Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-112 win over the Atlanta Hawks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert’s hyper-efficient night carries Jazz to win
What? Rudy Gobert can play offense too? Someone should maybe share that with the coaches of the Western Conference, who somehow missed that:
1. He’s first in the league in field goal percentage, effective FG percentage, and true shooting percentage
2. He leads the league in screen assists
2. He’s second in the league in offensive rating
3. He’s on pace to set the all-time NBA record for dunks
4. He’s fourth in the league in offensive rebounds
5. He’s sixth in the league in offensive win shares
Yes, he’s not a jump shooter. It turns out that there are other offensive skills.
Against the Hawks on Friday night, Gobert finished with 25 points on just seven shots, making all of them. He also went 11-15 from the free-throw line as fans chanted “All-Star” repeatedly every time he went to the line. He also picked up 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, and did it all in 28 minutes.
This looks like a player who can’t play offense, doesn’t it?
But Gobert’s style of play doesn’t fit in the All-Star game! Nobody wants to see what he brings!
I’m not going to apologize for the snark. It is just incredible that Gobert wasn’t voted an All-Star by the coaches. I thought ESPN’s Zach Lowe put it well:
“Gobert belongs on the Western Conference team ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge, Klay Thompson, and Russell Westbrook. This might be the worst snub in recent memory. I am honestly shocked. Coaches are supposed to value defense more than we normies.”
They didn’t. Nor did they value his offense. Both are a shame.
This wasn’t quite Karl Malone scoring 61 points after learning the fans didn’t vote him to the All-Star game. But it had shades of that: Gobert was clearly motivated tonight.
2. Hawks offense gives Jazz problems
That being said, it wasn’t the best night for the Jazz defensively. That’s pretty well represented by what happened in the first half, where they scored 60 points, but 52 in the second half isn’t a brilliant half either.
But Snyder noted that Atlanta played well and put a lot of pressure on Utah’s defense, saying “They’re a unique team as far as how they play and the pressure they put on you with (John) Collins rolling and Trae Young’s ability to make plays.”
That’s tough to handle. It’s kind of a double-screen: Derrick Favors is in charge of guarding the roll man, but the Hawks know that Jae Crowder likes to be aggressive in corralling the ball-handler when he’s defending the screener. So Trae Young just calmly backs out, and finds the open Dewayne Dedmon from three. Dedmon’s a 36.8 percent shooter from deep this year on a good number of attempts, so he’s a real threat from there.
So Donovan Mitchell has a choice: does he come over and help, leaving DeAndre Bembry open? Bembry’s not a good shooter, so it looks like he starts to help, but once Bembry threatens the back cut, he backs off. That’s probably the wrong decision with Favors looming in the paint and Young 35 feet away, but you understand why he backed off.
They were doing stuff like this pretty consistently. Surprisingly, the shooter with the worst percentage from deep this season has been the rookie Young, who has only shot 29.5 percent after setting the college world on fire last year.
I’m surprised they’re just 26th in the league offensively, but it’s clear what the biggest reason why is: turnovers. They’re last in the NBA in that category. That makes sense, as they’re a super young team with a rookie PG and a rookie starting 2-guard. If that turns around, and Young’s shot becomes better, they should begin to be a problem in the Eastern Conference.
3. Stopping Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell’s 13-game streak of 22 points or more per game ended tonight, as he only scored 18 in the win. That’s because the Hawks were pretty keyed in on stopping him offensively. Like, look at the spacing on the floor he faces on this play at the end of the first half:
Kevin Huerter even points to Vince Carter here to say “hey, I’m going to leave Ricky Rubio, you’re responsible for taking care of these two whole players over here.” Mitchell notices this and just swings the ball for the easy play. Hence: five assists.
It’s not as if the Jazz really struggled in the first half dealing with this: 58 points is still pretty good. But the Jazz’s offense does get to a whole new level when players like Rubio and Crowder start really taking advantage of their opportunities that Mitchell and Gobert provide. That’s kind of what happened in the third quarter, when Rubio scored 11 on just four shots, adding three assists. He was really quite good tonight.
There are very notable occasions where they aren’t, though, and the Jazz’s offense starts to become troublesome. And that’s why the Jazz are considering upgrading those spots at this trade deadline, if they can do so at the right price.