Gordon Monson: A key to the Jazz’s advanced play is an uncommon double-barreled attack

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) drives to the basket in front of New Orleans Pelicans guard E'Twaun Moore (55) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

As the Jazz are rounding into form now, having won six straight games, including a sweep on their recent three-game road trip, there are a fistful of things that bode well for them as they transform from a decent team to a dangerous one. And that latter designation applies to both the regular season and a postseason that looms somewhere out there, three-and-a-half months and 46 games away.

On account of their stated goals, everything must be put into that frame, whether the schedule is difficult or soft.

Two of the more significant attributes are loaded inside of the double-barreled way they can play at the offensive end.

First, they can churn a defense into a frustrated swirl, passing and passing, moving and moving, blending and blending, until anyone with the best open look can take the shot. This has been especially effective for the Jazz in their recent rebound from a state of underperforming to a state where they have won 11 of 12 games.

Overall, the Jazz offense is notable because of the aforementioned pop of the ball and its resultant efficiency. They are the league’s best team in 3-point shooting, making better than 39 percent. Those clean looks and makes are a team achievement, not just the prowess of a handful of accurate shooters.

Joe Ingles has shaken his early season drag, especially from deep, not only hitting 41 percent of his long balls, but also craftily setting up other guys. Donovan Mitchell has improved his percentage from beyond the arc to 36 percent. Georges Niang has come off the bench to make 46 percent. Royce O’Neale rests at 44 percent. Bojan Bogdanovic makes 42 percent. Jordan Clarkson 41.

And as the perimeter has become the killing ground that Quin Snyder hoped it would be for a team built to shoot, it clears space for Rudy Gobert to be the threat he can be when he has space down low. Guys like Mitchell and Ingles have one eye on the Jazz center and one eye on the basket as they move, dribble and search.

Making matters even more advantageous has been Mitchell’s ability within the offense to focus those eyes on proper targets, whether it’s a teammate or the basket, collecting assists and dusting the net out of his midrange game, from which he is hitting half his attempts. Many of those makes have arrived at important junctures in games, Mitchell becoming the Jazz’s closer, typically initiating and ending possessions in the fourth quarter. In the cases where Mitchell hasn’t been able to achieve that, Bogdanovic has filled the role.

Second, the back half of the Jazz’s good news on attack is related to the previous sentence. While the Jazz have proved they can play with pace, and with space, they also can slow the whole process down … to … a … miserable … deliberate … crawl, more in the classic tradition of playoff basketball.

Mitchell and Bogdanovic are playmakers who can pull off some effective iso ball, the guard typically facing the basket, slashing either to his preferred spots on the floor or to the rim for a dunk. Bogdanovic can do what he did with such aplomb on Monday night in New Orleans, where he maneuvered into position down the stretch, sometimes bumping, sometimes spinning, sometimes running toward the basket, putting up high-percentage shots, a number of them layups.

“[Bojan] finished tonight,” Snyder said, after the win. “He just was more poised around the rim. His jump shot set that up.”

Mitchell and Bogdanovic are able to do that because the Jazz, unlike last season, have enough weapons around the offensive end that can hurt teams, so that defenses have to stay more honest, stay more at home, as opposed to cheating off their own primary responsibility to build a wall around Mitchell and Bogdanovic and hope for the best everywhere else.

That doesn’t cut it, not anymore.

If opponents do that, the Jazz will make them pay for it.

If opponents stay with their designated men, that cracks the defense open for those two guys to work and work and work their wonders, much the way playoff teams back in the ’80s and ’90s and more recently, too, handled their clutch business.

“We don’t want to play that way throughout the game,” Snyder said. “But when the game slows down, [their] ability, whether it’s to score in the post or face up and play in the middle of the floor, and get a good shot, they’re not always going to go in, but … “

But often they do go in.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Jazz are there to help.

“The balance of our team,” said Snyder, “is something that’s a strength.”

He added: “We’ve been able to play different ways.”

It’s a wicked combination, then, the first and the second.

All without the services at the moment of Mike Conley, who will be needed to provide one more threat as the games become more important. If the veteran point guard is as smart and savvy as he seems to be, his education has continued, even as he’s had a front-row seat to his new team’s success, as his hamstring heals. When he returns, perhaps his re-entry will be smoother than his initial launch. It will have to be for the Jazz to reach their potential.

But the foundation is forming for everyone to see, including the Jazz themselves. They can be exceptional, and they know it.

There are other components, as well, not the least of which is a more explosive bench. Still, the Jazz’s ability to change speeds and methodologies, depending on the need at the time is for them the most encouraging aspect to their progress.

“We get lifts from a lot of guys,” the coach said. “We [get] help from a lot of different people and that’s how we’ve got to play.”

The Jazz have the offensive versatility they lacked not only in past seasons, but over the first month of the current one. They are slowly becoming what Snyder had envisioned them to be back when this team was assembled.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.