The Triple Team: Jazz All-Stars come up short as team struggles against an elite defense again this season

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, rear, is separated from Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 101-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. This team will only go as far as their All-Stars can take them

Tonight, both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were well, well short of their All-Star best.

Donovan Mitchell had just 11 points on 4-16 shooting from the field, adding three assists, three steals, and a turnover. He was a game-low -30. (We’ll get to Gobert next.)

Look, you can’t read everything from a player’s box score stats: it really does miss significant nuance. But there’s also the sheer reality that when a player goes 4-16 from the field, or when a center only has four rebounds, those players are negatives on the court — no amount of “little things” are going to make up that distance.

Mitchell consistently took terrible shots, he missed his last seven. It’s just never a good idea to force a contested floatery shot like this with that much time on the shot clock.

I think Mitchell’s trying to draw the foul, but it’s nowhere near a good enough selling job. If that’s going to be the move, he needs to hook the defender’s arm so it’s absolutely clear where contact happens. As is, it looks like good defense at game speed.

Nor is this likely to go in. Mitchell, you have Bojan Bogdanovic, perhaps literally the best open catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter in the league in the corner, and you throw this prayer up? Oh, and once you get your own rebound, you toss it to the other team? Bogdanovic is still an option as you’re falling out of bounds.

It’s not good enough from an All-Star caliber player. Mitchell is absolutely capable of making some really tough shots, it’s one of his best attributes as a player. And yet he can’t be seeking them out at the end of games at the expense of open teammates.

I don’t think it’s that Mitchell doesn’t trust his teammates, I think he does. But I do think he puts too much pressure on himself to be the difference maker in the close games that the Jazz play. But when he goes 4-16, Utah’s not going to have much of a chance.

2. Let’s talk Rudy Gobert

He’s the other All-Star. He also wasn’t good enough. Gobert had just six points on 1-4 shooting. He only added four rebounds, and five fouls. He was a -22.

I actually think that the rebounds were less of a problem than it seems at first glance. While I suppose you’d like Gobert to get some of the offensive ones, only four of the 14 Toronto offensive rebounds came with Gobert on the court, and I don’t think it was particularly realistic that he got any of them. Most of them were accumulated on double-or-triple tap attempt plays around the Toronto rim while Tony Bradley was in the game, not Gobert.

But I do think you have to worry about the offensive effort. Twice in the last three minutes, Gobert dove down the lane with poor results.

On this one, he just calls his own number despite not really having an advantage on Ibaka. The result is a missed layup. I do think that Gobert is occasionally capable of making these plays, but he should have stopped after a step or two when he realized Ibaka was stride-for-stride.

This is the worse one. Gobert gets the ball in pick and roll, it’s a nice read by Ingles. But OG Anunoby comes over, off of Royce O’Neale in the corner, and blocks the shot. From the broadcast angle, it looked pretty clean. Gobert either needs to be able to finish this one or he needs to kick it to O’Neale in the corner — given the circumstance, I’d prefer the pass.

The other problem was that Gobert didn’t get back on defense immediately, thanks to his second or so making a shocked face at the ref. Royce O’Neale has to foul Pascal Siakam as a result.

I do think the Jazz’s defense was pretty good tonight overall, but not so much with Gobert on the floor. With him out there, they had a 117 defensive rating, but with Gobert on the bench, they had just an 82 defensive rating. For the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, that’s an ugly ratio.

Before the season, we talked about the Jazz’s two paths to real championship contention. They were:

1) Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert become top-5 caliber players in the NBA, or

2) The Jazz take the Pistons route, and have just stifling defense in all four rounds while working together on the offensive end.

They haven’t gotten either to happen for them consistently, and that was game No. 64. They have limited time to figure it out.

3. Jazz scared of Raptors’ defensive length

The Jazz have been the ninth-ranked offense in the league this season. Hey, that’s pretty good!

Unfortunately, the results show that that top-10 rank is mostly due to their rank against middling-to-poor defenses. According to CleaningTheGlass, they’re 5th in the league in offensive rating when attacking the worst 10 defenses, 4th in the league when attacking the middle 10 defenses, but they drop to 17th in the league when facing teams with top 10 defenses.

In particular, I think very long, athletic defensive units like L.A.'s, Toronto’s, Milwaukee’s, and Philadelphia’s have given the Jazz the most problems. Interestingly, against the top-10 defenses, it’s not that they struggle more in just one of the Four Factors... they’re just a little bit worse in all of them. They shoot the ball about 2% worse, they turn the ball over 0.4% more, they get 2% fewer offensive rebounds, and they go to the line 3% less. That’s the reason for the change.

After tonight, I was also curious after the Jazz botched their transition play so badly. They only scored 21 points off of 20 Toronto turnovers, and really did seem to have many, many more opportunities to score. Here, he strips Pascal Siakam — great play — but is too hesitant to take the layup against Siakam that he can’t take advantage of either the 1-on-0 or the 2-on-1. He’s probably right that any layup he takes is going to get blocked, but driving his body up then dishing it back seems like the right move.

But as bad as the Jazz were in transition tonight, that hasn’t extended to the rest of the season against teams with length. Actually, against the top 10 defenses, the Jazz have gotten more of their baskets in transition than against the others. So that hypothesis died pretty quickly. Instead, it’s the halfcourt that makes the difference: they have a 92 offensive rating in the halfcourt against the good teams (that ranks 16th), and a >100 offensive rating against everyone else.

If anything, given the fact that the game slows down in the playoffs, this is a bad sign for the Jazz. This isn’t a surprise, but if the Jazz are going to do anything of note come tournament time, they’ll need to significantly raise their game over how they’ve played over the course of the season.