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The Triple Team: The Jazz make repeatedly poor decisions in loss to Timberwolves

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) pulls his jersey over his head after the 96-101 loss as the Utah Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 24, 2021. Reaching in, in street clothes, is Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45).

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 101-96 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz perimeter players make poor decisions, get penalized

The Jazz had 20 turnovers tonight. Nearly all of them were live-ball turnovers, the kind that are the worst because they almost always lead to two points on the other end. Even when they were winning, they weren’t really playing brilliant basketball all of the time.

This is a play that’s gotten the Jazz a lot of success against switching defenses: a surprising pick and roll where Jordan Clarkson rolls to the rim and can playmake or shoot out of that. But Joe Ingles throws a lazy pass — Josh Okogie almost seems surprised his sort-of-outstretched hand made this play. Then Ingles compounds his error by giving a no-doubt clear path foul: two shots and the ball for Minnesota.

I thought a lot of the Jazz’s heartache was due to passing up open shots, instead preferring to drive into the teeth of the defense and trying to make a play from there. The second Georges Niang steps inside the 3-point line here, the value of the Jazz’s possession goes way down — he turns an open corner three from a good shooter into an ugly turnover.

No open shot passed up was more heartbreaking than this one. Mike Conley has the ball at the end of the game, the Jazz are down three, and Minnesota has messed up its defense entirely. He’s wide open. He needs to take this shot. Instead, he tries to lob it to Gobert, which is a bad idea anyway given the score. The pass is intercepted. (He also probably has the league’s best 3-point shooter open in the corner after he drives.)

It’s hard to explain it psychologically: they opened the first quarter absolutely killing it from three, shooting 60% from deep. And then, it seemed like they just became reluctant to take the multitude of opportunities the Wolves were giving them. Yes, the Wolves have long perimeter defenders who close out well — and every guy on the Jazz has a one-dribble three to take advantage of over aggressive closeouts. Instead, it became drive into traffic and turn it over time.

When I asked Quin Snyder what the team could have done to avoid the turnovers, he gave a pretty simple answer:

“Some of this is simple as just — it sounds simplistic, but just like don’t... don’t turn it over,” Snyder said.

I once had a friend who gave me good life advice: “Right when you’re about to suck, don’t.” I’ve certainly used that a time or two, and the Jazz could have used it tonight.

The Jazz, usually, are perhaps the league’s smartest team. Tonight, well, they weren’t that — and the result was the first time they’ve scored less than 100 since January. Oh, and a loss.

2. Rudy Gobert’s focus

We need a special section for Rudy Gobert’s five turnovers tonight — as much as the perimeter offense was poor, Gobert’s inability to hold on to the ball really cost them.

First, this one. Gobert dribbles the ball with a help defender lurking. Look, Gobert is just too lanky to be dribbling in traffic. This is one reason why Gobert post-ups are an awful 0.56 points per possession, per Synergy Sports: he turns the ball over 20% of the time.

He also just is very rarely going to get a loose ball. He’s probably just too far from the floor for it to him to get anything first.

Another turnover. Before he catches the ball, Gobert is backing up, giving Jordan McLaughlin time to get in there and poke the ball away. Step one is catching the ball, step two is dunking it.

Another one. Terrific rebound, high-pointing it and collecting it. And then he turns into traffic and loses the ball. Is it a foul? Maybe. But afterwards, he argued that the Wolves were grabbing his arms and preventing the pass... I don’t see that in the video.

I’ll also point out that his Jazz teammates need to help him here. He needs to have an outlet pass that’s an easier one to make out of the triple team (Hey, that’s the name of this article!), Royce O’Neale needs to cut to the corner or wing and make that pass easier — as is, they’re asking him to make a 25-foot pass out of traffic, and he’s just not going to excel at that.

Gobert’s not generally wildly turnover prone. He’s averaging 1.8 per 36 minutes on the court, which is below other rim-rolling centers like Jarret Allen, DeAndre Jordan, DeAndre Ayton, and Dwight Howard. This is his first game with five turnovers; the Jazz are 6-1 when he has four. That loss was to the Minnesota Timberwolves, by the way.

One more play that was unacceptable: after this turnover, look how long it takes for Gobert to get back in the play.

Yeah, that’s not okay. Gobert can singlehandedly win a game for the Jazz, but tonight, he wasn’t good enough to do that.

3. Jordan Clarkson’s shot selection

Want to know why Jordan Clarkson has gone from inefficient player to potential Sixth Man of the Year? Here’s the chart of his mid-range shots over his career:

He turned essentially all of his mid-range shots to 3-point shots, making him a much more efficient player.

So I was relatively dismayed when the Jazz came out of a key timeout in the fourth quarter and Clarkson did this:

This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad shot. Early in the shot clock, falling away, contested, and not even close. It’s okay not to shoot this... nearly any other Jazz shot would have been a better idea!

In the end, the Jazz need a smart version of Clarkson in the playoffs, when every possession matters. Clarkson set the world on fire in the first couple of months of the season with his ability to make shots easy and difficult, and I understand that you don’t want to lose Clarkson’s aggressive spirit. But he’s got to find a balance between being aggressive and being unwise.

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