The Triple Team: Jazz force Pistons to NBA season-low in threes. What constitutes an ugly game?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) takes a fade away shot as the Utah Jazz host the Detroit Pistons in their NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 104-81 win over the Detroit Pistons from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. 2-on-2 in pick and roll for the win

The Pistons are a surprisingly good 3-point team. They’re only 16th in the league in attempts, but because they’re 3rd in the league in %, they’re 8th in the league in makes. They’re especially dangerous from corner threes, where they take the second most in the league and make 45% of them, which is best in the NBA.

The Jazz completely and totally shut that down. They took only two corner threes all night, and only 14 overall. That second number is actually the lowest total by any team this season.

The biggest reason? Well, the top two 3-point takers on Detroit’s roster were out injured. Blake Griffin takes six a game, he was out due to left knee soreness. Luke Kennard takes slightly more than that, he is out due to knee tendonitis.

But the Jazz also deserve some credit for how they played the Pistons: mostly two-on-two in the pick and roll. That’s very hard to do, but it’s Rudy Gobert that allows them to do it. Here, the Pistons’ attempted wrinkle in PnR doesn’t really work, so it’s just plan two-on-two, and Gobert blocks the layup attempt easily.

Even huge guys like Andre Drummond were afraid of Gobert. Look how panicky he is when he catches this ball from the pocket pass: this floater is tough, especially for a big man.

When asked about the dearth of 3-point shots, Svi Mykhailuk said, "I feel like their defense is to not let shooters shoot, so they stay home most of the time and read us through our pick-and-roll. They did a great job and didn’t let us shoot at all. We didn’t have any open looks.” He took fully half of them, making three of the four.

2. This was an ugly game.

It got a little better late, but the first half of that game was nigh-unwatchable, with both teams just grinding out miss after miss. 40-39 at the half? That’s not the professional basketball I recognize.

Let’s say you wanted a metric to measure how ugly a game was. What would you want to take into account?

  • Certainly field goal percentage. The lower percentage from both teams, the uglier the game.

  • Turnovers: the more turnovers, the lower the standard of play. Interestingly, this conflicts with Ugly Criteria No. 1: if there are lots of turnovers, there are probably layups going the other way. So for maximum ugliness, you need either dead-ball turnovers or fast-break ineptitude.

  • Shot clock violations. The ugliest turnovers aren’t credited to anybody.

  • Fouls and free throws up. Ideally, to have the ugliest game possible, you’d take the maximum number of non-shooting fouls to really muck things up before then starting to foul to create free throws. Free throws are boring. Missed free throws even more so.

  • Unassisted baskets. Do you know what’s beautiful? Teamwork. Passing the ball and setting up your fellow man for success. We want to measure less of that.

  • Technical or flagrant fouls. Nothing uglier than an unnecessary cheap shot.

  • Margin of victory. While close games can certainly be ugly, it’s really best if the game is so ugly that people start to leave before it’s done, to achieve maximum disinterest.

I may well be missing some, and I welcome your suggestions.

Anyway, how ugly was this game? Well, the Pistons shot only 38%, which is bad, but the Jazz rebounded from shooting 33% at the half to finish with a wholly average 47% from the field. There weren’t that many turnovers: the Pistons had 17, while the Jazz only had 15. NBA teams average 15 per game this season, nothing crazy there. The teams had 20 and 21 fouls each, NBA average is 20.7; they shot 20 and 23 free-throws, NBA average is 22.8. Average stuff.

20 of the Jazz’s 39 baskets were assisted, or 51%. For Detroit, that was 14 of 30, or 46%. League average is 60%, so that’s ugly. There weren’t any technicals or flagrants, but there probably should have been at least one, Drummond’s mid-court shot to the back of Royce O’Neale. And the Jazz won by 23, which is pretty ugly.

In conclusion, this was only a moderately ugly game. What’s the ugliest game this season? I nominate this one from just two days ago: Cleveland 94 - Minnesota 88.

The Cavs had 28(!) turnovers, but still won because Minnesota shot 35% from the field and committed 29 fouls. Only one technical, though, and it was sort of a close game late, so I think there’s a lot more potential here.

3. Detroit’s whole situation

I get worried about other teams sometimes, you know? Like, I’ve covered the Jazz for the entire decade, so I’ve seen some bad teams in the middle of it. But the Jazz have been good for long enough that I’ve forgotten some of what it is to really cover a bad team, to get in the nitty gritty of their weaknesses.

The Pistons aren’t terrible. They’re only 12-22, which isn’t horrendous. They have an outside shot of getting into the playoffs. And they are injured, which usually makes play worse.

But I’m worried about my Pistons fan friends. Like, what is this?

What is the communication going on here? Is this like a 2-1-2 zone or something? Why do you think this is going to work? And then, when a miracle occurs and a player who is hitting 45% of his threes this year and certainly more than that on his wide-open ones misses, shouldn’t the league’s leading rebounder in Drummond do much, much more than this? I don’t know, it’s honestly just kind of a bummer.

Or Donovan’s great dunk. Great dunk! It’s also All-Star Dunk Contest level defense. Kevin Hart crouching down played better defense than this.

So Bojan Bogdanovic screens the first guy out a little, but clearly, shouldn’t Bruce Brown do something? Or for that matter, couldn’t Drummond have some pride and rotate over?

“I guess I have to throw coolers and throw chairs and stuff at halftime to get professionals to come out ready to play,” former NBA coach of the year Dwane Casey said. "That’s something we’ve got to grow into and become. Until we do that, we’ll be disappointed.”

I don’t know, guys. It’s just kind of sad. They don’t have any young talent to build around, really, though Svi Mykhailuk and Luke Kennard might be good players one day. It feels like a team that should blow it up and start over — as dark as that is, at least it’d be something to root for that is more interesting than this.