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NBA PM: Utah Has Some Hope Against Heavily Favored Warriors

The Warriors are heavily favored against Utah but the Jazz have some factors in their favor, writes James Blancarte

James Blancarte



On May 2, 2017, the Golden State Warriors will host the Utah Jazz for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Jazz come into the match up after closing out the Los Angeles Clippers in a commanding Game 7 victory on the road at Staples Center. In contrast, the Warriors long ago finished a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers on April 24.

In all time head-to-head match ups, the Jazz have won 104 of 177 total regular season games. Consider this to be the only place where the Jazz can claim just about any sort of edge between the two franchises. In the playoffs, the Warriors have won two of the three series match ups. The last time two franchises met, they also played in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2007. In that match up, the Jazz defeated the Warriors in five games and took down the “We Believe” Warriors, who had just upset the first-seeded Dallas Mavericks. In a quest to avenge the past as the team marches forward, the Warriors will be hosting many players from the “We Believe” team and honoring their historic upset of the Mavericks (before being eliminated by the Jazz).

Ten years later the two teams meet again and this time, the Jazz are the severe underdogs. In fact, the odds are out from Vegas and they are astonishingly bad for the Jazz. Notably, the Warriors come into this series after winning each of their regular season games against the Jazz by an average of 18 points.

Of all playoff teams so far, the Warriors have the league’s lowest turnover percentage, the highest true shooting percentage, the second-highest team assist percentage and are third in offensive rating. In addition, the Warriors currently sport a dominating plus/minus of 18 in four playoff games. The team does a great job of executing their sets, moving the ball without turning it over and scoring a lot of points efficiently. Simply put, they win and they win by a lot.

Based on plus/minus, the Warriors possess the top three two-man lineups — including combinations of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — the top-two three-man lineups if you add in in Zaza Pachulia and the top five four-man lineups when you add in Kevin Durant to the mix. The starting five for the Warriors, in almost any combination, has been unstoppable.

Although the majority of the Warriors’ best players are perimeter players, the team as a whole does a great job of getting to the rim and scoring. In the playoffs, they shoot 30 shots a game at the rim (five feet or less, and ranked 2nd among teams still in the playoffs) and are shooting 60.8 percent (tied for 4th) on those shots. That is in addition to their hot shooting on perimeter shots (3rd place on shots from 20-24 feet and from 25-29 feet). The Warriors score all over the floor, which includes getting to the rim at a high rate. That puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses, which Portland experienced firsthand in the first round.

After only needing four games to dispatch the Trail Blazers, the Warriors come into this series well rested and presumably well prepared. They are hungry to avenge their stunning Finals collapse last season and are ready to quickly dispatch any team on their way to a presumed rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a historic third Finals match up in a row.

It’s clear that the Jazz are not only the underdog in this series, but are over-matched talent wise and face astonishingly bad odds in this series. So what can the Jazz do to maximize their odds? Follow Head Coach Quin Snyder’s game plan and execute their offense at their usual methodical pace. As stated above, the Warriors haven’t played since April 24. If the long layoff causes the Warriors to have a slow start to Game 1, perhaps the Jazz can take advantage and jump out to an early lead.

In the regular season, the Jazz played at the league’s slowest pace and the Warriors played at the fourth fastest pace. In the playoffs, of the teams remaining, only the San Antonio Spurs play at a slower pace than Utah so far, while the Warriors play at the fastest pace. In sum, there is a huge contrast in style between these teams. The Warriors want to run up and down the floor and if given the chance will blow a game wide open and look to run up the score, while the Jazz will try to muck up the game with defensive pressure.

In the regular season, the Jazz posted the league’s third-best defensive rating, just behind the Warriors and Spurs, which helped make them a sleeper choice for playoff success. While the Warriors have maintained their overall excellence (first among all playoff teams) with a net rating of 18.3, the Jazz have fallen off their pace (seventh of all playoff teams) with a net rating of 1.8.

Even if the Jazz can execute on offense and slow the game down, they will need to return to the high level of defensive excellence that marked their regular season play. However, part of that formula may be out of their control. The Jazz were able to rely on a healthy Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Rudy Gobert in 81 of 82 regular season games. Although he has since returned from a hyper-extended knee in Game 1, Gobert has continued to look less than 100 percent with his scoring, rebounding and mobility at least slightly compromised. If Gobert can play up to his regular season level, look for the Jazz to attempt to play one-on-one defense on the perimeter, stay home on shooters and allow Gobert to protect any penetration at the rim. The Jazz have a roster especially built for this as they have a plethora of capable wing depth. This will allow Utah to disrupt passing lanes, force Golden State into contested jumpers and could lead to easy baskets in transition.

Although the Jazz have seemed to settle on a strategy where Gobert and Derrick Favors mostly alternate at center, Gobert getting into foul trouble in Game 7 allowed Favors to shine as he pulled down 11 rebounds and scored 17 points on 8-11 shooting. If either of these players can be especially effective down low, look for Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green to shift down low to help contain. Warriors’ centers Pachulia and Javale McGee can be effective but less dominant on defense. Having Green focused on the interior can prevent his devastating roving abilities, help defense, which can wreak havoc on opposing offenses, and will keep him from hounding Utah’s perimeter scorers.

Other bright spots for Utah include forward Gordon Hayward’s play. If you remove the food poisoning game, Hayward has averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 48 percent shooting from the field, 46 percent from three and 96 percent shooting from the free throw line. The strong play from the first time All-Star has been supplemented by the well-documented clutch performance from veteran Joe Johnson, who absolutely crushed the Clippers playoff hopes in multiple games. As a team, the Jazz have faced many close game situations already this postseason, whereas the Warriors haven’t played in any high-pressures games since the regular season.

What else can possibly hinder the Warriors? The team has yet to announce when head coach Steve Kerr might return. His ongoing back issues continue to hang over the franchise. Kerr has had to remove himself from coaching in the playoffs so far due to the reoccurrence of severe back pain related to complications from his back surgery and there has even been speculation that his ongoing condition could force him to retire. There have been no issues yet but perhaps the substitution of assistant coach Mike Brown might eventually disrupt some of the Warrior’s usual tendencies and dominant flow. At least former fill-in assistant coach Luke Walton had half a season to step into Kerr’s shoes. Contrast this uncertain coaching situation with the strong coaching performance of head coach Quin Snyder, who did an admirable job of adjusting and readjusting to all of the Clippers’ moves in the opening series.

Additionally, though he has returned to action and has played well, there is still some trepidation as to how forward Kevin Durant will hold up throughout the playoffs after returning from a February 28 knee injury. A subsequent calf strain limited Durant to 20 minutes in the Game 4 close out against the Trail Blazers. Although it hasn’t been an issue yet, the Warriors are under pressure to not only win a championship this season but to do so convincingly. If any of the above factors come into play, perhaps a bit of that pressure negatively affects their play.

In sum, the Warriors will most likely win this series and do so in dominating fashion. However, if some combination of potential issues listed above come into play, perhaps the Jazz have a chance, however slim, to make this a competitive series and possibly shock the world.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.


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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break

After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau



For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.

Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.

In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.

As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.

“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.

“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”

But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.

Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.

Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.

Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.

This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.

“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”

Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.

Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.

Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”

Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.

“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”

And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.

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NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.

Shane Rhodes



The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.

On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.

While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.

With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.

For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.

Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.

For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.

The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.

While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.

Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.

For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.

Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.

As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.

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NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge

Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.

Matt John



Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.

Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.

“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”

Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.

July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists

Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.

“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”

On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.

“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”

Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.

“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”

In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.

“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”

When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.

In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.

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