Weekly Run newsletter: Utah Jazz say they aren’t fundamentally flawed defensively, but must get back to the basics

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends against Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

So much has been made of whether the Utah Jazz front office made a mistake in sacrificing too much defense for the sake of some additional offense this season — especially in the wake of this three-game losing streak — that I decided to ask Rudy Gobert exactly that at Wednesday morning’s shootaround.

Does this team have less defensive talent, and therefore does it have to work that much harder to be as good in that area?

“I don’t think defense is about talent. I think it’s about hustle and getting on the same page as a team,” Gobert replied. “That’s what we’ve been doing since I’ve been here. And we’ve got better at it. And we’re gonna bring that back. That’s who we are.”

OK then, what precisely does this team need to get back to doing to make it more successful on that end?

Mike Conley said that, in the intervening film session, one particular, basic thing stood out.

“Transition has been a big key for us the last few days — we’re allowing too many easy buckets. It’s tough to defend when you’re giving up layups and dunks in transition. So getting back and communicating is gonna be big for us,” he said. “… It’s about turning and running. We get caught in the corners watching, trying to go after loose balls and things like that, when all these teams these days like to run, like to push it. Guards, big men, all of us have to try and get back, and communicate, and get to a man, and stop them from getting to the paint.”

The “all of us” there was instructive. Because, Gobert added, that film study made it apparent that the Jazz’s defense of late has been a collective failure that everyone must take ownership of to fix.

“The good thing [about it] is we were all bad. We all realized watching film that it wasn’t his fault or his fault or his fault,” Gobert said, pointing fingers at imaginary teammates. “It was just about controlling what we can control individually, and we can communicate better to help each other out. And if we do that and we play as a unit, it’s a totally different story.”

In case you missed it

Sooooooo … maybe you’ve heard — the Jazz are on a three-game losing streak, in which the defense has been v bad ("v" being shorthand for “very,” in case you didn’t know). So what on earth is going on? According to the Jazz, there’s a “lack of commitment” to certain things. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson has some ideas of his own. And Andy Larsen’s latest Triple Team breaks down some of the deficiencies in painstaking, player-by-player detail.

And if that’s still not enough, Andy and I talked about it all in the latest Weekly Run podcast: looking at six specific players, and addressing how much culpability the coaching staff and front office have in this.

And if you’re a real glutton-for-punishment type, you can read Andy’s story about Ricky Rubio’s a little-too-triumphant return; about my comparison of how Rubio and his successor, Mike Conley, are doing this year; and also Andy’s post-All-Star piece wondering if these Jazz could achieve the famed Phil Jackson benchmark of 40 wins before 20 losses … which now they obviously haven’t.

Other people’s stuff

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon pulls no punches in his new feature about the three-game losing streak, noting that they “are in disarray,” that “It’s a lot of fun to face the Jazz these days,” and that they “don’t appear to be the dark horse title candidate that people around the league anticipated they would be after a splashy summer.”

• Aaron Falk of utahjazz.com caught up with former Jazzman Deron Williams at Monday’s game, with the point guard noting, “My best years were here in Utah.” He lamented being “boneheaded” in response to Jerry Sloan’s coaching style, and shared his opinions of several current Jazz players, including saying that Donovan Mitchell has “that ‘it-factor.’”

• Sarah Todd of the Deseret News also took a look at the team’s current mess, and concludes, “It’s on the Utah Jazz players to right the ship, not the coaches.”

• Tony Jones of The Athletic writes that with all the talent the Jazz have, the pieces are there to be better than this, but unless they start getting more physical with opponents, nothing’s going to change.

• Ryan Miller of KSL write about the team’s Tuesday visit to Primary Children’s Hospital, and how it was “perfect timing” for a team that was badly in need of some perspective.

• Gerald Bourguet of Fansided takes a look back at the Mike Conley trade, arguing that what was supposed to be the team’s offseason “power move” is now “looking like a backfire, or at least a misfire.”

Up next

There are two more games left in this season-long five-game homestand, with the Celtics (featuring former Jazz players Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter) visiting the Viv tonight, and red-hot Bradley Beal and the not-so-red-hot Washington Wizards coming on Friday. After that, I’ll follow the team on its four-game trip against the Cavs, Celtics, Knicks, and Pistons. I’m pretty excited for this sojourn, as it’ll be my first-ever trips to both New York and Boston — a big part of the reason I haggled for this trip when Andy and I divided up the travel schedule.

Tunes time

Just re-watched the Cameron Crowe documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty” the other day for the first time in forever. Which means I’m going with some PJ selections today, right? Nope! Saving them for a later date (which will become apparent at that time). However, the Chris Cornell interviews from the film put me in a somewhat wistful mood — he was one of my all-time favorite rock voices, and I never got to see him live. (One of my greatest musical regrets.) So, anyway, let’s roll with a few of my favorite Cornell songs from various points of his career.

The natural starting point would be his Temple of the Dog tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood — whose death broke up that band, leading guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament to subsequently form PJ. The duet between Cornell and PJ singer Eddie Vedder on “Hunger Strike” gives me goosebumps every time. As for Cornell’s work with Soundgarden, I’m actually partial to his relatively restrained voice on “Fell On Black Days,” as opposed to some of his more feral and ferocious stuff. I know a lot of people like to pretend like the “supergroup” Audioslave he was a part of never happened, but I tend to think they got a bad rap and actually produced some good material. The best of it was the groove-infused meditative dirge “I Am The Highway.” And finally, to throw in some solo stuff, let’s go with his final single, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” because … well, it can’t help but remind me of how things ended.