Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 123-85 win over the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside against bad players
It’s funny what sticks with you over nearly a decade of covering the team. One of the biggest blowouts I’ve seen in Vivint was a preseason game in which the Jazz played the Perth Wildcats, and they ended up winning 130-72. It was extremely not close.
The Perth Wildcats were tiny, their center stood at just 6-foot-9. And so Rudy Gobert just dominated them, getting lobs and putback jams and sealing off centers even though he usually has problems with that, until the Jazz had a 15-0 lead to begin the game and in the end won by 58 points.
It is bad for the Portland Trail Blazers that I’m comparing them to the Perth Wildcats, but it’s not honestly that far off. They have two clear-cut NBA-caliber players: Josh Hart and Drew Eubanks. Even Eubanks was a G-League guy until pretty recently, but I think he did enough with the Spurs to show he’s an NBA-caliber player. Everyone else? Well, I have real questions about.
But with these kind of players, it is extremely funny to see how they react to Gobert in the paint. When that long arm of his di lui surprises them, they throw up all sorts of goofy prayer floaters and twisting layups that really have no chance. They simply have not prepared for this.
Then you double that length with Hassan Whiteside, and it really is 48 minutes of sheer helplessness for a team of this quality. Tonight, the Blazers became the first team in the NBA this season to score less than 50 points after three quarters, and it was absolutely reflective of the quality of their performance.
2. Keljin Blevins
I have a first-world problem: I so frequently want to have conversations with people about Portland’s Keljin Blevins, but so few people know about him. So I’m going to rectify that.
Okay, first of all, there’s that name. Keljin Blevins is an incredible name, one that looks like it might belong on a Super Nintendo baseball game roster, like these infamous selections:
But then there’s his story: Keljin Blevins is perhaps the least-qualified modern NBA player ever. He does have a 6-foot-4, 200-lb frame, so he looks like he belongs out there, but nowhere in his record is there any evidence that he can back it up. This Reddit post has the full details, but here are the highlights:
• Keljin Blevins was an unheralded high school player, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game as a junior in Arkansas. He found his way to Southern Miss thanks to athletic showings in AAU ball.
• Keljin Blevins then averaged 1.8 PPG in his freshman year and 5.8 PPG in his sophomore year at Southern Miss. He then transferred to Montana State, where he averaged 9.7 PPG and 12.8 PPG in his final two seasons – albeit on under 50% true shooting numbers. He had exactly zero NBA draft attention.
• Despite his pedestrian numbers at the college, Keljin Blevins is the first player from Montana State to ever make it to the NBA.
• Keljin Blevins then went to the G-League, where he averaged 4.3 PPG on the Northern Arizona Suns, shooting 40% from the field and 27% from deep. In doing so, he ranked 16th in points per game for the G-League Suns, who finished with a 8-34 record, worst in the league.
• Keljin Blevins then signed an NBA two-way deal. He’s actually played 35 NBA games over two seasons under that deal, averaging 1.6 points per game on 35% shooting from the field and 33% shooting from three.
So why is Keljin Blevins in the NBA at all, let alone playing minutes for the Blazers?
Keljin Blevins is Damian Lillard’s cousin.
This is not to totally diminish Keljin Blevins, who by all accounts is a high-energy guy who is great to have in practice and helps to set a tone on the bench and isn’t completely embarrassing to have out there. But, well, there are probably 2,000 better basketball players in the world – Keljin Blevins just had the hook-up.
3. LoveLoud Night
Wednesday’s game was also a nationally televised chance for the Jazz to hold their first real Pride Night ever – though this one was called LoveLoud Night in order to highlight the so-named charity.
Under the Millers, the team was always reluctant to do this. In 2019, the team held a “Utah Pride Night,” but it was essentially a ticket sales opportunity: they had folks come on the court, but before the game and anthem, and generally didn’t make much of a deal of it during the actual game when folks were there. Tonight, nearly every timeout had something LGBTQ-themed, the score and stats were in rainbow colors, Neon Trees’ Tyler Glenn did the anthem, and so on.
Remember, Larry Miller had banned Brokeback Mountain from showing in Megaplex theaters, and while he later said he regretted the decision, the team he and his family owned hadn’t really made steps to actually positively acknowledge or engage with the LGBTQ community. I don’t think, by 2020, that there was real hatred of gay folks in Jazz leadership, but you got the feeling that the team would really just prefer if they didn’t have to engage with it in either direction.
But that’s kind of exactly the point. It’s easy to think that equality and justice is happening here because of the strides that have been made, especially in recent years. And yet, stats about, for example, how 42% of the 35,000 Trevor Project youth surveyed had considered suicide show how far we have to go. Furthermore, we also know that actively supporting these youth actually reduces those rates of suicide attempts, by even perhaps as much as half.
The ignore-LGTBQ camp just misses such an opportunity to make a difference in this. But even cold neutrality is better than those in our state who actively contribute to the problem, such as, uh, the majority of Utah state legislators. That’s an easy shot to take, but it’s an accurate one.
The Jazz are making strides, real strides, in pushing our community towards acceptance, towards love, and, critically, towards avoiding suicide. I think that matters, and I congratulate those critical decision makers – honestly, Ryan Smith chief among them – for making this happen.