New Orleans travels to Utah tonight to face the hapless Jazz and finish off the Pelicans' so-far disastrous road trip. Obviously, the Pelicans come in riding a rough two-game losing streak after being exposed in back-to-back games by the Suns and the Lakers on the road. The Jazz, meanwhile, have had a far worse start to the season - they're winless and last in the league in many major statistical categories.
Let's review how they stand as a team: last in winning percentage, last in offensive rating, 5th-worst in defensive rating, last in both effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage on offense, second worst in defensive rebounding percentage, and third worst in letting opposing teams get to the free throw line. Considering how terrible they are at defensive rebounding, they're astoundingly good at offensive rebounding, collecting over 30% of their (numerous) missed field goal attempts, good for third in the league.
The team is anchored on offense by Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter, the Jazz's outside-in offensive duo. Hayward will presumably be guarded by Eric Gordon for most of the night, who will be charged with keeping the Jazz's main scoring option in check. Hayward is a threat to pull up from pretty much anywhere on the court, but no so much to score - he's shooting just over 30% on threes so far this year and around 45% on all field goals. Jason Smith and whoever else Monty chooses (Withey?) will draw the assignment on Kanter, who is a fairly traditional back to the basket post player. Let's hope our foul-prone big men can keep their hands to themselves - Kanter has shot over 90% from the line so far this year. He's also developing a jump shot and really likes to shoot from the left baseline.
Defensively, the Jazz's best player is certainly Derrick Favors, a rangy and athletic power forward that will be tested by Anthony Davis. The entire Utah roster is abysmal at defensive rebounding save for Favors, so Davis and Smith should be looking to get some easy putbacks, especially if Davis can put a body on Favors down low when Evans and Holiday chuck shots.
The point guard position has been a big issue for Utah. The Jazz's first-round draft pick, Trey Burke, has had a tough start to his professional career. After being the object of my draft obsession, he proceeded to be absolutely atrocious in Summer League and preseason, making me look like a bit of a fool. And now he's out for several weeks after having his right index finger surgically repaired. His replacement, the veteran Jamaal Tinsley, was so abysmal that he was waived earlier today. John Lucas isn't much better, but he will be the featured point guard now.
With Tinsley's departure, the 1-3 spots are comically thin on Utah's roster - only five people can plausibly play at those positions in tonight's game. Richard Jefferson, who still exists, can play the 3, Brandon Rush can play the 3 and 2, Gordon Hayward will play the 2, Alec Burks can play the 2 and 1, and John Lucas can play the 1. That's not a whole lot of flexibility in the rotations for Tyrone Corbin, and it leaves them very exposed in the event of injury or foul trouble.
Playing the Jazz really couldn't come at a better time for New Orleans - reeling from two bad losses, the Pelicans get to play the league's worst team at the peak of their disarray. The key matchups to watch are whether Davis can consistently get to the basket against Favors, whether our collection of big men can hold Kanter in check, and whether Gordon can have enough gas on the offensive end to use a large number of possessions while still playing tight defense on Hayward.