Isaac Humphries certainly found out after the Jazz’s 108-83 win Monday night: Defending Rudy Gobert is no fun at all.
That’s been true of the French center for a while now, but perhaps more so this year than ever, judging by how Gobert was able to catch lobs in a 15-point performance against the Sydney Kings. Humphries got the brunt of it, getting dunked on with one or two hands, off inbound passes or flicks of the wrist.
Have teammates noticed a difference as well?
“Yeah,” quipped Joe Ingles. “He can catch.”
There has been both a concerted effort by the Jazz to make Gobert a more polished roller to the basket, as well as by Gobert to improve his ability to flush the passes thrown his way. Coach Quin Snyder said he believed Gobert’s “strength and balance” helped improve his catching last year, and it may help him become a better finisher this season.
“It’s really difficult to help when the ball’s thrown that high,” he said. “Rudy catches a couple of them you think are going out of bounds, and he finds a way to get them. We’re learning to use him as a roller, and he’s gotten better.”
While it’s true that the opponents soon will be taller and more athletic than the Sydney Kings, Snyder anticipates that Gobert’s alley-oops still will be a considerable threat against NBA competition. He’ll need to finish for a Jazz squad that still is figuring out how to distribute the scoring load.
“It’s pretty dynamic when he does do it,” Ingles said. “It gives us a great option. If they are worried about him, it gives us a lane to go down and finish. We need him to keep doing it.”
Exum asserting himself on offense
Dante Exum felt good about his first effort for a preseason game. He registered 11 points on 4 for 5 shooting in 20 minutes. Exum only scored 11 or more points in 10 games all of last season.
While some of that has to do with Exum’s health throughout the offseason, the 22-year-old said he’s also been more dialed in to his offensive game and finishing plays, particularly when he’s running the floor.
“Once I see an open lane with a guy backpedaling, there’s gonna be two things: I’m either gonna score or he’s gonna foul me,” Exum said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me: Once I see the open lane, just attack on either side of him.”
Not only did Exum score, but he created (three assists to no turnovers) and got to the line (2 for 4 on free throws). Snyder said he was pleased overall with his backup point guard and how he ran things Monday night.
Exum still is polishing his long-range game, although he did hit his only 3-point attempt Monday night. He also wants to become a better finisher through contact, which requires him occasionally to ignore his instincts to avoid physicality.
“I still think I need to fight through the contact a little bit more,” he said. “I’m still trying to avoid it a bit, rather than trying to go through to the basket. So I need to get over that hump and use my athleticism to get above the rim.”
Mitchell, Neto make injury report
A week without injuries — what a fine week it was. But on Tuesday afternoon, the Jazz reported for the first time since opening training camp that they’re feeling a few bites from the injury bug.
Donovan Mitchell missed Tuesday’s practice with right hamstring tightness. He’s doubtful for Utah’s Wednesday game against Maccabi Haifa after scoring 11 points and adding three assists in the preseason opener against the Sydney Kings.
Mitchell is battling for a rotation spot, and he was the first guard off the bench on Monday night.
Point guard Raul Neto is questionable for the game as well with left quad tightness.
NBA stat glitch has wide effect
If you tried to count up the stats Monday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena and came up short, no, it wasn’t a kink in the renovated arena system. It was league wide.
A Jazz spokesman told media Monday night that the entire NBA was dealing with a problem with a new stats system that meant even the teams were left without stat sheets. The biggest issue for the Jazz was keeping track of how much everyone was playing.
“The biggest thing is the minutes,” Snyder said. “Rudy’s minutes were too high for what we wanted. Everything else we hit about right.”
The NBA did post corrected stats on its website by early Tuesday morning. It is unclear whether the league anticipates any more issues during the preseason.
First film study of the year
After calling parts of the Jazz’s first game “awful” Monday night, Snyder toned down some of his rhetoric.
For him, the film told a slightly different story. Whereas Snyder thought his team had done very poorly on defensive boards the night before, he realized Tuesday morning that some longer rebounds were a bit out of Utah’s control.
But the main point of Utah’s first film review of one of their games Tuesday wasn’t to show Snyder where he was mistaken — the Jazz coach said he was glad to have the first film of the year to start correcting team errors. Film has a way of holding players accountable that coaches can’t otherwise get in practice.
“We got a lot of teaching done today,” he said. “A lot of ownership. When guys see themselves on film, it’s a meeting of the minds of what happens.”