Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 133-112 win over the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz get the offense going, and it’s not just because they made shots
One way to answer questions about your team’s offensive abilities is to literally score 50 more points in your next game without your best offensive player. That’s exactly what the Jazz did on Sunday night after only scoring 83 against the Lakers on Friday.
I think it’s informative how they did it. It’s not that they just started making the shots they missed on Friday. In fact, the Jazz still shot just 33 percent from 3-point range and 75 percent from the free-throw line. About average, in other words.
No, the Jazz did it by getting to the rim over and over again. Fully half of the Jazz’s shots Sunday were within four feet of the rim, and the Jazz converted those at a 70 percent rate. Players like Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto, not typically thought of as rim attackers, did so anyway, especially early in possessions when the Sacramento bigs weren’t yet in the equation. Here, Rubio attacks in a semi-fastbreak situation, and gets a layup that he can convert.
The Jazz’s bigs also put pressure on the rim. Usually, we think of that happening through rolling after a pick, but the big men also did that themselves at times, taking advantage of what can be a weak Sacramento interior.
It’s not like these are isolation situations. Instead, it’s the Jazz taking advantage of off-ball movement and passing that they’ve established earlier. Willie Cauley-Stein jumps above because of that Rubio cut, and then Rudy Gobert can take advantage. Likewise with the Rubio layup: Rubio gets the step because his defender thinks the ball is going to be moved around the perimeter.
One other example: this simple alley-oop play for Gobert works because 90 percent of the time, Ingles comes off a Gobert screen to catch the ball here, then attacks the rim. Buddy Hield sticks with Ingles because usually, that’s what’s coming. But because Ingles instead screens Cauley-Stein, and Hield doesn’t help, Gobert has free reign to catch an alley oop and attack the rim.
When the Jazz’s offense is at its best, it relies on that ball movement to set a tone early, then uses misdirection to get easy baskets throughout the game. That’s exactly what the Jazz did tonight.
2. Transition defense shows up
You may remember last week’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings, in which the Jazz just were ran over in transition. The Kings are the fastest team in the league, and it had been a bad match for an iffy Jazz transition defense this season.
The Jazz were much, much better about getting back in transition on Sunday. The Kings still ran a ton, using about 20 percent of their possessions in transition, but converted them at a much lower rate. On Wednesday, had a 140 offensive rating; on Sunday, that was down to 122 (which is about average).
And after missed shots, the difference was even more stark. On Wednesday, the Kings scored those transition chances with an 158 offensive rating, but on Sunday, the Jazz only allowed a 72.7 offensive rating. Simply put, the Jazz got back after their misses. (All of these stats from Cleaning The Glass.)
De’Aaron Fox was neutralized as a result. Fox still had moments, to be sure, but he finished with only 13 points and three assists, vastly different than the 17 point, 13 assist game he put up on Wednesday. That’s in large part because the Jazz made life much more difficult for him in transition, and Fox only had two fast break points all night.
3. Lineup change
Quin Snyder finally made the change some have been anticipating since the end of last year, with Derrick Favors coming off the bench, putting Jae Crowder in the starting lineup. How did it work? The Jazz got the win, so first impressions are pretty good, but as always, it’s slightly more complicated than that.
First of all, the new lineup (albeit with Royce O’Neale in rather than Mitchell) wasn’t the reason the Jazz won the game: it played only 8 minutes and tied during that stretch 18-18. The best Jazz lineups on a per-minute basis were actually the bench units, something that too frequently has been a source of Jazz pain this season.
I think some of the success tonight of those lineups were due to an iffy Kings bench that made a lot of defensive mistakes on the second night of a back to back. In those units, the Kings played two traditional bigs, giving the Favors plus Gobert pairing a chance. That being said, even against the traditional big look, the Jazz still played their best with a stretch four, whether it be Thabo Sefolosha or Crowder.
Snyder’s use of his guards was also really interesting tonight. Dante Exum played 20 minutes, but 11 of those minutes were with Rubio also on the floor, and 6 of the other minutes were with Raul Neto out there too. There was even a lineup where Exum played the small forward position, with Alec Burks being the nominal two-guard.
Moving Exum off the ball gives him a chance to receive the ball when someone else has created an advantage for him, rather than him having to create offensive opportunities himself. On the other hand, it also mitigates one of his biggest advantages, which is his size for the point guard position.
I’ll be curious to see whether both of these changes were situational or the sign of something more. With Mitchell out, the Jazz needed someone to take those two-guard minutes, and Exum was a logical candidate. The same is true with the Favors/Crowder swap: it makes sense given the Kings' use of their bench bigs. Will Snyder choose to do the same when the Pacers use Doug McDermott as a stretch four? Probably not. But does that relegate Favors to simply playing backup minutes behind Gobert? Favors showed tonight that he’s deserving of more than that.
It’s a tricky situation, but tonight’s results showed enough promise that at least some of it will have to stick.