The Jazz offense has started to hum again. Is it a function of the schedule, or has this team finally figured things out?
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)
Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) as the Utah Jazz host the Phoenix Suns, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Monday March 25, 2019.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the 103.7 defensive rating the Jazz have accumulated since the All-Star break is best in the NBA. The Jazz, after all, are known as a defensive team.
What may cause a bit of head-scratching, though, is that the Jazz’s 113.8 offensive rating over the same span is the fifth-best in the league.
“Wow,” said Donovan Mitchell, surprised at the news that, in the team’s 17 games post-break, only the Blazers (116.1), Pistons (115.9), Bucks (115.0), and Rockets (113.9) have amassed better offensive efficiency.
So then, the question naturally follows, what’s the reason for that?
Or, rather, the reasons? Plural. Because apparently there are more than a few.
“It’s just a lot of things. This team is probably better offensively than they showed at the beginning of the year. There were just some things we were trying to figure out. I think our schedule’s been kinder. We’re really diligent with the details and with our absolutes, our habits, and the more you do ’em, hopefully the better you get,” said Kyle Korver. “Donovan [Mitchell], the last couple months, I think he’s taken his game to a whole new level. That little stretch when he had to play point guard really just expanded his understanding of the game and what’s going on. He’s been shooting the ball well and making really good plays. I don’t think it’s one specific thing, it’s always a combination of a lot of things. But it’s certainly been better the last couple months.”
For starters, there’s no doubt that the schedule has, indeed, been kinder.
The recent four-game road trip, for instance featured four of the worst defensive teams in the league since the break in the Knicks (29th), Bulls (27th), Wizards (25th), and Hawks (23rd). The team the Jazz beat at home on Monday night, the Phoenix Suns
, are 21st. The team the Jazz are facing Wednesday, the Lakers, rank 19th.
“The schedule, of course, has been a little easier, and that helps,” conceded Ricky Rubio. “But it’s not just about the schedule, it’s about us playing the right way.”
And there certainly has been plenty of that.
As Korver noted, Mitchell’s increased production has been paramount. Since the break, he’s 12th in the NBA in scoring, at 26.6 points per game. He’s shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from deep, and 80.5 percent from the line (on 5.1 attempts per game). He’s also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Mitchell’s hardly doing it alone, though. Utah is actually top-10 over this span in most of the league’s “advanced statistics” — third in assist percentage; 10th in assist/turnover ratio; second in assist ratio; ninth in offensive rebounding percentage; third in defensive rebounding percentage; third in total rebounding percentage; third in effective field goal percentage; and fifth in true shooting percentage.
The assist numbers, in particular, stood out to several players. The 28.2 the Jazz have averaged per game post-break are second-best in the league, one-tenth a game back of No. 1 New Orleans. That willingness to pass has a big impact, in their minds.
“We’re an unselfish team, we move the ball, we share the ball, we play together,” said Joe Ingles. “We’ve always done that since I’ve been here.”
“We’re sharing the ball a lot, getting a bunch of assists each game, not caring who’s scoring,” he added.
Coach Quin Snyder, while reluctant to give too much importance to any particular segment of the season, nevertheless wound up citing the contributions of a few players boosting the team of late — Kyle Korver’s “ability to impact our spacing;” O’Neale, for continuing “to increase his efficiency from the perimeter, shooting the ball;” and Jae Crowder, whose “evolution as a player is a big part of the last month — he’s really embraced a role as a playmaker.”
Of course, some players found it impossible to separate the offensive rating from the defensive one, finding them inexorably intertwined.
“Getting stops defensively — that’s where it’s at,” Mitchell said. “Finding ways to get in transition is huge — allowing us to continue to get stops and run.”
Ingles added that, regardless of the offensive trend du jour, with this team, it inevitably comes down to performing up to their ability on the other side of the ball.
“Obviously, if we’re getting stops, getting out on the run, and making shots, it’s a pretty good night for us,” he said. “At the end of the day, if we play defense and get stops, we feel like even if we’re not making shots or playing well offensively, we can still win games.”
JAZZ VS. LAKERS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • 8:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97,5 FM
Records • Jazz 44-30; Lakers 32-41
Last meeting • Jazz, 113-95 (Jan. 11)
About the Jazz • Donovan Mitchell racked up game-highs of 33 points and nine assists in the teams’ previous meeting. … Utah has won seven of its last eight games after Monday night’s 125-92 win over the Suns. … This will be the third of the teams’ four matchups this season, with their finale coming Sunday, April 7 in Los Angeles.
About the Lakers • Point guard Lonzo Ball and wing Brandon Ingram have been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season. … L.A. has already been eliminated from playoff contention, having gone just 4-12 since the All-Star break (going into Tuesday’s late game vs. the Wizards). … LeBron James is averaging 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game this season.