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SALT LAKE CITY — Keeping perspective, it was only one performance against some of the worst opposition the league has to offer.
But it’s something to keep in mind going forward, as management contemplates the various possibilities that surely will be there.
On the surface, there’s no reason to get overly excited about the Jazz’s 32-point win over the Toronto Raptors last week. The Raptors, as usual, are one of the NBA’s worst teams, a mishmash assemblage of miscast talent.
Delving deeper into the box score, the way the Jazz won is significant. In one of the more artistic games of this season, the Jazz moved the basketball at a great level, making the extra pass to trade a good shot for a better shot. The result was manifest in the highest scoring output this season, save for the triple overtime win against Toronto last month.
And for the first time this season, Al Jefferson missed a game with an injury. Coincidence?
One of the better low-post scorers in the league, Jefferson is the team’s primary offensive weapon. Since the 2006-07 season, Jefferson has averaged at least 16 points a game.
But he has a black hole reputation, meaning the offense stops once the ball goes to him in the post. As Jefferson makes his move, his teammates have a tendency to watch and stop moving.
When the best scorer went out, the ball moved around the floor at rapid pace. The Raptors couldn’t recover fast enough.
“When guys know the ball is coming they can step in and shoot it with confidence,” Gordon Hayward said after the game. “When you see a couple of them go in the others start to go in.”
Are the Jazz better off without Jefferson? No.
However, it could be in their best interest to trade him. Depending on his trade value, the Jazz could be better over the next few years without Jefferson.
Three weeks away from turning 28, Jefferson is an established NBA player. This is both good and bad — meaning Jefferson is a solid professional but his talent level has flatlined. As they say: It is what it is.
At some point in the near future, the Jazz need to ease the logjam of big men and create more playing time for Derrick Favors. The budding star won’t improve seeing only 18 minutes on the court each game.
The same goes for Enes Kanter. The Jazz didn’t draft the Turk with the idea of being a backup center.
For what it was worth, Kanter had a great preseason. But once the records began to count, he couldn’t do much without getting less than 20 minutes a game.
In that Toronto game, making his only start so far, Kanter responded with 18 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes. Mostly unable to get his shot off in traffic last season, Kanter clearly made significant improvement this year.
Basically, it boils down to Jefferson or Paul Millsap. One of them has got to go.
The guess here is Jefferson will have to pack his bags. Millsap has a game that can blend in at whatever level necessary, whereas Jefferson needs the ball to succeed.
To his credit, Jefferson has become more unselfish over the last two seasons and has no problem passing to an open teammate. He took only 11 shots in Sunday’s impressive 117-110 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
“The guys in the last few games, you’ve seen, have done a great job of trying to make the right basketball play,” said coach Ty Corbin.
With or without a trade, the Jazz will need several players to contribute to the team’s success. The most important piece is Mo Williams, who faces the delicate balance of looking for his own shot while creating opportunities for his teammates.
In the Toronto game, in which eight Jazz players scored in double figures, Williams only took seven shots but had 10 assists to go along with 11 points. He followed it up with 22 points and nine assists in the win over the Lakers.
“It takes a while to get the chemistry,” Corbin said. “You can’t just put a group of guys together and think chemistry is going to happen the next day. It takes going through battles; it takes going through experiences. It takes learning lessons, and we’ve learned from the beginning of the year."