The Jazz’s bench production has surged since the All-Star break. What accounts for the improvement?
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Kyle Korver (26) are part of a Utah second unit that has surged in productivity since the NBA All-Star Game. Crowder says it's a matter of reading what's going on in the game, then giving the team what it needs when it''s time to check in. Monday March 4, 2019.
No one from the group of Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, or Royce O’Neale is going to win NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors after this season. And the Jazz’s second unit doesn’t have some cutesy nickname like “Bench Mob” that makes it known to national pundits.
It’s just full of players being quietly effective in going out and doing their jobs.
Since the All-Star break, the Jazz’s bench players are collectively first in the NBA in both assist percentage and pace, fifth in both net rating and effective field-goal percentage, and 10th in both assist-to-turnover ratio and turnover percentage.
Presented with the numbers before Friday’s game against the Grizzlies, several Jazz players interjected, “Wait — is that us or them?” Korver let out an appreciative “Woooooo!” No one, however, could point to a singular reason for the group’s success.
“We’ve been defending as a bench, and that’s allowed us to get out and score better in transition,” said coach Quin Snyder.
“Just us coming in with a lot of energy,” O’Neale chimed in. “It starts with Jae and Kyle, or sometimes Jae and myself; we all gotta come out and be ready to play, come out and pick up where that first group leaves off.”
“Ummmmmmmm … I don’t know! I really don’t know, to be honest,” conceded Joe Ingles, obviously a starter, but a man who gets a fair number of minutes running with the reserves.
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But then, the Jazz’s two most veteran players in terms of total experience say there’s a good explanation for the lack of explanations: the strength of the team, as the cliché goes, is the team.
“Everybody buys into what we try to do. Sometimes it works better with the first unit, sometimes for a little stretch it might work better with the second unit,” said 13th-year forward Thabo Sefolosha. “It’s great to see. It’s nice to have recognition for those guys who come off the bench and try to provide with the minutes that they have.”
Korver, meanwhile, added that everyone who comes off the bench for Utah is capable of finding ways to contribute.
“A lot of times when bench units in the NBA score a lot, it’s just because they’ve got one great player and he comes in and you run everything through them, and they score a lot of points and make a lot of plays,” he said. “Really, for us, it’s been a balanced effort — certain guys on different nights, depending on matchups and who’s open, and what we’re running.”
One particular component of the group’s post-break prowess has been its success from beyond the arc.
In addition to all those other achievements, the Jazz reserves also rank third since the break in 3-pointers made (with that group accounting for 6.6 per game), and fifth in 3-point percentage (37.1).
Korver, who knows a little something about shooting, said the impact of having some extra juice from deep can’t be overstated, and praised Crowder in particular for contributing in that area.
“When Jae’s hitting shots, it just opens up things for all of us. Nothing gets a shooter open more than more shooters,” Korver said. “Sometimes it’s a good passer — that helps; but when you’ve got multiple guys shooting the ball, it just opens everything up for everybody.”
As for Crowder, he said it was less about X’s and O’s and more about recognizing situations and responding appropriately.
The Marquette product, in somewhat existential fashion, said the best thing a Jazz reserve player can do is be cognizant of what he needs to do the moment he checks in.
“You gotta feel the game; if we come out and have a slow start, you wanna make a big difference. When we check into the game, we wanna take what the starting lineup got going and keep it going,” Crowder said. “The flow of the game is telling you what you should be doing when you check in. I feel like that’s just not overthinking it and just playing basketball, playing at a free and flowing pace.”
Considering none of them could agree on what they were doing to make it happen in the first place, overthinking it shouldn’t prove to be a problem.
That said, they’re going to simply keep doing their thing, and hope the results continue as well.
“It feels like things are just kind of clicking with that group,” said Korver.