Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-108 win over the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz get Gobert going against lax GSW defense
Golden State has been the worst defensive team in the league this year, counting on a bunch of G-League caliber players for many of their minutes. And even the ones that are NBA caliber, like Willie Cauley-Stein, D’Angelo Russell aren’t known as solid defenders.
So what’s the best way to take advantage of that? Dunks and layups, especially from Rudy Gobert. That’s been something that the Jazz haven’t been able to find as often this season. In some part, that’s because Gobert and new acquisition Mike Conley are still trying to work with each other, and in some part, it’s because the Jazz have played more heavy-drop big defenses than ever before.
But the Warriors are such poor defenders that they consistently allowed the highest percentage shots in the game. Tonight, that was Gobert’s 25 points, on 11-12 shooting from the field.
The third quarter, especially, showed real chemistry between Conley and Gobert. There were late alley-oop lobs, under-rim dropoffs, late cuts by Gobert, and more. The Warriors’ announcers were pretty impressed with Conley’s pick-and-roll game, and Gobert had to have been too.
“It was fun to see some good plays at the end of it,” Conley said about his partnership with the big man. “It may have taken a little bit longer than I wanted, but the more we play the easier it is.”
Even if it won’t always be this easy, it’s probably good for Conley and Gobert to start getting some positive results out of these plays. The Jazz had enjoyed more success on Bojan Bogdanovic/Gobert pick and rolls so far this season, but getting Conley comfortable with the timing can only help.
2. Defending without fouling
It wasn’t a sensational defensive night for the Jazz, allowing 108 points. This table from CleaningTheGlass tells the story:
The Jazz allowed the Warriors to make a pretty good percentage of their buckets, and didn’t force hardly any turnovers. But they were able to keep Golden State in check by getting rebounds and by not fouling while defending. We’ve talked about the up-and-down rebounding frequently in the past two weeks as it’s defined games, so we’ll just say that the Jazz had another good performance tonight.
But the Warriors, despite their struggles, were actually the second-best team in the league at drawing fouls coming into tonight’s game. And the Jazz only sent them to the line 14 times, which is a very good total. They want to draw fouls on plays like this, but here, Mitchell does what Quin Snyder instructs his players to do: show his hands to the officials to show he isn’t fouling. This kind of midrange banker is a really tough shot without any possibility of drawing a foul.
You also see Gobert’s impact in a lot of these plays, where players have to release the ball sooner in order to get it around the league’s best rim protector. With that also comes a significant decrease in fouls.
Defending without fouling has always been a focus for the Jazz under Snyder, but this season, they haven’t been great at it, being 22nd in the league in opponent FT rate coming into tonight. Again, some of that is due to familiarity, and some of that is due to big foul rates from Georges Niang and Ed Davis through the first 10 games. We’ll see if that turns around, but they’ve also been defending the shot well enough it hasn’t mattered.
3. Floor raisers vs. ceiling raisers
I’ve seen the Warriors’ Draymond Green get some criticism online this year for how the Warriors have started the season. After all, he’s a 3-time All-Star, shouldn’t a team with a player like that be leading his team to at least some relevance? Shouldn’t he have better lines than he did tonight, when he scored four points, seven rebounds, four assists, two technical fouls, and an ejection?
Well, first of all, he’s been out for five games, so blaming the Warriors’ woes on him is harsh. And truth be told, I do think that even in the past two seasons, there have been real signs of Green slippage overall. He’s only 29, but has been known as a guy who enjoys the nightlife... it could be that he’s past his athletic prime.
But I don’t think his current struggles mean that he was an illegitimate All-Star at his peak. He was a deserving Defensive Player of the Year winner, leading the Warriors to three straight top-5 defensive finishes as a team. He was a terrific passer, rebounder, screener, playmaker, and decision maker, and all of those things added up to him having value, despite not being able to score effectively.
Instead, Draymond’s current plight is a good example of the difference between players who raise your floor and raise your ceiling. As you saw tonight, there’s not a lot that Green can do with a team like this. Players like Ky Bowman aren’t going to take advantage of solid screens or timely passes. There’s only so much Green can do defensively; if he’s out there, the Jazz are just going to attack Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, and the other iffy Warriors’ defenders instead. Green does very little to make the Warriors better right now.
In the Warriors’ peak, though? He was a ceiling raiser. Without Green in the 73-win season, the Warriors maybe would have been a rich man’s version of the Portland Trail Blazers: two terrific shooting guards with athletic wings flanking them, maybe a 55-or-60 win team, but not the best regular season team of all time. Green, though, made everything work on both ends significantly better.
In my mind, those kinds of players are worth celebrating just as much as the guys who can put up 20-25 points to make their teams above average, but clearly can’t get their teams over a certain hump — looking at you, DeMar DeRozan. Obviously, it’s best to be a player who can do both — Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, etc; but if we say that the hardest thing to do in the NBA is to go from good to great, then we should at least remember Green as a player who did that for his team as well as anyone else.