Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 121-88 loss to the Indiana Pacers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz can’t generate any spacing
Here’s the key to beating the Jazz right now: pack the paint. If you stop the Jazz from driving to the rim and help on the lob, then they have to take outside shots, and they have to make them.
The Jazz, especially this version of the Jazz without Donovan Mitchell, can’t do that. Look at the starting lineup tonight: Ricky Rubio, Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert. Exactly one of those players can shoot.
Everyone’s favorite alternative is placing Jae Crowder in the lineup for Favors, but it’s not like that actually changes things, either. Why would teams respect Crowder’s ability to shoot when he’s making just 28.9 percent of his threes this year too?
The bench can’t exactly help, either. Raul Neto doesn’t have the quick trigger to really provide spacing, teams can close out on him too easily. Dante Exum can’t shoot. O’Neale is down to 25 percent on the year, and Sefolosha is at 14 percent in a limited sample. Alec Burks has been the Jazz’s best 3-point shooter outside of Ingles, but he also has their worst defensive rating out of anyone who plays major minutes, unless you count Georges Niang, who has the same problem.
Like, look at where Exum’s defender is on this play.
He’s 15 feet away from Exum, playing directly in the middle of the lane to stop Ingles from driving, one of the Jazz’s only true scoring threats. So Ingles makes the right play, and kicks it out to Exum, and he doesn’t knock it down, because he’s a bad shooter. I don’t mean to single out Exum here, the same thing happens with Rubio, Neto, Crowder, O’Neale, and Favors.
But at least Exum shot the ball here, because it has like a 28 percent chance of going in. But when the Jazz choose not to take that shot, it’s almost worse. It’s what basketball analyst Nate Duncan calls a record scratch: the offense flows to find the open guy, and he’s just not ready to take the shot. The usual result is either an even worse shot or a turnover. O’Neale is the most frequent committer of this sin, in my view. Despite an average 35 percent shooting performance from deep last year, this year O’Neale has been incredibly hesitant to take his threes, going from 5.1 attempts per 100 possessions to 3.0.
Mitchell will help a little bit, but not a ton. He hasn’t exactly been a solid 3-point shooter this season either, he’s shooting 29 percent.
There’s reason to think the Jazz will improve from deep, but probably not all of the way up to “dangerous." The truth is that the Jazz have a dearth of shooting.
2. Jazz killed from the mid-range
Here’s a stat for you: the Pacers made 20 of their 40 shots from mid-range. The Jazz made five of their 20.
The first truth there is obvious and familiar from point one, that the Jazz can’t shoot. Their problems from deep also extend to mid-range. Ingles can’t make shots from mid-range, seemingly, but Favors and Rubio sometimes can, so it’s probably about a wash.
But the bigger issue tonight was the amount of mid-range shots the Jazz were too happy to give up. This is a fine balance. Yes, midrange shots are the least efficient shots in the game, and you want your opponent to take lots of them. But there’s a even more important rule than “allow mid-range shots." It’s “you don’t want them to take open shots, ever.” Because these are NBA players, they are capable of making them.
The Pacers are particularly problematic because they have such good mid-range shooters up and down the roster. Their entire starting five can hit from there, along with their top four bench guys. That results in shotcharts like this:
The Jazz did start to shut it down after calling timeout, after Myles Turner hit three in a row. Gobert stepped to Turner, and what do you know, he missed his next two attempts. But it would be extremely helpful if Gobert would step up earlier in the game so the Pacers don’t have a chance to go on an early run.
3. Above-the-break turnovers
Basketball analysis from Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox:
The Jazz have made a lot of those recently. Those kinds of turnovers are even more damaging than normal turnovers because they nearly always lead to two points going in the other direction. And for whatever reason, they’ve usually come at the beginning of games, getting the Jazz out to a horrible start.
As you saw in point No. 1, I’m not a huge believer that changing the Jazz’s starting lineup will help the team’s shooting woes considerably. But given how frequently the starting lineup turns the ball over, it might be worth changing anyway. Crowder has the lowest turnover rate on the team. It’s not as if Favors is the usual problem, but he does turn the ball over over twice as often as Crowder does. It might be a start.
The real answer, though, is more surety from the guards, especially Rubio. They just can’t get out to starts like this, and have to have a better idea of what to expect. That’s especially true when facing a team that you played in the same week, as occurred in both of these last two games. They should know what to expect on how those teams defend, but they still struggled early.