Los Angeles Clippers (17-13) vs. Utah Jazz (12-15)
Vivint Smart Home Arena
6:00 p.m. PST
December 26, 2015
Fox Prime Ticket
1. True or False: Gordon Hayward is a Top 30 player in the NBA.
Andy Larsen, Salt City Hoops (@andyblarsen): It’s weird. Last year, he was 19th in the NBA in RPM and 19th in BRef’s Win Shares. This year, he’s gone down in both categories, but coach Quin Snyder says that this is his best season yet. I’m going to go with false, but barely, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it from Hayward later. He’s still definitely worth his max contract, though. (P.S.: Derrick Favors is definitely top 30 in the NBA).
Ben Mesirow (@SemNeb): Gordon Hayward is a very useful player, and his three point shooting has improved so far this year. He does just about everything pretty well, from creating to finishing, and he’s essential to this Utah team. Much like life in general, though, 30 comes at you fast, and I don’t think Hayward quite makes the cut yet.
Roscoe Whalan (@RoscoeWhalan7): False. Off the top of my head: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, James Harden… that’s just in the West. Look, he’s great and he’s probably Top 35 — but not Top 30.
2. Both these teams had high expectations before the season, which has had the more difficult reality so far in 2015-16?
Larsen: LAC. I think it’s fair to say that the Jazz players’ goal for the season was to make the playoffs, whereas clearly the Clippers have more than that in mind. A 46 win pace for the Clippers isn’t really good enough. The Jazz have also faced the toughest strength of schedule so far, according to BRef, much of it without Rudy Gobert.
Mesirow: The Clippers have had the greater discrepancy between preseason expectations and on-court reality. They were supposed to be title contenders, returning with a deeper, more established bench and one of few offenses capable of challenging the Warriors’ D. As we all know well by now, things haven’t worked out that way. The Jazz were supposed to be a tough playoff out, and though they have underperformed they are still in position to do just that – they’re in 8th place in the West even without Gobert, and they have already played close against the top of the conference.
Whalan: If you’re looking at standings, I guess the Clippers are probably a little below their expectations (and yet, remarkably, still 4th) whereas the Jazz are probably exactly where we expected them to be. Combine that with the fact that they’ve entered the season without Exum and are still playing it tough, even without Gobert and I’d say the Clippers are clearly the bigger underperformers.
3. Is the Josh Smith Era in L.A. over before it really began?
Larsen: It sure sort of seems that way now, doesn’t it? But I also feel like I’ve seen this film last season, and it ends with Josh Smith making a bunch of critical jump shots while simultaneously raising his middle finger to the concept of probability. I’m not writing anything off with Smith.
Mesirow: I don’t think the Josh Smith Era is dead just yet, but I do think it may go to sleep for a while. Cole Aldrich played well the other day and the bench as a whole has not, so some sort of change seems imminent. But this Clipper team needs playmaking and creativity on bench units, and when Smith is passing and cutting and protecting the rim he is a very useful player. I think he will be again, but the Clippers may look in other directions to try to figure some things out for now.
Whalan: I hope not. There’s no better value for money than J-Smoove, if you can harness his emotions. Now, that’s a big if, to which many former Smith employers would certainly attest. That said, Doc has tried a number of ways to inspire Josh so far this season. Perhaps a good ole fashioned benching can send a lightning rod through him.