Monson: The Jazz give hints in first [preseason] win of how dominant they could be

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) had 14 points and 9 rebounds in the first half as the Utah Jazz host the Perth Wildcats during their preseason game, Sept. 29, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

The outcome of the game didn’t really matter, but … at least it was an outcome, it was a game … well, sort of.

It was a bit of evidence of what so many around here — including coaches and players — have allowed, sometimes stubbornly, to build up within themselves during an offseason that seemed oh-so scant: optimism for what comes next, what comes now.

The Jazz were so encouraged by their favorable position after the results of last season and their prospects this time around that they changed almost nothing about their team, nothing more than adding a player out of the draft and a renewed emphasis on refining what they already had.

Most notable on Saturday night, then, was that the Jazz were on the court again, fully dressed out and sweating at Vivint Arena, playing for the first time this preseason against some get-up from Perth, Australia, a team known as the Wildcats, out of a league called the NBL. And, of course, the name on the opposing jerseys was completely inconsequential. It might as well have been the Washington Generals or the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

The Jazz were the Jazz, a version of themselves that had no need of a can of Rust-Oleum.

They went ahead and won, by the count of a zillion to zip, and by that we mean, 130-72.

“It was a good first effort by our guys,” Quin Snyder said, afterward. “We defended well.”

That optimism the Jazz had spoken of — though tempered by cautious voices from Snyder and GM Dennis Lindsey, in a we-have-to-prove-it-all-over-again stance — was hinted at by their work against an opponent that, frankly, couldn’t win the Ivy League.

Some of the highlights were as follows: Rookie Grayson Allen hit 5 of 9 bombs, and scored 19 points. Alec Burks went for 18. Rudy Gobert got 14 and nine boards. Donovan Mitchell had nine points and four assists.

Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio, among others, had talked about the advantages of having the crew back together again, how shifting into a top gear would be quicker and easier on account of earlier shifting already done.

The team’s stars concurred.

“It’s an advantage that we know each other,” Gobert said.

“I’m excited,” Mitchell said, “for what we’ve got coming up.”

This much is certain: If the Jazz played Perth every night, they’d be undisputed world champs.

Despite the fact that Utah had an oppressive defense a season ago, Snyder had stressed before this game he wanted to see that resistance boosted to an “elite” level, and it was.

The Wildcats shot just 26 percent, 13 percent from the arc. At times, they drove to the basket and heaved the ball up with hesitancy and desperation — g’day, Mr. Gobert — and could not solve the Jazz’s blocking and blanketing.

Because nobody really cared about the numerical outcome, almost everyone was in the pool. Distribution of minutes, a point of interest considering the Jazz’s depth at various positions, was absolutely skewed here. Guys you’d never heard of got time.

At the guard/wing spots, where the rotation is most crowded, Mitchell was on the court for 21 minutes, Rubio 15, Exum 20, Royce O’Neale 15, Burks 21, and Allen 24. Ingles was hurt and did not play.

At what was formerly known as the power forward position, Favors, who also spelled Gobert at center, as did Ekpe Udoh, started, and was backed by Jae Crowder — 23 minutes, 13 points — and Thabo Sefolosha, who will be a Swiss — yeah, pathetic humor, I know — army knife, playing multiple limited roles.

Snyder mentioned making subtle changes in strategy at both ends. Expect the Jazz to shoot more 3-pointers — even without Ingles, they attempted 38 of them on Saturday night — and to utilize various fresh player combinations.

“That’s been a point of emphasis,” Snyder said. “We want our guys to take those shots.”

Otherwise, the Jazz, even in their pre-seasonal embryonic stage, are still the Jazz, athletically, attitudinally, aesthetically. And they are better than the Perth Wildcats.

But everybody already knew that.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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