The Triple Team: Jazz attack poor Minnesota defense with passing to get open looks; bench bounces back

Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell controls the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves' Jeff Teague in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-116 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz find where the defense is collapsing from

As I prepared for the Jazz’s game against the Timberwolves on Wednesday, one stat shocked me: over their last five-game losing streak coming into the game, Minnesota allowed 124.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s horrific.

But when I watched the game, I found out why: they just make a metric ton of defensive mistakes. Sometimes, they don’t defend the ball.

The Jazz did a good job of taking advantage of more complicated mistakes, though. While this isn’t good defense by the Wolves (their coach, Ryan Saunders, said their “stunt and contest within the coverage could have better in pick-and-rolls”), it’s a nice read by Bojan Bogdanovic to find Donovan Mitchell on this open three.

The Jazz knew when the Wolves were likely to help off for no reason:

And that they could catch a KAT napping, without the ability to help, if they gave him another focal point:

This is all good offensive knowledge, and it’s good that the Jazz can take advantage of defenses like this: they haven’t always been able to this season. Tonight, the Jazz came in prepared, and tore a bad team apart. That’s a good win.

2. Bench contributes

I have been tough on the bench over the last couple of days. On Monday, I said that they weren’t very good players, and on Tuesday, I looked at ways the Jazz might replace them.

On Wednesday, the collective bench played their best game of the season. And it was Emmanuel Mudiay who perhaps played best, scoring 13 points on 4-7 shooting. And only two of those shots came from the midrange! Watching the tape, he took advantage of some defensive mistakes, to be sure. Josh Okogie allowed him to drive baseline on one of his layups, and Jeff Teague slipped on another, allowing him to get all the way to the rim.

But driving baseline, and then instead of getting blocked, passing it to the corner represents growth:

Jeff Green played an important role, playing defense on Andrew Wiggins during his minutes on the floor. Green can nearly match Wiggins’ natural athleticism, while still being about the same size as Wiggins. That meant he could do things like this:

This is great! Green’s not a great off-ball defender, but it’s a useful skill that he’s capable of stepping up to matchups like this.

And that Georges Niang can hit threes like this is why he’s on the floor. Nice end of quarter play by Quin Snyder, too.

Again, it won’t always be this easy. But I was encouraged about how much energy the bench showed tonight about their successes, too. They seemed to really care and get fired up when they hit a three, or got a defensive stop. They felt like part of a unit.

3. Bogey without Conley

Mike Conley has now missed four consecutive games with his hamstring tightness. In those four games, Bojan Bogdanovic has averaged 17.8 points (below his season average) on 33.3% shooting from the field, averaging 3.3 turnovers per game. Tonight, he shot 4-14 from the field, and added six turnovers.

That might just be four random iffy games, and might mean nothing. But I have a hypothesis that Bogdanovic really misses Conley’s presence, perhaps more than any other player in the starting lineup.

Why? Well, Conley being gone means he has to create more for himself. Check this play out:

Mudiay gives Conley the ball in the corner, without much of an advantage to work with. But because Donovan Mitchell is on the bench, and with 13 seconds on the shot clock, he feels a responsibility to make something happen. So he tries to get around Shabazz Napier, but spins into a helping Josh Okogie and loses the ball.

With Conley out there, Bogdanovic probably isn’t getting the ball without an advantage. Even if he did, the point guard’s man isn’t as likely to help down on him, getting an easy strip. Defenses are okay with Mudiay making them pay, they stuck much closer to Conley.

And Conley is probably finding Bogdanovic open from deep. In fact, Conley has more assists to Bogdanovic (30) than any pairing of two players on the team — no Jazz teammate finds another as much as Conley finds Bogey. Without Conley out there, Bogdanovic doesn’t see the ball as much, and might force things to get open.

The Jazz definitely miss Conley’s presence on the floor in multiple ways, but this is one of the most important ones.