As one of the teams sending multiple players to All-Star Weekend, the Utah Jazz have to feel pretty good about how they’ve been evaluating, drafting and developing talent. While a record of 19-34 may not seem like something to get excited about, considering the Jazz finished last season 25-57, you can already see that this group is making progress. When you factor in that this is one of the youngest teams in the league, as well as the pace at which they are starting to flourish under new head coach Quin Snyder, it’s clear that there’s something special brewing in the beehive state.
Watching the Rising Stars Challenge this weekend, it didn’t take very long for the trio of Rudy Gobert, Trey Burke and Dante Exum to make an impact out on the hardwood. It even led to Chris Webber, who was covering the game for TNT, to remark that he needed to watch more Jazz games. NBA League Pass is a good thing, my friends.
The trio put on a show throughout the evening. At one point, Exum shook Victor Oladipo out of his shoes with a lightning quick double crossover move that drew some oohs and ahhs from the crowd. Gobert powerfully rejected a Nerlens Noel’s dunk attempt at the rim then ran the floor on the other end for a thunderous dunk of his own. Burke showed his competitive fire at the end of the game, keeping the contest within range for the U.S. team. There was plenty of great moments for Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey to smile about.
Burke and Exum are obviously huge pieces for the Jazz going forward, but Gobert as emerged as a very important player as well. He has become a defensive monster and fills the stat sheet when given minutes. His teammates have been impressed with his play and growth.
“Rudy’s development has been critical for our team,” Burke said. “He is growing pretty much every week; he is getting better and better. We are going to need him to play at a high level this year, and his presence on defense is great for us because he is cleaning up things at the rim for us. His presence is known around the league.”
Burke is correct, as teams are having to game plan for the Stifle Tower’s presence. The Jazz have improved their defense from 102.2 points allowed last year to 98.2 this year, which ranks 10th in the league and shows Utah is heading in the right direction. Gobert is averaging 2.2 blocks per game and he alters even more shots, as opponents shoot just 37.8 percent against him at the rim (which ranks first in the NBA). It’s becoming increasingly difficult to score in Swat Lake City these days with rim protectors like Derrick Favors and Gobert manning the paint.
The 7’2 Frenchman will likely be a household name soon enough. Gobert had his coming out party during the Rising Stars Challenge, when he recorded 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, and many people on social media felt that he deserved the game’s the MVP award, although it went to Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, who also had a fine game.
More important than the stats in an exhibition game was the way he displayed a relentless motor that showed the country he’s a big man with a passion for basketball to go along with his talent and athletic gifts, which is not always a given for big men in the league (see Andrew Bynum). You have to think that the Denver Nuggets, who traded Gobert’s rights to the Jazz for a second round pick and some cash during the 2013 NBA Draft, may be regretting that deal. His quick progression has also made disgruntled center Enes Kanter expendable. Look for the Jazz to consider making a move on this front at some point, especially if they can collect some assets in exchange for Kanter.
Gobert seems like a potential cornerstone for Utah, but they have plenty of other talented young players that are part of their core as well with Exum, Burke, Favors, Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood among others.
Much has also been made about whether Exum and Burke can co-exist in the backcourt. Both were drafted in the top 10 of their respective drafts, with Exum going fifth overall in 2014 and Burke going ninth overall in 2013. Many people around the league and in the media questioned the experiment, as both players had indicated a preference to playing their natural position – point guard. While they still have plenty of room to grow, they’ve both expressed a positive attitude about playing together and getting to know each other better.
“I think it’s growing; we are playing out there on the court together more and more so we got each others’ back,” Burke said. “We are talking to each other and making sure we are talking to everybody else because it is critical for the two point guards to be vocal.”
Exum also believes that things are going well playing with Burke and even talked about how they would have a little fun challenging each other during the Friday’s exhibition game.
“We have a good relationship,” Exum said of he and Burke. “We were joking about if he scores on me or if score on him [in the Rising Stars Challenge], he is going to come straight back up [to score again]. We have a good relationship and it is just a good family environment in Utah.”
That culture is one of the reasons why this team is starting to flourish. It’s the type of environment Lindsey wanted to develop when he took over as general manager. He saw that kind of environment work when he worked for the San Antonio Spurs, and wanted to replicate it in Utah. It’s one of the reasons why he brought Coach Snyder into the fold, who he had a chance to develop a relationship with as the head coach of their D-League affiliate team the Austin Toros. Part of that culture is learning from their mistakes, which there will be plenty of on such a young team. Exum feels Coach Snyder is helping them do exactly just that.
“I think knowing now when we do lose a game, [we know] what we can do to improve and get better so next time we are in that situation that doesn’t happen,” Exum said. “I know having Quin Snyder there has definitely helped us see that.”
“I would describe it as definitely going in the right direction; we are getting down at ourselves obviously from the losses, but I think the losses are helping us grow as a team,” Burke added. “We are a young team, we have a lot of areas we can get better in – defense is one of them and the more we prioritize that the better we will be.”
One thing is for sure, this is a young team that seems to get it and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a Jazz uprising. They are set up with a wealth of budding young talent, a savvy front office and a coach who seems to know exactly what buttons to press to develop his players.
Report: NBA All-Star Game Starters Announced
LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and rising second-year stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young headline the star-studded group of present and future superstars who make up the starters for the 69th All-Star Game.
James, the catalyst for the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, will captain the Western Conference team for the second straight season. Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ star and reigning Kia MVP, captains the Eastern Conference team for a second straight season as well.
A fresh face in the starters’ mix this season is Dallas wunderkind Luka Doncic, who joins Houston’s James Harden as the two starters in the backcourt. Clippers forward and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Lakers forward Anthony Davis round out the All-L.A. frontcourt.
Boston’s Kemba Walker is joined by Atlanta’s Trae Young in the East backcourt. Like Doncic, Young is a first-time All-Star and starter in just his second NBA season. Antetokounmpo will be flanked by Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, another first time All-Star and starter, in the East frontcourt.
Adam Silver Believes Next Year’s ASG Draft Will be Televised
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he was pleased with the new format for the league’s All-Star Game and believed that next year’s player draft would be televised.
“I thought it was incredible. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the players,” Silver told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne following a 148-145 win for Team LeBron over Team Stephen at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.
The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.
Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.
NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.
Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.
The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.
LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.