The back half of SI’s NBA Top 100 list is out and three Utah Jazz players — Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood — made the cut.
It’s September now and summer is slowly, but surely giving way to fall. For hoops fans, this means that training camps for the upcoming season will tip-off in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, though, we’ve reached that point in the NBA offseason where publications put out their rankings of the Top 50-100 players in the league.
Perhaps no list generates as much debate as the Sports Illustrated 100, which releases this week. Compiled by SI’s Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver, Nos. 100-51 hit the web on Monday.
Three Utah Jazz starters made the cut in this range, with Rudy Gobert yet to come. This undoubtedly speaks to the level of talent the Jazz still have, even after Gordon Hayward’s eastward exodus. That said, the Jazzmen in question aren’t exactly setting the world with their rankings.
Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood was the first to enter the countdown, coming in at No. 87. That’s actually down two spots from last year and, given his injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign, it’s a mark I can probably roll with.
Having said that, I’d wager that Hood will have a better opportunity than almost any other player on the list to improve his standing. With Hayward on the outs, Hood is undeniably the new sheriff in Jazzland, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Says Golliver —
Going forward, Hood figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure: Utah’s fourth-leading scorer last season should enjoy career-high levels of touches and shots, and he could easily wind up leading the team in scoring in 2017-18.
Provided he stays healthy, I tend to expect a breakout year for Hood. When he was healthy at the beginning of last season, he brought the fire for the Jazz. In 15 games during the month of November, he averaged 16.3 points on 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range, adding 4.5 rebounds and two assists per contest.
He was also more productive when Hayward wasn’t on the floor, which probably bodes well for his future in Utah.
The next Jazz player hitting the list was Derrick Favors, who came in at No. 67 after being picked around the Top 30 last year. That represents a mammoth drop in his reputation among some of basketball’s prognosticators.
As with Hood, the drop was probably to be expected. Perhaps no Jazz player was more ravaged by injuries last season than Favors.
Says Mahoney —
Layered, complicating leg injuries sapped Favors (9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG) of his mobility. The calculated shuffling that made Favors a versatile defender turned stiff. The vertical imposition that made him a bother around the basket never had the same lift. The problem for Favors wasn’t just his games missed (32) or limited minutes (23.7 per game); life as a big man is far more complicated when one leg can’t be fully trusted to launch or pivot, the toll of which cost Favors so much of what makes him effective.
Before his IT bands hampered him, Favors had put together about two years of 16-point, eight-rebound, 1.5-block basketball. It may be unfair to expect him to get back to that level but, if he can, it changes who the Jazz will be during the 2017-18 season.
One thing is certain — he’s probably working harder than ever before to make it happen. And if he can recover even 80-90 percent of what he lost, he can still be a key cog for the Jazz.
The next Jazzman on SI’s list was point-man Ricky Rubio, who just missed the Top 50 at No. 61. This one I have some problems with.
Although Rubio hasn’t exactly been any kind of shooting threat to this point in his NBA career, he’s shown himself to be uniquely talented — elite even — in other areas, on both sides of the ball.
Once again, Mahoney —
Rubio pulls off passes that are beyond most players, simultaneously continuing a possession’s progress and leading his teammates into scoring position. He is one of the best in the league in assisting for layups and dunks, making up for the fact that he doesn’t create (or convert) many of those looks for himself. The deficits in Rubio’s game blink in neon. Around them, a functional offense lives in a healthy grow.
His vision is no small thing. In a Jazz offense that will take an egalitarian approach to scoring sans Hayward, Rubio is going to make all of Utah’s key scorers just a little bit better. Perhaps no player will benefit as much as Gobert; he’s arguably the best roll-man in the league and Rubio is a plus player in pick-and-roll situations.
He may not provide the same threat to pop the J that George Hill did last season, but there’s reason to believe he could still improve his shooting. During the 2016-17 season, in the month of March, Rubio hit 47 percent of his shots from the field and 44 percent from distance.
He’s been equally good in EuroBasket play, making just under 49 percent of his shots overall and hitting on 12-of-25 3-point attempts thus far.
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If he can bottle even a little bit of that for the upcoming season, the Jazz could find themselves obliterating a lot of the middle-of-the-road expectations they’re being saddled with at the moment.
In any event, Hood, Favors and Rubio all have the chance to prove a lot of people wrong next season. And that bodes well for a Jazz squad in transition.