Nestled away in the snowy, distant mountains of Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz are one of those NBA teams that rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation. Even when they were good, it seemed easy to forget about how solid Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were in tandem. Now? With a 12-24 record heading into Tuesday night’s game? It’ll be a while before ESPN comes knocking with a SportsCenter segment.
But squint your eyes, and you can see some puzzle pieces falling into place. The Oklahoma City Thunder definitely did, as the West’s best team fell, in Utah, 112-101.
Gordon Hayward led a balanced Utah squad with a career-high 37 points (Kevin Durant matched his season-high with 48 points, which is news kind of like saying “sure is cold out!” is news). Playing up to the smart, accurate reputation that he’s earning throughout the league, Hayward stuffed his stat sheet on 13-of-16 shooting; an .813 clip from the floor, which would be great for a free throw percentage, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block. And no, this wasn’t a fluke: Haywood’s producing a 16.5/5/5 slash line this season, to go along with a well above-average PER of 16.39 (league average is 15.0).
Derrick Favors dropped 15 points, and Trey Burke and Enes Kanter both added 10. The four represent a bright, interesting future for the Jazz, four-fifths of an impressive starting lineup. Kanter and Favors complement themselves with their respective brawn and finesse, and Burke definitely looks the part of an NBA starter, averaging 12 points and six assists over his last five games.
And at the old, liver-spotted age of 23 (soon to be 24!) Hayward serves as the group’s de facto old head.
Seriously, this team is so freaking young. Burke has to beg Kanter to buy him liquor, and the only reason Kanter does it is because, at 21, Kanter remembers a time when he had to beg Marvin Williams to do the same. Hayward hasn’t shaved in his life. And Favors drinks chocolate milk at every meal*.
So go ahead, Jazz. Surprise the league’s giants every once in a while in-between your six-and-seven game losing streaks. Call them growing pains, because there just so happens to be a hole in your starting rotation at small forward. And rumor has it this draft is full of great wing players.