Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-127 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The Jazz just toyed with the young Pellies
It’s preseason, yes. But the Jazz’s ball movement was magisterial at times against the Pelicans on Friday night, one of those nights where no matter what defensive look New Orleans threw at them, the Jazz read it and exploited it like clockwork.
This was one of my favorites, and I think it was pretty much improvised. The Jazz dribble the ball down the floor and as Mike Conley goes deep in the corner, Bojan Bogdanovic rotates to the other side via the baseline. As Conley uses the screen, Joe Ingles points for him to head to a spot behind him, so that he can set a screen on Bogey’s trailing man. Conley delivers the ball, and as he does so, he runs diagonally to even cut off another potential closeout man. It’s like five individual heady plays in a row.
Repeatedly, they turned open shots into more open shots. Here, Jeff Green has an open corner three, but he decides not to take it. Instead, he rifles a pass to an open Royce O’Neale, who quickly swings it to an even more open Georges Niang.
Another Conley/Gobert pick and roll, the former finds the latter on the short roll. Gobert throws a pass to O’Neale while he stares down Donovan Mitchell, O’Neale’s open, but he swings the ball to Mitchell. Mitchell drives, and finds the wide-wide open Conley, splash.
This one is just an old-man sneaky-sneak play. Green just kinda lingers at the top of the halfcourt, until he doesn’t, Ingles finds him with the touch pass for the and-one.
The Jazz had 37 assists, there are many more like this. They had 19 corner threes, and nearly all of them were wide, wide open. If you watch all of them, Pelicans announcer Joel Meyers — who is a terrific play-by-play guy, by the way — starts becoming a little bit exasperated with just how many open shots the Jazz are getting, even in preseason.
That they’re there already is very encouraging for what’s to come offensively this year. I saw multiple people online compare the passing potential of this team to the mid-2010 Spurs, the one that won a title but slicing the Heatles into bits through sheer brilliance of ball movement. That’s probably a little bit premature (let’s see them play a good defensive team), but still an exciting possibility.
2. Jazz start Royce at the 4
Unlike the past two games, Quin Snyder played every healthy player in this game. That means we got a look at one idea for the Jazz’s starting lineup that they could use during the regular season: one with Conley at the point, Mitchell at the two-guard, Bogdanovic playing small forward, O’Neale playing the four, and Gobert at the five.
I thought it was interesting too that the Jazz had O’Neale guard Zion Williamson, who is one of the biggest power forwards that the Jazz will play against this season — heck, he’s the second heaviest player in the league, behind only Boban Marjanovic. But I thought O’Neale did well on the matchup: he stayed low, and didn’t let Zion beast him. The No. 1 overall pick played extremely well, but I didn’t think that was O’Neale’s fault. He also only had five rebounds, another sign O’Neale played him well.
And remember this: the Jazz starting O’Neale at the four means power forwards have to guard him too. The first play of the game involved O’Neale driving past Williamson, who had to foul in mild desperation. On the perimeter, Williamson looked lost, and it was one way the Jazz were able to get so many open threes. O’Neale played very well in the Jazz’s passing offense, too, keeping the ball moving time and time again.
It also meant Ingles played lead distributor for the second unit, and he excelled at that too, getting a game-high eight assists. He’s a terrific passer, and besides the play above, he connected with Green on numerous other possessions. Honestly? I’d play him as second-unit point guard over Emmanuel Mudiay or Dante Exum. Those guys can play, but I want the ball in Ingles’ hands most.
We could still see the Jazz play with different starting fives, but the one we saw today is the one I like most.
3. Derrick Favors, forever
Tonight’s game was also a cool opportunity to catch up with Derrick Favors, last year’s longest-tenured Jazzman who is now a New Orleans Pelican. I think everyone understands why it was time for Favors to move on, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t sad to see him go.
Favors is honestly one of the greatest guys in the NBA. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, I thought, put it well: “He’s the most low-maintenance guy I’ve ever been around in my life.”
“The guys on the team have honestly so much respect for him. He’s a real pro, man. The guy comes in and gets the work done,” he continued. “Smart player, rim protector, does a lot of really good things that kind of go unnoticed. We’re lucky as heck to have him on the team.”
After the game, you could see what Favors meant to his old coworkers on the Jazz. Rudy Gobert hugged him, stopped to chat for a while. Ingles gave him a bigger, longer hug, and whispered something in his ear. (Ingles, by the way, was very proud in the locker room that he was mentioned first by Favors among old teammates he missed.) Mitchell’s embrace nearly bowled Favors over, they spun around in a circle as they hugged.
That wasn’t all, of course, as Favors waited outside of the Jazz’s locker room once he finished getting dressed himself. I talked to him again for a brief moment, and he definitely has the date of his return to Salt Lake down pat: November 23. There, he hopes to get an ovation.
“I hope I don’t get emotional," he said. "I’ve been there so long, I’ve built relationships with everybody.”
The feeling is mutual.