The playoffs are out of grasp, but the role of spoiler is well within the Jazz's reach.
Sometimes talent can stand in the way of a greater good.
The Pistons proved that theory earlier this year when they released Josh Smith and immediately rattled off seven straight wins. Although Detroit has since cooled down and struggled mightily as of late, it still boasts a respectable 0.8 net rating post-Smith compared to the the -7.5 mark it owned before.
A more recent example of this trend can be found in Utah, where the Jazz have won five straight and 10 of 12 since trading Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City. While the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft is now thriving (15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds) with the Thunder, he may have been stunting the Jazz’s growth, particularly on the defensive end. Since dealing Kanter at the trade deadline, the Jazz lead the NBA in defensive efficiency (90.8) and trail only Cleveland and Indiana in net rating (10.5). In comparison, Utah's net rating with Kanter was -2.7.
Kanter’s departure has also cleared up Utah's frontcourt logjam and triggered the meteoric ascension of Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower (or French Rejection, depending on your preference) is averaging 10.5 points, 14.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks since the trade and is flourishing alongside Derrick Favors.
While Utah, which has won 12 of its last 15, climbs again in this week’s rankings, the playoffs are still out of grasp. Instead, the Jazz are setup to play the role of spoiler the rest of the season. Utah is quickly becoming a dreaded opponent, allowing just one of its last 15 matchups to top the century mark. The Jazz are far from an easy out and anything but smooth and pleasant. The departure of Kanter has led to a defensive renaissance in Utah and proven that sometimes addition really can come by subtraction.
Here’s where all 30 teams stand in this week’s NBA Power Rankings:
(All stats and records through March 15)