Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 98-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell makes poor decisions throughout terrible Jazz loss
Donovan Mitchell was the worst player on the court for the Jazz tonight.
That sounds harsh, but when the team loses five in a row, it’s not time for niceties. It’s time for the truth. He led the Jazz in fouls, he led the Jazz in turnovers, he only had one assist, he got to the free-throw line once and missed the shot, he shot 8-24 from the field, and he couldn’t keep his man in front of him.
Donovan: Torrey Craig has honestly owned the matchup over you the past couple of games. Why is it ever a good time to decide to bring him out and isolate him? That bad decision not only cost your team two points on offense, but two points on defense too.
And then there were the three fourth-quarter turnovers. Two came from Gary Harris poking the ball away as Mitchell came off the screen. Another came from Monte Morris just sneaking up on him in transition. When Mitchell has the ball in late game situations, he can’t be making turnovers like this: they’re above the break turnovers that always lead to points on the other end.
And then here, he just gets beat by Jamal Murray, one-on-one. It can’t be this easy.
There have been many many more games that Mitchell has carried the Jazz to a win. But there are games, like this one, where he validates the “chucker” label that opposing fans like to give him. And he has to be able to play his way out of those performances, not by continuing to do the same things he’s doing, but by being smart about how to attack.
Mitchell is famously hard on himself; as mean as I’ve been above, Mitchell will say worse things in his own brain. I think part of why he falls in these scratchy sequences is that he wants to win just incredibly badly, and puts that pressure on himself to get it done. And after tonight’s game, he went out to the Vivint Arena court to take shots, the first time I’ve seen him do that.
But with how badly this team needed a win tonight, there’s no dismissing it: this performance was a huge letdown.
2. Rudy Gobert gets beaten badly by Jokic
Rudy: Hey now, you’re an All-Star. Get your game on. Go. Play.
In this section, I will compare and contrast Rudy Gobert quotes from tonight’s postgame press conference with Rudy Gobert plays.
“We get lazy mentally and we get comfortable, we’re just out there, we don’t look like a team that just lost four in a row.”
“I feel like the last five games, the team that we played wanted it more than we do."
“They’re probably going to give up if you get up 20, 25, but instead we just choose to get comfortable and give the ball away and give up offensive rebounds.”
Gobert is far from the only person who isn’t strong enough on the glass. In particular, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Georges Niang seem like they have nails through their feet and into the floor, with how little they give effort on rebounds sometimes.
But Gobert is the Jazz’s defensive leader, and at a certain point, it’s hard for me to criticize the rest of the team on these issues if the big man down low has the same problems. In particular, giving up a first basket like that is criminal. Letting 6-foot-7 Torrey Craig get a putback in front of you is negilgence. Saving the ball from going out of bounds is good effort, but 100% a bad idea if it’s going to be a low ball delivered back into the paint.
He has to be stronger physically and mentally. I mean, Nikola Jokic put up 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists tonight, and while it was a masterclass of a performance, more needs to be done to stop him. Again, could his teammates have given more help? Sure. But if Gobert is only average, the Jazz will be worse than average.
3. The Jazz are going to have to figure this one out themselves
Mitchell and Gobert aren’t the only problems of course: Bogdanovic had a bad game except for the 2nd quarter, Mike Conley turned it over twice down the stretch, Joe Ingles no-showed late, Georges Niang and Tony Bradley weren’t particularly helpful offensively, and... actually Jordan Clarkson was really good.
Tomorrow is the trade deadline. I just don’t think help is coming. At least, not major help.
They’ll try to move Ed Davis. It would good for Davis, who obviously wants playing time. But who is a team that could use a veteran center, and would give something up for him, after how he’s played this year? I mean, deals like Aron Baynes for Ed Davis + late second-round picks feel like a fantasy... why would the Suns do that deal? They might be able to make a trade like Davis for DeMarre Carroll, but it’s not at all clear that Carroll is a playable NBA player right now.
They’ll look to see what they can get for Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay isn’t in the rotation right now, but has had a good season. But he’s expiring, and the team who gets him doesn’t get Bird rights. In other words, they have to use either cap space or one of their exceptions to keep him, they’ll be at no advantage over any other team. Who needs a backup point guard badly enough to give up assets for two months of the Emmanuel Mudiay experience?
They’re not going to trade Mike Conley, I’ve heard multiple times. First, nobody is excited about taking on Conley’s next two years at over $60 million. Second, the Jazz believe in Conley to a large degree, and think he can become a near All-Star caliber player again. The Jazz’s ceiling might be highest if Conley figures it out. And besides, the only deal that makes any sense contractually is a Chris Paul move, but Paul’s a legitimate All-Star, and the Thunder are only 1.5 games back of the Jazz. Are they really going to give him up? I’m highly skeptical.
The Jazz rookies don’t have much trade value, either. The Jazz like Jarrell Brantley, for example, but probably more than any other team. They’re also second round picks or undrafted guys. They also can’t trade their 2020 first-round pick, due to the Stepien rule. I’ll be honest: structuring that 2nd pick delivered to Memphis in such a way that they can’t trade this year’s pick feels like a mistake by the Jazz’s front office. I’m not sure they could have done anything useful with it, but it means the Jazz don’t have any mid-level chips they can use in the market right now.
In other words: the fix to this team isn’t coming tomorrow. They might be able to improve around the edges. But as noted above, it’s the core of the team that’s playing poorly right now. And while the quality of competition has improved, we’ve seen this core play well against talented teams: the first-round win against OKC, the games against the Bucks this season, the win against the Clippers.
They can turn this season around. Will they? After three days of practice, rest, and soul searching, the first test — an easy one against the shorthanded, tired Nuggets — resulted in a failing grade. If you’re pessimistic, I can’t blame you.