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So … maybe you heard that TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew had some bizarrely-timed criticisms of Donovan Mitchell during and after Thursday night’s national broadcast of Jazz-Pelicans.
If not, basically, Barkley said during halftime that Don “makes zero impact on the rest of the game” beyond scoring. And in the postgame interview, after the All-Star guard posted 36 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Utah’s seventh straight win, O’Neal added, as an apparent challenge, “You don’t have what it takes to get to the next level.”
It was weird, and Donovan has since been celebrated for his cold-blooded, awkwardness-inducing, one-word reply to Shaq (”Aight”).
The “Inside the NBA” crew (which also includes Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith) has been increasingly criticized in recent years for their befuddling habit of randomly tearing down some of the NBA’s brightest young stars. And social media reaction to Shaq and Chuck’s weird excoriated them for more of the same:
• “I have no idea what Shaq was trying to accomplish with this, but it certainly did not go the way he thought it would,” Sam Vecenie, national NBA writer for The Athletic, wrote on Twitter. “Also like, Donovan Mitchell isn’t one of these young dudes who has plateaued. He just dropped 36 PPG in a playoff series last year. Why are you challenging him?”
• “Love Shaq and old-school motivational tactics, but this misses the mark badly. Mitchell deserves much better, publicly,” Tweeted CBS Sports Radio’s Brandon Tierney. “Dude dropped 57, 51 and 44 in playoffs last year. 52% on 3′s. Pushed superior team to max. Had 36 last night, takes time to chat and gets hit w/this? Weak.”
• “The last thing shaq expected was for mitchell to not give on single solitary damn about his opinion. good for donovan,” wrote ESPN’s Bomani Jones.
• Ben Detrick, a contributor to the New York Times, Vice, and The Ringer, among others, summed up the show’s present vibe pretty succinctly: “Shaq’s confrontational schtick aside, the bigger issue is the NBA cultivating an environment where every talking head’s persona is Toxic Boomer.”
Georges Niang on Rudy Gobert: ‘I don’t think anyone will ever understand how valuable he is’
Following Thursday’s pregame shootaround, Jazz forward Georges Niang was asked if there was anything different about the team that had precipitated the six-game winning streak they were on heading into their rematch against the Pelicans.
Georges, displaying his typical candor, admitted he that while he knew the Jazz were playing well, he’d had no idea they were even on such a streak until someone told him following Tuesday’s win.
Still, he did say there were definitely some principles that had taken root — although they’d been planted by Quin Snyder a while ago now.
“At the beginning of the year, coach was just going over film with us of the bad habits that we had, whether it was defensively, or not running the floor, or not spacing for each other, and he was like, ‘We know what those bad habits get us — those bad habits get us out in the first round,’” Georges recalled.
While he noted that the team’s focus on transition play was important, he also made it known that, “on the defensive end, we’re really taking it up a notch.”
When it was pointed out that Utah had posted the best defensive rating in the league over the course of that winning streak, he explained that was mostly attributable to “attention to detail — making teams uncomfortable, following the scouting report, forcing guys on the other team to get to areas where they’re not as high a percentage of shooters or finishers.”
Beyond even those factors, though, he said there was one even bigger reason for their defensive success. And by “bigger,” he meant roughly 7-foot-1 and 258 pounds.
“I can’t speak enough on Rudy Gobert and his value to our team, especially defensively,” Georges said. “I know there’s a lot of critics out there that try to devalue him with their words, but I don’t think anyone will ever understand how valuable he is to this team unless you’re in this locker room. The stuff that he brings, no one else can bring, whether that’s protection at the rim, whether that’s being the anchor, talking to us constantly — he lives and breathes it and he’s become a true leader since I’ve been here.”
Opposing player compares these Jazz to ‘old-school Spurs’
It’s not exactly classified information that these Jazz have been influenced by the San Antonio Spurs organization, given Dennis Lindsey’s time working with RC Buford, as well as Snyder’s time spent leading the Spurs’ old D League affiliate, the Austin Toros.
The similarity of the franchises, though, apparently goes beyond organizational philosophy and into on-court play. At least according to one Jazz opponent.
