The Beat: Tony Jones On The Jazz


Tony Jones

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times about the Clippers. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Jazz from Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow Tony on Twitter at @Tjonessltrib, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: Just how good is Rudy Gobert? How valuable is he to the Jazz?

Tony Jones: He’s quite valuable. You know, the Jazz are a team that, if they miss one of their top four players for an extended player of time, it’s going to affect them greatly. So, if [Rodney] Hood goes out, or if Gobert goes out, or if [Derrick] Favors goes out, or if [Gordon] Hayward goes out, they’re going to be adversely affected by it. With that being said, I mean Gobert is, he’s very, very good, and he’s very valuable. He’s a great rim protector, but he’s really a great team defender. He’s a lot more than a rim protector. He’s a deterrent in the lane, he plays pick-and-roll coverages really well. He’s communicative in the back of the defense. So, he really does a lot. He’s just a lot more than somebody who blocks shots. I think that he’s very good. I actually think that he has a chance to be a generational-type defender, somebody like [Dikembe] Mutombo. So, he’s going to get better, and he’s going to continue to get better. He’s really young, but he’s certainly on his way.

Hoops Rumors: Did the Jazz know what they had in Gobert before the Kanter trade, or did they find out along with the rest of the league down the stretch last season?
Tony Jones: During the predraft workouts, they worked Gobert out, and Jerry Sloan just absolutely was blown away by him, blown away by his competitiveness. And that’s why they made the trade for him. Especially because they were able to buy the pick, basically, from the Denver Nuggets for a couple of million [dollars, plus the rights to Erick Green]. That being said, even though they really, really liked him, nobody knew what he was going to be. The rest of the NBA didn’t know, nobody who analyzed the draft. There was no projection that had him a Defensive Player of the Year-type player by year three. Nobody. And anybody who said they had that is probably not being truthful about it. The competitiveness that the Jazz really loved about him, he’s really taken that to the next level, and he’s turned out to be a real worker. So, he works on his game, he works on his craft, and he cares about the stuff, and he really likes basketball. That the big thing for a big like him. He really likes to play. So, he’s been a self-made player. You also have to give a lot of credit to Utah’s player development staff for what they’ve done to him. His improvement from year one to year two, I don’t think anybody could have projected that.
Hoops Rumors: Alec Burks and Rodney Hood look much improved this season. They’re both shooting guards, so can they co-exist on the floor?
Tony Jones: They have co-existed. With Dante Exum out, one of the things that Quin Snyder has done is played all three of his wing guys together, which is Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward. He’s played all those guys together, and they co-exist because they can all handle the ball and they all do different things. Hayward gives you a little bit of everything. Burks is really good at getting to the basket and playing pick-and-roll basketball, and Hood is a lot more cerebral than the first two. So, the short answer is yes, they can and they have been co-existing on the floor. And because Exum’s been out and that’s created the void at the point guard spot, that’s created room for Snyder to get all three of those guys minutes, because all three of those guys are starters in the NBA. It’s been good for Snyder to be able to get all those guys time and on the same floor.
Hoops Rumors: How well have the Jazz played during these stretches when they don’t have a point guard out there, and do you think they’re content to keep it this way rather than trade for an Exum replacement?
Tony Jones: The three-wing alignment plus Derrick Favors plus Rudy Gobert, statistically, has been by far their best five, and it’s not even close in terms of the net rating. All those guys are just long and athletic, and the one thing it allows Snyder to do is switch everything defensively, so that’s a big net gain for them. As long as the three wings can co-exist with each other, it’s going to allow the Jazz to tread water at the point guard spot waiting for Dante Exum to get back. The other thing that hasn’t really been talked about is how good Trey Burke has been this year. He’s been a guy that found his role. He’s not a starter at the NBA level, but he looks like he’s a guy that can be very effective as a backup who can come off the bench and just be a scorer for 20 or 25 minutes a night. I think that he’s having a career year in terms of his shooting splits, and he’s just looked really effective this year as opposed to his first two seasons. He’s looked more comfortable.
Hoops Rumors: With Favors already entrenched at power forward, where does Trey Lyles fit on this team for the long term?
Tony Jones: They ideally want him to be the stretch playmaking power forward that Snyder’s wanted in the offense. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Trevor Booker‘s ahead of him on the depth chart. Booker’s in his contract year, so it’ll be interesting to see if they bring Booker back next season. If they don’t, then Lyles becomes the third big man, and the thing about Lyles is, he can play a couple of positions. The Jazz have played him at power forward, and they’ve played him at center in small-ball alignments so far, but he needs some development. He needs some time. He needs time to adjust to the NBA game. I don’t think that he’s completely ready yet to be rotational, but he’s a guy that has an intriguing skill set, because he can face up, he can make plays, he can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, he can shoot the ball out to three. He can do a lot of things. He’s just got to get a lot stronger. The NBA is a man’s game, and you can see the strength disparity that he needs to make up, not only this year but in the offseason.
Hoops Rumors: The Jazz have three guys with non-guaranteed contracts: Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap and Jeff Withey. Which of them has made the best case to stick around?
Tony Jones: I think all of them have had their moments. I wouldn’t say of any of them have made the best case, per se, to stick around. Nobody’s really blown anybody away or anything like that, but they’ve all had their moments. Johnson is a shooter, and Snyder likes that. Millsap is a guy that will really get after you defensively for 10 minutes a night, and Snyder likes that. Withey is a guy who’s a rim protector. I don’t think you can ever have too many bigs at the NBA level. One thing is that they give the Jazz some flexibility, their contracts, and they’re all really good locker room guys. You can be in the locker room and not hear their voices for two weeks, because they’re just quiet guys, businesslike guys that go about what they do professionally. So, they’re good guys to have in the locker room if you need specialty guys on the floor, and they’re definitely good guys off the court and in the locker room.
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