The NBA deadline has come and gone. The Utah Jazz stood pat, doubling down on the roster as currently constituted, with the outside chance of adding a player via the buyout market. Aside from those possible additions, what the Jazz have now will be what the Jazz will put forth in the playoffs. The teams around them, however, caused quite a stir with several trades and additions over the past few days. Here, we’ll take a look at those trades and the impact they will have on both their new teams and on the Jazz. In several weeks, we’ll expand our view to look at entire teams and which possible playoff opponents the Jazz should hope for.
Trade: Received G Lou Williams from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Corey Brewer and 2017 first-round pick
The Rockets also cleared some salary cap space by trading K.J. McDaniels to the Brooklyn Nets and sending Tyler Ennis to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Marcelo Huertas, who was subsequently waived. The real shift, though, is bringing in former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams into an already explosive offense. Head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the trade that he expects the Rockets to AVERAGE 50 3-point attempts per game through the remainder of the season. Before this season, no team had ever taken 50 threes in one game. That sheer volume is ridiculous in and of itself, but is lethally dangerous on any given night. It seems elementary, but three points is a heck of a lot more than two. If the Rockets are shooting at the volume and convert at anywhere near 50 percent, they already are putting 75 points on the board.
For the Jazz, that means two things, and neither are a welcome notion. First, if the Rockets find a shooting groove over the last 25 games or so, not only does it completely remove the possibility of the Jazz snatching the 3-seed, but it brings into play the Spurs being slotted into the 3-seed. Currently, the Rockets are 3.5 games back of the Spurs. The Rockets face a grueling end-of-season schedule, playing 16 of their last 23 games against teams currently in playoff position, but the possibility is there. Secondly, the Rockets’ vast amount of threes means Houston could easily shoot themselves through a sweep of the Jazz in the playoffs. The strength of the Jazz defense is down low with Rudy Gobert. The perimeter? Not so much. The Jazz only rank 11th in the league in opponent 3-point field goal percentage. While that is respectable, it’s far from elite. The Rockets are only 11th in the league at converting threes, but they do have the ability to rain fire from time to time. If that comes in the playoffs against the Jazz, there’s not a whole lot Utah can do. They certainly lack the offensive firepower to keep pace over a seven-game series, and such a series would negate much of Gobert’s impact on the game, as well.
Lou Williams’ arrival in Houston doesn’t change the Rockets, so much as it raises them to the umpteenth degree. Houston already had the ability to beat anyone on any given night given a hot shooting streak, but Williams gives them the ability to do so more often and more consistently. That’s scary not only for the Jazz, but for every other team in the NBA.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Trades: Received Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow, and a 2018 second-round pick
There are two sides of this deal. The first is that the Thunder have one of the best frontcourts in the league, even with the New Orleans Pelicans now pairing DeMarcus Cousins with Anthony Davis. The Thunder can trot out Steven Adams, Taj Gibson, and Enes Kanter over the course of an entire game. The amount of bruises those three will cause over the remainder of the season will set records. The Thunder also added a capable outside shooter in McDermott. What Russell Westbrook has been doing this season is even more impressive once you realize the lack of overall floor spacing the rest of the roster provides him. McDermott/McBuckets will provide a nice alleviation of cramped spaces while on the court.
On the flipside, what happens when Westbrook is not on the court? The Thunder don’t like to play without Westbrook on the court, mainly because that makes them pretty bad at basketball. The Thunder offense relies heavily on Westbrook creating something out of nothing and their brutes down-low cleaning up on the glass. Without him, it crashes. However, Cameron Payne was useful in buying several minutes per game for Westbrook. Payne has his flaws, and they may ultimately prevent him from providing meaningful contributions in the NBA, but he was at least a ball-handler. With him gone, the Thunder don’t have a plethora of those at their disposal. Currently, their back-up point guard is a rookie second-round draft pick out of Xavier. Perhaps the Thunder find something in the buyout market, or they give someone like Mario Chalmers a chance at a roster spot. But for now, tumbleweeds are all that sit behind Westbrook.
That should be good news for the Jazz, one of the deepest teams in the league. Westbrook will certainly get his would the two teams meet in the playoffs, but the Jazz are well-built to handle the other punches the Thunder throw and then launch a few haymakers themselves. Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Boris Diaw are all capable of banging down low with the Thunders’ brute brothers. And while Westbrook sits, George Hill and Dante Exum should be able to take advantage. This matchup isn’t entirely likely in the playoffs, but the Jazz would be more than happy with it.
No other team made any trades that will significantly impact the Jazz this season, but here are several small-impact trades and the domino effect each could have on the Jazz.
Los Angeles Lakers
By giving up Lou Williams at the deadline, the Lakers officially boxed it up for the season. While the Lakers were never a difficult opponent this season, they’re even less so now. While the Jazz won’t play the Lakers this season, most other teams competing for playoff positioning in the Western Conference will be. The Lakers should be in full-on tank mode to save their first-round pick this year, which will fall to Philadelphia if the Lakers fail to capture a top-3 pick, meaning they’ll have plenty of incentive to throw a game or two against a quality opponent. Jazz fans are well aware of tank jobs sabotaging their playoff plans, and this year might be no different.
Think the Lakers but in reverse. While shipping out Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut sounds like large losses indicative of tanking, keep in mind both had fallen down in the rotation in favor of rookie Yogi Ferrell and 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks also added Nerlens Noel to the mix for practically nothing. The Mavericks are only 2.5 games behind Denver for the eighth seed, meaning they’ll be fighting for the last 20 games. The Jazz again will not face the Mavericks, but that may be a good thing. Dallas faces both the Grizzlies and Clippers twice between now and the end of the season. If Dallas finds something in Noel, then those games could become severe stumbling blocks – and welcome help in the Jazz’ fight for seeding.
Roy Hibbert sounds like a great addition, right? Wrong. Hibbert hasn’t logged a positive plus-minus for a season since 2013. I also have no idea how he plays next to either Nikola Jokic or Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is an interesting addition, given the Jazz sometimes struggle with playmaking big men. Plumlee is one of the league’s more underrated passing big men, but he isn’t anywhere near the level of Blake Griffin or Draymond Green. The Jazz have nothing to fear from Denver.
Sacramento Kings/New Orleans Pelicans
The Jazz will play twice against both the Pelicans and Kings over the next month and a half. The Kings will be exercising the Ewing Theory to its fullest, though I doubt the Jazz will be shaking in their boots at the thought of Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein wreaking havoc. The frontcourt tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis has a plethora of potential, but right now that is all there is. The Pelicans have yet to record a win in the Fire and Ice era, and their floor spacing is so cramped that Harry Houdini just volunteered to escape from it. The Jazz are built better than any team in the NBA to handle a dominant frontcourt. The Pelicans are no different.