SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz appear to be falling apart.
They lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night 109-98, and it took a herculean effort by rookie Donovan Mitchell to keep the game that close. The team sits 10th in the Western Conference, with a record of 6-8.
Rudy Gobert is going to miss the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury sustained last week against the Miami Heat. Veteran Joe Johnson is still out, suffering from a wrist injury that has plagued his shooting since the season began.
Meanwhile, former top 5 pick Dante Exum has been ruled out for an indefinite amount of time, having suffered a dislocated shoulder during a preseason contest. And the players that are healthy are struggling to find consistency on the floor.
Newly acquired point guard Ricky Rubio has converted just 14 of his last 56 field goal attempts, good for 25 percent. Rubio, who is known as one of the worst shooters at his position in the league has a career average of just 37 percent.
It’s a miracle the Jazz have won any games during the stretch with Rubio shooting 12 percent below his career average over his last six games. He’s also made only one of his 23 attempts from beyond the 3-point line over the last six games — that equals out to 4 percent from deep. He’s also turning it over three times a game.
Essentially, he’s been unplayable.
Rodney Hood was previously thought to be the best option as the go-to scorer for the Jazz this season, but he is also struggling in his efficiency. Going into the game against Minnesota, Hood, who leads the team in scoring, was shooting just 38 percent from the floor, despite a solid 37 percent from the 3-point line.
After slumping recently through the first quarter of games, Hood has been replaced by Mitchell in the starting lineup over the last three contests.
Other than some early season wins over the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder, there may not be a worse case scenario for how the Jazz could have started the season. However, out of the early struggles, some clarity may be developing on how the Jazz should best approach the rest of the season.
Before the season started, general manager Dennis Lindsey indicated that he would take a wait-and-see approach to the season before ultimately deciding on the best course of action for the club. After losing Gordon Hayward and George Hill in the offseason, there simply wasn’t enough known about this team to determine whether they should attempt to compete for the playoffs or enter a rebuilding phase.
Now, with Gobert potentially sidelined until the beginning of 2018, the decision may have been taken out of Lindsey’s hands, and it may be for the best.
In September, the NBA’s Board of Governors decided to reform the draft lottery to prevent teams from purposefully losing games to increase their odds of earning a high pick in the draft.
Previously, the team with the worst record in the NBA had a 25 percent chance of winning the number one overall pick. Under the new rules, that number will drop to just 14 percent, which is the same odds for the second and third worst team in the league. The likelihood that the worst teams in the league earn the highest picks are dropping dramatically, as detailed in this article.
Luckily, for the suddenly hapless Jazz, these new anti-tanking rules won’t come into effect until 2019. Understanding that the ability to earn a top pick by losing games will become dramatically more difficult next season, the Jazz may choose to take one final swing at tanking games to get a high draft pick this year. Though losing seasons are difficult for any franchise, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jazz.
While the 2018 draft may not have the depth of talent that fans are seeing from the 2017 draft, it’s loaded with talent at the top. That doesn’t afford the Jazz the wiggle room to win as many games as they have in season's past, potentially putting more pressure on the team to purposely lose games. The Jazz can do this by trading away their more proven veterans like Derrick Favors and Rubio as they focus on the development on rookies Mitchell, Tony Bradley, and Royce O’Neal.
Tanking can be an exhausting process for fans, as watching a team win games is infinitely more fun than losing games. However, understanding that this may be the Jazz's last opportunity to earn a high draft pick through the tanking process, it may be worth the short term strife.
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