Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 107-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Finding counters without Conley
Once again this season, it’s clear that the Jazz are going to rest Mike Conley in at least a majority of back-to-backs. And without him, they’ll need to do better at creating efficient offense than they did tonight.
Without Conley, that means more ball-in-hand possessions from Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson. And those guys, frankly, have to have more efficient nights than they did tonight, when Mitchell shot 9-27 and Clarkson 5-19.
Some of that is just making shots: Clarkson, in particular, just missed some “bunnies” that he usually makes tonight, and I continue to believe that Mitchell is a better 3-point shooter than his 2-11 night showed. But some of it is decision-making, the kind that can improve in these sort of circumstances.
Like, take a look at this. Mitchell is early in the shot clock here, and runs pick and roll with Hassan Whiteside. But look at where he takes his final dribble: 20 feet away from the basket! That means is scoring options are really limited as he goes towards the rim. He gets stuck up in the air, and while he does have a passing possibility to Clarkson, he takes his own look here, an off-balance, low-percentage shot.
(Whiteside, by the way, also needs to roll to the rim faster. He removes himself as a lob option because Alex Caruso can get in front of him.)
Here’s Clarkson’s first attempt of the night:
I don’t mind the idea of trying to catch Zach LaVine off balance, but, well, he doesn’t. Tip your cap to good defense. But with all of that extra time on the shot clock, Clarkson can have time to stop, kick out, and try something else. This should be a last-second shot attempt, not an early one.
This is what Conley excels at: reading what the defense is giving him, and taking it. Mitchell and Clarkson can both but up better highlight-reel plays against good defense, but it’s the easy play that is the hallmark of efficient offense. With many games expected without Conley, the Jazz just need more from their two top guards.
2. Can the Jazz get more from a backup PG?
When Conley doesn’t play, that leaves open a slot for a backup point guard to find some time. Enter either Jared Butler or Trent Forrest.
Unfortunately, neither was up to the task tonight. Butler was worse, certainly: 0-3 from the field, 2 turnovers, and a -16 in his 9 minutes on the floor.
He’s short on time here, but also just wildly out of control.
He’s also lacking defensive focus at times. Like, DeRozan famously isn’t a pull-up three threat; he has yet to make an unassisted three this season. So there’s no reason to run into this screen here: just always go under!
It was really interesting to hear him talk postgame about just how much difficulty he’s having with some of the adjustments he’s facing in the NBA. Everything from the length of his opponents to the speed of the game, from being the No. 5 option out there to the very concept of a back-to-back game is running through Butler’s mind right now. He used the word “hard” seven times in his four minute postgame interview.
Forrest is the steadier option, to be sure. But he has a fatal flaw: he’s just not a threat to score. He’s not bouncy enough to reliably finish among the trees inside, and of course, his improving jumper still isn’t an actual concern for NBA defenses. You know he’s looking to always pass, and that means defenses that read scouting reports aren’t too concerned.
For now, I still believe playing Butler is the right option, essentially because I believe in him to calm down and figure stuff out over the course of the season. His potential is worth chasing. Forrest, meanwhile, will get minutes in games like these, when the roller coaster of Butler is at its lowest point.
Still, I miss Raul Neto: his ability to run an offense would be extremely useful on this Jazz team.
3. The Jazz’s best perimeter defender can’t be Eric Paschall
I love the fight and determination Eric Paschall has shown on the defensive end this season. He’s far better at keeping players in front than I thought he was, and I give him huge credit for working on that part of his game. Paschall can exceed defensive expectations, and he should be applauded for it.
But for wildly long stretches of this game, the Jazz had Paschall guarding DeRozan, and I’m not sure DeRozan blinked once.
Here, DeRozan just walks Paschall down, and shoots over him. Paschall stays in front, yes, but that contest is seemingly minutes after DeRozan gets off the shot — it has no chance of actually bothering the attempt.
I’m not sure what to make of this play: is Clarkson just showing to DeRozan to slow him down, with Paschall meant to recover? If so, Paschall needs to get on the other side of that screen more quickly. Or is it a switch? If so, Clarkson can’t gamble and get beaten like that.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: what about Royce O’Neale? He’s in the Jazz’s starting lineup for his perimeter defense, right?
Whiteside maybe should have been more reactive to help here, but also, he is watching the off-ball action. He probably didn’t expect O’Neale to just allow LaVine to drive by him with a seemingly pretty straightforward right-handed drive.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the Jazz lost against the Nuggets because they couldn’t defend Jamal Murray. They lost against the Clippers because they couldn’t defend Reggie Jackson. It is time for the Jazz to address their roster’s guard-defense weakness, or they’ll go home early in this year’s playoffs too.