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Basketball Insiders: Week In Review 2/1/14

Basketball Insiders takes a look at some of the articles from the last week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Rajon Rondo and the Houston Rockets?

By Bill Ingram

Now that Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is back on the NBA hardwoods following an ACL injury that kept him out of action for almost a year, trade rumors are again starting to swirl. Those rumors always seem to be coming from places other than Boston, where Celtics GM Danny Ainge has been consistent in saying he’s not looking to trade Rondo. The fact that he took the court for thee first time this season sporting a team captain’s “C” on his jersey would seem to add credence to the idea that Rondo is not quite finished as a Celtic.

Still, Rondo’s name does keep coming up, which means someone has discussed moving him on some level, even if that level is simply the Celtics organization gauging his value.

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3-Point Contest Field Coming Together

By Eric Pincus

The NBA announced the starting lineups for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars on Thursday.

The pool for the three-point shootout has yet to be named but the early list, subject to change, includes Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Marco Belinelli (San Antonio Spurs) representing the West.

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Why Exum Is a Top Draft Prospect

By Yannis Koutroupis

Australia’s Dante Exum, the premier international draft prospect, signed with agent Rob Pelinka today, confirming that he will declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Exum was eligible to play in the NCAA this semester due to graduating at the end of 2013 and he originally left the possibility of attending a college for the 2014-15 school year open. However, with his stock already close to peaking, he’s going to bypass college and go straight to the NBA.

How has Exum vaulted to the top of the draft boards, in contention with the likes of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker? Those players are on national TV regularly, but as Steve Kyler noted in the NBA AM this morning, sometimes it pays to be out of the spotlight. It certainly has in Exum’s case.

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Kobe Bryant on Carmelo Anthony’s Talent and Future

By Moke Hamilton

With the Los Angeles Lakers having won just four of their last 19 games, Laker Nation is anxiously awaiting the return of Kobe Bryant. Bryant has been out of the lineup since fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee back on December 17, but the shooting guard is inching closer to a return.

Addressing the media in New York on Sunday, Bryant refused to put a timetable on his exact return date, but he will be reevaluated upon the team’s return to Los Angeles.

One thing Bryant was not tight-lipped on, though, was Carmelo Anthony. New York City is still abuzz over Anthony’s epic performance on Friday night, when he turned in a 62-point effort on 23-for-35 shooting. Aside from being Anthony’s career-best scoring night, it was also the night that Bryant became second to Anthony, at least in one regard.

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Could a Carmelo Trade Benefit Bulls and Knicks?

By Tommy Beer

After posting this piece last week, which advocated the New York Knicks making the risky decision to trade their best player, one of the most common responses we received was some variation of: “What could the Knicks realistically hope to get in return for Carmelo Anthony?”

So, today we’ll examine one potential deal that might make sense for both parties involved. (We will also examine a few other possible destinations in a follow-up piece.)

Again, as was detailed in the original story, if the Knicks decide to deal Anthony, they will have to enter trade talks with the full understanding that they’ll likely have to accept far less than market value in return. This is because Anthony holds a player option next summer that will allow him to become a free agent on July 1 and all indications point toward Anthony opting out.

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Are The Lakers Still A Desired Destination?

By Steve Kyler

There is little doubt that where a player plays matters. As much as teams try and make it a money discussion there does come a time when money is not the only motivator, especially in free agency.

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did his part yesterday to keep the pot stirring with regards to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, suggesting that everyone wants to play in LA.

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10 Memorable Moments from Pierce, Garnett’s Return

By Jessica Camerato

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home

The slow, methodical lyrics blared through the TD Garden as images of Paul Pierce emerged on the Jumbotron above the parquet. Fifteen years of history, infamous moments and a triumphant championship would be captured in a matter of minutes in front of over 18,000 people, including the future Hall of Famer himself.

I’m back where I belong
I never felt so strong
I’m feeling like there’s nothing that I can’t try
And if you’re with me put your hands high

On Sunday, Pierce returned to the place he called home his entire NBA career for the first time since being traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer. Cheers and emotions flooded the building as the former Celtics captain received a hero’s welcome in front of the crowd he energized since being drafted by the organization in 1998.

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Which Players Are Still Free Agents?

By Alex Kennedy

Around this time of year, NBA fans are scouring the rumor mill and looking for ways to improve their favorite team. Most scenarios are related to trades, but a midseason free-agent signing could also do the trick.

