After an offseason of acquisitions designed to boost the Jazz’s offense, so far it’s been … worse.
Yes, after finishing 14th in the NBA with a 111.4 offensive rating last season, currently the Jazz are 25th in the league, scoring 104.5 points per 100 possessions.
It’s just seven games, and no one seriously thinks that this trend will continue for the whole season. There’s chemistry to figure out. There’s been Mike Conley’s unusually poor play. There have been some tough opponents.
And if you look at the statistics, the biggest reasons for the Jazz’s downturn is that they’ve been losing the possession battle. After turning the ball over on 15% of possessions last year, they’ve been giving it away on 17.6% of possessions this year. The offensive rebounding has been more abysmal than expected: the Jazz finished 12th last year in offensive rebounds, getting 26.2% of their misses. This year, it’s been 19.7%. That’s second to last in the NBA.
That was a concern after the departure of Derrick Favors, but the thought was that Ed Davis, one of the league’s five best offensive rebounders last season, could make up for the loss. Through six games, he hadn’t, and now he’ll miss at least four weeks due to a fractured fibula.
But if you ask Rudy Gobert, there’s another explanation for the offensive downturn: They’re not finding him down low enough.
“When you have a guy that’s [7-foot-2] who can catch the ball and finish under the rim, you have to use it,” Gobert said. “We haven’t done it the last two years against the Rockets and we’re not doing it right now, so I’m hoping we can work on it.”
Gobert has a point. This season, he’s averaging only 10.9 points per game compared with 15.9 last season. The former average is more in line with what he averaged in the Rockets series, though, as the Jazz struggled to get him the ball against Clint Capela and company. He’s shooting less effectively this season — from 67% to 62% — but he’s also getting about three fewer shot attempts per game. He was asked if he thought that was because defenses were guarding the Jazz differently, as big men drop off against pick and roll to prevent the lob pass.
“Some games. But we have to be able to offer variations. The drive is great but the pass to the big is a weapon that we have and we don’t use it,” Gobert said. “Usually, I feel like we can lob it up. But once the lob isn’t there, we’re not really looking. It’s on me to get in good positions at the rim, and at the same time, it’s on my teammates to want to find me.”
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Clearly, he’s frustrated. There was hope this season that having spacing around Gobert would open up even more dunks for the Frenchman who led the league in dunks last season. But he now has 16 dunks through seven games, which means he’s on pace for 188. Last season, he had 306.
But chemistry is lacking between the Jazz’s primary ballhandlers and Gobert right now. Donovan Mitchell has assisted Gobert once per game, while Conley has contributed just six assists to Gobert’s scoring so far. For Joe Ingles, it’s only three. Last year, both Ricky Rubio and Ingles assisted Gobert 96 times, more than once per game.
There’s also this: Gobert hasn’t been very sure-handed this year when he has received the ball. His turnovers have gone from 2.4 per 100 possessions to 4.1, and visually, he has looked somewhat fumbly. Maybe his teammates see that, and look at other scoring options.
Whether it’s because of this or other factors, the Jazz haven’t shot as many layups, dunks, and threes as last year. They’ve gone from fourth to 17th in rim attempts, eighth to 18th in 3-point attempts taken. And that’s hurt the Jazz’s eFG% some, moving from 54.3% to 53.4%. That may not sound like much, but it moves them from fifth to 14th in eFG%, and that’s contributing to the offensive woes — along with the major turnover and rebounding issues.
During the offseason, the team expected there to be a period of chemistry building with the offense, but a preseason points explosion — now proved to be fool’s gold — gave the group perhaps an undeserved sense that the offensive mission had been accomplished.
Not so. For the Jazz, there’s much work to be done, both as a team and in keeping their superstar big man happy.