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The Triple Team: Jazz’s bench unit this season vs. last season is like night and day; Rudy Gobert’s 6 blocks

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) holds the ball as Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (8) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Charlotte Hornets at Vivint Arena, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 132-110 win over the Charlotte Hornets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz’s bench is on a whole ‘nother level than last year

I want to show you these two graphs from PBPStats.com that show off what a different approach Utah is taking to its bench minutes this year:

Jazz's minutes by number of starters on the floor. Red bars show positive net ratings, blue bars show negative net ratings. Left graph is 2019-20, right graph is 2020-21.

This graph requires some explanation: the x-axis is the number of starters on the floor, while the y-axis is the percentage of time that it happens out of the season’s minutes. The colors are reflective of how effective those lineups are: dark red bars show really high net rating lineups, while dark blue bars show lineups that are getting blasted.

So what do we conclude from this?

1. Last year, none of the bench lineups were effective at all. The lineups with even four starters were only average, and once they had more bench players, they were losing leads built by the starters, and fast. So Snyder tried to minimize the time where they played with anything less than 4 starters.

2. This year, the lineups with two starters have been really good. That’s typically Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, along with some combination of Jordan Clarkson, Georges Niang, Joe Ingles, and Miye Oni. In those minutes, the Jazz have outscored teams by 14 points per 100 possessions. That’s meant Snyder can play everyone fewer minutes, and there’s much less of a white-knuckle ride in the bench times.

3. Oh, the starters are better than last year, too.

But turning those bench minutes from a negative into a big plus has been a huge part of this Jazz team’s success. All of a sudden, the Jazz can, and frequently do, build big leads while only having two starters on the floor.

Normally, I might be a little bit worried about this as a methodology for team success, because teams play their bench lineups less during the playoffs. 16 minutes of bench minutes become eight, meaning there’s about half the time for bench players to make a positive impact. But truthfully, given that the starters have been more effective too, the Jazz get the best of both worlds — they’re just a quality, well-rounded team with very few holes.

2. Turnovers vs. corner threes

It’s not a coincidence the Jazz have set two consecutive franchise records in 3-point makes against this Charlotte Hornets defense.

The Hornets force the fifth-most turnovers in the league, but give up the third-most 3-point shots. That’s because they play this hyper-aggressive style of defense that means they’re always helping in the paint. That does force a lot of turnovers, but frequently means an open 3-pointer is just one pass away.

Here’s a mix the Jazz put together of every one of their 28 threes tonight:

Some examples in particular I want to point out:

• At the 30 second mark, Bojan Bogdanovic drives, but P.J. Washington has it pretty under control. Gordon Hayward helps anyway, giving up an easy pass-out three to Royce O’Neale.

• At 1:01, Conley drives and Miles Bridges doesn’t really try to stay in front, going for the poke-away. But that means that the help inside leaves two options for 3-point shots, with both Clarkson and Ingles getting practice-quality looks.

• At 2:20, Bojan Bogdanovic is posting up, and the Hornets actually send a double-team. Gordon Hayward has to sink down on the big man down low (Derrick Favors), but that means Bogey has an easy pass to the corner for three.

• At 2:49, the Hornets are so low in the paint even before Gobert’s roll that Ingles has an easy quick pass to Niang for the corner three.

• At 3:23, Hayward sinks off of Clarkson to help on Gobert’s roll, even though Clarkson is 10 feet away from the passer. It couldn’t be a more simple three.

Now, we should point out: the Hornets’ force-a-turnover-at-all-costs defense did actually sort of work! They forced 23 Jazz turnovers, and it was essentially their entire offense: they scored 164 points per 100 possessions on transition chances and only 89 points per 100 in half-court. If the Hornets didn’t force turnovers, they were in trouble.

But against this Jazz team, it won’t work. They’re too good at making you pay from 3-point range. I mean, the Jazz had 22 corner 3-point shots tonight — that’s the most any team has had in any game this season.

3. Rudy Gobert blocks

Gobert had six blocks tonight. They were all pretty cool.

One of the things that makes Gobert special is how much space he can take up in the blink of an eye. On the first block, a Ball dunk attempt, Gobert is starting behind the basket when Ball starts going up, but gets there in plenty of time for the block.

The third block is a missed switch, and yet somehow Gobert gets there in time, doesn’t bite for the pumpfake despite the movement, and blocks the 6-11 Cody Zeller with ease.

The double-block is just as impressive. Getting a piece of a ball, then coming over and doing it again? Just ridiculous.

And then the last one is just a mistake by Bridges. Young players keep driving on Gobert in isolation. That is dumb.

We’re just so lucky to get to watch him work day in and day out. There’s no question: Gobert is one of the best defensive players in NBA history.

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