Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 113-81 win over the Sacramento Kings from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The Jazz will kill teams that play this kind of defense
If you’ve read the Triple Team for a while, you know that the Jazz, if they have problems offensively, usually have them against drop-big defenses. That’s when, in pick and roll, teams stay home on perimeter shooters and force the team to attack a big in the paint or take mid-range shots.
The Kings do not do that. As Luke Walton told us before the game, the Kings want to play “5-man defense," where they’re constantly rotating and helping each other to prevent easy stuff at the rim.
Here’s the thing: the Jazz under Snyder’s system are way too good at finding the open man in these situations. This is the easiest read in the entire world for Mike Conley:
This is a harder read, but Donovan Mitchell makes it. Then Emmanuel Mudiay turns down the open corner 3, but the Kings are so scrambly that Jeff Green gets a wide open one.
The Kings sort of communicated here to help from somewhere besides the corner, which is an improvement, but then Bogdanovic gets a wide open three because Conley figured it out anyway.
Here’s another one: the Kings prevent the pass to the corner, but Mitchell is smart and passes it to the open man anyway.
To be clear, it is very possible to play this style of defense effectively, certainly much more so than the Kings did tonight. Sacramento was abysmal. But they actually did try to adapt, and the Jazz took advantage anyway. That’s good offense.
It’s a hard decision for a coach: do you change your base defense to match up better for the team you’re playing against? Against the Jazz, I’d drop big every time, but I get why the Kings would want to work on their usual style of play. After all, it is a very long way from being effective.
2. Donovan Mitchell’s defense on Buddy Hield
Buddy Hield averaged 20 points per game last season, and just got a brand new, 4-year contract paying him over $20 million per season to reflect that. Tonight, he scored three points. He made the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer, and missed every shot after that. Why?
I thought Donovan Mitchell did a fantastic job of making his life hard and denying him the ball — after that first shot, anyway. By navigating off-ball screens effectively, Hield was so rarely open for the Kings, which meant they went to other options in their offense.
And when he did get the ball, the Jazz did well to prevent him from getting the pull-up shots he likes to take. Look how dedicated Mitchell is here to getting over the screen:
Referee Scott Foster has no choice but to call the offensive foul here; after all, Dedmon’s legs are well outside of shoulder width.
This is the part of Mitchell’s game that Snyder is eager to talk about. Tonight, I asked him a question asking about Mitchell making the reads I wrote about in Triple Team point No. 1. Snyder instead answered the question by talking about Mitchell’s defense, and that’s probably fair: limiting Hield to only three points is a huge win.
Thanks to the Conley acquisition, the Jazz probably do need Mitchell more than ever before defensively. Ricky Rubio is a good, not great defender, but he had more size than Conley does. Rubio on Hield might work, Conley on Hield wouldn’t. So Mitchell might have to take defensive responsibility on the team’s best opposing guard more often than last year. So far, he’s been up to the challenge, and is a big reason why the Jazz have the league’s No. 1 defense. (Rudy Gobert, obviously, is the largest factor, literally and figuratively.)
3. Don’t put Bogdanovic in a box
I think NBA watchers, and I include myself in this, sometimes create archetypes for players. The NBA2K video game actually does this explicitly: when you create a player, you can choose whether he’s a “Pure Lockdown Defender” or a “Rebounding Athletic Finisher” or a “Pure Rim Protector” or a bunch of different categories.
When you see someone like Bojan Bogdanovic, who has the notable attribute of shooting extremely well from 3-point range, I think it’s easy to put him into the box of other sharpshooters: guys who can’t do much with the ball in their hands, but can knock down catch-and-shoot shots. Heck, NBA coaches can do this too. When they first signed him, the Nets kind of put him in the corner and said “Here, your job is to do this.”
But Bogdanovic can do more than that, as he showed Saturday. He was fantastic at using his body to get to the rim, and finished well once he got there.
And in transition with the ball in his hands, he’s even outrunning defenders, albeit slow ones like Nemanja Bjelica.
He has a high skill level, yes, but both of those plays showed range in his abilities. That’s something we knew he could do from his statistics in Indiana, but the Jazz are also using him effectively inside and out as well.
By the way, according to the Jazz’s game notes, Bogdanovic didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15 years old.
Correction: It turns out that this isn’t the case. Bogdanovic actually started playing professional basketball at age 15, which is a critical word that the game notes left out.