Jazz (11-7) at Kings (5-14)
Scoring: Kings 18th (97.9), Jazz eighth (99.9).
Shooting: Kings fourth (47.4 percent), Jazz second (48.4).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.4), Jazz 11th (96.3).
Shooting defense: Kings 29th (47.8 percent), Jazz tied for 18th (45.9).
Three-point defense: Kings 30th (43.8 percent), Jazz 28th (39.4).
The links: Jazz coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.
The almanac: On this date in 1978, Al Attles of the Warriors became the 10th coach to record 400 victories. On this date in 1986, the Washington Bullets beat the Celtics to end Boston's 38-game home winning streak, with an asterisk. The game was played at the Hartford Civic Center, but still counted as a Celtics home game.
The Kings are losing, a lot, and lately looking especially bad in the process, so the search for signs of life turns to Hawes. That would make sense anyway -- obvious skills, a passion for the game, basketball IQ far beyond most 20-year-olds, all of which were known long ago.
The new, very important progress report:
Five weeks into his second season, and his first healthy season, Hawes is defending at a rate that surprises even him. This is not to be confused with quickly turning into a stopper. But compared to the projections of someone with the chance to be a standout on offense and an easy mark on defense, compared to what looked a year ago like a long road ahead, his defensive improvements early in 2008-09 has become an unexpected bright spot.
This is huge for the Kings. It's huge because they can use any help on that side of the ball, as opposed to guys who, say, quit on a play in favor of turning their back to the ball to yap at a teammate. More than that, it's a meaningful development because a future with Hawes and Thompson inside originally appeared to be an invitation for trouble. They'd wow you with the ball, just before some opposing big cruised through the lane for an easy basket.
Not so anymore. Again, it's early, it's still a long way from saying the Kings won't get trampled inside once the Hawes-Thompson starting lineup takes effect, and it's Hawes turning good and not great. But it's very meaningful because that's where the pairing was always vulnerable.
Hawes as a respectable defender, just respectable, packaged with the offensive success that has always been easy to see coming, seals the position for 10 years. That's what an executive wants from a first-round selection. When the position is center, that's a good return for a No. 10 pick.
Blocks can sometimes be a misleading statistic. Some guys sell out on defense to get stat crazy, leaving their man to guard the rim and giving up more plays than they stop. Same with steals. Players who constantly gamble in the passing lane can pile up numbers and hurt their team. Baron Davis was tied for second in the league in steals last season. Not a good defender. And so on.
Reggie Theus, who was talking up Hawes' defensive improvements in camp, doesn't see that with his new starting power forward. There have been mistakes to be sure, but rarely because Hawes was going overboard after a block. That makes being sixth in the league in that category -- 1.95 per game -- a solid number.
It's more of an eye-opening number considering Hawes is not experienced, certainly not physical and not overly athletic (though hardly the plodder some fans wrongly believe). He is 20 and early in what would have been his junior year in college.
The others in the top 10 in blocks, by comparison:
- Dwight Howard, Magic: turning 23 on Monday, fifth season.
- Marcus Camby, Clippers: 34 years old, 13th season.
- Ronny Turiaf, Warriors: 24, fourth season.
- Andrew Bynum, Lakers: 21, fourth season.
- Kendrick Perkins, Celtics: 24, sixth season.
- Chris Kaman, Clippers: 26, sixth season.
- Emeka Okafor, Bobcats: 26, fifth season.
- Al Jefferson, Timberwolves: turning 24 on Jan. 4, fifth season.
- Danny Granger, Pacers: 25, fourth season.