NBA Handicapping: Utah Jazz a Hot Bet
by Trevor Whenham - 3/2/2015
The Utah Jazz are playing very well right now. I know, it's hard to believe - I almost didn't believe it, and I'm the one writing it. But it's true. They have won six of their last eight games, and are 17-16 since Dec. 17. That's hardly an incredible record, but for a team that was 6-19 up to that point it's practically impossible. It's hard to believe that a team that has seemed so directionless and, frankly, clueless, for too long has outperformed their incompetence, but that seems to be the case.
So, how are they doing it? And, more importantly, can they keep doing it? Here are six factors to consider when pondering that question:
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Quin Snyder: I'll admit that I was very skeptical when Snyder was hired. I remembered him for his college coaching career - talent outweighed by volatility. He still looks like he is going to have a stroke at any minute during the game because he is so intense and aggressive, and he is still one of the angriest men in all of basketball, but his time bouncing around since he was at Missouri has humbled him somewhat. He's smart, he's fearlessly creative, and he has this young and raw team playing way tougher and better than they have any right to be doing. He's a real asset here - and that's as much of a surprise as their recent success has been.
Gordon Hayward: Hayward still looks like he is only 12 years old, but he is playing like he is all man these days. In his fifth year in the league he is posting a career best in points - by a significant margin - and he's shooting well, rebounding solidly, and generally leading this team. February was his best month of the season, too, so his game is coming along at a time when it could be fading because of the wear and tear of the season and the burden of always losing. He's still not the most consistent player in the league - he struggles to string together more than three really good games in a row - but he is a better player now than he was at this time last year, and he's not done yet. He's a good leader at the core of this team, and he obviously works well with Snyder. He's a key to the success here.
Exum Starting: What Snyder has done at point guard is a clear example of what he is willing to do to make things happen. Trey Burke had started at the point for much of the season, but Snyder benched him in favor of Exum. On paper it wasn't a great move. Exum is offensively inept, while Burke is a scorer. For a team that is only 25th offensively in the league that doesn't seem like an ideal scenario. It has worked well, though. Exum is sound defensively, and as a starter he has felt more responsibility and has been more aggressive as a result. Burke, meanwhile, is not exactly a defensive force, but he is a creative scorer who is at his best when he can focus on producing and not so much on stopping. Coming off the bench, offense can be his focus. It has worked well - especially in the last five games. This likely isn't a long-term solution for this team, and Exum certainly needs to start finding his offensive touch, but for now this is a clear example of how Snyder is maximizing limited assets.
Lucky to be good: Not everything positive that happens is a result of planning. In October the Jazz picked up 27-year-old Australian rookie Joe Ingles after the Clippers waived him. He is just a role player, but he can play some serious minutes at a time and has provided a needed offensive spark in some games - especially with his deep shooting. It has been a pleasant and unexpected boost. He also was a teammate of Exum in Australia, so he has surely helped the star rookie get more comfortable, too.
Deadline move: Trading away Enes Kanter was risky, and it has made Oklahoma City better. It was an endorsement of second-year player Rudy Gobert, though, and so far he has really stepped up to the challenge. He's playing solid ball and is capable of keeping it up. A lack of big man depth is a concern that won't be addressed until the offseason, but there isn't going to be a dramatic drop off with Kanter gone.
ATS performance: Not surprisingly given their surprising play, the team has been kind to bettors - at 32-25-1ATS they are profitable on the season. They have been on a tear since their play turned a corner on Dec. 17. They are 20-12-1 ATS over that time and 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight games.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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