Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 107-106 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The Jazz might have a bench problem
At least for the time being. In Friday night’s game, the Jazz were good enough — not great, but good — when they had their starters out there. But when they had to go to the bench, and especially when Rudy Gobert had to sit, everything fell apart: the Jazz were a -11 in the 11:30 Gobert didn’t play.
While Ed Davis is out with that fractured fibula, Tony Bradley has been asked to step in at the center position for the Jazz, replacing Gobert down low. And since moving into the rotation, he’s had a positive plus-minus once: the Jazz’s win against the Nets Tuesday. That wasn’t a good performance by Bradley, but it was saved by Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay making shots at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Bradley isn’t the only problem with that unit, but he might be the biggest one. In particular, he’s just too slow with his feet to prevent the variety of challenges he’s facing at the NBA. That might change, he’s just 21 years old, the youngest player on the team. But right now? I don’t think he does enough compared to a replacement-level center.
Green and Mudiay are going to be pretty trick-or-treat. That’s the nature of having a 33% career 3-point shooter as your catch and shoot guy, and a young player known for making mistakes as the point guard. Ingles can stabilize them a little bit, but it’s still not in his nature to really demand the ball out there. And that’s the nine-man rotation; Georges Niang hasn’t played meaningful minutes since Mudiay returned to health.
“Everybody’s not going to play good every night,” Quin Snyder said after the game, when asked about the bench’s woes. He noted that the team gave up 30 points in the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t one player’s fault. That’s true.
Interestingly, Dante Exum was made available for selection today, but didn’t play as a DNP-Coach’s Decision. Exum’s skillset is about speed and defense, but he’s not a good shooter, and he also struggles with decision making. In particular, it’s hard to point to which of his teammates he should definitely get minutes over.
I think Davis’ return will help, and he’s scheduled to be re-evaluated in two weeks. I might play Exum over Bradley against certain bench units, but the truth is that the Grizzlies played either Jonas Valanciunas or Jaren Jackson Jr. in most of those minutes, and that makes it hard for Green to compete at center.
2. Last-second no-call changes outcome of game
At first, I didn’t want to write about the no-call in the last second: after all, hundreds of other plays happened tonight, and Solomon Hill’s strip — clean or not — at the end was just one of them. If the Jazz go 10-34 from the 3-point line, and shoot just 29% from there, they win the game. But comments from two Jazz players on the play tipped me over the line.
Here’s the play:
Mitchell gets fouled on the arm, that second angle reveals it. But there are angles, including the normal broadcast one, in which it’s not obvious whether or not Mitchell gets fouled. And then there’s the angles that the referees have:
Crew chief James Capers is the closest, but he’s directly behind Mitchell: he can tell that Hill stuck his arm in there, but doesn’t know whether it hit ball or not. (That extra little angle the sideline camera has here is everything.) Matt Boland is on the other side of the court 50 feet away and behind Mike Conley, he has no shot. And the baseline official — not seen in this image, but it’s Mark Lindsay — is 30 feet away and is probably blocked by either Brandon Clarke or Donovan Mitchell’s left arm. It’s just really hard for the crew to get this one right. I’d prefer to see a fourth official, or a more mobile crew be able to avoid their line of sight being broken, but oh well.
Mitchell was really frustrated after the game, though. Here’s what he said:
“There’s really not much else to it. They obviously defended it well, but they hit my whole arm. It’s the third time this has happened in 12 games at the end of a game and I haven’t gotten a foul call, which is at this point ridiculous. There’s not much else to say besides that. My teammates trust me in these positions. It happened against Sac. It happened agains Milwaukee — thank god Bojan hit the shot against Milwaukee.
"Like, there comes a point in time where they’re going to release the thing that says I got fouled, but it’s too late. It’s the 3rd time in 12 games, it’s annoying. I don’t know what they were looking at. At the end of the day, it was a foul. I put the ball out there, and he hit my whole wrist and it’s a no call. At least call it, they can challenge it and get it right. It’s annoying.”
This, ideally, is why you have replay review: because they’ll add additional clarity to plays where an official had a bad angle, or a play was close. But because no-calls aren’t reviewable under our current set-up, the play stood. We should probably rectify that, but how? Basketball is so much more fluid than football: if a no-call happens, and then a team has a 5-0 run, what do you do with it? Maybe only allow no-calls to be challenged in the last 24 seconds? It’s a pandora’s box.
And under these rules, I don’t agree with what Mitchell said about the referees calling it in order for it to be reviewed, especially in last-second scenarios. Timeouts are very valuable at the end of games, and right now, a coach’s challenge means that the team loses one even if they win the challenge. If they had called the foul, and Memphis challenged and lost, they’d be out their last timeout with only two seconds left, completely sunk. With a timeout, they’d get another deserved chance. In my opinion, the rule should change in the last two minutes, and teams shouldn’t be charged a timeout.
I’ll be curious if Mitchell will be fined — he didn’t criticize the refereeing as directly as Gobert did last year, just voiced his frustration with the calls he’s been getting. But Gobert did have the funniest take on the situation:
3. What makes Mike Conley unique
There was a lot of good writing done on Mike Conley’s return to Memphis, playing in the FedEx Forum for the first time after spending the initial 12 years of his career there. Here’s our Eric Walden on Conley representing Memphis as a city. Here’s former Tribune, now Athletic writer Tony Jones with a story that includes thoughts from Greg Oden — Conley’s former high school and collegiate teammate — on Conley’s career. Here’s former Tribune, now UtahJazz.com writer Aaron Falk on Conley’s charitable work in Memphis. And here’s ESPN’s Tim MacMahon on Conley’s remarkable run of zero technical fouls in his NBA career. I’m sure there are more solid articles I’ve missed. Clearly, Conley is a remarkable package of enviable qualities.
But since he was acquired, I’ve been wondering: what is it about Mike that makes him the Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship award winner in the same season? What makes him not just a good teammate, but an elite teammate?
Maybe it’s best illustrated by a counter-example: George Hill. Hill worked with multiple charities in Salt Lake City during his time here, and would also do things like feed the homeless, just because he saw them struggling. Hill was friends with many of his teammates during his one season in Utah. He also spent much of his basketball life in one area, though it was Indiana, which he still represents proudly. Hill has received technical fouls in his career, but not many: he got zero all of last season. Hill is a good person, there’s no doubt.
But I’ll never forget Hill’s interaction with us, the media. I remember at one point, Hill came over to talk to the assembled media, I think it was after a shootaround, but I’m not sure. And as he was walking over, he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “This is always the worst part of my day.”
You know what? It’s probably true. Being asked dumb questions for a majority of your days for a few minutes at a time would be terrible. Asking the dumb questions — and I try to make them not dumb, but not every media member does, and even though I try, sometimes I fail — isn’t a great experience either. But in that moment, and many other times during that season, George Hill wanted us to feel small.
Conley is the opposite. He’s giving with his time, and sometimes, will just stay and chat for the heck of it. The conversational vibe he gives off is never “uh huh, uh huh, let’s get this over with” but instead “here’s what I really think about that.” Conley listens, considers, and gives.
The important thing isn’t how he treats the media — no one cares. The important thing is how Conley treats everyone, from his teammates, to fans, to stadium ushers, to those sickle-cell patients he donates to, to every other category of person he encounters. Those were the stories we repeatedly heard when the Jazz acquired him, stories that were echoed again in the last 24 hours as he came home. Those stories were told because the people who told them were heard.
To Conley, despite at one point having the richest contract in NBA history, despite making $200 million in his career, everyone else is worth just as much.
That’s what separates Conley from the pack — that nothing does.