Ironically, it was a question about Utah’s prodigious 3-point attack that evoked the San Antonio comparison from Pelicans center Steven Adams.
“It’s the pace that they play at it. And the way that they run the offense is similar to the old-school Spurs, if that makes sense,” he said. “They [take] a whole half a second to make a decision, to speed up the offense and get you going all different places. That’s the difficult part. … It’s how they function together.”
Utah’s collectivism would emerge as something of a theme in Adams’ analysis. When later asked if he had noticed any schematic changes that would explain the Jazz’s rise through the defensive rating rankings this season after they struggled there last season, the Kiwi countered that no, he hadn’t noticed anything different, and that the sample size was too small yet to draw any conclusions about their defensive improvement anyway.
But, that said, he added there was something pretty noticeable about the Jazz’s on-court style:
“You can tell that this team plays really well together, that they buy into the system — they have the core guys there who’ve known the system for a long time — and so that’s what makes them go, offense or defense,” he said. “I don’t know about rating or anything like that, but as a player, you can definitely feel that. There is no secret coverage that they’re doing or anything like that — they just know how to play together.”
I asked for your questions — about the Jazz, basketball in general, music, or whatever (and immediately began hoping the latter wouldn’t produce too much weirdness) and you delivered the goods. In the future, if you have a question you want brought up in the newsletter Q&A, fire off a tweet to @tribjazz or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, I got so many good ones this time around, I’m gonna save a few for next week, plus try to keep these responses tight:
• “Jazz/music question: what songs comparable to ‘Breathe’ by Michelle Branch would you prescribe to other slumping Jazz players?” — @zarinf
Excellent combination of two of my areas of my knowledge, as well as a beautiful throwback to Georges revealing the meditation jam that inspired his breakout performance. Do they need something aggressive to fire them up? How about “Piss And Vinegar” by Against Me! or “(F)lannigan’s Ball” by the Dropkick Murphys? Something more mellow, perhaps with a nice groove to it? We can go as varied as Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)[feat. MGMT & Ratatat]” to “Nothing In My Way” by Keane. Just some music to plain old make you happy? Let’s go with “C’mon” by Kesha and “Tell Me Baby” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And if they want some extra hip-hop? Guessing they’ll know better stuff than me, but a couple that get me bobbing my head are the remix version of Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” and “Ms. Hill (Mixed)” by Talib Kweli.
• “The Jazz currently are forcing the fewest turnovers in NBA history. Cause for concern?” — @McCadeP8
Fellow Twitterite @rgiss11 jumped in to note that through the Jazz’s first 14 games, their “opponent turnover percentage” was at 9.5%, and that the previous record low through 14 games was the 76ers’ 9.8% in 2018-19. So, yeah — their lack of forcing turnovers is a concern. Local media actually talked about this to Quin Snyder not too long ago, and while he noted that the Jazz scheme simply does not emphasize forcing turnovers, he did acknowledge that he wants to see perimeter defenders such as Donovan and Mike and Royce and JC start to get a bit more aggressive, while still being disciplined. It’s more than fair to say they need to improve here.
• “Who’s the coolest jazz player to interview right now? And why?” — @UtahJazzUruguay
I like different guys for different reasons. Once Joe Ingles gets his requisite “I hate talking to you guys” boilerplate out of the way, he gives incredibly insightful answers. Georges has just the right blend of earnestness and humor. And Jordan has this kinda offbeat but endearing vibe that’s just fun to wade through.
• “Have you tried any new cheeses lately?” — @RealMcKoye
Ha! This is a throwback to a convo we had a year or two ago about a heavenly few hours that Mrs. TribJazz and I spent in a cheese shop in Amsterdam, sampling the delicious wares. Sadly, the answer is no. It’s been months and months since I tried a Wensleydale with cranberries. There was a baked brie at Christmas, though I didn’t love it. Mostly, though, it’s pretty much been my old stand-bys, such as muenster and pepper jack. And so, I’m happy to take recommendations! What do you like? (Keeping in mind I’m not the world’s most adventurous eater, and anything too funky will not be well-received.) Let me know!