What: Phoenix Suns host Utah Jazz
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
TV: FoxSports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM, ArizonaSports
As the Suns cheese gets colder and colder, the Utah Jazz roll into town as a shining example of building from the bottom up with youth to eventually become a power in the Western Conference. While the Jazz (24-25) aren't quite at that 'power' level yet, the emergence of Rudy Gobert fast-tracks them in the right direction.
The Jazz have won 5 of their last 6 and 6 of 9 overall.
The Phoenix Suns enter tonight's contest having lost 21 of their last 23 games. Along the way their coaching staff has been reshuffled, now constituted by a trio of coaches in their first year on an NBA bench and a dapper but grizzled veteran (Bob Hill) nine years removed from his last NBA coaching job.
The inexperience of the coaching staff is exacerbated by the inexperience of the roster. The Suns start two players at guard - Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin - whose collective age on the planet (40) is barely more than their head coach (36), who happens to be the youngest head coach in the entire league.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Jazz initially struggled with their own youth movement, starting last season as one of the league's worst teams until watching Rudy Gobert blossom from lumbering big man to the Stifle Tower in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Before that, the Jazz were in the doldrums for a year and half and forced to show extreme patience with the all-youth movement.
The Jazz took Gobert with the 27th pick in the same draft the Suns took Alex Len 5th overall. Now Gobert (23, a year older than Len) is in the annual running for Defensive Player of the Year and a main catalyst toward respectability for the Jazz franchise.
A per-36-minute comparison for Len and Gobert doesn't really highlight the difference between the two players.
While Len takes (and misses) more shots, their scoring, rebounding, assists and steals are quite comparable. Gobert gets a lot more blocks, while Len is more versatile on offense.
But Gobert's chasmic difference from Len is his paint and rim protection.skills. With Gobert in the lineup, the Jazz are the league's best defense. They were #1 in the league the second half of last season after Gobert joined the starters, and have been #2 since Gobert returned from injury on January 7 this season. By contrast, their defense ranked 23rd this season during the four weeks Gobert missed.
The Jazz are young. Their top 6 players this season are all 25 or younger, with the oldest being Gordon Hayward and youngest being Trey Burke (23). Rudy Gobert (23), Rodney Hood (23), Derrick Favors (24) and Alec Burks (24) round out the top end of the rotation.
In the wings for the future are Dante Exum (20) who is out all season with injury, and Trey Lyles (20) whose Canadian roots got him a bid to the World Team roster for the Rising Stars Challenge next season.
This is what happens when you draft near the top AND hit on later, additional picks during your rebuild. Gobert and Rodney Hood were both taken outside the lottery with other teams' picks.
Still, the Jazz are under .500 due primarily to injuries. Gobert and Favors have both missed a third of the season so far, and Exum has been out all year.
Coach Quin Snyder has been impressive, keeping a young team focused and team-oriented despite the injury setbacks and lack of veteran influences.
They lean on their millennials to get them through the tough times.
And then there's the Suns. This season is so bad, their cheese is cold. Their pretzels are hard. Their seats are dirty. But hey, at least there's a lot of available parking spaces!
Booker twisted something on Thursday night just before halftime and played the second half but scored only a couple of points after intermission. There haven't been any injury reports since the game, so let's hope Booker stays in one piece during this ugly injury-filled season.
The Suns own youth movement started a few years later than the Jazz. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin (2013 draft), T.J. Warren (2014) and Devin Booker (2015) are all 22 and under, but Warren is already lost amid the injury bug for the season.
That's really all the rest of this season is about: playing Len, Goodwin and Booker as many minutes as they can handle.
Maybe they'll heat up the cheese.
The Suns' awful offense vs. the Jazz's Stifling defense is not a good recipe for success for the Suns.
The Suns have benefitted the last two games from veteran teams sleep-walking to a win, but the young Jazz are unlikely to fall victim to the same malaise.
I predict a 10-20 point loss.
All I hope is that the team plays hard, and makes a game of it. And that Alec Burks doesn't get another throw-down jam from outside the paint at the end of a blowout.