Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 133-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic miss every shot
It was not an auspicious start for Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic in their first action in a Jazz uniform against an NBA team: neither of them made a shot. Conley went 0-6 from the field, while Bogdanovic shot 0-8. Neither player played during the second half.
It is just preseason, bad shooting nights shouldn’t worry you. But they can reveal where Bogey and Conley are in terms of their acclimation process with the Jazz, and how they’re feeling right now.
Here are their shot charts from Wednesday night, with Conley on the left and Bogdanovic on the right:
You’ll notice that neither Conley or Bogdanovic ever got the easy look directly at the rim; even the four layup attempts they had were tough ones. That does make it hard to score efficiently, though obviously you’d expect them to make more than zero of them. It should be noted, though, that both Conley and Bogdanovic got themselves to the line three times for six free-throws each, they made them all.
But I also think they forced some shots, too. Bogdanovic does a lot right here, but in the end, he doesn’t look for his open teammate despite the traffic.
And for Conley here, this is classic Jazz Spain pick and roll, with one of their most hypothetically dangerous player combos. But as they always do, Milwaukee took away the restricted area; Conley didn’t recognize it and attacked their strength rather than finding the open Bogey behind the arc.
Let’s be honest, too: a lot of it was make-or-miss-but-especially-miss 3-point shooting from the Jazz. They only shot 20% from deep for the game, and only 2-13 in the first half. If any of those threes go down, maybe Milwaukee would loosen up a little bit. As it was, no dice.
To be clear, I’m not worried. A deep, long, well-coached team with continuity is a rough first preseason NBA matchup, and most of the misses from Conley and Bogdanovic were relatively good shots, just missed. But I think some early struggles will give the Jazz some really valuable experience in terms of their offensive effectiveness in working together.
2. Jazz help defense isn’t where it needs to be, either
This section, too, comes with a huge caveat: Rudy Gobert wasn’t playing. Obviously, the Jazz’s defense will look much better when he does. But again, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons for the team to learn from this game.
In particular, there just has to be more cohesive help against the league’s best players. This time, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo who beat the Jazz repeatedly in one-on-one situations that probably shouldn’t have been one-on-one situations. He had 22 points in 20 minutes, and they nearly all came on dunks, layups, and free throws. I mean, he seemed like he wanted to check each Jazz defender off a list. Here’s a compilation; he literally toasted the Jazz’s whole starting five individually.
This obviously wasn’t great individual defense by anyone involved, true. I get that the Bucks have lots of good shooters, but a Antetokounmpo dunk is worst case scenario, even worse than an open three. At some point, the Jazz need to help their teammates out — especially in obvious cases like Antetokounmpo attacking Conley or Mitchell, guys who just have no chance.
Here’s an example where they did well: Green, with only a few seconds left on the shot clock, recognizes that the biggest risk is Antetokounmpo at the rim. So he points to Jarrell Brantley to cover his perimeter responsibility, then stops Giannis’ roll. Sure, the MVP makes the hook anyway, but it’s a much tougher shot.
Yes, Gobert, one of the best help defenders in the league, will help with this. But there will be times where the Jazz don’t have Gobert this season, either with foul trouble or injury or maybe even just regular bench minutes, and they’ll need to defend as a unit. They were a little short on that in this game.
3. Well, they’re certainly calling travels in the NBA
Well, we’re certainly at the point of the season where Points of Emphasis are emphasized. The NBA’s annual refereeing memo — now called “Points of Education”, but that last sentence wouldn’t have been possible under the new name — tells referees to look out for particular plays as the NBA tries to get the game on the floor to match the rulebook more closely.
One of the PoEs this season was on traveling, something that the rulebook actually added a section on this year as they try to clarify, but not substantially change the rule. In particular, they more closely defined the “gather," the point at which a player picks up the ball and therefore has two steps remaining.
But perhaps the part of the traveling PoE that will matter most is referees keeping a close eye on players traveling at the beginning of their drives. In particular, a common illegal move that players make is a split-step, where they kind of separate their feet simultaneously as they begin to drive. It’s like a first step but with extra leverage and force coming off their back leg. Players can do it so long as they’ve released the ball to dribble, but sometimes, they get a little bit sped up, and split-step before the release.
Right now, they are watching this with an eagle eye. To give you an idea, last year, there were 1230 games played in the regular season, and 2215 travels of all types. That’s 1.8 travels per game, or 0.9 per team per game. In the two Jazz games so far, we saw 12 travels in the first game and 10 in the second, most of them being the beginning-of-drive type.
We all know that NBA refs will slow down at calling these as the season goes along, but there will be an adjustment needed by teams before then. In particular, drive, kick, and drive teams may be less efficient and more turnover prone than you’d expect.