Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 132-93 win over the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz starters shut down, pass around bad Kings team
There was some worry this preseason about how the Jazz’s starters had performed. After all, against Toronto and Portland, the Jazz found themselves outscored when the starters were in the game.
Thursday night’s performance against the Kings alleviated those concerns. The Jazz had a strenuous practice before departing for Sacramento this week, one in which head coach Quin Snyder stressed the importance of coming out with energy against the Kings.
“We came out with a great mindset," Derrick Favors said. "We definitely wanted to come out and make a statement defensively.”
They did. The Jazz started the game by immediately going on a 47-12 run on the Kings, one that frankly embarrassed woeful Sacramento. The Kings got nearly zero good shots, missing a ton of shots around the basket thanks to Rudy Gobert’s presence. When he was in the game, the Jazz had a 66.7 defensive rating. That’s not just an eye-opening stat, it’s peel-your-eyelids-all-the-way-back stat.
On the offensive end, the Jazz took advantage of a very poor Kings defense. The Kings are a young team, sure, but that apparently meant that they necessarily had to bite on every pass fake, miss every second rotation, and frankly just not get back in transition defense. Honestly, it felt like the Kings bigs were completely unaware of the possibility that Gobert might roll to the rim, catch an alley-oop, and dunk it.
It does legitimately seem like the Jazz are more comfortable with that as a finishing option, though. “We’ve had an emphasis on high passes," Snyder said after the game. "I’d rather have it be high than low. It’s just the confidence to throw those passes, and it’s a good thing.” Tonight, the Jazz had 7 alley-oop dunks and 7 other kinds of dunks. That will do.
2. Kings vs. Jazz shot selection
Jazz radio play-by-play man David Locke shared an interesting factoid on his broadcast tonight: Snyder wants his Jazz team to aim for taking about 40 percent of their shots as threes, 40 percent of their shots at the rim, and 20 percent from everywhere else on the court.
For the night, it was about 35 percent from 3, 35 percent within 5 feet of the rim, and 30 percent other kinds of shots. That’s pretty close already!
But if we take the first half of the game (i.e., when the Jazz played something close to their normal rotation), the breakdown was 40 percent from 3, 42.5 percent within 5 feet of the rim, and 17.5 percent (only seven shots in total) from everywhere else. Snyder will definitely take that. Here’s the shot chart, for illustration’s sake:
Meanwhile, here’s the Kings shot chart:
See all of those mid-range Xs? Blech. Even worse, so many of them were early in the shot clock. Buddy Hield took a 17-footer seven seconds into a possession a minute after the game started. He can do better.
But at least he’s conceptually a good shooter. Two minutes later, Cauley-Stein took a 12-footer just five seconds into a possession. That missed too.
It’s just so much harder for teams to win when they play this way. Meanwhile, the Jazz are trying to make it easier on themselves, and it’s worked so far: they actually have led the NBA so far in preseason scoring, averaging 123.8 points per game and a 113.4 offensive rating.
3. Freedom of movement emphasis
The NBA has instructed its officials to try to ensure “freedom of movement” for their players this year. What that means, essentially, is that officials will be keeping a close eye on defenders' hands. Previously, players used to grab, hold, and twist as teams ran their offenses, but referees will be calling more of those as fouls.
Snyder was happy to hear about this. The Jazz run their offense with a lot of player movement, trying to open things up with a lot of cuts all around the court. Teams have found success by grabbing the Jazz to slow that movement, meaning that actions that should result with a player open don’t.
But despite what you might think, the primary beneficiary for the Jazz probably won’t be shooters running around screens like Joe Ingles and Grayson Allen, but the Jazz’s rolling big men tandem of Favors and Gobert.
Teams used a couple of different strategies to stop them. Some teams would grab Gobert/Favors as they set the screen, preventing them from exploding to the rim and messing up the pick and roll timing. This was also easy to get away with, because the traffic in that situation meant it was hard to see the hands on the big men. They also often chose to “chuck” the big man, which basically means having a player bump into the roller in the paint so that he can’t get all the way to the rim. That’s also illegal.
So if teams can’t stop Gobert and Favors from getting to the rim, the result is going to be a lot of easy dunks and layups. That is indeed what happened Thursday night — see point No. 1 above.
Now, some coaches believe that this will prove similar to some of the league’s other emphases in the past. In other words, it will last about six weeks, and then the referees will go back to calling the game the way they always have. Remember the league emphasis on flopping? Yeah, that didn’t last long.
But others believe this one will stick, like the league’s emphasis on stopping handchecking. That changed the game in significant ways, and boosted scoring around the league in the early 2000s.
Even if it is just a 6-week change, though, that figures to help the Jazz during their most difficult stretch of the season.