Utah Jazz Set Up Season In First 6 Games
With Gordon Hayward out with a dislocated finger, the Utah Jazz needed to perform strongly without their star to not fall behind in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs again.
By remaining at the .500 mark, they are not playing catch up in the conference where 41 wins only got the Houston Rockets eighth last season. The Jazz finished ninth in the West with a 40-42 record.
The Jazz have done this by calling on the depth that they added over the summer and they certainly have delivered.
George Hill has been tremendous for the Jazz over the first six games. Over this small sample size, Hill has averaged 20.0 points per game, up from his career average of 11.4.
This number is remarkable, but it is the fact that he is shooting at 52.3 percent from the field in this time, which is certainly eye-opening. His career field goal percentage is 45.1 percent.
He is also shooting at the best clip of his career from three. He is going at 44.1 percent compared to his career number of 37.8 percent?
However, Hill was brought into the team to play point guard so add to these numbers his 4.3 assists per game. This is up from his career number of 3.3.
Even with Hayward back, it is safe to say that Utah has found this season’s starting point guard.
Joe Johnson has done nothing to write home about in terms of his personal performance this season. In the first six games his points per game output this year is only 13.7. His career number is 16.7 points per game.
All of his numbers are down this season compared to his career except for two. Johnson’s field goal percentage for this season is sitting at 50.8 percent compared to his career number of 44.3 percent.
Add to this his three-point percentage is 55.0 percent compared to his career number of 37.2 percent.
Again, I say this is a small sample size, but what would have happened if Joe Ingles was the starter? Those numbers have kept Utah in games, even helping to win them.
Now that Hayward is back, Johnson can produce from the bench, making the Utah Jazz even stronger.
Yes I know that Dante Exum has played a season with the Jazz. However, due to having last season off he is like an injection of new talent into the team.
Now that Hill is cementing his place as the starting point guard, Exum has more time to develop as a player without the expectations of a team who seem to have been trying to replace John Stockton.
Exum is a different type of player to both Hill and Shelvin Mack who is the other point guard in the rotation. Exum is a pass first, defensive minded point guard who also played at shooting guard in the preseason.
Exum’s length, ball handling and passing ability make him a good prospect to play alongside Hayward, Hill and Mack to give the Jazz two and three play-making options on the court at once whilst not hurting their defense.
The Importance Of The Games Played
In October, Utah opened their season against the Portland Trail Blazers with a loss. They then followed this up with a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. The was expected but the loss against the Los Angeles Clippers left the Jazz with a 1-2 record.
The start of November was better. The Jazz beat the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio and then the beat the Dallas Mavericks in Utah. Unfortunately the Jazz lost the return matchup to the Spurs in Utah, but went 2-1 to start November.
Taking a victory against the Spurs anywhere is beneficial but taking one on their home floor was almost impossible last year. To do it without Hayward would have given this team incredible levels of confidence.
They also did not beat the Spurs at all last year, so this is one up already this season.
The Road Ahead
Since the return of Hayward, the Utah Jazz have gone 2-0 with wins over the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. Up next, they continue the five-game Eastern road trip with match ups against the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat.
If they can go 4-1 for this road trip then, the Charlotte game is the biggest danger game, then they will have a 7-4 start to the season.
This does not seem too much better than the 6-5 start to last season, but having played the Spurs twice and the Clippers once, this is a much better start to the year.
Last year the Jazz played the Cleveland Cavaliers once and none of the top Western teams in the first 11 games.
If the Jazz had of fallen to a 2-4 record or even 1-5, making the playoffs would be whole lot harder in April. Now, they are playing with confidence and belief. Nothing can replace that.
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