Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 129-99 win over the Adelaide 36ers from The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell steps up, second unit responds to lead Jazz to win
It didn’t exactly start out well for the Jazz, who actually trailed by as many as eight points in the first quarter. The 36ers were playing an aggressive style of defense that involved pressing early in possessions, then aggressively helping once the Jazz got in half-court.
The Jazz did a good job of passing around the defense, though, and finding open 3-point shooters. Ten of the Jazz’s first 14 shots were from 3-point range, but they just weren’t making them very effectively. That’s fine, and you’d figure the Jazz will be able to knock down more in the future.
But what was really discouraging was the Jazz’s lack of defense: allowing 31 Adelaide points in the first quarter was a big disappointment. Without Rudy Gobert — who missed the game due to rest — the Jazz’s security blanket was gone, and blow-bys on the perimeter turned into fouls (Derrick Favors had four less than seven minutes into the game) or layups inside. I think it was a worse than usual defensive performance for the perimeter defenders, but Gobert’s absence made the shortcomings very obvious.
The good news: Donovan Mitchell was a little bit offended by what was happening, and made a conscious effort to attack more in the second quarter. He did that very effectively, scoring 18 points in the first half before sitting out after halftime. He looked the most star-like we’ve seen Mitchell this preseason, beating opponents off the dribble and attacking the rim with creative finishes.
But the biggest part of the Jazz’s margin of victory came from the second unit, who did their part to outscore Adelaide 35-13 in the fourth to run away with the contest. In general, they did a much better job of rotating and swarming to the ball, causing some bad Adelaide shots (they only shot 2 for 20 in the period).
Quin Snyder wasn’t exactly pleased after the game, and the talk in the locker room after the game was about how the early defensive effort meant that practice was guaranteed tomorrow.
2. An opening at small-ball four?
Without Gobert in, the Jazz started the game with the small-ball look that was very successful for them last season: Ricky Rubio, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Favors started the game. Sans Gobert, it lacked defensive bite.
But I thought Jae Crowder hurt himself with some poor decisions and shotmaking Friday night. Crowder went 0 for 7 overall, including 0 for 5 from three, and added two turnovers. It was a little bit of a good-news, bad-news situation: the good news is that Crowder was taking threes, instead of having a small penchant for long twos as he did during stretches of last season. The bad news was that those threes were taken early in the shot clock, and some of them were not especially good looks with the potential the Jazz had to do better later on in the possession.
So Thabo Sefolosha got a chance midway through the first, but unfortunately, he did a poor job of keeping his man in front of him on the defensive end of the floor. I don’t know if it was him still getting back to 100 percent after his knee injury, the effects of age, or preseason-induced lack of effort, but Sefolosha simply has to be better in defending his man than he was early on tonight.
Then Georges Niang got his chance early in the second quarter. I thought that Niang played the best of the three, and he did finish with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. But while Sefolosha was letting people go past him defensively, Niang was competing but sending his matchup to the free-throw line: he ended up fouling out after only playing 15 minutes.
When Gobert plays, there will be significantly fewer minutes at the four: Favors will take up nearly half of them. You don’t want to overreact to a preseason game against an international opponent, but I now believe there’s more of a chance for Niang to sneak in that rotation than I anticipated at the beginning of camp. There’s also the option of playing even smaller, sending Ingles to the four, and playing Dante Exum or Royce O’Neale at the three as a small-ball look.
3. A unique style of free-throw shooting
If you’re new to the Triple Team, here’s a heads up: occasionally in this third point, I highlight some of the wackier elements of NBA basketball. There’s no better time to do that in a preseason blowout win, either.
My favorite part of Friday night’s game was an unorthodox style of play from one of Adelaide’s benchwarmers, Adris De Leon. De Leon, a 34-year-old Dominican who was born in the Bronx and who went to college at Eastern Washington, has traveled the world in his 10-year pro career. This, though, is the first time I’ve heard of him: he’s definitely off of the NBA radar.
In particular: he shoots his free throws goofily. He intentionally tries to bank them off the backboard! This game wasn’t televised locally, so I don’t have video of his three attempts tonight, but check this out from a De Leon highlight reel on YouTube:
I haven’t seen anyone intentionally do this in pro basketball. I’ve seen NBA players take shots underhanded, or one-handed, or shooting from a foot behind the line. I haven’t seen this.
Where I have seen this strategy used: pop-a-shot! With a small, soft and under-inflated basketball, this always felt like the best chance of getting shots in consistently. Just chuck it at the backboard, pick up the next ball, and repeat for maximum success.
Stats for De Leon’s career are a little bit spotty, but it looks like a pretty successful strategy for him in pro ball too: he’s a 77.4 percent career free-throw shooter in the stats we have. I’m inspired.