Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-115 loss to the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz didn’t try defensively in the first half. How concerned should you be?
Look, the Jazz didn’t try very hard at all defensively in the first half. They gave up 78 points in the first half, and that’s a large number. It’s now three games in a row where they’ve given up 128 points or more.
It’s preseason. How much should you care?
I’d say you should care at about a five level on a 1-10 scale. They almost undoubtedly will turn the effort level up when the regular season comes around next week, heck, they did so in the second half. But that lack of effort, that lack of focus on the defensive end we’ve seen means that these preseason games that should be used as warmups for the regular season won’t be very effective.
That pushes the warmup period into the regular season’s first month. In other words, we could see an elongated stretch of time where the Jazz are still trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of how they play defense, and in that time, they could lose some games they should win. And come down the stretch, they’re going to wish they had a couple more wins in the incredibly tough Western Conference standings. It’s not catastrophic, and I think they’ll figure it out eventually, but it might hurt them some. So a 5 out of 10 seems right.
“I don’t know that you just flip something overnight. I think it’s a process. But the urgency has to be there. You saw us in the third quarter, that’s the same team," head coach Quin Snyder said. “The way we came out in the second half, that’s the way we have to play. It takes work. It requires focus.
To be honest, we’ve seen this before: at the beginning of last season. Remember, through about a month of the season last year, the Jazz were ranked 19th defensively. They looked like they thought defense could be played through sleepwalking. They looked like they thought Rudy Gobert could solve all of their defensive problems, even as Gobert himself wasn’t at his best. They knew they were a good defensive team, but didn’t put enough effort into actually making it so.
As Snyder said, it’s a two-part process: "We have to make every possession important, and within every possession, everybody has to do their job and not have breakdowns.” I think they can flip the switch on the first; but I don’t think the second will come while the first doesn’t matter to them.
2. Defensive areas of improvement
If this game were televised, this is the point in the Triple Team where I’d show you video of some of the Jazz’s defensive mistakes, and what they need to do differently and better. But it wasn’t televised, because, somehow, a bunch of preseason games still aren’t televised. All of the video that I normally have after games looks like this tonight.
Sure, we’re sometimes in 1989 as far as actually televising the games, but we are certainly in 2019 with regards to logo rotation technology.
So here’s an unordered list of issues:
Transition defense. The Jazz allowed the Kings to score 24 fast break points tonight, way too many. Part of that was because the Jazz turned the ball over 20 times, a result of them being a little bit too careless on offense. But in truth, the Kings still scored more often than they should have: they still allowed 1.41 points per play in transition, well above league average. The Kings are an excellent transition team, but it was too easy tonight.
Offensive rebounding. The Jazz allowed the Kings an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.1, again, well above league average. Remember, the Jazz were the second best defensive rebounding team in the league last year, so they should be much better. In particular, I thought Gobert didn’t do enough to capture boards, he only ended up with 6 in 26 minutes of play.
Rudy Gobert. Speaking of Gobert, I don’t think he was very effective defensively tonight in general. On the very first possessions of the game, Marvin Bagley had success against him early going into his body then finishing over the top, then Gobert didn’t come out to prevent the 3-point shot leading to a quick 5-0 lead. Later, Gobert was isolated against Bogdan Bogdanovic in the corner, and the Kings version of Bogey just drove by him for a layup, with Gobert committing the and-one foul to add insult to injury. Again, it reminds me of last season, where Gobert didn’t really become DPOY Gobert until December. The burden is more on Gobert’s shoulders than ever before, though.
Being satisfied with opponent threes. I was surprised to see how laissez-faire the Jazz were in preventing the Kings from taking threes, again, usually one of their strong suits. Bojan Bogdanovic rarely got a hand up to prevent the shooter from taking it, and a couple of times, Jeff Green didn’t expend effort to rotate outside. These are the new guys, and these are effort issues, so it should be fixable, but it was broken tonight.
Not contesting midrangers. The Jazz want opponents to take mid-range shots, but they don’t want them to be wide open. They did a good job of preventing shots at the rim in general, but the resulting midrangers can’t just be that open, or you’ll get torn to pieces.
Are these issues fixable? Of course. But I think it’s going to take some time for things to gel, especially with the newcomers.
3. The Jazz are going to destroy bad defensive teams
Believe it or not, the Jazz under Quin Snyder have always been one of the best teams at beating the teams they should beat. Last year, for example, the Jazz were 30-11 against teams with sub .500 records, third best in the West. Against good teams, though, they only finished 20-21, bumping them down to fifth.
I think bad teams are going to be even more doomed this year, because of how offensively potent this team is in taking advantage of defensive mistakes. I got the chance to talk to Mike Conley about it a little bit in today’s shootaround, and he said he’s never been on a team like this that sees an opportunity and knows how to take advantage of it.
The Pelicans were obviously a young team, and they got toasted defensively to the tune of 128 points. The Kings “only” let in 115, but that was with the Jazz shooting just 25% from 3-point range. Surely, over the aggregate, you’d expect better performances on average than 2-8 from Bogdanovic, 1-6 from Mitchell, and 0-3 from Conley on what were some pretty good looks.
After years of fretting about how the Jazz would score, no one seems worried about that anymore. Even just among the three people I talked to postgame, Snyder said “that end of the floor, in many respects, can take care of itself.” Gobert said, “Offensively, I’m not worried at all.” Mitchell said, “I don’t think we’re too worried about that.”
Now, it’s just whether or not they can keep their defensive identity. While the Jazz won’t practice tomorrow on the day off between two games, it will surely be the primary focus between Wednesday’s final game of the preseason and next Wednesday’s season opener against OKC.