Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-68 loss to the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Boy, that escalated quickly
I mean, that really got out of hand fast. What was a 12-point halftime deficit turned into a 25-point margin by the third quarter and a 50-point deficit by the end as the Jazz simply gave up.
Blowout losses happen for teams, but what usually protects them from being this bad is a yo-yo effect on basketball games. In general, when one team is being blown out, they’re able to make a little bit of a comeback run due to some or all of the following factors:
1. The opposition eases up
2. The losing team stops playing the bad players that put them in a hole and put in better ones, or at least ones that try harder
3. The referees take pity on them and start blowing the whistle in their favor (statistically, this is true)
4. Simple regression to the mean
None of those things happened. In particular, two stick out to me.
The Jazz’s shooting completely collapsing throughout the game was a surprise. The first quarter, they shot 45 percent, but only made two of their eight threes: the two taken by Joe Ingles. The second quarter was even worse: they only shot 30 percent, made two of their 10 threes, and airballed four shots.
But the second half was truly special, in a bad way. In the third quarter, they made only five shots (and shot 26 percent overall, 2-10 from three again), and the fourth quarter was literally the most ugly offensive performance I’ve ever seen: nine points, 3-16 shooting, 0-7 from deep, and seven turnovers. They were the Nerdlucks — the Monstars before they inhibited the basketball powers of the NBA stars in Space Jam.
I’m blown away by the lack of effort shown by the Jazz’s bench in particular. In theory, all of those players have something to prove on the court. Dante Exum is trying to show that he deserves his spot in the rotation as Raul Neto returns from injury. Grayson Allen was given his first chance to play in a week and showed that he’s not anywhere near ready. Thabo Sefolosha should have been trying to show that he’s back from injury recovery, but he didn’t look speedy enough to stay on the court. Royce O’Neale should have been showing conclusively that he deserves his time. And Ekpe Udoh tells people that he’s one of the best defenders in the world, and you can’t claim that after being outscored by the Dallas Mavericks third unit by 24 points in 11 minutes.
I suppose you can argue that it’s kind of the result of the Jazz’s unique culture. These guys all play for one another, the thinking goes, and so a 25-point deficit for their teammate hurts as much as one they’d created themselves. But if the result of that is a 50-point loss, that’s a great sign that everyone has gotten entirely too comfortable.
2. Scoring in transition
There are scores and scores of horrifying statistics about the Jazz’s lack of scoring from this game, but this one stood out to me the most: the Jazz scored only three points on the possessions after 20 Dallas turnovers.
That is insane. Those are your best scoring opportunities. You can get out on the break, take advantage of numbers and a non-set defense, and score with relative ease. The Jazz only got three points out of all of those opportunities: a Rudy Gobert free-throw and a Ricky Rubio layup that came after a dead-ball turnover. On everything else, the Jazz completely struck out.
Even after their 11 steals, they got nothing. At all. Teams average 142.7 points per 100 possessions on those kinds of plays, according to Cleaning The Glass. The Jazz had 0.0 points per 11 possessions tonight. It’s embarrassing.
Some of it was bad decision making. Here, Mitchell fires a fastball, directly into the catcher’s mitt of Luka Doncic.
Some of it was a reluctance to shoot. Check this out from Rubio — five seconds after a turnover, he looks at the rim three times, and in order turns down an open three, an open 18-foot shot, and an open 10-foot shot before chucking it out of bounds. Yiiiiikes.
Some of them were just complete lapses in focus. This one by Favors is just a sad mishap:
And then there’s just good old-fashioned shot missing. Gobert missing two free-throws, or Ingles missing an open three.
No matter what the result, this team has to get more out of the transition opportunities they do take. They were 19th before tonight’s game (the zero tonight moved them all the way down to 26th) this season. Last season, though, they were 6th, scoring 125 points per 100 on those transition chances. They can do this, they just haven’t yet.
3. Inconsistent guard play
I’ve already attacked the Jazz’s bench individually, so we might as well accurately describe the play of the Jazz’s guard unit, too: It’s not that the other players well, but I thought they were mostly better than their perimeter counterparts. Favors only was a -5 in his 22 minutes, for example. Gobert wasn’t hugely impactful at the rim, but the Mavericks had runways to get there frequently. Jae Crowder missed nearly every shot he took, but I don’t think I want him to stop taking the open ones. Ingles didn’t play a huge role overall either way.
But the Jazz desperately need consistent playmaking from their guards.
Rubio is having a horrible offensive start to the season: he’s shooting only 33 percent for the season right now overall. I know that shooting isn’t his forte, but quite frankly, if he’s that much of an offensive liability individually, he can’t be on the floor. The hard part with Rubio is that history tells you that he should put it together sometime later in the season, but you don’t know exactly when. He’s doing the right things in practice, and yet, there’s what we see in games, and it’s maddening.
Donovan Mitchell has had a better statistical start to the season, but it seems like he’s oscillating between “good Donovan” — the one who makes the right reads in pick and roll and is a fearsome shooter and finisher at the rim, and “bad Donovan” — the one who forces bad shots and turns the ball over frequently. The scoring totals have actually been pretty consistent, tonight notwithstanding, but the number of possessions used to get their points have wildly varied.
“I just didn’t play with enough force,” Mitchell told me after the game. I don’t know if that’s true, actually. I think it was more about Mitchell’s decision making rather than his offensive aggression tonight.
You would think Rubio’s struggles would make room for the up-and-coming Dante Exum, but Exum’s not coming up: he’s shooting just as badly from three, and isn’t a mid-range threat at all, while Rubio theoretically is. Exum provides a different defensive threat, while Rubio’s play there is more matchup-dependent, but Exum’s inability to create good looks for his teammates means Rubio’s largely staying on the floor.
Alec Burks has had one of his best seasons yet, but tonight I thought we saw way too much of the old Alec Burks on Wednesday. That means missed midrange shots, inconsistent defensive pressure, and a lack of secondary contribution through rebounds and assists. You just hope it’s not a regression back to what we’ve seen, but Grayson Allen looks positively unlikely to take his job with performances like tonight’s.
Without the guards playing well, the Jazz don’t have a chance to succeed. Not only do they miss their own shots, but they don’t up things for bigger players to get their shots as well. A Jazz bounceback later in the season, if it happens, will require either better efforts or reinforcements joining the roster.