“Life moves pretty fast, Shareef…”
Putting the “tank” in “stank” with lousy perimeter shooting and lousier interior defense against the Bulls on Saturday, our Atlanta Hawks have licked their wounds and will try to return to the winning column tonight versus the Utah Jazz (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain in SLC), a team where many budding NBA careers have gone to grow stale. But, perhaps, not for much longer?
The steam you see rising out west is coming from California, where the O’Neal household is miffed about Shaquille’s son, Shareef, not making the cut for the heralded McDonald’s All-American High School Boys Team last week. “It hurt, a lot, actually,” Reef told ItsOvertime.com, “because that was a childhood dream for me.”
Various and sundry FOSses (Friends of Shaq) within the NBA universe reached out via the social media stratosphere to express their resentment of the folks beneath the Golden Arches, for snubbing the Arizona commit. Recent retiree Matt Barnes, unsurprisingly, was most vociferous in his e-displeasure, insisting he and his children will stage a boycott of McNuggets, a protest that ought to work out well for his kids in the long run. Do they still use pink foam for that stuff?
Shareef don’t like it. But he should understand that getting named to that select prep squad is not all it’s cracked up to be. If anything, it’s not a bellwether of future pro stardom. All-NBA talents from Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler to Paul George, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are still trying to figure out how their invitations got lost in the mail. And roll back the calendar just nine years ago. Sure, Boogie Cousins made the team, as did Lance Stephenson. But, hey, so did Bud-faves Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.
Neither is such an honor insurance of lasting fandom. If you ask nicely, Reef, I’ll bet you Derrick Favors will let you borrow his MVP trophy from the 2009 Mickie D’s All-American Game (the 2018 game will be right here at Philips Arena, on March 28). The former South Atlanta High and Georgia Tech phenom can assure you, as he has learned, that winning that award, and even becoming a #3-overall draft pick, doesn’t make you all that and a bag of fries.
Sure, Favors is still starting in the league, so he deserves a break today. But since getting picked third-overall by New Jersey in the summer of 2010, then dealt mere months later to Salt Lake City in the aftermath of the Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams nuke-fest, heightened expectations by Jazzfans of Favors (12.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) someday blossoming into superstardom have given way to merely being satisfied if he can be anything more than a role player from one night to the next.
The player Utah drafted in 2009 that eventually did turn into something like a phenomenon, Gordon Hayward, departed for Boston last season, turning the heat lamp more squarely in Favors’ direction. On the floor, he’s aided by Ricky Rubio (team-high 4.8 APG), the once-hyped point guard whose jury is no longer just out, they’ve rendered their verdict and gone home to spend time with their families.
Unable to stretch his range or move the rock like many of his positional peers, Favors is finding himself subbed at turns by former Hawks star Joe Johnson (41.6 FG%, lowest since 2002-03), by Jonas Jerebko (team-high 43.4 3FG%), and by Joe Ingles (42.7 3FG%, 4.3 APG), each of whom exceed Favors by several years of global hoops mileage. That’s to say nothing of Thabo Sefolosha, who was getting minutes as a small-ball four before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury.
Since Favors’ arrival, lottery picks and draft-day acquisitions by the Jazz haven’t fared much better. Enes Kanter is despised in SLC more than anywhere on Earth, and that’s saying something. Former All-Rookie 1st-Teamer Trey Burke is just happy to be getting minutes somewhere. Armed with a ten-million dollar salary from the Jazz, Alec Burks is getting yo-yo’d in and out of the G-League. Dante Exum (shoulder) can’t seem to get back on the NBA hardwood, while Trey Lyles waited until he was dealt to rival Denver to start showing out.
A decade full of dampened dreams are gnawing on Jazzfans’ patience, even though Player Whisperer and head coach Quin Snyder runs the show. One season after being treated to 51 wins (with Hayward) and a Conference Semifinals appearance, fans have grown unnerved as Utah (19-27) subsides. Their frustrations with promising players failing to emerge recently boiled over in a way that could some day harm the team’s chances of keeping their most exciting rookie guard since the days of Dr. Dunkenstein.
Like the legendary Darrell Griffith, Donovan Mitchell (team-high 19.3 PPG) leapt and bounded his way out of Louisville, eager to prove wrong prognosticators that urged passing on the high-flying shooting guard due to his 6-foot-3 height. While Mitchell was getting acclimated to the pro game, and while center Rudy Gobert (minutes-monitored after a recent return from knee soreness) struggled through injuries, fourth-year guard Rodney Hood (career-high 16.7 PPG; career-low 43.7 2FG%) took the mantle and carried the scoring load for the Jazz at the outset of the season.
