Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 128-120 win over the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz’s shooting early gets offensive results
Last night’s Triple Team, and the pregame sidebar, looked at the Jazz’s reluctance to shoot costing them some open shots. But tonight, the Jazz came out and really looked eager to get the ball up if they could, and they were rewarded for it.
Like, this is the second possession of the game. Mitchell comes off the screen, realizes that his nearest defender is quite a bit away from him, and pulls up and takes this shot.
I like this shot! Mitchell’s a good enough 3-point shooter that he should take the open pull-ups. And doing it early means that the defense might respect it more, which could open up other shots.
Of course, the other thing that allowed the Jazz to do this was New Orleans’ lack of transition defense. In particular, this game showed the importance of floor balance. On so many New Orleans possessions, they end up with four players below the free throw line on offense. That means that when the Jazz do get the rebound, they can get out and run and get really good shots:
Wide-open Bogdanovic three? The Jazz will take that every time. After missed Pelicans shots, the Jazz got the ball up in an average of 10.3 seconds per possession, which is pretty fast.
2. Tony Bradley had a classic Tony Bradley game... but added defense
In October, based on his summer league, G-League, and preseason performances, I put forward the Tony Bradley Theory:
(It’s more of a hypothesis than a theory, so please forgive my language imprecision.)
Regardless, Saturday was a good night for the Tony Bradley Theory. He got his first NBA start, and yep, he had 14 points (on 7-8 FG) and nine rebounds.
The reason Bradley can get those averages is pretty simple: he’s a stellar offensive rebounder, and adept at putbacks, so he can usually manufacture points for himself. And then you add in that he has good hands, and he’ll get a few points from other actions, and all of a sudden, he’ll have about 15 points.
But what was impressive about Bradley’s game tonight wasn’t his offense, but his defense. This is the singular issue that will make or break Bradley’s NBA future: if he can become a plus defender, he’ll stay in the league, and if he can’t, he won’t. It’s pure and simple.
On Saturday night, his defense was pure and simple. Brandon Ingram has been one of the best offensive players in the league this year, he’s averaging 25 points per game on some good percentages. He sees Bradley guarding him in transition, and licks his lips. But Bradley just backpedals, moves his hips when Ingram switches sides of the floor, and keeps his hands up when they get low in the paint. It’s really excellently done.
His one block was also excellent work. Bradley has a tough task here: contain Jrue Holiday in pick and roll and also be able to rotate over to Jaxson Hayes, a terrific athlete, if he catches the ball. But Bradley does both, and gets a punctuating block.
Honestly, those two plays are perhaps the best defense I’ve ever seen out of Bradley, who is just 21 years old. That was current-Brook/Robin Lopez-esque defense where the attacker is just put in tough situations thanks to solid defensive fundamentals. I’m really impressed.
3. Veteran plays and cuts
Veterans can be shifty. Right when you think you have them contained, you don’t.
Tonight, Bojan Bogdanovic was best at this, getting numerous backdoor plays at the rim while the Pelicans weren’t watching. Check this one out:
The defender turns his head towards the ball for just a second, and Bogey is gone, cutting towards the rim for an easy two.
This play is from a while ago, but it’s another veteran savvy thing. Mike Conley notices that Ivica Zubac of the Clippers is the last guy back. So he thinks: as soon as I know the Jazz have the ball, I’m going to sprint down the floor and see what happens. He even gets a little shove off of Mo Harkless at the jump ball to make sure he has an extra advantage.
Yep, another easy two.
To be honest, some of the Jazz’s offensive problem has been that there hasn’t been enough of this kind of improvisation at times. It’s early, so everyone is still trying to figure out how they fit into the designed stuff, rather than feeling free to take advantage of an opportunity. But the Jazz do have the personnel to take advantage of looks like these, and they should get more and more of them as the season rolls along.