The Triple Team: The Jazz suffer a gut-check loss to the Raptors. They’ll have to decide: ‘How bad do we want to be a good team?’

Utah Jazz's Emmanuel Mudiay (8) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell (24) defends during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (Hans Deryk/The Canadian Press via AP)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 130-110 loss to the Toronto Raptors from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. “How bad do we want to win?”

After a game in which the Jazz came out and had the worst half in franchise history, and then followed it up with one of the best quarters in franchise history, Quin Snyder had some simple questions for his players after the game — though they were delivered emphatically. According to Mike Conley, this is what Snyder asked his team:

“How bad do we want to be a good team?”

“How bad do we want to win?”

“Are we willing to sacrifice?

"Are we willing to do the little things?”

The Jazz have these tenets called “absolutes” that they drill every practice, that they put on the whiteboard before every game. They’re about all of the things you’ve heard Quin Snyder talk most about: sharing the ball, transition defense, etc. I’ll let Joe Ingles explain the importance of the Jazz’s absolutes:

“When we do it, we’re f------ really good,” he said. “When we don’t, we are what we were in the first half.” In Snyder’s words, “awful.”

In that great third quarter, they had 15 assists. In the abysmal first half, they only had five. In the great third quarter, they allowed 0 Raptors fast-break points, in the abysmal first half, they allowed 18 of them.

In the third, “We were playing hard and playing for each other. We were making extra passes,” Conley said. “That’s Jazz basketball.”

Right now, the “Jazz basketball” light is on for about a quarter per game. If they can make that consistent, they’ll be “f------- really good.” If they won’t, they’ll be one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history. There are reasons to believe the percentage of good basketball will go up over time, but it requires full-fledged buy-in from the players.

How bad do they want it?

2. Stop dribbling into traffic without a plan

Tonight, the Jazz seemed almost excited to flaunt those absolutes in the first half. Here’s a nice summation play where they fail twice in 10 seconds:

Share the ball? How about a Donovan Mitchell isolation drive into the paint, where four players wait? Get back on transition D? How about loafing and just allowing a wide-open corner three? I know the margin was already big at this point, but why?

Mitchell isn’t alone in his tendency to dribble into traffic for all risk and no reward. Like here, Bojan Bogdanovic dribbles surrounded by three players at the free-throw line, meanwhile Royce O’Neale is wide open with his hands in the catch and shoot position.

Let’s say Bogdanovic gets through this. What’s his plan, to go towards the hoop, where rim protection waits anyway?

Every time the Jazz are about to dribble into this kind of traffic, they need to realize what it means: that someone is likely open. Like, as much as Mitchell is capable of the bad floatery stuff we saw in the first video, he’s also capable of incredibly beautiful assists:

It’s not that Mitchell looked over and saw Conley open. He knew Conley would be open because he attacked the paint, and there was traffic. He attacked the paint with a plan: to find his teammate. And it worked.

3. I think it’s time to try Exum

Dante Exum is healthy, Snyder told the media before the game. Snyder said he doesn’t like to talk about minutes restrictions, but given that he played 14 minutes in his debut game this season and 11:28 tonight, whatever restriction he has, if he has one, seems to be larger than 10 minutes.

My belief that Exum should play more is not really a rousing endorsement of the young Australian. I watch him shoot in practice, and he is one of the worst shooters on the team — probably even worse than Emmanuel Mudiay, the man he’d likely replace. He struggles to finish above rim protection, and has shown zero midrange game in the NBA in his four seasons on the court. You know how people say a scorer like Mitchell can score “at all three levels," the rim, mid-range, and the 3-point line? Exum might be the opposite.

But he has strengths. He is fast in transition, and usually does the right thing there. He is long, and navigates screens well on the defensive end. And generally, he has some semblance of how the offense is supposed to run; last year, his pick and roll plays actually ended up working pretty well.

Mudiay is unquestionably a better scorer, and unquestionably worse at nearly everything else. He struggles to keep people in front of him:

He isn’t a great dribbler, and so turns the ball over:

And seems to make careless mistakes with the ball:

In short, I think Exum should play for the same reasons Snyder started Exum over Trey Burke in his rookie year: it’s not that Exum will bring more to the table, it’s that he’ll take less off the table. Of course, though Mudiay had three turnovers in his 17 minutes, Exum matched it with three in his 11:28. My argument stands on shaky ground.

Ideally, there’d be an option C. I personally long for the relatively stable days of Raul Neto, but I also recognize that he’s gone, and seemed to be particularly prone to soft tissue injuries. Nigel Williams-Goss seems to be too far away to even get a sniff at rotation minutes, even in these, the worst of times.

I’m jealous of the Warriors’ Ky Bowman, a two-way player they picked up this summer who is playing extremely well. I’m jealous of Miami’s Kendrick Nunn, who played in the G-League last year until the Heat called him up at the end of the year — he’s scoring 16 points per game and starting for them. I find myself looking at G-League stats, hoping that someone exists who can both score from at least one spot on the floor and defend and not make terrible mistakes. I’m not sure that player exists, but I’d like him to.

But for now, the Jazz should consider trying Exum, in my opinion.

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