Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 103-95 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert can do it all
But tonight, especially so. Rudy Gobert had a unique assignment tonight. He had to
1. Take away Karl-Anthony Towns’ 3-point game, because he shoots 43.5% on those
2. Take away Towns’ inside game, where he shoots 73% at the rim
3. When they screened to get Towns open, switch if necessary to prevent Towns from shooting threes. Note: this does mean Gobert has to guard smalls.
4. When Towns was stationed outside, still protect the rim on drivers like Andrew Wiggins and Jarrett Culver
And he did all of it. Towns had 14 points tonight on only 10 shots, because the Jazz focused on taking away his usual offensive points of attack. Everyone else did really good work, but it all starts with Gobert’s ability to do it all.
Like, here, he gets switched out on Jeff Teague. He knows he has to attack, but Gobert does brilliantly here. He reaches early to keep him off balance, moves his feet, changes direction multiple times, and still contests the step-through shot.
Here he’s switched out to the perimeter again, but this time Towns attacks the mismatch. He gets by Emmanuel Mudiay easily, but has to encounter Gobert at the rim.
I think most people still think of Gobert as “just” a rim protector, and obviously he does that very well: I didn’t show you any of his five blocks tonight. But he’s expanded his defensive game to be able to guard outside, then finish possessions inside. And as more and more teams start playing five-out, Gobert’s ability to still be the best defender on the floor is valuable.
2. Jazz pass the ball and get good looks
After Monday’s loss to the Wolves, the Jazz’s players were frustrated with how little the ball moved on offense, especially in the fourth quarter. So it seemed they made a conscious effort to get things moving on Wednesday, especially when the game was close late. And lo and behold, it worked!
Take this play: It’s the last minute, and typically Donovan Mitchell has been pretty likely to take these kinds of shots, even forcing it if it’s a bad look. But here, he runs pick and roll with Rudy Gobert, finds Bojan Bogdanovic — who sneakily sends Andrew Wiggins inside with a short little stunt to the paint — and Bogey nails the three. Ballgame.
I think another key is getting Mike Conley involved. He had eight assists tonight, tying his season high so far this year. He also had zero turnovers, so he made some great decisions with the ball. All but one of his assists was for an open three, too.
“I thought Mike [Conley] controlled the game,” Quin Snyder said. “When he came back in, he had a presence and did a little bit of everything.”
The other nice thing about the offense tonight — at least from the starting lineup — was that they pushed the ball in transition. 16 fast break points begins to tell the tale here, though it should be noted that the Wolves are pretty bad at the whole transition defense thing.
3. Man, the bench is a problem
Bojan Bogdanovic had a +38 in his 36:06 on the court tonight.
On one hand, that’s very impressive. Good work, Bogey!
On the other hand, that means that the Jazz lost the 11:54 that he was on the bench by 30 points. Is yikes a strong enough word?
The bench’s defense wasn’t great, but the offense was the real problem. Take Emmanuel Mudiay’s 15 minutes, for example, when the Jazz scored 37.5 points per 100 possessions. Or Dante Exum’s 7:54, in which the Jazz scored only 27.8 points per 100 possessions. That unit clearly wasn’t working, so Snyder tried playing the offensively-skilled Georges Niang in the second half. The Jazz scored 25 points per 100 possessions in that 4:39. Welp on top of welp.
Ed Davis will help somewhat, but he’s not exactly an offensive savant either. I’d consider playing Tony Bradley again for the next couple of weeks until he’s back, even though that went poorly — just because he could offensive rebound on some of the bricks the Jazz’s bench players throw up there.
It will probably get somewhat better. Joe Ingles has been non-existent at times, and that second unit needs for him to be more aggressive. There are reasons to think he will be. During one timeout, as Ingles walked back to the bench, Snyder grabbed Ingles by the arm, pulled him back, and pushed him in the chest a couple of times. It wasn’t a negative confrontation, as both men came away smiling, but I’m almost certain that the conversation was about Ingles needing to get more shots up.
Mudiay does not have this problem, but tonight, he had a shot-making problem, going just 1-7 from the floor. His midrange shot is typically more reliable, but he definitely struggled in his minutes tonight.
Clearly, additions will have to be made, but they might have to wait. The Jazz don’t have a lot of fungible trade assets to use right now, and they actually can’t trade first-round picks for a while without significant strings attached thanks to the Conley deal. We’re not at the point of the year where players are typically available for second round picks; last year’s Korver deal was a unique situation where he knew he’d be traded coming into the season. I’m told that the Jazz’s front office will look to be aggressive in the buyout market, but that usually comes after the trade deadline.
This should have been a blowout win, but because of the bench, it was close throughout.