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The Triple Team: Jazz defense holds strong vs. Pistons; evaluating the struggles of Bogdanovic and Griffin

(Carlos Osorio | AP) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes to the sideline to talk with head coach Quin Snyder during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Detroit.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 96-86 win over the Detroit Pistons from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz defense carries the day

You know, it was nice to see the Jazz get an old-school, defense-first win, evocative of the way they played during the middle-late 2010s. I know that’s not a terrific Pistons offense, but that’s two teams in a row that the Jazz have held to well below their normal scoring efficiency.

I thought that the Jazz set the tone early defensively. This was the Pistons’ first play, actually: Josh Jackson gets the ball, but Donovan Mitchell stays attached the whole time as the bigger Jackson drives, and ends up with a punctuating swat.

That kind of mid-range defense was a trend; the Jazz only allowed the Pistons to shoot 2-16 from between 3 feet and the 3-point line. Rudy Gobert can be sneaky in these moments — Mason Plumlee looks open here and then very, very quickly becomes very, very not open.

I’m not sure how much credit you can give the Jazz for stopping the Pistons on the perimeter. They were clearly willing to give the Pistons 3-point looks, as they took 39 on the night. But the Pistons are such poor shooters that they only made 10 of them. It was both a smart gameplan and one that worked better than you might have even expected.

But you do have to give the Jazz significant credit for their rebounding on the night. The Jazz got 38% of their missed shots on one end of the floor, while allowing the Pistons to get just 22% of their own misses, of which there were many. The Pistons are a big team, with Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, and Mason Plumlee all in the starting lineup, but the Jazz locked them off the glass despite their much smaller stature. Give credit to both Gobert (20 rebounds) and Derrick Favors (14 rebounds in 17 minutes).

2. Let’s talk about Bogey

Clearly, Bojan Bogdanovic has struggled so far this season. Here are his stats from this year and last year on a per-36-minute basis.

So, obviously, the shooting percentages are down. You’d expect those to recover during the season: Bogdanovic is obviously better than a 35% shooter. It might be reasonable to expect some decline after a wrist surgery, but he’s going to shoot better at some point.

I thought I’d see more turnovers, but I’m actually seeing fewer — along with fewer assists. That’s something I’d like to see Bogdanovic do more of: drive with his eyes out, looking for a potential pass rather than a shot for himself. That will have the end impact of raising his assists, his turnovers, and also his shooting percentage.

He’s been trying to draw a lot of fouls this season, and it’s just not working. He’s getting to the line less than half as frequently. Those attempts at drawing fouls that don’t go well are nearly always misses.

I think Bogdanovic is going to be fine. We’re only 10 games into the season, and he’s a very talented player, and has been his whole career. He is 31, and it’s very possible that we saw the best season of Bogdanovic’s career last season. Given how early it is, I’d like to see him keep the same approach as he used last year and see if he can regain that form. If he can’t, then he’ll need to adapt his game late in the season.

3. Blake Griffin looks ... pretty rough

You know, there were two really excellent eras of Blake Griffin’s career.

The first was his first five seasons in the league, all All-Star seasons. He scored with crazy athleticism, terrific play in the post, and was a terror in transition. From 2010-2015, there was no one in the league that played more like Karl Malone than Blake Griffin.

Then there were some injuries at the end of his Clippers career, and that suspension for punching a trainer — just not a good move. But the Clippers were desperate to re-sign him as a free agent, pitching him on being a legend with one team for the rest of his career. They went so far as to raise a pretend banner of Griffin in the Staples Center rafters during the pitch.

The Clippers traded Griffin less than a year later.

Still, that next season with Detroit, he was excellent in a whole different way — as the league’s most versatile point forward. He could score inside still, yes, but he could also shoot threes, and deliver perfect dimes to his teammates. They weren’t very good teammates, but he was the brightest star of the bunch, and again deservedly got an All-Star nod.

Last year, he had knee surgery after just 18 games. And this year, he looks really rough, shooting over 60% of his shots from 3-point range, and clearly being a liability on defense. At one point, the Pistons ended up with Griffin switched onto Mike Conley, and they panicked to such an extent that they brought a man over to double team him about 25-30 feet from the basket. They were probably afraid of this style of isolation domination, a play from Mitchell on Griffin early in the game.

It’s such a bummer — he just can’t move like he used to, even two seasons ago. The man was betrayed by his team and his body, and now he’s rotting on a rebuilding Pistons team. Normally, a contender would trade for him in these circumstances, but if he’s not helping the Pistons, who can he help?

You hope that he gets some better movement in his knee as he gets further away from surgery. But for now, things look quite dire for Griffin.

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