Utah Jazz are not the same as they were before the pandemic. What does that mean for the playoffs?

From the moment it was announced in May that sharpshooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic would be undergoing season-ending surgery, it was apparent that the Utah Jazz would have to find new ways to play, new ways to win.

But now, after having spent more than five weeks in the NBA bubble, after myriad practices, three scrimmages, and eight seeding games, where do they stand, with the Denver Nuggets coming this Monday?

We’ve seen more off-the-bounce 3s attempted in a bid to juice the offense; more perimeter pressure applied as a means of attempting to force additional turnovers; and more run given to the youngsters in the hopes of finding someone, anyone who can contribute even a sliver toward picking up the slack in Bogey’s absence.

Everyone, it seems, has been willing to try anything.

“As a staff, we’ve had the opportunity to coach guys that will let you coach them, and really, we learn from each other,” coach Quin Snyder said after Saturday’s practice. “So when we say we’re evolving and molding to fit — be it our personnel or things we’ve learned about how we how we play, what we want to do better, what we want to do more of — we’ve had a group that’s really receptive. And you’re lucky as a coach to have that. They embrace what we give them, and sometimes they modify what we give them — which is great — and make it better.”

So yeah, the Jazz have a new identity. The question now is, is it a good enough one to get beyond the first round of the playoffs?

We’re about to find out.

While comparisons between what the Jazz did in their 64 games before COVID-19 put the league on hiatus and in the eight seeding games they’ve played since the season restarted in the Orlando bubble aren’t exactly one-to-one given that, you know, there were exactly zero instances in the regular season of Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale all sitting out the same game, not to mention eight games being a relatively small sample size, there are nevertheless some recent trends that bear watching.


The Jazz have made some significant stylistic changes to account for the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic. Here are some key areas to keep an eye on, and how they’ve fared at them pre- and post-hiatus:

Stat • First 64 games (rank), Past 8 games (rank)

EFG% • 55.2 (2nd), 52.6 (18th)

TS% • 58.7 (2nd), TS% 56.8 (17th)

3PM • 13.2 (8th), 15.0 (3rd)

3PA • 34.4 (12th), 42.1 (2nd)

3P% • 38.3 (2nd), 35.6 (12th)

%FGA as 3s • 40.6 (9th), 47.0 (3rd)

%PTS as 3s • 35.6 (6th), 39.7 (2nd)

Pace • 98.95 (25th), 100.69 (19th)

Off Rtg • 112.1 (8th), 109.4 (15th)

Def Rtg • 108.8 (11th), 113.1 (15th)

Net Rtg • 3.3 (8th), -3.7 (18th)

Def Reb% • 74.7 (6th), 74.3 (12th)

Stl • 5.9 (30th), Stl • 7.6 (11th)

Opp TO • 12.0 (30th), 14.8 (T-11th)

Opp 2CP • 12.0 (5th), 12.8 (T-8th)

Opp PITP • 46.3 (9th), 56.5 (22nd)

Opp FG% • 45.2 (11th), 49.4 (20th)

Opp 3% • 35.1 (12th), 37.7 (15th)

For starters, the 3-point shooting.

It’s well-documented at this point that the Jazz had some initial difficulty making 3-pointers, but that they wound up hitting better than 40% in four of their final five games. However, while the Jazz have not been as efficient shooting the ball as they were earlier in the season (with sizable dips n 3-point, true-shooting, and effective field-goal percentages), they’ve at least accomplished Snyder’s goal of being more prolific beyond the arc.

“There’s been a real emphasis for us not being tentative shooting the ball,” Snyder said. “We’ve shot the ball over the course of the year, but felt, given our size and our speed, that those were the things that we could do more of.”

And so they have.

In those regular season games played between when the season started on Oct. 22 to when it stopped on March 11, Utah was eighth in the league in 3s made per game and 12th in 3s attempted; in their eight games in the bubble, the Jazz are third in makes and second in attempts.

Indeed, they have been taking almost eight more 3-pointers per game in the bubble than outside it. Their percentage of overall field-goal attempts that come from 3-point range has gone from 40.6% to 47.0; their percentage of total points coming from 3-pointers has likewise gone from 35.6% to 39.7%. Only the Houston Rockets have scored a greater percentage of their points in the bubble from beyond the arc.

Royce O’Neale acknowledged that there has been a green light to shoot open 3s. He attributed the additional open looks and takes to Utah “speeding up the game, speeding up the pace that we’ve been playing at.”

And it’s technically true, if not dramatically so. Utah’s “pace factor,” which is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team, has gone from 98.95 (25th) pre-hiatus to 100.69 (19th) afterward.

Still, while Snyder has emphasized countering their lack of size by placing a greater importance on speed (“We’re not as big, but we’re quick, we’re fast”), that hasn’t only played out on the offensive end.

During his tenure as Jazz coach, he has never placed much emphasis on forcing turnovers — which was evidenced by the team ranking dead-last in the NBA before the hiatus in opponents’ turnovers per game (12.0).

Since the restart, though, he’s encouraged more perimeter pressure, and the result has been Utah jumping all the way to a tie for 11th in opponents’ turnovers in the bubble (14.8). The Jazz have seen an identical jump in steals per game, going from 5.9 (30th) to 7.6 (11th).

“Defensively, I think we’re doing a better job of communicating, going over little schemes, and I think that we’ve we’ve all kind of figured out,” Mitchell said. “Some of them may not have reflected in the game, but I think the biggest thing is we understand where we need to be on both ends of the floor. And that’s what’s going to be huge.”

Of course, increased perimeter pressure has not proved to be a panacea for what was already a fairly middling defensive performance this season, by Jazz standards. They were 11th in defensive rating pre-hiatus (108.8), and they’ve been 15th in their seeding games (113.1).

There have been multiple culprits: Opponents have been shooting more than 4% better from the field, about 2.6% better from 3-point range, and have been slightly more efficient with second-chance scoring opportunities.

Where the Jazz have really cratered, though, is in points allowed in the paint. Much of that may be attributed to Rudy Gobert not playing two of the eight seeding games, but the numbers have still been ugly. Pre-hiatus, Utah allowed 46.3 points in the paint, ranking ninth; in its seeding games, that jumped to 56.5 — worst among the 22 bubble teams.

Snyder said that remains the single-biggest area in need of improvement.

“Defensively, we’ve had a big emphasis on activity. Against Denver, your ability to protect the paint is crucial. That’s something we haven’t done a good job of, and we need to do that collectively,” he said. “Just really eating space, shifting, and showing our hands, and all those little things that you need to win.”


Game 1 • Monday, 11:30 a.m. MT, ESPN

Game 2 • Wednesday, 2 p.m. MT, TNT

Game 3 • Friday, 2 p.m. MT, TNT

Game 4 • Aug. 23, 7 p.m. MT, TNT

Game 5 • Aug. 25, time and TV TBD*

Game 6 • Aug. 27, time TBD, ESPN*

Game 7 • Aug. 29, time TBD, TNT*

*—if necessary