38, a .387 winning percent
• An NBA player typically doesn't reach their peak on average until about 15,000 career minutes. Al Jefferson is at 15,608, Devin Harris 14,369
• There are currently 23 players in the NBA with more career minutes played than both Jefferson and Harris combined
• While it's been a calendar year since Devin Harris was a Jazzman, he's played less than the equivalent of two-thirds of a single normal season for Utah, only 50 games, due mostly to the lockout