The Triple Team: Andy Larsen’s analysis of the Jazz’s loss to the Thunder that was bigger than the final score indicated

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) tries to get past Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-113 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz lose all four factors

In Dean Oliver’s seminal work, Basketball on Paper, he introduced the “Four Factors of Basketball Success." These are the four components of the game that go into winning, along with Oliver’s estimates of the relative value of each.

  • Shooting, or effective field goal percentage (40%)

  • Turnovers, or turnover percentage (25%)

  • Rebounding, or defensive rebounding percentage (20%)

  • Free Throws, or free-throw rate (15%)

More recent analysis, including this one done by Justin Jacobs, has suggested adjusting the weights some, to increase the importance of shooting (roughly 45 percent in Jacobs' work) and turnovers (roughly 35 percent) and decreasing the value of rebounding (15 percent) and free throws (about 5 percent).

The factors all play off each other. It may be difficult to get good shots without increasing the risk of throwing a turnover. Good shots are more likely to be offensively-rebounded than bad shots. And when shots are going down, a team is more likely to foul you in the quest to stop the shot.

But when you lose all four factors, like the Jazz did tonight, well, you’re going to have a bad time.

You can see that the shooting percentages were actually pretty close. The Jazz only shot a little bit worse than the Thunder, and ended up only forcing three fewer turnovers than they made themselves. The Thunder beat the Jazz 11-10 in offensive rebounds, and 20-15 in second chance points. And maybe the biggest factor was the least important of the four: the Thunder made 28 free throws, and the Jazz made just 19.

Regardless of the margins involved, the Jazz lost in every facet tonight. Some of that’s to be expected, given the Jazz were playing an excellent team on the second-night of a back to back.

“Some of those things are going to happen, but some of those things are in our control," Snyder said after the game.

You can’t eliminate all turnovers, but maybe you can get 10 percent better from everyone, especially your lead ballhandlers. You can’t completely eliminate offensive rebounds, but maybe you can show more focus on the glass. And you can’t get every call to go your way, but eliminating the mistake fouls can help, as well as being aggressive so you draw more on your side.

2. What Rudy Gobert can and can’t control

There’s no question who won the battle between two of the Western Conference’s premier centers on Monday: Steven Adams did for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adams scored 22 points and had six offensive rebounds to key multiple big baskets for the Thunder as they fought off Utah in the third quarter.

Again, think about Snyder’s quote above. Right now, there are problems Gobert can control, and ones he can’t.

Early, the problem was Gobert found himself in foul trouble. At first, I was very confused by this call: this looked like a stock-standard over-the-back call on Adams, how did Gobert get the whistle? But look closer. Gobert actually grabs Adams' shorts going for the rebound. It’s a foul, and one Gobert could have avoided. He was in good position, anyway.

Gobert ended up getting a technical in the 3rd quarter. Two plays made him mad:

You can see Adams grabs Gobert’s arms a little, holds him back, and runs past him for the dunk. Now, was that a foul? Yeah, probably! But I get both sides of the argument: if the referees are going to call ticky-tack stuff, they should call it both ways. Regardless, though, Gobert has to play with more force so that he’s not so easily put off by small contact like that. In my opinion, he still could have gotten down court and impacted the play more than he did.

Finally, he gets his fifth foul here:

Adams grabs Gobert’s arm, and drags him to the ground. Foul Gobert. This one is out of his control, though the tech he earned was. (It’s worth noting, though, that courtside microphones caught Russell Westbrook screaming obscenities to the officials in the middle of the third quarter with no such punishment.)

But the Thunder’s third-quarter run came from their success on the offensive glass, and Gobert could have battled harder then, too. This is kind of a weird carom, but Gobert makes it possible for Adams to get the ball by not boxing him out in the first place.

Right now, Gobert seems a little bit too worried about improving the things outside of his control (refereeing) than improving the things he can do something about.

3. Joe Ingles' 3-point attempts down

I feel a little bit badly for my friends in the Jazz’s television broadcast: they’ve had graphics and talking points set up for two games now for Joe Ingles to hit a 3-point shot. After all, his next one will move him into 3rd place over Bryon Russell in all-time 3-point makes for the Jazz, a real accomplishment.

Unfortunately, Ingles hasn’t made any threes over the last two Jazz losses, going 0-2 in both nights. It’s weird, because Ingles has taken at least four 3-point shots in every other game this season, and on consecutive nights, he only takes only two?

I wonder if it’s due to an injury. We saw him re-taping his finger in San Antonio, and while it’s on his off-hand, I wonder if it’s affected the feel of the ball to him, that he doesn’t feel confident shooting as frequently as a result. It also could be simpler: both San Antonio and OKC understand just how important he is to the Jazz’s offense, and so they’ve spent significant defensive resources to shut him down.

It’s a big downer on the Jazz’s offense, though, when he declines to shoot the ball. Ingles is a good rim attacker, yes, but the Jazz are just so unlikely to get a better shot than a Jingles three, especially if it’s open. Without Ingles as a secondary threat, it’s put a ton of pressure on Mitchell to do everything for the Jazz’s offense, and he’s been up and down with that recently.

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