Oct 28, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) is congratulated by guard George Hill (3) after a basket and a foul in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2016-17 NBA season is underway and despite losing two of their first three games during tip-off week, the Utah Jazz got some strong performances from players new and old.
Let’s be real here — after all the offseason hype about the Utah Jazz, tip-off week was just a little bit underwhelming. After getting picked by some to win 50 games and challenge for a top-four seed in the Western Conference, the Jazz got off to a 1-2 start and looked less than impressive at times.
Before beginning Week Two with a surprising win over the San Antonio Spurs, there was a crazy amount of doom and gloom rolling around on Jazz Twitter; after just three games. Some of it persists even now after snapping their San Antonio losing streak.
Although the team was expected to face a struggle in the season’s first month with injuries and a difficult schedule, some fans have been ready to hit the panic button.
“Haters gon’ hate,” as the saying goes, but I’m here to tell you that despite a blowout loss to the L.A. Clippers and a less-than-impressive win over L.A. Lakers, there were positives to glean from the first week of Jazz basketball. Specifically, some big-time performances by Jazz players who are working hard to help carry the load in Gordon Hayward‘s absence.
So if a win over the Spurs isn’t enough to get your goose, here are five performances by Jazz players from the opening week of the 2016-17 NBA season that may.
Oct 28, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) drives to the hoop against Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) and center Tarik Black (28) in the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 96-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
5) Derrick Favors is Back in a Big Way
Final Stat Line: 20 MIN, 15 PTS, 4-7 FG, 9 REB, 2 BLK, 2 STL
The 2016-17 season has begun much in the same way that the previous campaign ended; with the Jazz doing their best to overcome a litany of injuries. Outside of Hayward’s broken finger, the injury that is affecting them most is Derrick Favors‘ seemingly perpetual bout with IT band syndrome.
Nevertheless, D-Faves was able to return to action in the home opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. And despite coming off the bench and being held to a minutes restriction, his emotional performance was key in helping Utah secure their first win of the season.
Despite playing just 20 minutes, Favors put up the kind of line Jazz fans have come to expect from him in recent years. He was also able to help keep the Lakers’ young frontcourt in check on both ends of the floor.
It’s going to take some time before he can go full-bore, but the Lakers game was a nice preview of things to come for Favors.
Oct 28, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) looks to pass against Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) and center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
4) Rudy Gobert Stifles the L.A. Frontcourt
Final Stat Line: 31 MIN, 13 PTS, 13 REB, 4 BLK, 2 FLS
After the Jazz captured their first win of the season, Rodney Hood said “The games you are expected to win, these are the hardest games.” For Utah, beating the Lakers definitely proved to be difficult, but they were ultimately able to do so and Rudy Gobert was a big part of it.
While Favors and Hayward have battled injuries, Gobert has been the mainstay in the Jazz lineup. And he’s been pretty good just about every time out; he’s even hitting his free throws!
He was particularly strong against the Lakers, registering a double-double and acting as a deterrent down in the paint all night long. For me, his ability to hold things down for 31 minutes without getting into foul trouble was also a great development.
Especially when you consider the fact he matched up against athletic young big men like Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., as well as a crafty pro like Timofey Mozgov.
Oct 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe (23) in the second half at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
3) Rodney Hood Rocks the Moda Center
Final Stat Line: 38 MIN, 26 PTS, 9-17 FG, 3-7 3PT, 5-5 FT , 2 STL, 1 BLK
With Hayward M.I.A., the Jazz have been without their go-to guy on the floor. In his absence, much of the offensive burden has fallen to Rodney Hood. And while the results have been somewhat mixed so far, he came up aces in the team’s near-miss against the Portland Trail Blazers.
While Iso Joe stole the headlines with his vintage performance (more on that later), Hood had exactly the kind of effort Jazz fans hope to see from the third-year star with more regularity this season. He took on that offensive burden and rose to the occasion.
The big numbers were his 26 points and three three-pointers. However, the five free throw attempts (and makes) are huge. After averaging around two FTAs per game during his first two seasons in the league, Hood wants to make the game easier by getting to the line.
Throughout open gym and training camp, he did his best James Harden impression, driving hard to the basket and drawing fouls. His five foul shot attempts against the Trail Blazers weren’t quite Harden-esque, but it was a step in the right direction from a player facing heightened expectations.
Oct 28, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) dribbles past Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) with help from teammate center Rudy Gobert (27) in the third quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 96-89. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
2) George Hill Leads Jazz Past Lakers
Final Stat Line: 35 MIN, 23 PTS, 7-14 FG, 3 REB, 3 AST
Throughout the early season for the Jazz, one thing has been constant — George Hill has been awesome. Much has been made of Hood’s need to step up while Hayward is out, but Hill has been Utah’s steadiest hand in the early going.
While Favors’ emotional debut and Gobert’s play down low were key in getting the Jazz their first win, Hill was the head of the spear in the game. The box score looked nice; 23 points on just 14 field goal attempts. It was an efficient performance by any metric.
However, a lot of what Hill did against the Lakers goes beyond what shows up in the stat sheet.
He was disruptive defensively, using his length to clog up passing lines, get deflections and deny spots to the opposition. And while he registered just three assists, he was the general on the floor when the Jazz ran their offense.
It’s early yet, but Hill is already looking like one of the best offseason acquisitions in the NBA.
Oct 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) in the second half at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
1) Joe Johnson Duels with Damian Lillard
Final Stat Line: 31 MIN, 29 PTS,12-16 FG, 3-4 3PT, 4 REB, 3 AST
Much of the talk on opening night in the NBA was centered around the Spurs’ surprising decimation of the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers hoisting their championship banner. However, the Jazz-Blazers affair had the look of a League Pass instant classic.
The biggest reason for this was the late-game duel between Portland’s Damian Lillard and Jazzman Joe Johnson. With both teams battling in the clutch, Iso Joe turned back the clock, partying like it’s 2008 and matching the Blazers star basket for basket as the game went down to the wire.
After scoring just two points in the first half, Johnson dropped 27 in the second, making 11 of his 12 shot attempts in the half. He was able to do it in a variety of ways, knocking down three-pointers, abusing Lillard in the low post on multiple occasions and hitting mid-range jumpers as well.