The Triple Team: Getting philosophical as the Jazz suffer yet another disappointing loss, this time to the Thunder

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) drops it in as the Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder in their NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Mon. Dec. 9, 2019.

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 104-90 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The Jazz just don’t have very many good players

Nylon Calculus and Salt City Hoops contributor Riley Gisseman found these numbers a few days ago that have really made clear what’s going on with the team:

Jazz with any 5 of Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert: +11.5, 928 possessions

Jazz with literally any combination of bench player(s) on the court besides Ingles: -8.1, 1209 possessions

So when Mike Conley is hurt, that means that the Jazz only have five of the good players left, which means they have to play more minutes with the bad players, and it really hurts. Even tonight, which wasn’t a brilliant game by the “good players," the same pattern held:

The starting lineup with Mitchell, Ingles, Bogdanovic, O’Neale, and Gobert: 20.1 minutes, 38 points scored, 40 points allowed, a -2.

The other lineups: 27.9 minutes played, 52 points scored, 64 points allowed, a -12.

And that’s generous, given that all of the starter minutes were while the game actually mattered... it ignores the 8-point comeback the Jazz made in the final 3:55 of garbage time.

Are the bench players permanently bad? I think you can argue for realistic optimism for better play from one guy: Ed Davis. Davis has proven to be a good player for the last couple of years, and has yet to find that level of impact in a Jazz uniform. There are reasons to believe it will improve.

Everyone else, being hopeful is not too far away from dreaming. Dante Exum has been a good rotation player for about 20 games in his NBA career... he may improve as time passes after his injury, but it’s certainly not a sure thing. Emmanuel Mudiay is young, but he’s been bad his whole NBA career. Jeff Green is who he is at this point: he’s going to give you about 10-20 good games per season. Georges Niang can make a shot and probably is going to be a negative at the other stuff.

What I find mildly remarkable is that the other players who aren’t playing are somehow even worse in practice. They must be, given that they’re not playing. We know what Tony Bradley is. Nigel Williams-Goss must somehow be so bad that the underperformance of Mudiay and Exum hasn’t even made Snyder think about playing him. Juwan Morgan earned a 3 trillion tonight. He’s apparently more valuable than Miye Oni, who was made inactive tonight. Stanton Kidd apparently wasn’t the answer, but did anyone think he was?

What can the Jazz do about it? Well, that’s a separate story. I’ll have an article tomorrow on that topic.

2. And even their good players haven’t been that good recently

So if your bench is a -12 — and in non-garbage-time was a -20 — you need really good play from your starting lineup. The Jazz haven’t gotten that during this stretch.

Mitchell is a nice example: scoring 26 points on 10-25 shooting, adding three assists with three turnovers tonight might be the definition of a “garden variety scorer” line. To illustrate this, I looked up all of the games where someone scored 26 points on 25 shots in this millennium. There were 60 games, and the teams with those scorers had a 27-33 record. It’s just average. Monta Ellis and Rudy Gay are capable of those lines. Elite players are too, but you want them to be more efficient.

Gobert was efficient: he scored 19 points on 9-10 shooting and added 17 rebounds. Great! But he didn’t make his usual impact defensively. He did scare the Thunder from getting all the way to the rim tonight, and they only took 18 shots down there. But they made 14 of them. On those shots from 4-14 feet away, the Thunder were 9-19, again, a higher percentage than Gobert usually allows. He blocked zero shots, and it’s his third consecutive game with zero blocks. He’s not the problem, but he hasn’t been DPOY elite recently.

For Bogdanovic, it’s his fourth game in five where he’s had a sub-40% shooting performance from the field. Tonight, it was 13 points, 4-17 shooting. We know that’s just a bad shooting stretch form Bogdanovic and he’s likely to get it going again, but see above: the Jazz need their best players to be elite to win. Bogey hasn’t been.

Ingles and O’Neale have been up and down. Against Memphis, both were up, both played brilliantly. Tonight, O’Neale didn’t make a shot or score a point, Ingles was fine but still added four turnovers.

You can have a star-driven team if the stars are elite. The 2010-2014 Miami Heat might be the best recent example. But if they’re not elite, then they have to make each other better in significant ways; the Jazz don’t right now.

3. Getting philosophical

Look, it’s been some bad times for Utah sports fans recently. There’s been the Jazz stretch of ignominy over the last two weeks. There was the display from the Utes’ football team on Friday, who had a chance to go to the College Football Playoff and then were dominated in nearly every way in the Pac-12 Championship against Oregon. For BYU fans, there’s been their recent loss to the Utes’ basketball team despite being up 16, then their nationally ranked women’s volleyball team was swept in the NCAA playoffs. Aggies fans might see Jordan Love transfer. RSL fans saw their coach and GM fired.

To wrap it up, there have been high expectations, and there have been significant disappointments in regards to those high expectations. It is in these moments where we consider bigger-picture questions. Philosophy is the study of big-picture questions.

French philosopher Albert Camus addressed one of these questions that applies to our situation in Utah. As Ralph Ammer wrapped up on his website, Camus sought to address what he considered perhaps the primary conflict of humanity: “On the one hand we make reasonable plans for our lives, and on the other hand we are confronted with an unpredictable world which does not comply with our ideas.” Camus refers to this conflict as absurdity”.

Here’s this nice little chart Ammer made, even.

Ammer's graph of the difference between reason and an unreasonable world, as considered by Albert Camus.

So what do we do with the absurd gap between what we think will happen and what happens? There are several strategies. One is religion: you can explain absurdity by saying that what happens is by the wisdom of a God or gods that knows more than us. Another tactic is to abandon reason or your senses of the everyday world, but both of those approaches come with problems, Camus points out.

Or, you can embrace the absurdity. Camus suggests three things as a matter of course in taking this strategy (again, summary in large part taken from Ammer):

1. Don’t give up: We should never accept defeat, even though we know it can’t be avoided in the long run. Permanent rebellion is the only way to be present in the world.

2. Apply reason: We should hold on to reason, but be aware of its limitations and apply it flexibly to the situation at hand.

3. Be passionate about what you do: Most importantly, we should always have a passion for life, love everything in it and try not to live as good as possible, but as much as possible.

Yes, the Jazz are bad right now. Utah sports in general seem to be that way too.

But don’t accept defeat. Apply reason, continue to think about what approaches the teams might take towards improvement. And make sure to find enjoyment and passion in the process.

Gobert — like Camus, also French — pointed out something after the Lakers loss that at first I thought was dismissive. “We’ll get back to work, and still enjoy the game. That’s the most important thing, to have fun with the game.”

But now, after considering Camus, I get it. In this absurd world, Gobert wants to find the passion in his life’s work.