Why Are The Jazz Staying Big In A Shrinking NBA?

Nov 30, 2020, 2:41 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm
Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert contest a shot from Nikola Jokic (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Im...
Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert contest a shot from Nikola Jokic (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Teams across the NBA continue to experiment with smaller, more versatile lineups in an attempt to capitalize on the league’s modern perimeter-oriented game. While most teams are going small, the Utah Jazz are doubling down on size.

Why are the Jazz zagging big while the rest of the NBA seems to be zigging small?

On Monday, Jazz vice president of basketball operations discussed the team’s decision to add size in the frontcourt during the offseason while eschewing modern trends.

Though the team’s biggest immediate financial splash came when re-signing guard Jordan Clarkson to a four-year $52 million contract, the two most notable outside additions to the roster were former Jazzman Derrick Favors, and first-round draft pick Udoka Azubuike.

Why Did The Jazz Go So Big?

First and foremost, Lindsey said the Jazz missed their two-big lineup. Gobert and Favors regularly started games together during their first stint in Utah, an element the team lost after sending Favors to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019.

The Jazz had the best in the NBA after a series of moves on December 23 that included bringing Clarkson to Utah, but Lindsey said the Jazz were still missing a key defensive element.

“It stood to reason [to] bring back our top eight guys that produced the number one offense since December 23,” Lindsey said. “And then add a defensive component that we need to go big-big.”

Though Favors doesn’t fit the modern zeitgeist of three-point shooting bigs, the Jazz believe the veteran can have a positive impact on the team’s offense.

“Derek doesn’t give us traditional spacing at the four, but he does give us vertical spacing at the five,” Lindsey said. “Again, coupled with that, it’s already been proven that he and Rudy can play together successfully.”

Why Add Azubuike?

With Gobert likely to play at least 30 minutes a night, and Favors deserving of the remaining backup minutes at center, why did the Jazz add Azubuike at a position that is already in a minutes pinch?

While some teams prefer to draft for need, Lindsey said the Jazz believed Udoka was the best player remaining on their board on draft night.

“I think our analytics ratings had him second overall,” Lindsey said of the team’s first-round pick. “Our scouting ratings had him inside the top 10. Their defensive rating at Kansas was the best in the NCAA. We just feel like he was a unique kid.”

Neither Gobert nor Azubuike belongs in the conversation as the most highly skilled big men in the NBA. Neither player provides any resemblance of shooting skills, nor are they high-level playmakers with the ball in their hands.

However, they both bring an elite level of efficiency Lindsey credited with the Jazz league-leading offensive production. Gobert was the NBA’s second-most efficient scorer this season, after leading the league two years ago.

Lindsy said the Jazz saw an opportunity to double down on that efficiency with Azubuike in the draft.

“He set the all-time NCAA record in field goal percentage,” Lindsey noted. “Three feet and in, 65 percent (field goal percentage) is good, 75 percent is excellent, 85 percent three feet and in is ridiculous.”

Azubuike left Kansas with a .746 field goal percentage on more than seven shot attempts per game.

What About the Other Bigs?

The Jazz enter the league in the unique position of carrying three traditional centers in Gobert, Favors, and Azubuike.

But the big man rotation doesn’t end there.

In addition to the aforementioned trio, the Jazz plan to carry six bigs into training camp when including Bojan Bogdanovic, Juwan Morgan, and Georges Niang.

For the Jazz, the top priority in this group was to get Bogdanovic fully healthy after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery in May.

“With the wrist surgery, it’s gone well,” Lindsey said of the Jazz second-leading scorer. “He’s progressed well. We’re now in one on zero workouts, so it’s one ball, one goal, one coach, one player,”

Individual workouts end on December 4, at which point the Jazz will further examine Bogdanovic’s availability.

“A week from now we will determine whether we want to have him take contact at the first available practice or if is he script only,” Lindsey said. “A lot of that really is Bojan’s feedback to [vice president of performance health Mike Elliott] about his level of confidence. But so far so good.”

As for the others, Lindsey mentioned Morgan’s success during the NBA’s restart in Orlando while singling out Niang’s shooting ability.

“George Niang had a really good shooting year as a shooting four,” Lindsey said. “Our fives currently are quite defined. But the thing that we’re really excited about, again the data is small, but Juwan Morgan was plus-eight with Rudy [when playing] at the four,”

The Jazz big lineup will make its debut on December 12 against the Phoenix Suns in the first of three preseason games. The NBA regular season begins on December 22.

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Why Are The Jazz Staying Big In A Shrinking NBA?