SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Johnson had an exciting debut for the Utah Jazz, exploding for 27 points in the second half of the season-opening loss at Portland.
Rudy Gobert has played well at times and appears to be on track for a nice season.
Rodney Hood and Dante Exum have had some good moments, too.
And Derrick Favors looked especially strong when he finally got a chance to play on Friday night after an annoying knee injury sidelined him for most of the preseason.
On the other hand, the Jazz still need more production from their bench and from guys like Boris Diaw, whose play has been hampered by a nagging leg contusion, Trey Lyles and Joe Ingles.
One Jazz player, however, has been steady throughout the preseason and three games into the regular season: George Hill.
While his teammates failed to find the hoop like the Clippers struggle to find A-list celebrities at their Staples Center games, Hill’s shot was on point against Chris Paul in Sunday’s 88-75 loss at L.A.
Hill hit 8 of 13 shots for a team-high 18 points with three assists. He's leading the Jazz in scoring (20.0 points per game) and is averaging 4.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds with just four turnovers in three games.
The 6-foot-3 Hill played well against Damian Lillard in the season opener with 19 points and six assists and was Utah’s best player in Friday’s win over the Lakers (23 points).
So far, Hill has provided exactly what the Jazz anticipated he would when they traded for him in hopes of upgrading the point guard position this offseason. In doing so, the 30-year-old has turned a major weakness into a strength for Utah.
Favors lauded his new teammate’s intensity over the weekend.
“I think we have been missing someone with that aggression the past few years,” Favors said. “He can get to the basket and make plays. He can hit his shots. He’s just playing great for us.”
That bodes well for the Jazz when they get a healthy Gordon Hayward in the upcoming weeks. Hayward has wanted to play with an upper-echelon point guard.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder appreciates the steadiness Hill provides, especially with another steady player like Hayward missing from the lineup.
“Yeah, he’s giving us really good play,” Snyder said. “It’s only our third game, but he’s done it consistently against some really good players. … He’s got to keep doing that. It’s good to have him. It’s good to have him doing it.”
Asked about the team’s leaders before Sunday’s loss at L.A., Snyder pointed out the contributions of both of those Indiana natives.
“I think there’s two guys who’ve kind of shared that (leadership) and led in different ways. One would be Gordon and the other would be George Hill,” Snyder said. “I think they’re playing off of one another a little bit, and that’s a good thing.”
With Hayward sidelined, Hill has taken on an even bigger role to his coach’s delight.
“I think Gordon’s invested so much this past year, but I think there’s just a natural inclination to say, ‘Hey this is my team.’ George knows that,” Snyder said. “But George knows Gordon needs help in doing that and especially by virtue of the fact that the position he’s playing and his ability to have the ball. It’s the quarterback thing.”
Hill faces another stiff challenge Tuesday night on the road when the Jazz face Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs, the team that drafted him 26th overall in 2008 out of IUPUI before eventually trading him to Indiana for Kawhi Leonard.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave the Jazz high marks for acquiring Hill, a nice mentor for 21-year-old Dante Exum, along with fellow veterans Johnson and Diaw this offseason.
“I think they had the best summer. Obviously Golden State got (Kevin) Durant, but you could make a case that they had as good of a summer in the NBA with Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw (and Hill)," Rivers said. “They were a young team last year, right? And they added three grizzled veterans, even (Shelvin) Mack (last season). They had a terrific summer. George Hill will help them in a lot of ways. He’s been in a lot of big games.”