The Triple Team: Jazz show up with no intensity in loss; Royce O’Neale’s guard defense; Rudy Gobert’s rim finishing

Brooklyn Nets' Caris LeVert (22) drives past Utah Jazz's Royce O'Neale (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 130-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz start the game with zero intensity

One reason Quin Snyder is such a well-respected coach in the NBA is that he has the trust of his players — generally, those who play for Snyder come away raving about the experience. And I think one big reason for that is the trust he places in them: he talks to players about big decisions, gets feedback on how they want to play, and generally works hard to get buy-in up and down the organizational ladder. There’s an air of professionalism around the Jazz because of this reciprocal trust.

So what do you do when that professionalism turns to complacency?

The play-by-play does enough to tell you what happened tonight: the Jazz started the game with a 23-5 disadvantage because they were playing lazily. If you don’t believe me, ask everyone:

Quin Snyder said: “I think to begin with, we didn’t have urgency, I don’t think there was really anything we did well ... Certainly there was a lack of intensity and focus on the defensive end at the beginning of the game.”

Donovan Mitchell said: “I think that’s where our problem is, is having the same sharp minded mindset from the jump. Not waiting to get punched in the mouth and then saying, ‘oh, s***, we’ve got to play.’”

Royce O’Neale said: “We just didn’t come out aggressive, starting with myself on the ball.”

Rudy Gobert said: “I just didn’t bring it tonight, especially in the first quarter. I have to set the tone for my team. ... Tonight I didn’t start the game with the intensity that I should have.... I started the game soft.”

I could show you video clips of this, but if you’ve watched this Jazz team before, you know what their disinterested version looks like. It’s not pretty. The Jazz didn’t run back in transition, didn’t execute their offensive sets with force, and defended the paint about as well as Goombas defend Princess Peach’s Castle.

I have little doubt they’ll come out against the Knicks on Wednesday and play better. And yet, if they aren’t going to take more of these games seriously, why should the viewing public treat them as a serious contender? That’s also a point Mitchell rose in his postgame press conference:

“We have to be this (better) team every day, not, 75% of the time or whatever. If we want to be a team that’s contending for a championship, we have to do it every day.”

They’re falling short of that standard.

2. I don’t think Royce O’Neale is a good guard defender

I think we have enough evidence now — Royce O’Neale doesn’t pose much of a problem for opposing guards.

The NBA attempts to track defensive matchups by designating who is guarding who on a play-by-play basis. Of course, this approach has all sorts of limitations — NBA defense is a 5-man game. Who gets blame for a blown switch, or a missed help? Who gets blamed for a basket at the end of a breakdown in which one player made seven great defensive plays but not the eighth? And of course, there are huge sample size problems as well.

And yet, the numbers aren’t pretty. Take a look at last year’s numbers:

Last year, O’Neale was credited as being the primary defender on a guard 52% of the time, and on a forward 43% of the time — the remaining 5% he ended up on a center in transition or on a switch. Guards shot 49% against him, while forwards shot just 42% on him.

We also have a 7-game sample size from the Jazz’s playoff series.

Finally, we also have the 7 game sample from the 2020-21 season so far.

Look, if these matchup stats weren’t what I was seeing by the eye test, I’d raise some doubt, but they match exactly. I just don’t think O’Neale has the speed, the reaction time, or the length to bother the league’s top guards. I think he’s a very good defender against forwards. But against guards? I think he’s a poor defender.

3. Rudy Gobert’s not dunking

Rudy Gobert shot 3-10 from the floor tonight, all within three feet. That shouldn’t happen.

To be sure, finishing layups in the NBA is harder than everyone thinks it is. Shaquille O’Neal, who certainly criticized Gobert this week in multiple ways, finished only 74% of his shots from within three feet, and he’s perhaps the best at-the-rim finisher of all time.

Gobert is at 72% from within three feet in his career, which is pretty darn good. And yet, I thought his focus against the Nets was really poor, as he tried to finesse the ball into the basket rather than, well, unleashing his inner Shaq.

Like, he has tremendous position against Jarrett Allen here. And his move is to try to go off the glass for a quickie layup, like he’s 6-4 or something?

Since Gobert said it, I’ll say it too: that play is Charmin soft. Whether he chooses to pivot and dunk, jump and turn in mid-air and dunk, reverse dunk, or pump-fake up get the foul and try to finish through it, the options are endless. What he can’t do there is throw up a weak sneaky layup with Allen lurking behind him — a lurker he’s known about for the whole possession.

There’s a famous story about Giannis Antetokounmpo out there, which may or may not be true. Apparently, a ball boy found one of Giannis’ game plans discarded after the game in the locker room. On it? “It simply said ‘DUNK EVERYTHING’ in broken handwriting.”

Rudy, now that Giannis has the MVP and the DPOY, he’s a pretty good example to follow.

Dunk Everything.

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