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The Triple Team: How did Rudy Gay look in his debut against the Toronto Raptors?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) guards Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay (8), in NBA action between Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors, at Vivint Arena, in Salt Lake City, on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-103 win over the Toronto Raptors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. How did Rudy Gay look out there?

Rudy Gay debuted for the Jazz tonight, getting 20 points on 7-8 FG, 5-6 from 3-point range, five rebounds, two assists, and a foul. He was a +14.

That’s really pretty excellent! But let’s talk about how it actually looked:

• Gay played 18 minutes: more than I expected him to. In the first half, he essentially played exactly the Eric Paschall stint: only as the backup four-man with Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert on the floor. But in the second half, Quin Snyder extended his minutes, pushing Gay’s conditioning a bit. That also meant he spent time in both of the Jazz’s lineups, getting to play with Donovan Mitchell and Hassan Whiteside too. Clearly, he’s going to play significant time throughout games in the future, taking some minutes from Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Joe Ingles.

• It’s always going to look good when a player makes shots, but I was interested to see how confident Gay was from the get-go. This is pretty confident shooting:

Also, he’s shooting from a bit beyond the line — which is good for the Jazz’s spacing, too.

But him being this aggressive probably reduces the number of wild shots Clarkson takes. If it’s the Clarkson of last season, that probably isn’t a bonus, but since we’re talking about the Clarkson of this season, it certainly is.

• I didn’t think he was selfish, though. He did swing the ball when he needed to, and generally played within the flow of the offense. Again, for only a limited amount of time

• There were a few times where Gay’s interior defense made a difference. Not great perimeter defense here, but Gay’s length forces the miss in the end anyway.

Now, I want to see him against more talented matchups as he grows those minute numbers a little bit, but honestly, it was about as positive as a debut game can be.

2. Raptors’ blitzing defense forces the Jazz to move the ball

How do you beat a blitz in football? Quick passes from where the blitz comes from. How do you beat the blitz in basketball? The same way.

Okay, but just like in football, sometimes the defense gets creative about defending where the blitz comes from. Here, Pascal Siakam leaves O’Neale open to defend Gobert in the paint. So what do you do? Kick it to O’Neale. Easy 3-point shot ensues.

Now, as much as the Raptors were heavy-blitzing the Jazz early in the game, they switched to more traditional defense later on. But the ball-movement ethos stayed even as the Jazz attacked more traditional looks. This is pretty standard drop-big defense, but Conley attacks it perfectly to get the lob.

That’s pretty soft defense from the Raps, and I’m sure coach Nick Nurse won’t be thrilled with it. In general, the Jazz were just able to get a ton of easy looks tonight — and the difference between this style of offense and the pass-last style they’ve been playing for a lot of this season couldn’t have been more clear.

Did you see who those plays were made by? After the game, Mike Conley received a ton of credit from Snyder for essentially dominating this game, despite shooting just four times and scoring five points. But Conley’s ability to make the right play time after time was the biggest thing that allowed the Jazz to win: the Jazz outscored the Raptors by 33 points with Conley on the floor. (Ingles, too, was really really good at playmaking.)

3. Donovan Mitchell’s pick and roll timing

Donovan Mitchell, on the other hand, had just one assist next to six turnovers. What happened? Well, he tried to force the issue.

Here, he’s trapped in the corner, but tries to dribble through. He gets the ball knocked away once, but recovers it. He then attacks the teeth of the defense a second time, and loses it again:

His friend, O’Neale, is right there for pretty much the whole possession for the easy pass. From there, O’Neale has a bunch of options: shoot the open three, swing it to shooters on the weak side, whatever. But Mitchell tries to force it.

But again, the Raptors changed up the style of defense to be more drop-big. So here, Trent Jr. flops on the screen, and Mitchell attacks the big. Fred Van Vleet is able to dig down and get the strip, and again, an easy two the other way.

O’Neale is an easy option here — look at Bogdanovic point at him — but Mitchell probably didn’t know that his defender was on the other side of half court. But either way, the timing here is all wrong: Mitchell doesn’t give Gobert the time he needs to roll to the rim. So it’s basically a Mitchell iso at that point, anyway.

This play illustrated that example a little more. Look how this ball gets deflected away from Mitchell... it actually goes off Gobert’s arm as he tries to roll!

Gobert’s presence makes it even a little bit harder to split the trap: there are just a lot of bodies in one spot.

Finally, this was the weirdest communication moment of the night. Mitchell gets trapped, and throws the ball past Ingles. Mitchell gets mad at Ingles. Is this Joe’s fault?

I don’t know. I get if Mitchell wants Ingles to come help him more, but on the other hand, that means an easier recovery for the Raptors and perhaps no open three. It sure seemed like a pass Mitchell could be capable of making to the top of the arc, but maybe I’m missing something.

One of the early debates we had with regards to Mitchell was whether or not he was a point guard or a shooting guard. There’s no doubt that his passing skills have taken a big jump from where they were before.

But there are a lot of nights where the decision making can be pretty questionable, too. And playing next to a more prototypical point guard in Conley has a way of making Mitchell’s lack of timing more noticeable by way of comparison. For the Jazz’s team-building in the future, I think it’s probably best to make sure Mitchell either plays at the SG position or has an adept playmaker to play next to.

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