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The Triple Team: Utah Jazz show a variety of defensive mistakes in home loss to Suns

Jazz just float on defense and can’t find a flow on offense

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes to the bench during a time out, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns, on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 106-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Players just floating defensively

Here’s an instruction I didn’t think I’d have to make to an NBA defense: Unless you have a good reason not to, you should guard your man.

Cam Johnson’s NBA skill is to shoot. So why is Bojan Bogdanovic giving him 15 feet of space one pass away?

Here, Donovan Mitchell doesn’t want to foul Chris Paul, which I get. But after the pass is made, he turns the switch off defensively, leaving Paul to just move and take the open three. You can see him take credit for the mistake after the play.

Royce O’Neale and Mitchell are confused here and both guard Devin Booker in transition. Whoops! Luckily, Booker doesn’t realize it very quickly, giving O’Neale ample opportunity to fix his mistake. He does realize it, he just also still just hangs out in the same area for reasons unknown, leaving Jae Crowder wide open.

This is really, really, really basic stuff. Go find your man and guard him. Yes, Paul was playing tonight, but it doesn’t take a passer of his caliber to realize that it’s a good idea to pass the ball to the guy who isn’t being defended at all. The Jazz can’t afford to just float in no-man’s land.

Even just watching the game from the top of the lower bowl, I just about had a classic head coach’s conniption on the level of basic stuff the Jazz weren’t doing defensively on Thursday.

2. Stop over-helping (especially you, Donovan)

Those lapses you see above were ones where the player just wasn’t focused enough defensively — they weren’t really helping much at all. These ones to follow are ones where the team saw an active threat, then reacted too much — like noticing that you left your oven on and then lighting the house on fire in response.

Mitchell was the worst offender in this category, in my opinion. He points here to deal with the rolling big man, but while he’s pointing, he leaves Cam Payne wide open.

Or this backbreaker at the end of the first half: Mitchell is worried about Booker passing to Ayton again, but it’s really Joe Ingles’ rotation to cut him off from the weak side. But Mitchell bites hard on Booker’s pass-fake, and ends up leaving Mikal Bridges wide-open in the corner.

Here, Mitchell leaves his man to sort of be in the paint nearby Booker. If the Jazz’s scheme is to double-team, great. But it isn’t, and Mitchell’s half double-team does nothing to either Booker or Payne.

“I had a few lapses myself — we all did — as far as trying to help,” Mitchell said. “It’s weird to say, but we were trying to help, but then we were getting in trouble [because of] trying to help each other, if that makes sense. I think that’s the biggest thing, is just trust in the defense.”

Mitchell, as one of the leaders of this team, needs to act by example here first.

3. Where’s the flow on offense?

This team only has one new player in the rotation: Derrick Favors, who isn’t much of a new player at all. Nearly everyone knows how to play with Favors, and it’s safe to say he isn’t the offensive problem. So why does it feel like the offense is so disjointed?

Like, watch this play. We’ll break it down in detail: a lot is actually happening that all adds up to nothing.

Bogdanovic sort of comes for the ball, but it’s not a real effort. So Jordan Clarkson swings it to Gobert and sets Bogey a screen. But because the first effort was so poort, Gobert kind of figures Bogdanovic doesn’t really want the ball right now, and turns away, not seeing that Bogdanovic actually does get open off the curl eventually.

Then it’s Conley’s turn to come up and try to get the ball, but the Suns pop out so to prevent the easy pass. Conley does the smart thing and tails off to the space in the corner, but Gobert’s not comfortable making that pass — Gobert’s thing is passing to cutters going to the rim, not 3-point shooters. So he gives up, just kicks it out to Clarkson. Clarkson rejects Gobert’s screen, but doesn’t want to really attack DeAndre Ayton, so Chris Paul is easily able to stay attached and force the goofy bad shot.

There are a lot of problems here.

• The general speed at which everything is run, but especially by Bogdanovic.

• That Gobert is the key decision maker, but one who lacks the ability to pull off the necessary pass when the easy options are taken away.

• That Clarkson doesn’t want to attack the big man when he has the advantage — ideally, he’d have more confidence there in at least pulling Ayton towards him to open up space.

• That at no point does the defense have to make any real decisions. Everything’s pretty straightforward: they have to deal with X, then Y, then Z. All of it is pretty easy.

There are strengths to continuity, ideally. In a best case scenario, you’d see the kind of flow that the most recent San Antonio championship teams were known for — an if this, then that style of understanding that results in beautiful basketball. A deluge of basketball decision making that’s impossible to stop.

But continuity can also lead to a weakness: predictability. The opponents know the Jazz’s actions by now, and unless you’re running them to Stockton and Malone execution levels, it becomes easier to stop. The Jazz have to either show more wrinkles or execute in a more cohesive manner in order to be dangerous offensively.

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