Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-110 loss to the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz can’t keep the Kings from scoring in transition
Kings head coach Dave Joerger was asked a simple question before the game: what’s made you good this year? They’re now 10-8 after all, far surpassing what was expected by most analysts.
“Just keep running is the biggest thing for us. Don’t stop. We did it because we feel like it’s best for our personnel. I think all of a sudden you see Willie Cauley-Stein playing well — he’s outrunning heavier, bigger opponents. And it opens up transition shots and threes for Buddy Hield, which he’s fantastic at. Nemanja Bjelica gives us space on the court. And then, all of this adds to the driving force which is De’Aaron Fox. He might be one of the fastest players in the league.”
The result has been the fastest team in the league: the Kings only take 12.9 seconds on offensive possessions on average, according to Inpredictable. But even though they push all the time, they’re also hyper efficient. They lead the league in transition points per 100 possessions with 134.4. Certainly, this fact was at the top of the Jazz’s scouting report.
Against past Jazz teams, this would have been a matter of unstoppable force meets unmovable object. But this Jazz team is weirdly bad at transition defense, and so the Kings just ran through Salt Lake City to get the win. Sometimes, it was as simple as DeAaron Fox just sprinting past everybody.
Other times, someone didn’t pick up their assignment. Here, Jae Crowder doesn’t get Marvin Bagley.
And then late, it was a matter of communication. The players all sprinted back, but they were confused about who was guarded and who wasn’t, so the Kings got a wide open three.
Overall, the Kings scored 122 points per 100 possessions tonight. On transition opportunities, that jumped to 140 points per 100 possessions. If you do that, you’re just almost certainly going to lose.
Now, here’s some more bad news. The Kings run more than anyone else, but No. 2 is the Los Angeles Lakers, who the Jazz play Friday night. They’re not quite as efficient as Sacramento so far, but the Jazz will get a chance to retake the test they failed Wednesday. Well, sort of. The Kings loss still stands.
2. Go get the defensive rebound!
The Jazz made a pretty impressive but ill-fated run at the end of the game, cutting Sacramento’s 17-point lead down to four in the course of just two minutes on the court. Donovan Mitchell was the key there, and his 35 points show his contributions.
But they couldn’t finish the comeback because they couldn’t secure a defensive rebound. As the Jazz went on their run, they couldn’t close out what were solid defensive possessions by getting the ball. This play by Bogdan Bogdanovic was haunting: Rudy Gobert went out to the perimeter but didn’t box out the shooter, or go back into the play, once he forced the miss.
Yes, Mitchell probably should have crashed the glass, too.
If it were just due to bad bounces, that would be one thing. But I think it’s a bigger issue, because it happened earlier in the game, too. Bjelica gets this rebound, surprising Gobert. Then he misses the layup, as Gobert watches the ball bounce, Fox just runs in and gets it.
This isn’t okay. Gobert has to lead the way with more urgency to get the ball. And his teammates have to help him out and crash the glass a little, especially if the Kings are from the perimeter.
“I think it starts with me," Gobert said. "These guys need me. I have to show up and bring the intensity and I think tonight I did it, but not all the time. Even in those nights, I have to show the example. Those guys rely on me so I have to do my job first and then we will be fine.”
3. The two guards theory
The Clayton brothers, Ken and Dan, are two of the smart contributors to Salt City Hoops. And they’ve pushed out a new theory in the last week that seems to make a lot of sense.
On Monday against Indiana, the Jazz only had one: Ricky Rubio, who scored 28. On Wednesday night against Sacramento, the Jazz again only had one: Mitchell, who scored 35.
Going through the Jazz’s box scores, that seems to be pretty true. You have to be kind of flexible about what represents a good game for Dante Exum, because he gets fewer minutes than the others, but if Rubio and Exum are both struggling with their shot, it’s really difficult for the Jazz to find a way to win. Teams can just key on Mitchell, prevent him from getting the ball, and then the offense stagnates.
And maybe it’s a little bit worrisome that this seems to be a necessity, because Rubio and Exum have been especially inconsistent basketball players. The Jazz could really use a second guard who could step up more consistently to help Mitchell out. Whether that happens through trade or player development by someone on the roster is yet to be determined.