The Triple Team: Utah Jazz’s perimeter defense stifles Hornets for 8th straight win

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) high-fives Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) as the Utah Jazz host the Charlotte Hornets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 109-92 win over the Charlotte Hornets from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz blow up Hornets attack early and often

Seven of the first 15 Charlotte possessions were turnovers. Probably three of the other eight shots were good ones, so that meant that the Jazz were really successful 12 out of the first 15 possessions of the game.

How? Effort by the Jazz’s defense and “sloppy decisions” on behalf of the Hornets. I thought the two early Donovan Mitchell steals showed both kinds of turnovers.

The first is just Mitchell stepping into the play, and making life a little bit harder for Charlotte. He could make this a simple pass, but he figures by making it difficult, he can buy his team some time and maybe have a chance at a steal. Now, that the pass was thrown was a surprise, and a definite mistake of the Hornets’, but you have to be there to take advantage.

The second is good pick and roll communication between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. It’s a two on one, really, with Rudy Gobert at the rim, but Mitchell knows that Gobert has his assignment, Devonte Graham, covered. So he cuts off the other option: Bismack Biyombo at the rim.

(I’ll be honest, most of the other early turnovers were just pure sloppiness. Like, the Jazz tipped the ball out of bounds, but then Biyombo went for the save anyway and stepped out. On another play, Biyombo just dropped the ball, so Joe Ingles picked it up. Cody Zeller just unforced traveled. Etc. It was sub-NBA quality.)

We’ve seen, courtesy of the Jazz’s early bench, what kind of impact turnovers can have on a team: a game can turn into a blowout quickly. The Jazz scored 14 points off of those 7 turnovers, and by the time it was over, it was 19-9.

2. Rudy Gobert’s defensive discipline and offensive versatility

Unable to score with Biyombo or Zeller on the court, maybe because both were terrible, the Hornets tried to go small. They used Marvin Williams as their center, and then dared Rudy Gobert to defend him outside.

Here’s the thing: Gobert has gotten good enough at defending smaller defenders that this is no longer a problem. In fact, he can even help at the paint and recover to shooters pretty darn well now.

This isn’t a good situation for the Hornets, but I thought that it was going to end well for them anyway. Williams actually ends up with a step towards the basket, and Gobert is moving out to the perimeter. Usually, with two players moving like this, a foul is the result, especially if Williams does what he did: pump fake. But Gobert doesn’t bite.

I watch Tony Bradley work on this skill all of the time in warmups and practice, and he’s definitely still learning it. He’s a little bit like an eager puppy right now: if you show him the ball, he’s going to jump at it. But Gobert is like the old, wise dog that’s learned all of your fetch tricks. He knows if you fake a throw and when you really throw it, because he’s not going to run until that ball is out of your hand.

Gobert had five blocks tonight too, so clearly, that went well. You can be patient and effective.

Anyway, the Hornets went back to the small lineup in the second half, even though it didn’t work earlier, because the big lineup was also not working. And here, Gobert sees another way he can take advantage. The Hornets screw up the switch on the hand-off play, and Gobert quickly spins, dribbles twice with his left hand, and puts it down.

P.J. Washington has no chance to catch up and deal with Gobert’s height here, so it’s an easy two. Again: Gobert is still developing.

3. Joe Ingles: Raumdeuter

Do you know which two sports share more tactical DNA than you might expect? Soccer and basketball. Essentially, both are fluid sports, where teammates work together and can pass the ball to score goals. Ironically, the one that calls them “field goals” is the one that isn’t played on a field, but anyway.

What soccer maybe figured out before basketball is just how important the concept of space is in achieving those goals. Players who made runs and could pass the ball long distances were celebrated in their ability to create space for their teammates, which they could use to score goals.

So were the ones who were skilled in finding that space. One such player is Thomas Muller, for both Bayern Munich and Germany. Muller was one of the best players for both squads, and won the Champions League and the World Cup thanks in large part to his goals and other contributions on the field.

Muller was asked about his role on the pitch, and about how he scored so many goals. He answered in German cleverly, with “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter."

Raumdeuter isn’t a word in German, actually, but it sounds like Traumdeuter, which is a word that means “dream interpreter.” Raum is the German word for room, or space. In other words, Muller was improvising a word that indicated that his primary role was to interpret the space on the field, and figure out where to place himself to best take advantage of it for himself and create it for others. It’s a good pun, but a meaningful one too.

Anyway, one of Joe Ingles’ plays tonight reminded me of Muller. This is a classic blender play: Mitchell drives, kicks to Bojan Bogdanovic, who kicks to Royce O’Neale, who drives again. Ingles is watching the play, and wants to make the pass easier for his teammate. He also knows Terry Rozier is watching the ball, not him, and he sees Rudy Gobert standing in the way of the helping player. So Ingles relocates himself to the corner, and knocks down the three.

Space, interpreted. Joe Ingles is a Raumdeuter.