Spurs at Jazz Give and Go Preview
The Spurs are rolling right now. Winners of five in a row and owners of the highest winning percentage in the league, the Spurs rank high in just about every meaningful statistic out there. And they’re doing this all while playing a road-heavy schedule in the early season.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Spurs-Jazz. We did a 5-on-5 over at ESPN.com today, and one of the questions was about the Jazz’s playoff odds. Doing my due diligence, I looked up some of their numbers and had no idea they were sixth in offensive efficiency (according to NBA.com). How are they so good at scoring? On paper, this looks like a talented team, but not necessarily one with a ton of firepower.
Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops: They’re playing a lot more uptempo than they have the recent past. Mo Williams really pushes the ball and they’re getting a lot of points in transition. But yeah, the old myth is that the Jazz are plodding, can’t score, but play tough defense. All three are wrong these days.
AM: Right. Defensively, they’re near the middle of the pack, no?
SH: Or lower. I’ll have to check exactly. Were you surprised to see the Spurs at the top of Hollinger’s Playoff Odds?
AM: A little. But then again, Hollinger’s formulas usually favor really good offensive teams. That said, the Spurs defense is greatly improved over last season. So far.
SH: Last year in the playoffs, Al Jefferson famously said he didn’t see anyone beating the Spurs. He was wrong then; is he right this year?
AM: Too soon to tell. Even through two games of the Western Conference, no one saw anyone beating the Spurs. As nice as it is to see the Spurs getting recognition and playing well, I won’t believe they’re the favorites to win a title until David Stern hands Peter Holt the Larry O’Brien trophy. There are just far too many factors. Jefferson said that in the first round of the playoffs, and here we are talking only a quarter of the way through the regular season.
SH: Did the fine for resting players change anything for Pop? What are the chances he reprises last year’s game against the Jazz when he sent the big dogs home?
AM: I think it’s going to change how Pop does things somewhat. He won’t be as obvious about resting guys as he has been. You might not see three or four guys sit out the same game. One game Manu might rest and the next Tony and Tim sit out. Or you’ll see a lot more made up injuries. Perhaps everyone comes down with “flu-like symptoms” on Thursday night against the Blazers. Maybe they got bad room service and some players have “food poisoning.” There are ways around what happened, I think as long as Pop isn’t as transparent about it, he’ll get away with what he’s done.
SH: But do you think he’ll be willing to play those games? Or will he try to continue to tweak the league with things like “DNP – Old”?
AM: I think, and this is unfortunate, he’ll have to tone down the humorous ways he goes about resting guys.
SH: That’s a shame.
Obscure players like to have career nights against the Jazz. It’s like a tradition. Who among the Spurs non-stars do you see having crazy numbers tonight?
AM: Well, Danny Green and Gary Neal have had big games lately, so picking them is too easy. I’m going to go with Nando De Colo. His shot is coming around and his playmaking ability is some of the best in the league. He could be in line for a big night.
SH: Hmm, good call. How long is Kawhi Leonard out, by the way?
AM: Kawhi’s timetable is unknown. Originally the prognosis was 10-14 days, but that was almost a month ago. He’s not expected back on this current road trip, so it might be another week or so.
SH: Speaking of Nando de Colo, I enjoyed watching him play for France in the Olympics. How is he fitting in?
AM: Pretty well. Honestly, I thought he wasn’t going to be much of an NBA player. He’s slow-footed defensively and didn’t have much of a 3-point shot. Preseason was a blast because he got minutes and made some unexpected passes. But we thought that would be it. He’s slowly inserted himself into the lineup. Those passes he made are still there in the regular season and his shot has improved to the point where he can knock down some 3s, even if the release is a little slow. Defensively, he hasn’t been as much of a liability as I expected. The Miami game really seemed to do wonders for his confidence.
SH: That’s my favorite thing about Pop: He seems to love to find guys like that who have one or two NBA skills and he finds ways to maximize their potential. I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure Pop thinks he could roll out with the Belgium National Team and find a way to beat most NBA teams. He’s probably right, too.
AM: Probably. One of the best things the Spurs front office does is find guys with a skill that translates well to the NBA, guys who they think will fit the system, and they bring them in and put them in a position to succeed. From there, the Spurs coaching staff molds them to exactly how they want them to fit in the system. It’s a beautiful thing and why they keep finding guys like Danny Green and Gary Neal for cheap.
SH: It’s beautiful. Who is the biggest challenger to the Spurs in the West? OKC or the Clippers?
AM: I don’t know if one is a bigger threat than the other. They both give the Spurs problems in different ways. And both are athletic enough to cause problems for SA.
SH: So are you prepared to predict the Spurs will win the West?
AM: Not at all. I’m never prepared to make predictions, there are always too many things that can go wrong. We don’t know when Manu Ginobili will spontaneously combust, we don’t know if Tim Duncan’s knee is going to be this fresh come April. Who knows if Kawhi Leonard’s leg injury is going to be a lingering thing? There are too many ifs.
What about the Jazz? Where do they stack up?
SH: I think we’ve seen the potential of this Jazz team over the last two games (big blowout over the Raptors and a big road win in LA over the Lakers on Sunday). Both against poor teams, but I think it shows the Jazz are a legitimate Playoff team and can expect to be the 6th or 7th seed in the first round. They aren’t about to win the championship this year, but they’re doing some nice things and can win big games at home. I’m curious to see if they can learn to compete on the road.
AM: One thing I noticed when doing research for the 5-on-5 was the the Jazz were something like 28th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. How is a team with Utah’s personnel struggling to keep opponents off the glass so much?
SH: It’s very strange. I saw that same stat this morning. It’s been jarring to watch the historically ferocious Paul Millsap give up all kinds of rebounds he would have corralled in the past. Kanter, Favors, and Jefferson aren’t any better. There isn’t a good explanation other than effort, but it’s a glaring weakness so far. For a team that is built on having a million bigs, it’s unacceptable for the team to play so poorly on the defensive side.
AM: It’s especially strange because they’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league which, by the way, is one area they can take advantage of the Spurs.
SH: It’s very, very odd. No one can explain their lackadaisical effort on the defensive end.