But Hood’s hot start was unsustainable, and when his jumper tailed off (30.0 3FG% this month), his skeptical home fans serenaded him last week with audible boos. That didn’t sit well with Mitchell, the reigning Rookie of the Month (and, it should be noted, a 2015 McDonald’s “snub”, unlike our old friend Diamond Stone) who replaced Hood in Snyder’s starting lineup back in November. “Can’t believe people were booing Rodney tonight,” the rookie tweeted last Monday, following a 15-point loss to Indiana. “…for people to boo him is insane.”
Further defending Hood (out tonight, due to a sore knee) Mitchell added in all-caps, “WE ARE BETTER THAN THAT!”, his inclusive “WE” referring to those apparently transplanted Eagles fans in the arena stands. Once his rookie deal expires and extensions run out, might Mitchell “Take Note” as to how Utah’s fans sour on young players, like him, once they have seemingly regressed or leveled off? (Former Jazz draft-and-tradee Taurean Prince, consider yourself a lucky man.)
That subset of Jazzmen includes Favors, still just 26 years of age, who has gone out of his way to re-emphasize his personal joy of playing in the Beehive State over the years. The once-grateful sentiments from the fanbase have worn thin for Favors, in the aftermath of Paul Millsap and Hayward leaving. No longer waiting for him to step up, fans are urging Dennis Lindsey and the Utah brass to help Favors step out, before February 8’s trade deadline arrives.
While Mitchell adds dashes of excitement, Utah as a team has been slow at the start of the first (minus-10.2 1st quarter Net Rating, 28th in NBA) and second halves (minus-8.3 3rd quarter Net Rating, 26th in NBA), but eventually strives to gain traction (2nd in Net Rating in 2nd quarters; 6th in the 4th quarters). Those rankings are low even with Saturday’s home win, where the Jazz outscored the Clippers 39-29 in the opening frame and held serve in the third along the way to a 125-113 victory.
To help slow opponents’ rolls, Utah will rely heavily on Gobert and Ekpe Udoh (1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks per-36, DNP-CD vs. LAC) to seal off the rim from drive-heavy players like Dennis Schröder (17.6 drives per game, 2nd in NBA), especially if they can afford to abandon their man while defending in the paint. They also depend a lot on the late-game guile of veterans like Ingles (4 steals vs. LAC), Jerebko and Joe, so as not to overload the trio of Mitchell, Gobert and Rubio in crunch time.
Schröder will have to weather the storm in the halfcourt by relying on a mid-range game that betrayed him at times versus Chicago. But he and the Hawks can get to the rim, unencumbered by their slower and injury-addled opponents, by initiating a fastbreak and transition offense. The Jazz (27th in pace) have been stout defensively in these categories, but not so much on the road, where their record (5-18) almost mirrors Atlanta’s NBA-low of 4-19.
Dennis has been effective in finding open teammates (20 assists, 1 TO in past two games), but the Hawks will find themselves behind the 8-ball repeatedly if they don’t hit those shots, especially versus strong defensive-rebounding teams like Chicago (81.1 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA) and Utah (79.2 D-Reb%, tied-6th in NBA). Favors has been out of rotations at the ends of Jazz games, but he can be integral to another good start by keeping his fellow ’09 All-American Plumlee off the glass from the start, freeing up Gobert to help with blocks on the defensive end.
Shareef already knows he is likely unable to fill his father’s sizable shoes, but he needs to chart his own unique course into, and through, the pros. To be in a position where he’ll be coveted by the likes of the Jazz and the Hawks in the future, he needs to stray as far away from anything associated with McDonald’s for a while. If he’s unconvinced, he could ask for tapes of Daddy Diesel playing in his thirties.
In closing… It’s Tank Karaoke Time! Kick it, Bud!
“Para drafta Mo Bamba, para drafta Mo Bamba,
Marvin Bagley, una Luka, Trae, Musa
Una Luka, Trae, Musa, para mi, para ti
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Porter, okay?
Porter, okay! O, DeAndre!”
“Tu no pick Marvin Williams
Tu no pick Marvin Williams, ‘kay, Travis-san?
‘kay Travis-san? Draft mi Ayton!”
“Mo, Mo, Bamba
Mo, Mo Bamba… Bam!”
Let’s Go Hawks!