Another day, another defeat for the Utah Jazz.
And another step forward.
Some fretters and sourpusses around here want to freak out over the fact that the Jazz have the worst record in the NBA, that they’re now 1-12, that reports out of New Orleans revealed the Pelicans were embarrassed by losing to the Jazz in Utah and they wanted to correct the egregious error at home on Wednesday night, which they did. When the Pelicans feel shame in dropping a game to the Jazz, it’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s not the end. It’s the beginning.
That’s not an apology. That’s sound logic.
A few things to keep in mind as the Jazz walk through the valley of the shadow of defeat:
Trey Burke’s finger will heal up, and the rookie point guard’s increased presence on the floor will balm some of the Jazz’s woes. Go down the line of statistical categories at the offensive end and marvel at the Jazz’s NBA rank. They are at or near the bottom in field-goal percentage, turnovers, assist-to-turnover ratio and free-throw percentage. That’s remarkable, even by loosened rebuilding standards.
Burke looked good in his debut in New Orleans in just 12 minutes, scoring 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Essentially, the Jazz have been playing 4-on-5 over the first three weeks of the season, with the missing man being the most important position on the court. As much as we all talk about the importance of the quarterback in football, the point in basketball is much the same. No fan base should know that better than the one that watched John Stockton play here for the better part of two decades.
Burke may not be Stockton, but he is that quarterback.
Watch, even as the rookie bumps and skids and learns, how his insertion affects everybody else on the Jazz. Not only is he more capable than any other team option at point guard as far as scoring the ball, he also will help other Jazz shooters improve their efficiency by getting them the ball in better spots. Too often this season, the Jazz, including Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, have squeezed off attempts from difficult or disadvantageous places. Sometimes, it’s looked as though it takes a miracle for the Jazz to get a basket out of set plays and possessions. Burke will be key in remedying that.
As much as people here want Hayward to be the leader of this team, it will end up being Burke because … he’s the one who will start plays and control tempo, and he’s got the alpha-dog personality for it. Hayward has a nice floor game, but he’s more a complementary player. He isn’t an initiator.
A couple other things to keep front and center as the Jazz wrestle with bears:
Watch the top college kids play — Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, etc. — and understand better the Jazz’s timing of their suckfest. Sit yourself in a dark, cool, quiet room and beam up on the big screen in your brain a lineup of Kanter, Favors, Hayward, Burke and … Parker or Wiggins.
The other night, playing for Duke, Parker rolled out a man’s game against a bunch of boys. On one defensive stand, he messed over an opponent’s shot attempt in the low post, grabbed the ball, and handled it up the floor through five defenders and put down a tomahawk dunk that caused everyone in Cameron Indoor to go berserk.
That’s the kind of thing that will get a lot of Jazz fans through nights when they read that the New Orleans Pelicans are embarrassed to lose to their team. Whether it’s Parker or Wiggins or somebody else, short of an insane winning streak, the Jazz are going to end up with a difference-maker in the draft. At least they will if Dennis Lindsey makes the right choice.
But the club’s plan goes beyond just that. It also extends via the financial flexibility currently in place, that will be in place at season’s end, to buttressing that young lineup with a couple of strong free agents, or good players other teams would otherwise want to keep if it weren’t for the punitive taxes that will plague big spenders under the new collective-bargaining agreement. Again, Lindsey will have to make the right choices within that framework.
If the Jazz were the Clippers of the ’80s and ’90s, if they were perennial losers, it might be time for fans here to fire up or off. But they’re not. Given the realities for small-market teams in the modern NBA, they are pursuing a path they must pursue to have a chance at real contention. They didn’t create that NBA environment, they’re just working within it to ensure that, in the seasons ahead, nobody will be embarrassed to lose to them again.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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