Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-103 win against the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Donovan Mitchell, taking advantage of opponent fear
There are times when Donovan Mitchell tries to establish dominance in a game through sheer will. In those times, he’ll sometimes make some bad decisions by attacking quality rim protectors, or an opponent’s best defender, without much of an advantage. Turnovers and missed shots can result.
But tonight, I thought he showed impressive depth to his game, by taking advantage of the specific things Portland game-planned for, then subverting expectations by pulling off the counters.
For example, when we asked Quin Snyder about Donovan Mitchell’s game tonight, he said this was his favorite play:
It’s a simple kickout three to Joe Ingles, but it’s something that Mitchell can miss, especially when he’s feeling hot. It’s also a play that he can get — defenses often try to sink in on him, and then that easy pass is open after just the threat of driving to the rim.
If Quin Snyder had asked me instead, this was one of my favorites of the season from Mitchell. he attacks the closeout after the pumpfake, but still has one fake left. Watch it carefully: he hesitates and looks as if he’s going to gather and jump (either for a high-flying dunk or a jumper)... and then just easily sidesteps Jusuf Nurkic for a layup once he’s stepped towards him.
Obviously, defenses also know Mitchell has been a very good 3-point shooter this year, so they can and will bite on pumpfakes like this. This is even a talented defender in Robert Covington who bites on this one, despite having the length advantage.
That’s superstar stuff. When you can go 1-8 from deep and still fake convincingly, still see how a defense is guarding you and counter the situation, you become much harder to guard. And at that, there’s no doubt: Mitchell has taken a huge step forward this year.
2. Jazz taking advantage of bad defenders
Portland is the 29th ranked defense in the NBA this year. In fact, they’re currently slated to have the third worst defensive rating of all time. Only the Kings (hey, the Jazz’s next opponent!) and the woeful 2018-19 Cavaliers have been worse.
And it makes sense: there’s just a dearth of good defense anywhere on that roster. Covington’s fine, Nurkic is a playable drop big. Norm Powell can be okay at defense. But Lillard and McCollum are too small, one-way guards. Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little clearly haven’t figured it out yet.
And the two of the worst defenders in the league: Enes Kanter’s famously a very bad defender, something Jazz fans will be aware of. And honestly, the Jazz were exploiting Carmelo Anthony’s slow defense in the playoffs to devastating effect 4 years ago now. It nearly took him out of the league.
I like Terry Stotts as a coach, but man, you can’t play Kanter and Melo together. Tonight, the Jazz scored 152 points per 100 possessions with those guys on the floor. Their offensive skills didn’t make up for it, either; overall, the Jazz were outscoring them by a point per possession every time they were out there.
Take this possession. Conley’s isolated on Kanter, already bad news bears for Portland, but Conley misses the shot. Melo knows that Kanter is out there, so as the next tallest guy on the floor, he should probably go for the rebound, no?
He does not. So Gobert gets the rebound over Little, who is little. (He’s 6-5.) At this point, you might wonder, if you were Melo: should I help my Little friend here? He seems to be in a predicament, with a much taller guy with the ball very close to the basket! Melo does not help. Dunk. Foul. Embarrasment.
Does any Blazer even think about making a play here?
I don’t know, guys. It’s just... well, it’s 3rd worst defense ever bad.
Credit the Jazz for taking advantage. Demerit the Blazers for this roster and this lineup construction.
3. Derrick Favors, No. 10.
Derrick Favors has been a Jazz player for literally a decade.
It was honestly a little bit nostalgic for me to see Favors and Kanter play against one another tonight — I could look up from press row at Vivint Arena to the upper bowl corner seats I used to have, watching them play together as the frontcourt of the future for the Jazz as a fan. And now, I’m watching them battle for rebounds, playing relatively minor roles for teams that don’t look as we envisioned back then.
Tonight, he passed Mehmet Okur for 10th on the Jazz’s all-time points list.
Of the 7,257 points he’s scored in a Jazz uniform, which are his favorite? He said the first shot that came to mind was the one that gave the Jazz a three-point lead in Game 6 of the Oklahoma City series. It was an absolutely huge shot — not the one the Jazz drew up, but Favors bailing them out when they needed the help.
10 years changes things, and I thought Favors put the differences in roles well when we asked him to look back on his career in a Jazz uniform.
“At the beginning of my career, they needed me to come in and be a defender and rebounder,” Favors said, noting his bench role behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. “Then when Quin got here, my role kind of changed to be like a pick and roll scorer in the low post. And then the NBA changed, and I’m back to being a good defender, rebounder, and screen setter.”
It’s funny thinking about that — the man was essentially demoted because of a lack of versatility, but he’s been extremely versatile in playing multiple roles for his team. Funny how that works.
After a slow start to the season, I think he’s really played well for the Jazz in the last month. He’s back to contesting shots more, and still works on the glass and has terrific hands and finishing ability around the rim.
“I think I have a lot of guys’ respect on the team,” Favors said. “Just the way that I carry myself, the way I come to work and how I work during practice and during the offseason, how I play during the games. I never complain about much. I just accept the role and play to the best of my abilities.”
That’s Derrick Favors for you — present, consistent, resilient. Now, in the Jazz’s all-time scoring list, ascendant.