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Gordon Monson: Time for the Utah Jazz to tilt the junk drawer, throw out what they don’t need, add what they do

Exposed by the longer, leaner LA Clippers in the postseason, the Jazz must find some athletic, two-way help

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) as the Utah Jazz host the Houston Rockets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 12, 2021.

Now that the winning and losing are over, it’s that time, time for the Jazz to tilt the junk drawer and let everything roll down into the corner to rummage through what they’ve got and what they don’t.

Let the pens and paperclips and staples and the perimeter defense and the blender and the drives and kicks and the rubber bands and the notepads and the transition D and the rebounding and the funnel to Rudy and the scissors and the tape dispenser and the rotations and the pick and roll and the corner 3s and the [toenail] clippers — oops, too soon? — and old lineups and the glue slide into a crowded, jumbled pile for proper sorting.

And bandages, that box of Band-Aids. Let that slide, too, along with a bottle of Ibuprofen. And money clips and perhaps a magnifying glass.

The Jazz need to rummage through it all, and keep what’s worth keeping and toss out the rest, and add stuff in, despite the tight boundaries, expense, and finagling necessary to do so. Turns out, a whole lot of it is worth holding onto, and anyone who suggests chucking the entire drawer is reacting out of emotion, not good-sense thinking.

One thing that’s not in the drawer — and never was — is perfection.

Donovan MItchell is a star and has a bright, bright future with the Jazz, everybody knows it. He’s still only 24, and … yes, there are continued bits of refinement that could help him and the Jazz in the future — better reading and recognition, better judgment regarding shooting and swinging the ball, and becoming a better defender, an authentic two-way guy. But he is a conscientious player who works hard as he learns his lessons.

The fact that he had a bum ankle really did put a drag on him. That’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.

Rudy Gobert. What to do with Rudy? Some say the big man is a dinosaur who should be relegated from the junk drawer into the junk heap. Not so. Gobert is not the problem. He was a minus-24 in Game 6 and did not play or react well. There are things he can do better, he said as much, like lose his hesitancy to get out on 3-point shooters when teams go small and even when they don’t, and, at the other end, develop more of a presence in and around the low post.

Truth and more truth.

But what Gobert achieved for the Jazz this season, even with some limitations on attack, was beyond good. His rebounding among an otherwise small lineup was hugely important. His defensive percentages were off the charts, both around the rim and on the perimeter. There’s no way the Jazz defense would have finished in the NBA’s top five without Gobert. He was literally and figuratively, the Jazz’s centerpiece.

There will always be a use for a player like him, and whoever denies that never watched Jazz teams of the past that had no shot-blocker. Even with the modern game’s emphasis on deep shooting, preferred and valued just as much is the shot at the rim. And getting repeatedly dunked on causes all kinds of troubles.

What the Jazz resistance needs is improved perimeter defenders. I know, I know, these guys don’t appear out of nowhere, particularly ones that are long and don’t compromise the spacing at the other end.

But a player like Terance Mann, the kid who destroyed the Jazz in Game 6 with rugged defense and 39 points, would greatly aid the Jazz’s cause. Can’t get a guy like that? He was the 48th pick in the 2019 draft. Yes, with acumen and a keen eye the Jazz can find an addition like that, an athletic two-way player who is long.

That defensive length of the Clippers, at least at times, mangled the Jazz’s offense. And was a glaring weakness going the other way, when the Jazz couldn’t match that same defensive pressure with quick movement and length.

The Jazz mostly are an undersized team, what with their starting guard line being 6-foot-1 and under, and having the 6-4 Royce O’Neale as their starting power forward. Even with that size disadvantage, the Jazz struggled, against the Clippers and some other teams, on the perimeter to stay between their man and the basket, and that’s one of the reasons Gobert was made to look out of position on some occasions and downright vulnerable on others.

It’s pretty basic.

Other than Gobert, who are the Jazz’s defensive stoppers?

Name them. We’ll wait. …

O’Neale, you say? He’s decent, nothing extraordinary, and he’s lonely out there. And he’s not long. He had a great Game 6, scoring an efficient 21 points and grabbing 10 boards, but stopping the Clippers’ onslaught was outside his abilities.

Who else?

Waiting … waiting … waiting.

Bojan Bogdanovic? Joe Ingles? Miye Oni?

It’s a problem. One the Jazz must address if they want to avoid running into the difficulty they had with the Clippers, and from other opponents who were watching the Jazz get eliminated in the second round, not that many teams have that same kind of talented athleticism and depth.

But we’re reminded what the Jazz have repeatedly said about their intention — winning a championship. They must be measured against the upper reaches of the league, not the bottom.

People clamoring for Quin Snyder to adjust his lineup against the Clips were correct in that the players on the floor didn’t get the job done, especially in that second half of the elimination game, when the Jazz played their worst 24 minutes of the season.

But the question remains: To whom was he supposed to turn?

The answer: To anyone other than what he had on the floor.

But that’s not a realistic response because his options were limited. Maybe he could have played Jordan Clarkson more, as he had 21 points in just 26 minutes. None of the guys buried on the Jazz’s bench were equipped to come in and reverse the Clippers’ wicked momentum.

An obvious point is this: It would have helped the Jazz greatly if Mike Conley had been healthy. He was not, and that’s the way basketball goes. During his time with the Jazz, Conley was effective once he got acclimated and when he was healthy. His skills were good, his durability not so much. What the Jazz do or don’t do with Conley as he enters free agency will be fascinating. Clearly, they need a healthy point guard. The Clippers, on the other hand, were without Kawhi Leonard over those last games, and they had the wherewithal, the skilled athletes to get by.

The Jazz did not.

It’s not that complicated, but it is challenging. What they need this offseason isn’t a philosophical overhaul, it’s one or two more of those kinds of players. Guys they can turn loose on opponents at both ends.

Man, oh Mann.

Those guys aren’t in the junk drawer. They need to be added thereto, one way or another, right alongside the pens and paperclips and staples and glue and a small bottle of injury repellent and a trusty lucky charm, too.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.

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