The Triple Team: Utah Jazz lose again on this homestand, but Quin Snyder says progress made amid lineup change

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) shoots as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends during the second half during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-103 loss to the Boston Celtics from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Do we believe Quin Snyder should be positive about this loss?

As soon as Quin Snyder began his press conference, without receiving a question, he delivered this statement:

“While it’s not the result that we want, obviously, but I thought we gave a really, really pure, good effort. I think you can feel it watching the game. We’ve got to make a few more shots, Boston hit some tough shots and we had a couple of breakdowns, particularly when Smart hit those threes. But I saw a team that was committed to defending and playing together.”

Do we believe that? Is Quin right? Let’s do a pro and con list.

Pro: The Jazz only gave up 114 points instead of 131 points on Monday. That’s better!

Con: But they did it on far fewer possessions. There were only 88 possessions in this game, per CleaningTheGlass, which means the Jazz had a 128 defensive rating. It was 130 in the Phoenix game. I mean, I guess that’s better, but not by enough to be positive about it.

Pro: But Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown made a bunch of tough shots. This is legitimately true. Tatum, in particular, was on fire, scoring 33 points on 13-20 shooting, including 3-5 from three. And that’s continued a trend for Tatum: he made 8-12 threes last night against Portland, too.

Con: Okay, but there were still so many instances of defensive miscommunication. This was at a critical time in the game, and the Jazz didn’t figure out who was guarding Smart. So he just walked into a wide open three.

Pro: But the Jazz usually did better on their absolutes. The pace shows how much better the Jazz did at controlling transition play, allowing “just” 11 fast break points. They walled off the paint more, allowing 56 instead of 66 paint points. And they didn’t foul as much, with only 16 free-throws instead of 24. Improvement!

Con: The Celtics still got their baskets way too easily. In particular, Rudy Gobert wasn’t a force inside at all. He is so far below his Defensive Player of the Year best. Do better here.

After considering both sides, here’s my take: yes, the Jazz played better. No, it was not good enough to beat contender-level teams. And given that the Jazz want to be that — although this week has put significant doubt on the concept — there’s still so, so far to go.

Is it the right move to publicly praise the guys after sub-par play that was still a step forward? It wasn’t a publicly popular move, to be sure: people on Twitter are mad about his statements. But it might have the effect of keeping the locker room together on a tumultuous day. The Wizards are coming up on Friday and are a good offensive team, we’ll see if they progress or regress.

2. The starting lineup fiasco

I’m comfortable calling this a fiasco.

So in the morning, before shootaround, Quin Snyder sat Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale down, and told them that O’Neale was starting, and Conley would be benched. The media spoke to Conley after shootaround, but we didn’t ask Conley if he was starting. But he didn’t he seem down or discouraged, and has always positioned himself as a team first guy anyway.

The switch makes a lot of sense, actually. Clearly, the Jazz need more defensive presence in the starting lineup, and Royce O’Neale is the only guy who was on the bench that qualifies as that. Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Bojan Bogdanovic are entrenched in their starting positions for good reason, so the bench player had to be either Conley or Joe Ingles.

Interestingly, the two lineups are about equally effective over the course of the year. In 537 minutes this season, Mitchell/Ingles/Bogdanovic/O’Neale/Gobert is a +16 per 100 possessions. It is legitimately one of the best lineups in the league. (Admittedly, it hasn’t been as good recently, but still.) Meanwhile, Conley/Mitchell/Bogdanovic/O’Neale/Gobert is a +14.4 in 299 minutes.

But where I think the difference is made is with the bench units. Ingles played poorly coming off the bench at the beginning of the season — and for good reason, he really needs an excellent pick-and-roll big to play with to be effective offensively. Plus, Conley’s strong points are his team leadership with the ball in his hands, like the role he played in Memphis. Having get the ball more in a 6th man role could get him back closer to his last-season peak.

Anyway, mid-afternoon, Snyder changed his mind. It would be Ingles moving to the bench, not Conley.

What happened in between the decisions? I have no idea. Conley said he was napping when the second change was made. Did his agent make a call to the Jazz on his behalf? Did the criticism on social media change someone’s mind? Honestly, the thought of either of those two factors changing a decision is worse than making a bad decision: you can’t let player agents and social media dictate rotational decisions. Did the front office intervene? I mean, I suppose that’s possible, but did Snyder and the front office really not have a conversation about this beforehand? That’s also nearly unimaginable.

Did Snyder just have a change of heart? He’s talked about how he doesn’t think starting lineups are that important — and I tend to agree — but he had 36 hours to make this decision, and of course, a whole season to think about it before that.

Either way, it’s a terrible look. First, I believe it’s just the wrong decision: Ingles should be starting instead of Conley, for the reasons I wrote above. I mean, look at Ingles’ line tonight: two points on 1-3 shooting, two assists, two fouls, and a game-low -17. It’s just one game, but it tends to support my line of thinking.

But secondly, making a change and then changing the change isn’t good for anyone involved, either. The players had hours to come to grips with one decision, and prepared in shootaround for that outcome. Then, the rug is pulled mid-afternoon, and they have to handle that? Even if starting lineups aren’t critical, the whiplash certainly isn’t helpful. From an organizational point of view, it sets the Jazz back some, making things look circus-like in what typically has been regarded as one of the NBA’s best-run franchises.

All of it was wholly avoidable, too. Oh well.

3. The worst of times

This is the most frustrating play in existence.

First: the Jazz had a good defensive possession. Terrific work by Rudy Gobert here, to get the block. Good push by the Jazz to get Bogey in transition, good work by Bogey to recognize the layup was difficult and to find Royce O’Neale — although there’s definitely a travel here, keep that just between us.

Then, catastrophe. O’Neale passes up the wide open shot to pass to Conley, who passes up a wide open shot to pass to O’Neale again, who passes up a wide open shot to pass to Ingles, who passes up a wide open shot to do nothing with it. Then, Conley misses the iso layup.

Which is worse? O’Neale passing up two just ridiculously wide open 3-point opportunities, when he is a 40% 3-point shooter? Or is it Conley passing up an open corner three, a good look, plus missing a layup? Or is it Ingles for not only passing up his open three but stopping the play entirely, the world’s most obvious, awful-sounding record scratch?

There’s no good answer, only three bad ones. While I do think the game was better overall than the Phoenix game, this was the homestand’s very worst moment.

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