by Fox Doucette
The Utah Jazz won 51 games last year, dispatched the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, then gave Golden State…not a damn bit of trouble, losing all four games by double digits and shooting 41.9 percent as a team for the series.
But hey, the Warriors were 16-1 last year in the playoffs and put up one of the greatest seasons of all time, no reason to panic, right?
Well, Gordon Hayward is on the Celtics now. It is time to panic.
Utah is now left rebuilding a defensive identity and trying to be a Rocky Mountain version of what Memphis used to be. They were already the slowest-paced team in the league (91.6, or “that would’ve been slow in 1997.”) They were also a defensive nightmare for opposing teams, with the third-best defensive rating in the league. They’re doubling down behind Rudy Gobert. It leaves questions to be answered all year long about immovable objects and irresistible forces.
2016-17 record: 51-31.
2018 over/under: 38.5.
You Got Who To Play Point Guard?!
Ricky Rubio is the worst shooter in the post-merger history of the NBA. His .375/.315/.830 slash line is terrible, good for a true shooting percentage of .503. Hitting 40.2 percent of his shots last year was the first time in his seven-year career that he topped basketball’s answer to the Mendoza Line from baseball.
And defense? What defense? Rubio put up a 112 Defensive Rating, a minus-0.9 defensive box plus/minus, and managed a career-low in steal rate. He’s better than Raul Neto (who belongs in the G-League) and Dante Exum (ditto), but he is such a massive drop off a cliff from George Hill, who is now De’Aaron Fox’s mentor in Sacramento, that in a point guard-driven league, that might be an even bigger drop than trying to ask Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles to Voltron themselves into Replacement Gordon Hayward.
The Shooting Guard Can’t Shoot
They seriously believe Rodney Hood is supposed to score points. Because a negative OBPM and even worse DPBM is a great part of a balanced breakfast around the Stifle Tower in a pace-and-space league. Got it. Hood made 40.8 percent of his shots last year and hit 37,8 percent from three. Yikes.
The corpse of Joe Johnson, age 36, who has never been a good shooter even at his apex, looks to chuck up more bad shots to create offensive rebound chances for Gobert.
So How Does This Lineup Even Work?
If you want to go pure defense, you have to hide your backcourt and rely on Thabo Sefolosha and Favors, neither of whom can score but both of whom have the capacity to be All-Defense if they stay healthy. If you want perimeter flexibility, you have to sit Gobert, taking away your rim protection, because Rudy doesn’t have the range to guard stretch 5s.
In other words, this roster is a mess, it lacks an identity, and they can score or stop the other team from scoring but not at the same time.
Put another way, just how the hell is this hot mess of a team supposed to win basketball games?
The question under discussion here is “does a top-5 defense make the playoffs by default?” The 2015-16 Pacers snuck into the seven seed without an offense. Then again, they had Paul George. Rudy Gobert is not Paul George.
38 or 39 wins looks more or less exactly on point because the defense is really that spectacular, but it seems a little high because the offense really is that bad.
Are the Jazz any good? Ehhhh…no. They’re not. They’re going to post a losing record, miss the playoffs, and if Gobert gets hurt, they’ll be lucky to win 30 games, never mind 40. This one’s Busted.