Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 112-102 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz guards have to make better decisions

Too many times, the Jazz drove into the midrange and took terrible shots tonight, and they were justly punished for it, going 5-32 from anywhere from four feet to the 3-point arc. That led to the 96 offensive rating, which led to the Jazz’s loss.

That starts with Donovan Mitchell, who from the very first play of the game, was taking iffy floating stuff that I thought he had worked to mitigate from his repertoire. This is a hard shot!

Very nice move by Mitchell here to get into the paint, but kicking it out to the open shooters he can see is a better decision than forcing the floater while moving.

Mitchell shot 5-24 from the field tonight for only 17 points. As he said after the game, “We started to do it individually instead of moving the ball. I took some terrible shots.”

But he’s not alone. Conley went 6-14 from the field with six assists and one turnover, which is fine, but not great. I thought Conley didn’t get deep enough in the paint to really trouble the Minnesota defense. For example, this was the turnover he had... there’s just no reason to jump this far from the basket and try to force this impossible pass.

Emmanuel Mudiay was 2-4 from the field with a couple of turnovers... He has to see Dieng here and know that some shiftiness is going to be required in the attack.

And Exum went 1-4 in his first minutes back. Again, good aggression, but just too easy to defend.

Here’s another thing these plays all have in common: they’re all pretty early in the shot clock. Save for the Mitchell’s miss on the first play of the game, the Jazz forced these kinds of defended shots when they didn’t have to, they could have just pulled it out and played normal offense. Now, I do want them to take more shots early in the shot clock, but not these contested ones.

2. A quick discussion on the Jazz’s shot selection

While Mitchell struggling is new — I just wrote this profile on how he’s markedly improved this season — the Jazz getting shots from iffy locations isn’t. Here’s the comparison from this year to last year, from CleaningTheGlass:

They’ve gone backwards at everything: from fourth to 19th in rim shots, 8th to 20th in 3-point shots, and from 27th to 12th in mid-range looks.

They’re making the shots at nearly exactly the same rates at last season, by the way. You would certainly hope that would improve given the better caliber of shooters the Jazz have.

Okay, so now that we know that, how are they getting those shots? This data is from Synergy Sports. The top chart is the 2018-19 season, the bottom one 2019-20 so far.

SynergySports
SynergySports

Some takeaways:

  • Jazz are getting far fewer spot-up plays on a percentage basis than last year. That makes sense: teams are glued to Bojan Bogdanovic and Conley in a way they weren’t with Jae Crowder and Ricky Rubio. But when they do get those shots, they’re making fewer of them. I didn’t expect that.
  • They’re running a lot of pick and roll — which they always did, but more plays are finishing with the ball handler shooting a shot. The turnovers are way down on this play, but they are drawing fewer free throws. That sounds like a description of Rubio’s weaknesses and strengths, yes.
  • They’re running players off screens more, but that makes sense: Bogdanovic is very good at that.
  • Transition plays have stayed about the same. So have roll man opportunities.
  • They’re getting fewer “cut” plays. This feels like where the unfamiliarity of the offense is most seen: guys get open for cuts when they know there’s going to be a space to exploit.
  • They’re also getting fewer putbacks. Derrick Favors was great, wasn’t he?

So to conclude, when you look at the above data, what would you recommend to the Jazz as a way to boost the offense?

To me, the answer is relatively simple: instead of running pick and roll to get shots for the guy who has the ball in his hands, the players should be running pick and roll to get opportunities elsewhere. That can come from cuts, spot-up shots, or finding Rudy Gobert at the rim, but will definitely mean less midrange junkball and more effective offense. For the ballhandler: stay under control with eyes out. For the other players: move off ball, set backscreens for each other, etc.

3. A check-in on the Jazz’s 4-Star Index

For those new to the idea, the Jazz 4-Star Index asks: how many of Conley, Mitchell, Bogdanovic, and Gobert had good offensive games?

If 0-1 do, the Jazz will lose.

If 2 do, it will be a close game at the end, which the Jazz can either win or lose.

If 3-4 do, the Jazz will win.

Tonight, was probably a 1-star performance: Rudy Gobert scored 16 points on 5-8 shooting, including 6-7 from the free throw line. But Mitchell was poor, Bogdanovic was the Jazz’s leading scorer with 18 points but needed 17 to get there, and Conley was only okay, with 15 points on 14 shots.

But if you go back through the other games this season, it’s been a remarkably good indicator of how the games end up. The Jazz lost to the Grizzlies by 1, Mitchell and Gobert had good games but the others didn’t. Jazz/Nets was tied with a minute to go, same thing. Against the Warriors, Mitchell, Gobert, and Conley all had good games, and it was an easy win. Et cetera.

It’s kind of like Lawler’s Law — first to 100 wins — as a rule. It’s not perfect, of course, and it’s certainly not scientific, but I think it’s a fun way to think about the Jazz’s success anyway.