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The Triple Team: Jazz’s bench still best-in-class; Eric Paschall helps; and Donovan Mitchell’s turnovers

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) confers with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-110 win over the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz attack a bad Nuggets bench

Take a look at the +/- column at the end here:

Nuggets' box score in Jazz/Nuggets 10/27/21.

Essentially, the Jazz dominated the game whenever the Nuggets bench was in, and kept it close in the other minutes.

So what exactly allowed the Jazz’s bench to dominate so much? It was a lot of things.

Jordan Clarkson’s quick, aggressive moves against switches

Jordan Clarkson, when he’s just trying to isolate after a few dribbles, can get you in a little bit of trouble. The stagnant dribbling allows the defense to get set, which makes it much harder to break down.

Take this play: the Nuggets are playing switch-everything small defense. As expected, the Nuggets switch this pick here. I think an old version of Clarkson just sees Jeff Green is guarding him, backs it up, and tries to beat him one-on-one. But here, Clarkson takes advantage of Green’s leaning the wrong way to get the easy two points by just attacking quickly.

Attacking bad defenders

Here’s one big problem with the Nuggets’ bench unit: it’s full of just awful defenders. It was pretty obvious that the Jazz were very eager to get Michael Porter Jr., Jeff Green and Facundo Campazzo in the action, then attacked those guys with reckless abandon.

The Nuggets are particularly weak there, but heck, almost every bench lineup has one or two awful defenders. The Jazz, under Quin Snyder, have been elite at finding weaknesses and picking them apart. (Carmelo Anthony in the 2018 NBA playoffs says hi.)

The fact that Gobert just freaks out lesser players

The Nuggets bench unit all had offensive ratings between 54 and 85 points per 100 possessions — in other words, they couldn’t score a lick. Why not? Honestly, because Rudy Gobert just freaks opponents out, but especially lesser opponents.

It would be too easy to show you their bench guards just attacking Gobert in isolation, then getting swatted, or “nope”-ing out of the paint. So here’s a play where is influence is more subtle:

Campazzo looks to have a pretty clean path to the rim, but he has to pick the ball up much earlier than he’d like to, because Gobert is lurking. So he gets stuck in the air with the ball about 6-12 feet away from the basket, and has to throw up an ugly runner. (The play-by-play said that Jared Butler also got a piece of this ball; it was good backside help from him.)

Jokic obviously had much better luck against Gobert, but bench guys don’t have the counters that starters do. It means that Gobert can beat these bench lineups up with relative ease.

This was a key to success last season as well, and so it’s no surprise that it’s continuing this year, because four of the five people in that lineup are the same. But it was absolutely the key factor that allowed the Jazz to win tonight’s game.

2. Eric Paschall, fitting in

The one person in the Jazz’s lineup against opposing bench units that isn’t identical to last year is Eric Paschall. Some of what made last year’s lineup work so well was the shooting and ball movement that Georges Niang brought, and so I think there were real questions whether or not it would work just as well with Paschall.

Paschall had exactly 0 points tonight, but still got good reviews for his work. He made an impact on the defensive end, being able to stay in front of quick scorers like Will Barton here:

But the first thing that Quin Snyder complimented wasn’t his defense, but his ball movement within the system. Look, this is a boring swing pass, no doubt, but it’s also the kind of pass that some players don’t make right away, preferring their own open look — especially in a game where they haven’t scored. It’s also a fantastically expected-value positive pass: the difference between an open look for Paschall and an open look for Joe Ingles is pretty darn consequential.

Once Rudy Gay becomes healthy, does Paschall lose his spot in the rotation? I think he probably does. But the truth of the matter is that someone else will probably become not healthy at some point, and Paschall looks very able to step in and keep things moving.

3. Donovan Mitchell’s reads with defensive attention

The Nuggets put a ton of defensive attention on Mitchell in the second half, with mixed results. In order to prevent him taking pick-and-roll threes, the Nuggets played very high on his screens. Mitchell then would usually try to split the double team.

Splitting the double-team is usually very high-risk, high-reward. If you do it successfully, you’ve got a path to the basket and lots of open help everywhere but behind you. This is tough sledding, but gosh, that between the legs dribble is special.

But with all of those arms and legs come high turnover potential. There’s just not a lot of space to squeeze between.

Above, I’d rather him just kick it to Royce O’Neale to attack the space, or shoot the three. He had five turnovers in the second half tonight, and while the Jazz were alright, ball security will be important moving forward.

One of my favorite things about Mitchell, though, is how eager he is to talk through those mistakes. He said he was slow to pick up what the Nuggets were doing, leading to what you see above. So instead, in the fourth, he took a different approach.

Here’s one example, the one he mentioned when I asked him about it. Here, he also takes a step to engage the defense, but doesn’t not try to split them. Instead, he takes advantage of the 4-on-3 that the defensive pressure creates by finding the open man (O’Neale), who then finds the wide open Gobert for the easy dunk.

That’s a tough pass Mitchell just made, but still one I’d probably rather see him attempt then try to find space where there isn’t. When Mitchell is efficient and making the right reads with all of those shooters around him, the Jazz’s offense is essentially unstoppable.


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