The Triple Team: Jazz offense explodes, bench saves the day against weak resistance from Washington

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) celebrates after Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23)stole an inbound pass and was found as he went to the hoop, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Washington Wizards, in Salt Lake City, Friday, February 28, 2020

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 129-119 win over the Washington Wizards from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. It’s nice to play the league’s worst defense

The Jazz’s offense played at its highest level in weeks, scoring 129 points on the Washington Wizards — who do feature the league’s worst defense. That’s a 127 offensive rating, which is nice on its own, but a 118 offensive rating just on their half-court possessions, which is really, really elite.

As you’d expect, that’s a combination of good Jazz offense and questionable Wizards defense. This basket was the Jazz’s first three of the game, and it’s a nice ready by Bojan Bogdanovic to fake the pass inside to Rudy Gobert, then kick it to Royce O’Neale in the corner.

On the other hand, it’s pretty lazy work by Ian Mahinmi in getting back to Gobert, and that was a very unscary closeout by Bradley Beal.

This is good ball movement by the Jazz, to be sure, but also... Shabazz Napier makes a terrible gamble on the play.

In other words, this was a really nice team to play in terms of getting out of a slump, especially one in which it seemed like the ball stuck far too much. With how aggressive Washington’s defense was in terms of helping, both on the perimeter and with Gobert’s rolls, the Jazz had to pass to get open looks.

I also thought it was a little strange that the Wizards played Isaac Bonga, their best perimeter defender, only 12 minutes, and played Mahinmi, probably their best interior defender, only 13 minutes. Their second unit really struggled with defensive rebounding. Davis Bertans only had five rebounds in his 28 minutes, and Thomas Bryant, who only had two rebounds in his 18 minutes, was even worse.

2. The bench

The Jazz were legitimately saved by the Tony Bradley/Georges Niang minutes. Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were matching -16s on the game. Meanwhile, Niang had a +23, Bradley a +22, Ingles and Clarkson +17, and Conley — the starter who played most with the bench — a +18.

Here’s NBA.com’s graphic showing the Jazz’s rotation, along with their plus-minuses during each stint.


Bradley’s ability to get offensive rebounds — including his own — was crucial. This is nice set-up by Conley, but after Niang misses the three, Bradley’s early work allows him to get the very easy tip in.

But Bradley flashed more of his fringe skills tonight, too. The first opportunity was his three, caught and launched after a jump ball.

“It’s a great feeling shooting it,” Bradley said. "Joe [Ingles] told me, everyone told me to shoot it. Georges [Niang] especially encouraged me to shoot it and make it. There were four seconds left on the clock and Joe was like, ‘Shoot it!’ and I was like, ‘Alright.’ So I took my time, had all day it felt like and shot with confidence.”

It probably surprised people, but Bradley takes and makes those in his G-League games, so of course he’s capable of making the wide open ones in this level. Once, I saw him make 13 threes in a row in practice. That’s just practice, but it’s still pretty impressive!

More regularly useful was his defense, in which he did a pretty good job of defending without fouling. The Jazz’s defensive rating with Bradley out there was just 67, pretty terrific, and Bradley only had one foul. As with many of the positives in this article, this number is significantly caveated by the Wizards’ play, in this case the fact that Ish Smith, Jerome Robinson, and Thomas Bryant frequently took some pretty ill-advised shots.

I also appreciated Joe Ingles’ early aggression from 3-point range, especially after the troubles there against Boston. He only ended up taking five shots, but I thought the early ones he took allowed him to draw in the defense later, leading to his six assists.

Jordan Clarkson remains good, especially against teams with limited rim protection.

3. A good night for random milestones

About a year ago, the NBA gave me access to their NBA Courtside web app, a media-only site that is directly tied to the league’s scorekeeping apparatuses. In short, what it means is faster updates on in-game stats: as soon as the stats are updated by those at the scorers’ table, they refresh on my computer, so I can see how many points a player has, how well he’s shooting, etc. It’s useful for someone in my shoes, but the speed is especially helpful to play-by-play announcers and color commentators.

My favorite feature, though, is the in-game alerts, where it will tell me when teams go on runs, or when a player has a spectacular number of points in a quarter, or when a player has reached a milestone of some sort. It’s pretty lenient about what defines a milestone, so you get some really random ones. Here’s the list from tonight:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic passed Ricky Rubio for 21st on the Jazz All-Time three pointers list with 176.

  • Mike Conley passed Wesley Person for 80th on the All-Time three pointers list with 1,151

  • Mike Conley tied Shawn Kemp for 95th on the All-Time steals list with 1,185

  • Joe Ingles tied Aaron James for 24th on the Jazz All-Time points list with 3,829

  • Rudy Gobert passed Emeka Okafor for 93rd on the All-Time blocks list with 1,004

  • Donovan Mitchell tied Mehmet Okur for 6th on the Jazz All-Time three pointers list with 517

  • Donovan Mitchell passed Al Jefferson for 21st on the Jazz All-Time made shots list at 1,782

It is not surprising that Rubio was surpassed by Bogdanovic in about a two-thirds of a season. But Conley has a real chance to move up the NBA All-Time three leaderboard pretty quickly: he’s now just two made threes behind Jameer Nelson, and three behind Metta World Peace — both notorious 3-point shooters! (Okay, not really.)

I didn’t know who Aaron James was, so I Googled him. He played five seasons for the New Orleans Jazz. There are two good Aaron James stories in this article. First, Hod Rod Hundley, who even was the team’s radio voice way back then, had a catchphrase for him which was apparently “A.J. from the parking lot!” It wass to the point where it’s still James’ nickname.

Second, Jazz GM Bill Bertka drafted him in the second round in 1974, but somehow didn’t know what he looked like. So James walks up to him the next day at the team headquarters and introduces himself, saying, “My name is Aaron James, and you drafted me. How much you going to pay me?”

Gobert’s progress up the All-Time blocks list is going to be interesting to watch. He’s only in his seventh NBA season, so he has a ton of time to get more. On the other hand, we’re not in the era where Mark Eaton could average five blocks a game anymore — as good as Eaton was, teams now would just adjust by taking him out of the paint. If Gobert got 600-700 more blocks in his career, that’d put him at about 30th in league history. (For what it’s worth, he’s only one block behind Rick Mahorn for 92nd.)

Donovan Mitchell has played 2.6 seasons and is already even with Memo Okur — actually legitimately a notorious 3-point shooter for seven seasons — in 3-point shots. The game has changed. Mitchell has a couple of other milestones coming up: on Monday, he’ll tie Jarron Collins for games started for the Jazz with 203 — a good reminder of just how many games Collins somehow started during his Jazz career. Next week, he should also surpass Bryon Russell for 20th on the Jazz’s All-Time assists list.