In recent years, there have been a number of productive players who were added in the middle of the season. Look no further than Chris Andersen of the Miami HEAT, Kenyon Martin of the New York Knicks and Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets for proof that a midseason signee can become a key rotation member if put in the right situation.

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Q&A: Warriors GM Bob Myers, Part 1

By Nate Duncan

Nine months after engineering the Golden State Warriors’ first playoff appearance and series victory since 2007, General Manager Bob Myers sat down with Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan in the midst of another solid season.  In part one of a two-part interview, Myers discusses the Warriors’ approach in building from his hiring in 2011 to their 2013 playoff success.

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Who Replaces Kobe Bryant in All-Star Game?

By Jabari Davis

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers announced that shooting guard Kobe Bryant will be out at least three more weeks due to pain and swelling in his left knee. That means that the NBA will have to find a replacement for Bryant in the 2014 All-Star Game. Bryant, despite being injured, was selected a starter for the Western Conference after receiving 988,884 All-Star votes from fans.

Now, it seems soon-to-be NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have his first ‘official’ decision to make in choosing a replacement for Bryant. While the NBA’s head coaches select the All-Star reserves, the commissioner’s office has traditionally been responsible for replacing an injured player.

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Celtics Won’t Move Rondo At Deadline?

By Lang Greene

The 2013-14 NBA trade deadline is set for 3:00 p.m. (ET) on February 20, which is roughly just three weeks away. The buildup to the deadline will undoubtedly be filled with a plethora of rumors floating in the media, well rehearsed cliché answers from players on the trading block and executives around the league tirelessly working the phone lines behind the scenes.

While the number of deals completed at the deadline rarely matches the hype in the weeks leading up to the frenzy, this year’s crop of players to watch will continue to make things interesting.

One of the marquee names who has routinely surfaced in trade rumors this season is Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. The four-time All-Star recently returned to action after suffering a torn ACL in January 2013, but has long been considered one of the Celtics’ prime trade chips during their ongoing rebuilding project.

However, a source with direct knowledge of the situation has informed Basketball Insiders that the Celtics have demonstrated little activity as it relates to potentially moving Rondo at the deadline. The team has stopped short of giving Rondo a no-trade guarantee, but has made it clear it would take a substantial offer for the team to deal away its floor general.

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Six Things to Know About the Minnesota Timberwolves

By Jesse Blancarte

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a curious team. With a solid roster and proven head coach, the Wolves on paper look like a team that should be competing for a playoff seed, but instead are currently ranked 11th in the competitive Western Conference. Here are six things you need to know about this team.

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Six Glaring Snubs from 2014 Rising Stars

By Joel Brigham

The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge participants were announced on Thursday, with many of the expected names showing up on the list of rookies and sophomores.

However, as happens every year with these exhibitions, some relatively big names were left off the list. Anthony Bennett of the Cleveland Cavaliers was the most surprising name left off, if only because he was the No. 1 overall pick (not necessarily because of how he has played).

Some other high draft picks from the 2013 NBA Draft, like Otto Porter (#3), Alex Len (#5), Nerlens Noel (#6) and C.J. McCollum (#10th) also didn’t make it due largely in part to the injury-riddled start to their careers, but some players were just flat out snubbed:

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Do You Really Want The Truth From Athletes?

By Travis Heath

We always say we want the truth. We say there is nothing more boring than an athlete who rattles off clichés such as: “Nothing comes easy in this league,” or “Our backs were against the wall and guys really stepped up tonight.”

What the fallout from Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman’s comments after the NFC Championship game demonstrates is that we really don’t want the truth. It seems that most people only want a version of the truth that makes them feel comfortable. Thing is, the truth is often the very opposite.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: What We Forgot

With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.

Matt John

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With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.

Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.

But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.

Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal

Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.

Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.

Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.

The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.

Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done

What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.

Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.

Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.

In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.

The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.

Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.

Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.

Maturity Issues Loom Large

Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.

Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.

After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.

Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.

Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.

But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.

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NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks

Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.

Drew Maresca

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Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.

So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.

Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.

But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.

Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.

Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.

But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.

So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.

He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.

Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.

But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.

Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.

Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.

That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.

But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.

But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.

The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.

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NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key

Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.

Ariel Pacheco

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The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure. 

Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders. 

Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.

Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them. 

Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll. 

Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.

Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well. 

Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.

The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA. 

Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.

As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.

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