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The Triple Team: Andy Larsen’s analysis of Jazz subpar defense while Spurs scorch the nets from midrange

San Antonio Spurs center Trey Lyles (41) scores against the Utah Jazz during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-120 loss to the San Antonio Spurs from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Wherefore art thou, perimeter defense

Once again, the Jazz allowed over 125 points.

The numbers are actually much more unfriendly to the Jazz in this one when compared to the loss to the Rockets on Monday: the Jazz’s defensive rating tonight was 125.7, all of those points came on just 101 possessions.

In particular, the Spurs got to the free-throw line often, shooting 30 FTs. They made 27 of those. They made an insane 30 of their 42 midrange shots tonight, good for 71%. That’s the best shooting performance by any team in the league this season, per Cleaning The Glass.

Again, the perimeter guys are at fault. I understand that the Jazz’s defensive scheme is to try to take away the 3-point shot and force midrange stuff. That’s good! But this video is technically a midrange shot, it’s also just a very easy one.

Joe Ingles loses track of Forbes, then needs to close out as a result. He seems like he’s in position, but he’s really not, and Forbes drives by him easily. Even Rudy Gobert can’t adjust that quickly when it’s a straight-line drive to the basket.

This is blown communication between Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell:

Here’s Bogey seems like he’s in good enough defensive position, but he never really gets stationary. He never gets his arms out either, and Dejounte Murray isn’t afraid to just drive on him.

Among other players, as much as Jordan Clarkson isn’t afraid to drive on anybody, there’s no one who isn’t excited to drive on Clarkson. And Royce O’Neale wasn’t great at the end of this one, either... he fouled DeMar DeRozan late and didn’t get a weakside rebound he probably should have been in position for.

At a certain level, the Jazz just need better from their perimeter players. It’s a focus thing, too: if Ingles stays attached to Forbes at the beginning, he doesn’t have this problem. If Mitchell and Bogdanovic just talk, it’s not a problem. If Bogdanovic makes it a priority to get set in transition, it’s not a problem.

But after a loss to the Rockets, those players absolutely should have been focused. That they weren’t deserves real criticism and needs repair.

2. Tony Bradley can’t be asked to do that again

The Jazz had a 185 defensive rating with Tony Bradley on the floor tonight in 10:27. That means the Jazz’s defense was an actually-sorta-okay 110 with him off the floor in the other 38 minutes.

The tape is kinder to him. They played Rudy Gay at the five against the Jazz’s bench lineups, then played zone on the defensive end. The Spurs hit some tough shots over Bradley, though on most, he was a step or two late in coming out to contest them.

But in general, the evidence seemed pretty clear: you can’t play Bradley against small lineups, because he’s just not mobile enough. This was the play that made Quin Snyder bench Bradley and go with Ed Davis:

Wild closeout, doesn’t get back in the play for the rebound or the second contest. Not great.

Davis was a little better, and made some hustle plays, but the Jazz still were outscored in his minutes on the floor, too.

It is wholly possible that this suggestion is my curiosity getting the better of me, but: I would love to see what Jarrell Brantley or Juwan Morgan could do as fives in these situations. Morgan has more of a traditional center’s game, but is more laterally mobile than Bradley, and has a basketball IQ of 1000. Brantley’s basketball IQ is low right now — he makes a lot of rookie mistakes — but has terrific athleticism and is a big body that could work on the glass.

Of course, there’s backup center option number... well, where are we now, Door Number six? If you don’t like your choices with Davis/Jeff Green/Bradley/Morgan/Brantley, there’s always the possibility of acquiring another big man. The trade deadline is a week from Thursday, though, and hasn’t really gotten going yet. I don’t think there are a ton of bigs available, but it only takes one.

3. Ah, the analytics conversation

I love Tony Jones. I hate Tony Jones.

The former Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer and current The Athletic Jazz beat writer is one of my best friends in the world and also my public enemy. Lines like this are one reason why.

Yes, DeMar DeRozan absolutely lit up the Jazz tonight, scoring 38 points. He was terrific, and the Jazz had real problems stopping him.

It’s also his best performance of the season, both in terms of points and efficiency. A good game from him does not mean that the entire concept of analytics is relied too much upon. In particular: the analytics say that DeRozan is a good offensive player, even though he doesn’t shoot many threes! “Analytics” are not just “shoot more threes!,” it’s a field of research that says a lot more than that.

What the analytics also show is that DeRozan is a really bad defensive player, and that negative impact probably outweighs his positive offensive impact. The Spurs are outscored by 3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor; when he’s on the bench, the Spurs outscore others by 5 points per 100. Reasonable people note that it could be because San Antonio’s bench is excellent. Other reasonable people might reply by noting that this is the 10th season out of DeRozan’s 11-year career where his team was better with him off the floor, as well as the 8th consecutive one.

The Spurs made 30 of their 42 mid-range shots tonight, or 71%. That is an insane figure; it’s the highest by any team in any game this season, and it’s the Spurs’ highest in the last several years. The Jazz’s defense was bad, but variance strikes with midrange shooting too.

Humans have the capability of nuance. It is possible to say both that the Jazz’s defense was subpar and that the Spurs’ shooting was abnormally good. It is also possible to say that DeRozan had an excellent game, one that doesn’t undermine the validity of applying math to basketball.

If you don’t like numbers, and I get it, hopefully you’ll at least allow these ones: The Jazz are 32-15. The Spurs are 21-26.

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