San Antonio Spurs vs Utah Jazz

The newly reformed Utah Jazz hope their mid-season acquisition of G-F Kyle Korver inspires a win-streak beginning with the struggling San Antonio Spurs and their star duo of G-F Demar Derozan and F LaMarcus Aldridge in Salt Lake City, Utah at 9:00 PM EST. Catch it live nationally on NBA TV, locally on Fox Sports Southwest – San Antonio and AT&T Sportsnet – Rocky Mountain, and via radio on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.

The Spurs Don’t Fit Today’s NBA

 The San Antonio Spurs have fallen to an 11-12 record and are currently tied for 12th in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves. To make matter worse, Houston and Minnesota blew out the Spurs in two of their last three matches. Yes the Spurs did defeat the 13-10 Portland Trailblazers, but it was their incredible shooting performance—60% from the field and 70% from three—that did the trick as they still allowed the Blazers to convert on 50% from the field and 41% from three.

 Teams are running, shooting threes, and swinging the ball more than ever. Once the linchpin of post-dominated play, Popovich adjusted to the era as the run-n-gun Phoenix Suns dazzled the league. In recent years he did the same, as Popovich implemented skilled big men like Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner into lineups to maintain offensive efficiency. But this year, rather than x’s and o’s, it just seems the Spurs don’t have the talent.

 Led by G-F Demar Derozan and F LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs maintain two absolute stars that are incredibly ball-dominant players. Aldridge is not playing well, his field-goal percentage is the worst of his career (44%) and he’s yet to make a three. Even worse, at 33 Aldridge looks to be having a hard time keeping up with the leagues new pace. On the other hand, Derozan is having the most impressive season of his career. Unfortunately Derozan’s old-school game has done wonders for his numbers while taking away from the Spurs offensive efficiency as a whole.

Utah is Shaking Things Up

 Utah squandered a late lead against the Miami Heat, losing the match by two points. Before that, in Kyle Korver’s Utah (re)debut, they soundly defeated the Hornets while shooting 45% from three. Adjustments had to be made as the Jazz sputtered out of the gate after an impressive 17-18 Playoff run and there are signs of life again in Utah.

 By adding Korver to the lineup the Jazz’s spacing already looks much better. The ball is swinging again and Korver rewarded the Jazz’s investment by going 4-6 from three for 14 points in a win against the Hornets. Against Miami Derrick Favors was moved to the bench in favour of utility-knife F Jae Crowder.

 The spacing was off for the Jazz all season long and the current rules of the NBA truly discourage the gritty defensive play they made their name on last season. Having Gobert as the sole big allows for a single rim runner while providing options all around the court for scoring. It’s a bold play 20+ games into the season, but if they didn’t do it now the criticism would be immense should they be on the outside of the playoff window at All-Star Break.

How Far Can These Spurs Go?

 It’s difficult to imagine these San Antonio Spurs making the playoffs at this point in the season. They’re not strong defensively and their offensive options are limited if their two stars Demar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are having poor shooting nights. Their next most dangerous offensive weapons would be G Patty Mills or G Marco Belinelli, the latter being held out of the last match due to neck stiffness.

 Meanwhile on the bench C Jakob Poeltl is yet to impress and none of F Dante Cunningham, G Derrick White, or F Davis Bertans really inspire oncoming impact when they step on the court. There are positives though; F Rudy Gay has made strides to be more complimentary to G Demar Derozan, which is in stark contrast to their previous on-court relationship when they were members of the Toronto Raptors.

 At 11-12 in the Western Conference it’s a long shot to say the Spurs will make the playoffs. Unless they can move Pau Gasol’s loaded contract for a valuable contributor, which is a stretch in itself, the Spurs seem primed for the NBA Draft Lottery come seasons end.

Is time up for the Jazz’s Derrick Favors?

 Derrick Favors is a big man whose place in the NBA has been contentious over the past couple of seasons. At 6’10 Favours prime ability is that he is a strong rebounder and a capable screener for crafty guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell. Were this 2010 he would likely be the darling of NBA message boards. Unfortunately it’s near the end of 2018 and the smaller F Jae Crowder, most recently in a match against the Miami Heat, replaced him in the starting five.

 Favors has just failed to make the correct adjustments. For comparison, C Jonas Valanciunas was a player in a similar situation. A tall, talented player, Valanciunas is a center whose primary skills belonged to a game gone by. However last season both players tried to reinvent themselves to varying degrees of success. After shooting no more than 26 threes prior to last season, Favors attempted 63 converting on only 14 all season (22%) while grabbing 7.2 RPG in 28 minutes. What were Valanciunas’ stats after shooting only four threes for his career before 2017? He shot 40% from three on 30-74 shooting, grabbed 8.6 RPG, all in six less minutes than Favors.

 Favors can’t switch on to smaller guards and struggles against the true giants of the NBA. He can’t shoot from three, but can rebound the ball. Disappointingly, with an NBA high of three-pointers being taken this year, he’s now being dragged out to the three-point line or fighting for long out-of-range rebounds. With Crowder being moved to the starting lineup it is surely a signal of things to come and Favors is running out of time fast.

What’s at stake?

 11-12 is a mark that is absolutely unbelievable to see when you think of a Spurs team that has made the playoffs for the last decade. Regardless, winning for the Spurs needs to be based around establishing a consistency offensively and especially defensively. Second-year guard Derrick White saw 32 minutes of action in the Spurs last match and it’s likely to continue. He impressed in the G-League last season and Popovich is sure to call on him to produce more after being called up to the senior team.

 The Jazz are coming off a 1-1 against the Hornets and the Heat, two talented Eastern Conference teams. There have been a lot of positive signs since Quin Snyder shuffled the lineup and they will be hoping it continues against the Spurs. The Spurs have no real threat to stop C Rudy Gobert from rolling to the rim, so expect a lot of screening action for the Jazz to open up Gobert for the option inside or to hit shooters.

Questions to answer:

Which young Spur will inspire the team?

Will Jae Crowder start at PF again?

Can Jakob Poeltl become more than an energy player?

Will the Jazz rely on Mitchell or Rubio to jumpstart their offence?

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