Pleasant Surprises from Utah Jazz's Early Slate of Games

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Pleasant Surprises from Utah Jazz's Early Slate of Games
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In honor of the first win of the season for the Utah Jazz, let's talk about some of the good things the worst team in the league has done.

The record would suggest it's all bad, but three members of the "Core Four" of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks have actually been really good.

The problem has been the play of everyone not named Hayward, Favors or Kanter. Prior to Wednesday night's victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, everyone else on the team was shooting a combined 33.2 percent from the field. In the win, they shot 41.8 percent.

That in itself could be a pleasant surprise, but the specific surprises I'll point out have been happening all season.

 

Kanter's Offensive Rebounding

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We probably should have seen this one coming, as Kanter's 2012-13 offensive rebounding percentage of 14.5 was topped by only Roy Hibbert and Reggie Evans.

This season, that percentage is down a bit, but Kanter's still dominating the offensive boards. He's sixth in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game at 3.9. That's actually 0.2 rebounds more than he collects defensively per game.

And once Kanter grabs his or his teammates' missed shots, he knows what to do. When there's a ton of traffic, he kicks it out. But if the opportunity to score is there, Kanter takes advantage. He's averaging 4.8 second-chance points per game—good for fourth in the league.

 

Rudy Gobert's Effort

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Gobert was supposed to be raw, and he is. But this project might not take quite as long as some thought when the Jazz selected him with the No. 27 pick this past summer.

He already has one very important thing working for him: a motor that doesn't quit.

That's helped him dominate the glass. Among players who average at least 13 minutes a game, Gobert's rebounding percentage of 22.3 is good for third in the NBA. That puts him just behind Dwight Howard (22.5) and Jordan Hill (23) and ahead of notable rebounders Kevin Love and Andre Drummond.

It certainly helps that he's 7'2", but the ball isn't just bouncing straight to Gobert. If you watch him play, you'll see how hard he goes after it every time.

And he's pretty darn good at protecting the rim too. He's averaging 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.

Once Gobert learns how to control the fouls (7.3 per 36 minutes), he'll be a very valuable defensive player for the Jazz.

 

Hayward Taking the Next Step

Like Kanter's offensive rebounding, there was already some evidence of this one. But Hayward's progression is happening more quickly than I expected.

Against the Pelicans, Hayward put his full offensive arsenal on display, particularly in the second half: 

He converted threes, fadeaways and drives for himself, facilitated for others, and took control of the game down the stretch to ensure a victory for his team.

He finished with 27 points on 6-of-12 shooting (including 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range). He also dished out 10 assists and grabbed five rebounds. It was Hayward's first double-double consisting of points and assists.

This game against New Orleans was his best of the season, but he's been solid since opening night, averaging 20.3 points, six rebounds and five assists.

One of the biggest improvements in Hayward's game is his mid-range shooting. During the 2012-13 season, he shot 31.5 percent from the range of 10 to 16 feet. Check out his shooting chart for this season so far. The second ring is the range in which he struggled last season, and it's green because his percentage there is better than the league average:

NBA.com

Right now, the sample size is obviously pretty small. But his shot inside the three-point line looks a lot better, and Jazz fans have to be encouraged by the early numbers.

The same can be said for the team as a whole. There is a lot to be happy about. The record is a little hard on the eyes, but the most important players are showing great signs.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.

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