The Utah Jazz are in 11th place in the Western Conference, set to make the NBA Draft Lottery for the third straight year.
On the surface, their 36-42 record doesn’t look impressive.
But the Jazz have almost climbed to 40 wins after bottoming out at 16 games below .500 in the middle of the season. Since the All-Star Break, the Jazz have been one of the five best teams in the NBA.
Here are some of their stats since February 19:
- 17-8 record, fifth in the NBA
- 93.5 defensive rating, first in the NBA
- 8.4 net rating, fifth in the NBA
- 54.2% rebound percentage (percentage of all rebounds grabbed by the team), second in the NBA
- 41.4% opponent FG%, first in the NBA
- 33.2$US opponent 3FG%, fourth in the NBA
While the Jazz have been about league average on offence during this stretch, they have been dominant defensively, which is impressive for the second-youngest team in the NBA.
One of the biggest reasons for their turnaround has been the play of 7’2″ French center Rudy Gobert.
After the trade deadline, in which the Jazz sent starting center Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gobert was inserted into the starting lineup and has been impressive. In 35 minutes per game since the All-Star break, Gobert has averaged 11 points on 59% shooting, 13,5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 1 steal per game.
Perhaps more impressively, during that stretch, with Gobert on the floor the Jazz have a 92.4 defensive rating. For the season as a whole, opponents shoot 39% at the rim with Gobert guarding them — the best mark in the NBA.
While Gobert’s defence has helped anchor the Jazz near the rim, he has gotten plenty of help elsewhere.
Power forward Derrick Favours doesn’t post as lofty of stats as Gobert, but he’s equally as effective a defender. With Favours on the floor, the Jazz have a 91.1 defensive rating since the All-Star break.
Second-year guard and rookie guard Trey Burke and Dante Exum also both post elite defensive numbers and help harass opposing ball-handlers, an increasingly important skill in today’s NBA.
The Jazz have built a defence with several young, long, athletic players and players who work hard.
On this possession against the Houston Rockets, the Rockets are slow to get into their offence, but much of it has to do with Utah’s defence. Burke (#3) helps pressure the ball, Gordon Hayward (#20) effectively switches onto the ball and helps deny a pass, Joe Ingles (#2) does a good job denying post position and then switching onto the ball, and Gobert (#27) is the awaiting shot-blocker, who also gives a decent contest when the Rockets shoot the three-pointer.
On another wild, sloppy possession, the Jazz are able to force Houston into missed shots with their length, anticipation, and hustle. Gobert in this sequence alone blocks one shot and changes two others with his length:
Though James Harden eventually draws a foul, this is good defence and not exactly the type of offence any team wants to run.
What’s encouraging for the Jazz is that they have enough players (and a scheme) in place to be an effective defence for years to come. While their offence isn’t as impressive, it’s often easier for young players to improve at offence than it is for them to improve on defence.
Burke was recently interviewed by Basketball Insider’s Alex Kennedy and he spoke glowingly of the Jazz’s future:
“We think [we’re the NBA’s best up-and-coming team]. If we’re not the best, then we’re one of the best. We’ve won a lot of really good games, games that we were underdogs in, and that’s been big for our confidence. We do think we’re one of the best teams with a young roster in the NBA right now.”
Given the Jazz’s strong finish to the season, they’re going to enter next year with lofty expectations. But with a lottery pick and a young, developing core, the Jazz could be a playoff team next season and one of the most exciting up-and-coming teams in the NBA.
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