Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 120-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Defending outside-in against small lineups
The Sixers came into tonight’s game extremely shorthanded: Ben Simmons is out due to drama, Joel Embiid is out because he has COVID-19, as is Matisse Thybulle. Danny Green also missed the game because of a hamstring issue.
That meant the Sixers had three realistic options:
1. Play Andre Drummond at center
2. Play a non-factor like Charles Bassey or Paul Reed at center
3. Go small, with someone like Georges Niang at center.
Option No. 1 went absolutely terribly. More on that later. Option No. 2 was pretty quickly denied by Doc Rivers, too. So that meant a lot of small-ball lineups, where Doc Rivers used the Clippers’ strategy to try to attack the Jazz.
But ultimately, they weren’t as well-drilled at it as the Clippers were — instead, they frequently attacked Rudy Gobert, a no-no.
Jazz fans know that Gobert is actually quite good at defending in space; you end up seeing a lot of possessions like this:
But I was more intrigued to see how the Jazz sent help when the other players were attacked. Here, the Sixers try this weave play to get Tyrese Maxey room to penetrate. But the Jazz executed a late switch really well, meaning Bogdanovic was there at the right time to make his scoop layup much harder.
Of course, part of what made this possible is that the Sixers really do not have that quick style of guard who can break down the Jazz’s worst perimeter defenders. Tyrese Maxey gets closest, but honestly, he was choosing to attack Gobert most of all. So while I was relatively encouraged by the Jazz’s defense against these looks, it’s still a lower bar of success than the Jazz will need in the playoffs.
2. The impact of a bad interior defender
Speaking of Gobert, I think we sometimes take him for granted. I mean, before Gobert came around, Jazz fans had to deal with the interior defense of Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson, and Mehmet Okur in the pick-and-roll focused NBA.
Watching Andre Drummond play just reminds me of those days. He played just 12 minutes tonight, but the Jazz were a +22 in those minutes, as they just sliced and diced Drummond to oblivion.
This is an incredibly easy pick-and-roll dunk Drummond allows. Man.
Here, he just doesn’t have the awareness or quickness to get Bojan Bogdanovic on the 3-point line in transition.
Very much a “you reach, I teach” moment here from Clarkson on Drummond.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this: Drummond’s lack of ability was the single biggest reason why the Jazz won this game, whereas they had problems with the likes of the Magic and the Pacers. Because Drummond was so exploitable, they could score nearly every single time down when he was on the floor.
It also makes me miss him on the Lakers. As an unabashed Lakers hater, Drummond went a good distance to insure that team’s ultimate failure last year — not playing Marc Gasol in favor of Drummond minutes was a pretty crazy decision. At least this year, they have Russell Westbrook to make fun of, as well as the new name of their arena.
3. What stands out?
With such an easy game tonight, it seems like a reasonable time to fill some space and do a status check on the Jazz. This might even become a semi-regular feature of the Triple Team, who knows.
Let’s first look at the team overall statistics:
What stands out?
• They rank 3rd overall offensively, thanks in large part to their ability to get to the free-throw line more often than any other team. The way that the referees are calling the game has not hurt the Jazz’s offense.
• They’re shooting more threes than any other team, but making them at just the 26th-highest rate in the NBA. That, you’d figure, will change. They’re shooting 6 percent worse than last year; the NBA on average is shooting 2.2% worse than last year.
• They’ve gotten worse at rebounding: after finishing 3rd in offensive rebounding and 5th in defensive rebounding last year; they’re 7th and 11th this year.
Next: the player statistics. Here, since we’re using some aggregate statistics that you’re probably less familiar with, I’ll compare last year and this year (this year on top):
What stands out?
• Joe Ingles’ usage numbers have cratered. He’s still shooting pretty effectively, but having a really tough time getting engaged in the offense. Mike Conley also has lower scoring, assist, and usage numbers.
• Jordan Clarkson’s having a very inefficient year so far
• Eric Paschall just hasn’t been as efficient in scoring as Georges Niang was. He can defend, but the Jazz have just a 101 offensive rating when he’s on the floor.
Finally, lets do a small-sample-size look at lineups:
What stands out?
• Oh, okay, all of the top lineups have still been good over the aggregate.
• The Conley/Gobert bench minutes have still largely been good, but when Conley’s replaced by Trent Forrest and Jared Butler, it’s been rough. Paschall is exonerated!
One other stat for you: the Jazz rank as the 4th-best half-court defense and the 4th-worst transition defense, according to CleaningTheGlass. That says a lot.
Still, ultimately, this season so far has been functionally very, very similar to their regular season last year. Some age-related decline to be expected from Conley and Ingles, a downturn from opening up the rotation a little to include young point guards, unlucky shooting at times, and some good play from Hassan Whiteside have been the biggest differences.