Following Monday night’s loss to Minnesota — a second straight defeat to a supposedly inferior opponent — the now 8-5 Jazz very much find themselves caught up once again in the sky-is-falling criticisms of the impatient masses.
Every time the offense fails to match the proficiency and productivity set by the halcyon Golden State lineup of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, all of a sudden Mike Conley is washed up and Bojan Bogdanovic was an expensive waste. And whenever the defense can’t equal the stinginess of the Bad Boy Pistons, well, we all knew it was a mistake to get rid of Derrick Favors.
Amid all the overreactionary hot takes, however, spills out the occasional potential truth, or at least a valid question, anyway. In this case, now 13 games into the season, and in the aftermath of an up-and-down performance vs. the Wolves, it seems increasingly fair to start wondering: How good, exactly, is the Jazz’s bench? How deep really is Utah’s supposedly vaunted depth?
While coach Quin Snyder generally loathes delineating between starters and not, and believes any single-game sample size too small to draw any valid conclusions about production, he nevertheless had an answer at the ready when asked if he had any universal standards for his bench unit:
“I want them to play well,” he said simply.
No shocker there. But have they, in fact, played well?
Most of the associated statistics don’t paint a flattering picture. Many of the per-game numbers are low, though that’s perhaps not unexpected considering Utah’s bench minutes per game are the third-fewest in the league. Given that, the lack of scoring (28th), rebounding (28th), and assists (26th) off the bench are not all that surprising.
Some of the other statistics tell a more complete story, however. Namely, the shooting has been mostly ineffectual (40.1 FG% is 28th, 49.5 EFG% is 18th, and 51.4 TS% is 22nd); and the passing and ball-handling have left much to be desired (52.0 assist% is 28th; 8.1 turnover% is 15th; 1.03 assist-to-turnover ratio is dead-last).
There have been a few bright spots, such as pace (fourth), defensive rebounding percentage (third), total rebounding percentage (11th) and defensive rating (first). Then again, the group’s offensive rating is, again, dead last.
So, what to make of all of it? Snyder, for his part, argues that the group’s impact goes beyond what appears on a stat sheet.
“I know Joe [Ingles] hasn’t shot the ball as well as I think he will and can, but we don’t win the Brooklyn game if he doesn’t guard Kyrie [Irving] the way he does,” Snyder said. “… The focus on those things doesn’t show up on a box score.”
That Nets game was actually a high-water mark for the Jazz’s second unit, considering that Emmanuel Mudiay and Jeff Green helped spark the victory with some timely fourth-quarter scoring. Otherwise, however, true highlights have been sparse from the group.
As Snyder alluded to, Ingles has yet to really get his shot going, converting only 34.4% of his field-goal attempts and 30.0% of his 3-point tries. Green is similarly struggling to get the ball to go through the hoop, as he’s making only 32.5% of his shots so far. He also fell victim to a pair of costly backdoor cuts by the Wolves. Mudiay, meanwhile, has had a stronger start than many expected, averaging 9.1 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 51.4%, but he’s not a threat from 3-point range (25%), and his turnovers are worryingly high (21.2 TOV%; 4.4 turnovers per 36 minutes).
“You just keep adjusting, you figure out different things,” Ingles said. “… It’s just one of those things you keep adjusting to and keep getting better.”
There was some evidence of that on Monday night.
With backup big Ed Davis still sidelined by a broken leg, and Tony Bradley apparently out of the rotation for now after struggling defensively of late, the Jazz went with Green at the five position to hold down the fort while Rudy Gobert rested.
In the first half, those Gobert-less minutes were a disaster, as Minnesota immediately outscored Utah 12-3 to close the first quarter, and 17-10 overall in the roughly six-minute stretch, thereby turning a 29-24 deficit into a 41-39 led. But in the second half, the second unit fared much better during Gobert’s break, this time winning those minutes, as their 15-9 run during that time turned a 71-70 hole into an 85-80 advantage.
“We became more aggressive. You know, it was new to us — me playing the five, the spacing and trying to figure out how we were going to play,” Green said. “But, you know, at the end of the day it's basketball. We just got to continue to stay aggressive and make plays and make shots.”
The Jazz have largely been limited to a nine-man rotation thus far, with Davis injured, Dante Exum making his season debut vs. the Wolves, Bradley and Georges Niang playing sparingly, and the likes of Nigel Williams-Goss, Miye One and Stanton Kidd playing virtually not at all. Will that change with Exum back and Davis set for a return in another couple weeks?
Donovan Mitchell, who is often the first player subbed out so that he can return to provide some scoring punch for the second unit, said he’s gotten to know those players well as a result, and remains confident they’ll be able to make contributions to the Jazz’s success.
“I did not know Emmanuel Mudiay had everything he has in his repertoire. … Jeff Green[’s] approach to when he gets in the game is huge,” Mitchell said. “Dante coming back, we all know what he’s gonna bring. Tony’s stepped up big-time. Even [getting] Ed back. Just being able to see different guys and being able to mesh, it’s going to be good.”
JAZZ AT WOLVES
At Target Center, Minneapolis
Tipoff • 6 p.m. MT
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 8-5; Wolves 8-6
Last meeting • Wolves, 112-102 (Monday)
About the Jazz • Utah was undone by a poor shooting performance, as the team made just 36.5% of its shots overall, including a 5-for-32 effort from midrange. … Rudy Gobert had a strong performance, hitting 5 of 8 shots and 6 of 7 free throws for 16 points, 14 rebounds, and a block. … After taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Jazz shot only 7 for 26 (26.9%) over the final 12 minutes.
About the Wolves • All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns led the way Monday, totaling 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. … Minnesota also got a strong performance from point guard Jeff Teague, who finished with 21 points, 11 assists, and five rebounds. … The Timberwolves and Jazz also played a home-and-home back-to-back pair of games in the 2018-19 season.