With Thursday night’s 132-93 annihilation of the Sacramento Kings, the Utah Jazz completed their preseason slate a perfect 5-0 and showed plenty of encouraging signs heading into next Wednesday’s regular-season opener.
Does it mean anything, though?
After all, two of those victories came against the Perth Wildcats and the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League. Another, of course, came against the Kings, who have been among the NBA’s worst for years and, by Thursday’s performance anyway, don’t appear anywhere close to turning that around.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder acknowledged before the Sacramento game that he was unlikely to put too much stock in the outcome.
“Teams are always a little different, particularly in the last preseason game, how they play, who they play. I don’t want to say teams don’t play to win, but there’s obviously a different agenda — when the season starts, they count,” he said. “We want to use the game — obviously, we want to try to win — but use the game to get better, to prepare for them the following week.”
As for the other two preseason games, yes, the Jazz prevailed against quality opponents in the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers. But those wins were primarily due to the superiority of Utah’s bench unit. When it was starters vs.starters, the Jazz had some legitimately serious struggles.
JAZZ AT KINGS
When • Wednesday, 8 p.m. MDT
TV • ATTSN
“Even though preseason’s pretty short, the competition is telling — we found out the other night with how we started the game,” Snyder said, referencing Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum being a combined plus-40 against Utah.
So, again — are there any big takeaways to be derived from a five-game stretch in which starters’ minutes were curtailed, lineups were mishmashed, and nobody was terribly keen to give away anything important?
Asked what was most important to accomplish in their final action before the regular season begins, forward Derrick Favors said the Jazz needed to tighten some things up.
“Make sure we’re sharp on everything, make sure our rotations are there,” he said. “Making sure we know where we’re supposed to be on our offensive sets. … Making sure that we run the right sets, that we’re precise with everything.”
From a purely statistical standpoint, there was a lot to like Thursday in that regard. The Jazz shot 60 percent against the Kings overall, and converted 46.7 percent of their 30 attempts from 3-point range. Defensively, they held Sacramento to just 34.4 percent shooting by limiting their quality looks at the rim and forcing them into a multitude of sub-ideal midrange shots.
That stats were generally positive for the preseason as a whole, too. Entering Friday, the last day of the preseason, the Jazz ranked:
• First in points per game (123.8); plus/minus (30.6); assists (30.0); offensive rating (113.4); defensive rating (85.8); field-goal percentage (50.9); effective field-goal percentage (59.5); true shooting percentage (61.9); 3-point percentage (42.1); opponents’ field-goal percentage (37.3); and bench points per game (70.8).
• Second in opponents’ ppg (93.2); 3-pointers made per game (15.4); and steals (10.8).
• Fourth in assist percentage (65.4).
• Fifth in rebounds (50.6) and tied for fifth in 3-point attempts per game (36.6).
• Sixth in pace (108.9) and 3-pointers as percentage of overall field-goal attempts (40.8).
• Seventh in opponents’ points off turnovers (16.2).
• Eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59).
• Ninth in points off turnovers (22.0).
Some key tidbits from that: Veteran guard Alec Burks and rookie guard Grayson Allen had some solid offensive performances off the bench. They ranked third (13.4) and fourth (12.6), respectively, on the team in scoring, with Burks shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 46.7 percent on 3s, while Allen put up 51.1/52.0 shooting splits. Further, with Snyder saying on the first day of training camp that he would be putting greater emphasis not only on efficiency of 3-point shooting but on volume as well, seeing the Jazz launch 36.6 attempts from deep per game is encouraging.
Of course, not all the numbers were positive.
Utah clearly still has much to work on given that it ranked:
• Sixth-worst in blocks per game (4.8).
• Seventh-worst in personal fouls committed (29.0); opponents’ free-throws attempted rate (0.35); offensive rebounds (8.8).
• 10th-worst in opponents’ second-chance points (14.6).
• 12th-worst in turnovers per game (18.8).
• 14th-worst in turnover percentage (17.2).
Still, the Jazz at least managed to accomplish the two biggest things Snyder said he was looking to take away from the preseason finale.
“I wanna see us defend more consistently. We’ve had possessions or stretches where we’re solid, but I think that’s something, at this point, I want our team to be conscious of. That’s who we are,” he said. “And just to continue to get healthier. I think we’re healthy, but I’d like to keep guys going in the right direction, with conditioning and strength and all those things. You don’t want to jeopardize that in the last preseason game.
“But there’s plenty of things we can do to improve to get ourselves ready for Sacramento a week later,” he added.
Indeed. The Jazz are now just days away from heading back to Sacramento and discovering if all of this really means anything or not.
LOOKING BACK AT THE PRESEASON
The Jazz finish the preseason 5-0. Here’s what went right and wrong in those games:
Sept. 29 • Jazz 130, Perth Wildcats 72
Notable • Grayson Allen hit five 3-pointers en route to a team-high 19 points. Alec Burks added 18. Rudy Gobert dominated with 14 points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes.
Oct. 2 • Jazz 105, Raptors 90
Notable • Joe Ingles scores 24, and Gobert is strong again with 13 and 10, but Burks and Allen struggle — going a combined 3-for-17 shooting. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard dazzles with 17 points in 18 minutes.
Oct. 5 • Jazz 129, Adelaide 36ers 99
Notable • Jazz struggle at the start, trailing by as many as eight, and finishing first quarter down 31-28. Donovan Mitchell finds his shooting form and scores 18. Burks and Allen add 16 apiece.
Oct. 7 • Jazz 123, Trail Blazers 112
Notable • Utah trails by as many as 15 points, as Damian Lillard scores 23 on 9-for-11 shooting, and CJ McCollum adds 21. The Jazz’s starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Mitchell shoots a combined 10 for 31. The team scores 73 points in the second half, mostly thanks to the bench unit.
Oct. 11 • Jazz 132, Kings 93
Notable • The Jazz lead by 29 after the first quarter and by as many as 44. Gobert hits 7 of 8 shots and finishes with 18 points and seven rebounds. Utah outshoots Sacramento 60 percent to 34.4. Utah converts 14 3-pointers at a 46.7-percent clip.