In a league filled with Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles, James Harden’s eye-popping offensive production, Lebron James’ explosive drives, Kevin Durant’s efficiency, and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting barrages, the new sexy is the Utah Jazz defense. Yes, you read that right, defense is the new sexy.
The Jazz is now 16-10, atop the Northwest division standings, all because of a stifling defense. The Thunder was the Jazz’s 10th opponent to fail to reach 90 points, the most in the NBA. The Jazz is number one in scoring defense, allowing just 95.2 points per game on a league-low 42.8% field goal percentage. Rudy Gobert, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year so far this season, is leading the league in total blocks with 72 and has who-knows how many more altered shots. Gobert’s Defensive Rating is 98 (which is the average number of points scored on him per 100 possessions). To put that in perspective, the two-time defending DPOY, Kawhi Leonard, has a Defensive Rating of 102.
Last night, the Jazz defense held Russell Westbrook to a paltry 7-of-25 from the floor for 28%. It was the only game of the season that Westbrook played at least 30 minutes and shot less than 32%. The Jazz did this without its starting point guard, George Hill. Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack did a great job disrupting Westbrook and every time Westbrook got near the rim, Gobert, Favors, and a host of help defenders were there to take away his driving and passing lanes. It was only the 4th time this season that Westbrook didn’t have more assists than turnovers. The other teams that did that to Westbrook: the Clippers, Raptors, and Celtics. Westbrook had a season-low 5 assists.
Last week the Jazz, missing four regular starters, held the league’s best offense to 106 points, 12 below their season average. The Jazz held Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green all below 47% shooting from the floor. It is the only game this season where at least one of the Warriors’ big four didn’t shoot at least 50% from the floor. You see, that’s what makes the Warriors tough–with four of the most efficient and explosive scorers in the game, one of them is bound to beat you, but the Jazz held them all in-check. Zach Lowe recently wrote a piece about the Jazz (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18273165/zach-lowe-utah-jazz-gordon-hayward-rudy-gobert-nba) where he said, “If you don’t have a top-10 player, maybe having five top-30 guys will do the trick.” Maybe Lowe already knew this, but the Jazz is the only team with 4 players in the top 40 in Real Plus/Minus: Gobert, Hayward, Hill, and Hood. Not even the Warriors, Cavs, Spurs, or Clippers have four.
The Jazz would be even better if they were healthy. In fact, the Jazz has been so riddled with injuries that, in their 10 losses, the Jazz was missing at least one starter and multiple rotation players.
|@Blazers||Hayward, Favors, Burks|
|vs. Spurs||Hayward, Burks, Diaw|
|@Hornets||Hill, Burks, Diaw|
|vs. Grizzlies||Hill, Hood, Burks|
|vs. Bulls||Hill, Burks, Favors|
|@Rockets||Hill, Favors, Diaw, Burks|
|@Denver||Hill, Favors, Burks|
|vs. Heat||Hill, Hood, Favors, Burks|
|vs. Warriors||Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, Burks|
The Jazz’s preseason projected starting line-up of Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert has played a grand total of 12 minutes together.
Now, while the Jazz’s defense is the story, the Jazz offense has come along as well. The Jazz offense ranks 7th in the league in point differential at 5.6 and has the 4th-best field goal percentage. Hayward has pushed his scoring average to a career-best 22.9, Gobert is leading the league in field goal percentage at 68.2%, and Joe Ingles is leading the league in three-point percentage at 50.8%. But with defense the new sexy, who wants to talk about that?