After months of waiting, after months of eager anticipation to see how all the new pieces of the team might fit together, Jazz fans finally got their first look in Saturday’s preseason opener …
At the likes of Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Nigel Williams-Goss. And, OK, a little Bojan Bogdanovic, too.
Still, with stars Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley all getting the night off from coach Quin Snyder to rest, that comprehensive look will have to wait, and those in attendance at Vivint Smart Home Arena had to settle for watching the B-side roll to a 133-81 victory over the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian NBL.
And while the newness of the team remains the focus for most observers, the familiar old trope of defensive excellence is what stood out to the team afterward.
“Defensively, we can be something special,” said Green. “We’ve just got to continue to communicate, continue to get better, not get content. … Defensively is where we’re going to be very, very special.”
For what it’s worth, the Jazz limited the overmatched-in-every-way 36ers to 38.2% shooting from the field, 21.4% from 3-point range, and forced 22 total turnovers.
While no big-picture answers were forthcoming on this occasion, there were plenty of micro-ramifications to obsess over.
For starters, Royce O’Neale — theoretically a candidate to start at the four position this season — came off the bench vs. Adelaide, but frequently looked like the best player on the floor. Defensively, he was his usual pesky self; on the other end, he appeared comfortable in his newfound aggression, which manifested itself both in terms of quick reads and pinpoint passes, as well as in not hesitating to launch open shots. He finished with 12 points (on 5-for-7 shooting) and six assists.
“[I’m] just trying to be a leader, [trying to] step up, helping out on defense, helping new guys any way I can,” he said. “And still learning myself — getting better every day.”
Green, meanwhile, did get the start at the four, and quickly proved to be the most athletic option the Jazz have had at that position in several seasons. He was particularly effective running the floor in transition, getting out front and winding up with several dunks to his credit for it — including a reverse jam off an alley-oop from Bogdanovic early in the opening quarter. (“It was a good pass. He’s an underrated passer,” Green noted afterward.) He also stopped a 2-on-1 break on defense by elevating to intercept the lob pass.
On the flip side, his gunner tendencies sometimes led to him missing easy passes to teammates open in the corner, and his impact was diminished in halfcourt sets. He totaled 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 2 of 4 from deep.
Joe Ingles started as the two-guard, but (with Emmanuel Mudiay also out due to “general soreness”) got plenty of run as the second-unit point guard. He showed that, should he wind up being deployed within that group this season, he will have little trouble keeping the offense humming, as he racked up 10 points and six assists in 21 minutes and 37 seconds of action.
Bogdanovic got off to a rough start, looking overly eager to earn his money from 3-point range and appearing out of sorts, as a result. He seemed to settle down in the second half thanks to more effort geared toward putting the ball on the floor, and wound up with 10 points (on 4 of 9 shooting), four rebounds and four assists.
Rookie guard Miye Oni also looked like a potential contender for a backcourt rotation spot in the event the recovering Dante Exum remains out for an extended period. The second-rounder out of Yale still has work to do with his shot, but his athleticism gained him frequent access to the lane and good looks at the hoop. He totaled nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
As for third-year big man Tony Bradley, he finished with team-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds, feasting — as he should have — on lesser competition that was also a half-foot shorter.
Snyder said he was pleased with the efforts of myriad young players — both in the game itself, and with their efforts in the lead-up to it, all of which made it easy for him to sit his stars and get those guys some meaningful time on the court Saturday.
“Miye and William [Howard] and Stanton [Kidd] and Juwan [Morgan] and Jarrell [Brantley], Tony as well — all those guys have made the most of their opportunities in practice,” Snyder said. “They’ve played a lot of defense in practice, and that’s the way to get on the floor.”
JAZZ 133, 36ERS 81
• Despite sitting stars Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, Utah dominates its Australian foe, shooting 54.5% from the field and winning every quarter by double-digits.
• Royce O’Neale impresses with 12 points and six assists, and rookie wing Miye Oni shows off his athleticism.
• The game’s highlight comes early in the first quarter, when newcomer Bojan Bogdanovic throws a lob to fellow newcomer Jeff Green, who throws down the reverse jam.