Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson: Sixth Men scoring
With Donovan Mitchell out, the Jazz had their two candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year trophy lead the team in scoring: Joe Ingles had 21, and Jordan Clarkson had 22.
Ingles, typically, was just masterfully efficient: 8-11 from the field, 5-8 from three, five assists. It was the usual Joe Ingles stuff: making threes, driving left, ten finishing at the rim or passing to the big man. There was only one thing you haven’t seen before, and that was the right handed finish from Ingles.
Look at the bench — assistant coach Vince LeGarza looks at his right hand after the play, and Rudy Gobert actually stands up in celebration to show off his right hand. They love it!
Clarkson, meanwhile, also wasn’t surprising. He scored his 22 by hitting some tough floatery and fadeaway looks, the ones he was just consistently making early in the season. On this one he nearly falls to the ground, loses the ball, but somehow recovers to make this floater.
If you had to sum up these two players, it might be this simple: Joe Ingles makes his baskets look easy, while Jordan Clarkson makes his baskets look hard.
Clarkson is the runaway leader in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year race: right now, he’s the -670 favorite to win the award. In other words, you’d have to bet $670 of your own money to win $100 of the casino’s if Clarkson won. He’s scoring 17.4 points a game for perhaps the best bench unit in the league. He is also the fun choice: everyone knows Clarkson, likes him, and the NBA’s Filipino fans might throw him a parade if he won.
It’s possible Ingles is the better candidate, though. He stands at +650, actually second-most likely to win the award. Yes, he’s only scoring a measly 12.1 points per game. And yet, he’s scoring them at one of the most efficient rates of all time: no one in NBA history has a better true shooting percentage than Ingles, among players taking 7 shots per game or more. He’s also a better passer (albeit probably more turnover prone) and a better defender than Clarkson.
The all-in-one stats that try to put all of these factors together point towards Ingles. Ingles has a 5.8-2.8 lead in Win Shares, a 4.6-4.3 lead in ESPN’s RPM Wins, 4.8-4.5 in RAPTOR WAR, and a 4.4-0.8 lead in BPM.
But Clarkson certainly fits the mold of a Sixth Man winner (read: POINTS!) far more than Ingles does, and the national media essentially crowned him 3 months ago — if voters aren’t doing statistical research, they’re probably just going to check the box next to Clarkson and move on. And that’s basically fine, too.
I think, if I were a betting person, I’d take Ingles’ odds. But I think it’s more likely Clarkson wins the award. Still, it’s worth noting what a luxury the Jazz have: very possibly, the two best sixth men in the league belong to Utah.
2. I don’t think the Lakers centers are going to play much in a hypothetical Jazz/Lakers series
It’s really a shame that in three Jazz/Lakers matchups this season, we never got to see a full-strength battle. Anthony Davis missed all three games, and LeBron James and Donovan Mitchell missed two of them.
So it’s really, really hard to learn anything from what happened this weekend: the Lakers are going to be a much different team with their two best players involved. But here’s one thing that I think I did learn, maybe: I don’t think the Lakers are going to be able to play too much of Andre Drummond or Montrezl Harrell in that series.
Drummond had a big points game on Saturday, but truthfully, I wasn’t too impressed: he scored a lot of those in transition, when he was the highest man up the floor, staying attached to Ersan Ilyasova. And in both games, defensively, he had no impact, offered no resistance. Like, does Joe Ingles do this to a lot of centers? Yes. Does it usually require at least a ball fake to get the defense out of the way? Also yes.
Honestly, it was repeatedly Kanterian defense — Drummond seems to lack the lateral movement to defend the pick and roll well, and it’s something the Jazz should be able to eat up with either Gobert or Derrick Favors on the floor.
Harrell’s the better player, but his length deficit made it exceptionally easy on Gobert tonight to bother his shot and get rebounds anyway. Then, because he doesn’t have an outside jump shot, Gobert can play free safety a little bit, stifling the other Lakers’ drives. I think Harrell’s playoff fate might be similar to last year, when he was a net negative for the Clippers.
Their third center is Marc Gasol, who didn’t play tonight. He’s not a terrific mover either at this point in his career, but does offer more smarts defensively than the other two, as well as a jump shot. He could play.
Now, yes, the Lakers could play Drummond/Harrell/Gasol next to Davis, and then have Davis guard Gobert so that he’s defending the Jazz’s pick and rolls. But who does Drummond/Harrell/Gasol guard, then? Bogdanovic? Ingles? O’Neale? All three are terrific shooters and could likely drive past those slow-footed big men.
In other words, I think the Lakers are going to be best with Davis at the five against the Jazz, probably with a Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis lineup. That... is a really tough lineup, and thanks to Alex Caruso, Wes Matthews, Ben McLemore, and Markieff Morris, they still have decent enough depth to play behind those guys. Davis will have to sit at some point, and the Jazz could be at an advantage in those minutes, but the Lakers will be a really tough team to stop.
3. Grab bag!
Good news: you get a few extra thoughts for this game! Bad news: those thoughts are way shorter than the usual Triple Team points!
• Royce O’Neale went 5-5 from the three, and I still thought he passed up some shots he should take. The Lakers defense was pretty aggressive about rotating off of him to help on others, and he needs to shoot the ball to punish it, otherwise it clogs up everything else. Still, he was at least relatively aggressive — whenever he shoots, I love it.
• We got the chance to ask Derrick Favors about the knee injury. “The knee is fine,” Favors said. “With the compressed season, all the travel, all the games, the knee gets sore. It was just a precautionary thing. I didn’t want it to get bad.”
He was also asked if he’s been dealing with a nagging injury that explains some of the ups and downs of his athleticism we’ve seen this year. He didn’t think so, but said sometimes he was stiff due to the schedule or simply playing short stints. We see Favors with a heat pad on his back and on the bicycle at home games, trying to keep the body moving, so it looks like the Jazz are trying to mitigate that stiffness.
• Mike Conley’s ability to get anywhere on the floor while keeping his dribble alive is such a useful skill. The Lakers played relatively high on him in the pick and roll, but he was able to escape those situations and find the open man nearly always.
• ESPN’s commentary team repeatedly referred to Donovan Mitchell as the Jazz’s best player, but again, there’s an argument there as to whether it’s Mitchell or Gobert in reality.