Riding lofty expectations straight into this season, reasonable people’s natural response to the Jazz’s slow start, initially at least, was to match the reaction with that start. Slow on slow.
Slow to judge. Slow to overreact. Slow to panic.
Nobody wanted to draw hasty conclusions.
Maybe it’s time to start.
One fourth of the regular season is over. And the Jazz are still playing skittish, inconsistent basketball, most recently losing on Monday night at home to the Pacers by … what’s this, 33 points? Overall, they’re playing casually, sloppily, carelessly, imprecisely. They’re playing with hands and feet and heads of stone, turning the ball over, shooting it as though they’re heaving lumber into a railcar.
That’s plain for anyone unwilling to blow sunshine here, there and everywhere to see. We can break down the analytics all the day long. We can make excuses about the tough schedule the Jazz have faced. We can look at last season’s substandard, subterranean start (19-28) and say, no big deal, everything will be OK.
The way the Jazz have played, though, is a big deal, is not OK.
This is this season, not last season. This is different.
A year ago, the Jazz were assembling themselves as they went, with half the team being new, getting adjusted. They barely knew one another’s names, let alone their games. Their most dynamic player back then was a rookie, doing things for the first time. Rudy Gobert was hurt over large sections of the early going.
This time, almost everyone is well acquainted and healthy. The Jazz were so sure of that, and of themselves, management made nary a move during the offseason, with the full knowledge that the West would be even tougher this season than it was heretofore.
That plan, so far, hasn’t worked out.
After Monday night’s loss, a game in which the Jazz trailed throughout, falling behind by 30 points midway through the fourth quarter, about the time boos started raining down upon their heads, the team fell to 9-12, tumbling toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Their home record to this juncture is 2-6. Two-and-freaking-six.
Jazz fans deserve better than that.
Vivint Arena in this last game sounded and seemed like an empty hall. The Jazz, quite frankly, gave their fans nothing to get fired up about. A crowd, even one as supportive as the one the Jazz draw, can only conjure so much energy without any payback, without any reasons.
Cry all you want about Donovan Mitchell missing a couple of games, including the loss to the Pacers. But Indy’s best player — Victor Oladipo — missed that game, too, and they rolled on. The Jazz were inefficient, ineffective and listless, as the visitors crushed them. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz, but since when did folks around here want to grab ahold of excuses as though they were lifelines to hope?
Here are some facts, facts that are hard for the Jazz to face, but that difficulty makes them no less true.
The Jazz are playing defense that is allowing an average of 48.3 shooting percentage, while they themselves shoot 45.4 percent. That makes a huge difference. Opponents are shooting 36.4 percent from 3. The Jazz are making 31.9 percent from deep. Against the Pacers, the Jazz allowed better than 58 percent shooting, including 50 percent from beyond the arc, while they shot 42 and 25 percent (eight of 31 from 3). Defense is supposed to be the essence of the Jazz’s collective persona, the heart and soul of the team, the rock that steadies them.
That rock too often has rolled out from under them.
At least relative to what the expectation was for them. Their defensive rating puts them at 14th out of 30 teams in the NBA, which is to say they are average at that end. For this team, that’s not good enough.
Quin Snyder has pointed to a general lack of communication and focus.
He’s right about that.
The Jazz are much worse on offense, posting a rating of 27th, mostly because … let’s see, how can we best say this? … they can’t shoot.
Check out some of the individual percentages: Joe Ingles 45.7 percent, 38.9 from deep; Mitchell 41.8 and 29.2; Ricky Rubio 38.4 and 33.3; Jae Crowder 38.9 and 28.9. It gets worse on down the line from there. Gobert, doing his business on top of the basket, averages 69.8 percent.
According to people who track such things, Snyder’s churning offense is creating open looks, game after game. Either that or opposing defenses are purposely leaving certain Jazz players open. And those open shots are being missed. Which stirs a legitimate question, then, about the usefulness of an attack that creates opportunities for those who cannot consistently take advantage of them. On the other hand, what more can an offensive structure do? It’s up to the players — they are NBA guys, after all — to finish plays.
They also are turning the ball over more than their opponents at a rate that places them near the bottom of the league in that category. At times, those turnovers have come early in games and in bunches, slamming the door on their own production and triggering transition points for the other team.
In addition, the Jazz are getting beat on the boards, by a slim margin.
After absorbing the whupping put on his team by the Pacers, Snyder said:
“We just need to keep working. We all expect more from ourselves. Our guys are competing. They care. We just have to keep working. There’s no magic. … We just have to play better.”
Especially on their home floor in front of their home crowd, a crowd that is getting numb to the idea that their team loses in the friendly — but getting unfriendlier by the minute — confines.
Ingles put it this way: “It’s frustrating, especially at home. … We should be able to come out with more energy. It’s disappointing to play like that in front of our home crowd.”
He correctly pointed out that there have been too many occasions when the Jazz lose concentration and lose any hope of the lead before they lose the game by large margins: “It goes from 10 to 20 and 20 to 30 pretty quickly.”
The Jazz lost to Dallas by 50.
Ingles said one other thing that could be taken a number of different ways, the worst of them being rather frightening for those who had such high expectations based on what happened a year ago, including that sparkling 29-6 run over the last couple of months, leading into the playoffs.
He said to forget about last season and what last season’s team did, ending his point with two words: “That’s gone.”
The question is: Where did it go?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.