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HOUSTON — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 111-102 loss to the Houston Rockets from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Gordon Hayward struggling
After a great start to the season after coming back from his injury, when he shot 45 percent overall for 24 points per game, Gordon Hayward has really struggled in the last three contests, going 4-14 against Memphis, 3-15 against Chicago, and now 4-13 against Houston.
Salt City Hoops' Dan Clayton has a convincing theory:
Hayward finished that game with 1-3 shooting, though did get to the line a couple of times. So since that time, he's 8-31, or 25.8 percent on the floor.
Hayward told us after the game Thursday that the finger feels "about the same" as it did when he first came back against New York 13 days ago, so on one hand, perhaps the results should be as good as they were early. On the other hand, it's a little bit worrying that it hasn't made much progress.
I'll give Hayward this: at least he is contributing in other areas. He's averaged almost eight rebounds per game in that three game stretch, and he's stayed competitive defensively. But he's obviously the biggest part of the Jazz's offense, and when the player who takes the most shots misses this many, it's going to be difficult to have a good offense.
But if you're the Jazz, what do you do? Resting Hayward means that Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, and Shelvin Mack all play more minutes, and those players all have faults of their own. But they also need a healthy Hayward at some point this season.
Ultimately, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hayward play until Hill comes back. At least then they'll have one high-minute ball-handler in the game to give themselves a chance.
2. The state of Dante Exum
We're now 14 games into Dante Exum's return from his ACL tear, and I thought tonight was a really good illustration of both how much he's grown and how far he still has left to go.
First of all, he's a wildly more ambitious offensive player. He's shooting free throws more than three times as often as he did in his rookie season, he's also shot more than three times as often within three feet of the hoop. Obviously, those things are related.
The biggest thing that's allowed him to do drive more often is improved ballhandling. That was one of the only skills Exum could work on while he was out with the ACL tear, and he worked hours after practices and shootaround and before games with assistant coach Lamar Skeeter on that aspect of his game. That shows: he's turning over the ball about half as frequently as he did in his rookie year. It also shows on plays like this, where he drives, spins to the rim, and then finishes with his left hand.
Oh, Danté! Never don't do THIS.#UTAatHOUpic.twitter.com/p8POuxB9UW — Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 19, 2016
But he's still not really a threat from the outside or midrange. The Rockets chose to hide James Harden and his limited defense against Exum, which worked pretty well throughout. Harden stayed 10 to 15 feet off of Exum and played "center-field", so to speak, cramping much of the Jazz's spacing.
On the defensive end, there are aspects where he's one of the best defenders in the league. In particular, he's excellent at defending drives and pick and roll without fouling by moving his feet laterally, using his body to prevent penetration.
But he's still very young, and makes many rookie mistakes. For example, he gave Harden three free throws on a reach in foul late in the third quarter, and then fell prey to a couple of excellent dribbling sequences twice at the end of the game itself.
James Harden just did Dante Exum dirty! #Rockets 🚀 pic.twitter.com/jdLbhk22SC — History Of Sports (@BeforeFamePics) November 20, 2016
Overall, he owned the Jazz's lowest plus-minus tonight, finishing with a -19. That's been a trend all season long, actually, and while some of it is undoubtedly due to the deficit of talent around him at times, it's not clear that Exum is currently an on-court plus.
3. New hustle stats
The NBA are tracking some new stats this season: what they're calling hustle stats. Each team and player are being tracked in five new categories: screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn, and shots contested. You can find those season-long stats here.
Tonight, multiple players and coaches commented on how it seemed like the Rockets were getting the 50-50 balls that led to second chance opportunities. And guess what, they were right! The Rockets picked up four loose balls, while the Jazz just got one. Beyond that, the Rockets also drew a charge (the Jazz didn't), and picked up nine deflections against the Jazz's six total.
On the other hand, the Jazz contested more shots tonight, by a score of 72-60, and also picked up more screen assists tonight, nine total compared to six for the Rockets. Rudy Gobert got five of those screen assists, and his total number leads the league.