SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz started a new winning streak with a 132-110 win over Charlotte and some guy named Gordon Hayward on Monday.
Here are the talking points KSL.com commenters had following Utah's weird-at-times win over the Hornets.
"(Mike) Conley started hot and Jazz didn't pull away until he was out of the game. (LaMelo) Ball was taunting him for his weak defense. He turned it over twice right after that. All star? Can he survive the next back2back?" — Crawl M.
Late in the second quarter, LaMelo Ball hit a reverse layup over the extended arms of Mike Conley. Ball, who is 5 inches taller than the Jazz point guard, then proceeded to gesture to the ground to say that Conley was simply too small to guard him. Taunting is fun. Rookies taunting veterans is even more fun. And that taunt had zero impact on how Conley played the rest of the game (he had 15 points and five assists in the win).
LaMelo Ball thinks Mike Conley is too small. pic.twitter.com/HGFZ7uqG7V— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) February 23, 2021
But let's talk about Conley's All-Star case. On Tuesday night, the reserves for the game will be announced. The Jazz boast a league-best 25-6 record — 3.5 games better than any other team — so there's obviously talk of multiple All-Stars. Rudy Gobert is a no-doubter. Donovan Mitchell is pretty close to a lock. Then there's Conley.
Traditional stats don't paint a strong case for Conley: He's averaging 16.4 points and 5.6 assists in 29 minutes — neither of which are career-highs. In fact, the only thing he is setting a career-high in is 3-point percentage (41% on a career-best 6.8 attempts). But Conley has been an advanced stats darling through the first 30-plus games. He's rated as the second-best player in the league by one of FiveThirtyEight's metrics, second only to Gobert in plus/minus, despite missing six games with a hamstring injury.
Those final two things, though, make it difficult to rate Conley's true impact. He's been connected with Gobert in lineups for much of the season, and the Jazz went 6-0 (with five double-digit wins, mind you) when Conley was out. Yet, there were times during those six contests where it was easy to think: The Jazz are really missing Mike Conley right now.
He's a smart, efficient player that doesn't turn the ball over, and he was the Jazz's most reliable player early in the season. If coaches want to reward the Jazz for their gaudy record, Conley could very well get his first bid — allowing him to shed the moniker of one of the best players ever to not be named an All-Star. But would they do that and leave off the likes of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, DeMar DeRozan, De'Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — to name only a few?
"I'd rather kind of ditch that label — that would mean that I achieved that goal of being an All-Star," Conley said. "So, I'm just looking forward to seeing what happens. But I'm really happy to be even mentioned in the conversation again and really doing it my way — not trying to score 40 points per game and not trying to take 20 shots. I'm doing it in a way that I know I can affect the game and be unselfish and be efficient, play defense and be the two-way player I've always been. To be looked as an All-Star is pretty cool."
That all said, Conley's best bet to make the game might come when the league announces an injury-replacement for Anthony Davis, who will likely be named as a reserve but will miss the game due to injury. Conley will be the sentimental favorite. He's well-liked, well-respected and probably should have made at least one All-Star game by now. He's been good enough this year to merit consideration, for sure, and the league could very well celebrate his career as a whole by granting him a spot.
"So happy that Gordon Hayward is not on this team." — keepsimple
In the fourth quarter, Gordon Hayward landed hard on his right wrist at the end of a drive to the rim and stayed on the floor in obvious pain. When he got up, the crowd was conflicted.
The close to 4,000 fans in attendance had been booing Hayward all night — it started strong and petered out as the game went on — but it clearly didn't feel right to boo after an injury. Should they clap? It was Hayward, after all. In the end, it was a smattering of a few boos and a couple of claps, along with a lot of uneasy silence.
Many Jazz fans likely will never forgive Hayward for how he left the team, but it hasn't been hard to forget him in a sense. The Jazz never entered a long rebuild like so many other teams have been forced into — Cleveland, New Orleans, Houston — and they are obviously doing extremely well without him this season.
It's easy to be happy, as keepsimple is, because the Jazz are a better team now than at any point when Hayward was playing in Utah. Fans have two All-Stars (and maybe more) who have embraced state like Hayward never did, and they can boast about the best record in the league. This is arguably the best Jazz team since the Finals runs in the late 90s. Hayward, meanwhile, is on a young team fighting for the playoffs in the East. For Jazz fans, it's easy to say they won.
So whenever he comes back, it feels like the boos are more out of a sense of duty than actual anger or malice. Jazz fans have a part to play, so they show their displeasure. But once the game is over, Hayward quickly falls to the back of the mind, if not out of it completely.
"It is time to give credit where it belongs, and that is the Jazz bench. Bench matched the starters scoring at 66 points for the game and they did it with 60 minutes less playing time" — Michelle J.
Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang combined to hit an NBA-record 19 3-pointers off the bench. Obviously, that's a bit of an anomaly, but Utah's bench shooting has been a key to the team's success this season. The Jazz are averaging 6.3 made threes per game off the bench this season — the best number in the league. More importantly, the bench lineups are more or less extending leads. That's a sigh of relief to anyone who paid attention to last season.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder doesn't use a hockey-type of rotation, usually having two starters in with bench players. Conley and Gobert are usually grouped together with Clarkson, Ingles and Niang — a lineup that has outscored opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions.
Utah's only other heavily relied on unit featuring two bench players — Derrick Favors, Bojan Bogdanovic, Clarkson, Royce O'Neale, and Mitchell — has outscored opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions.