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The Triple Team: Jazz ‘play with the pass’ in promising win over the Pelicans

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) hugs Bojan Bogdanovic (44) after scoring on an assist from him, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-105 win over the New Orleans Pelicans from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Making a statement with ball movement

Once again: the Jazz like making a statement with the game’s first play. Here was tonight’s:

Does Donovan Mitchell have the opportunity to take the pull-up three? Yeah, he does. But he passes up the look, drives into the paint with calm, and finds Rudy Gobert for an easy basket. I had missed easy baskets.

Fast forward to the second quarter. Mitchell drives the lane, beats his man, but finds resistance at the rim. A bad version of Mitchell just chucks this towards the rim, flummoxed. But here, Mitchell stops, looks for a pass, Bogdanovic relocates, and then moves the ball himself, kicking to Rudy Gay.

Now here’s what I love: Gay is new, and he certainly could take this shot. But he drives, and doesn’t do his normal midrange stuff either, but instead finds Hassan Whiteside below the rim. It’s a legitimate blender possession!

This is the kind of basketball that the Jazz were playing last year, and with good reason: it’s extremely effective. You get high-quality shots, layups, wide-open threes. You tire the defense out, as they make rotation after rotation. And, importantly, everyone feels good: everyone touches the ball, and feels like they contributed to success.

Okay, one more: the definite highlight of the game. Bojan Bogdanovic has the fast break layup, but lobs it to Mitchell off the backboard.

Good vibes here! You get a Mitchell/Bogey hug after that play. And I want to point something else out: Mitchell runs in transition on the play, from just about 94 feet away. I think yesterday’s Mitchell doesn’t run that out, but today’s Mitchell does.

Now, you still need consistency. One game isn’t enough, especially against the Pelicans. But it’s a start.

2. Joe Ingles, playing the role of Royce O’Neale

Royce O’Neale suffered an ankle injury against Oklahoma City, ended up playing last night, but the team decided it was too much wear and tear to have him play a back-to-back.

(As a side note: Mike Conley did play in the back-to-back, for the first time all season. After the game, he said two factors played a role: first, that the team didn’t have O’Neale; but secondly, and more importantly, that the Jazz needed a win tonight. It’s interesting that the team (and Conley) felt this game was important enough to play Conley, but I actually agree with that.)

Joe Ingles started in O’Neale’s place, and I was a little bit worried about how that would go. The Jazz did defend Brandon Ingram well on Friday night, and it was thanks to a switching scheme: whenever the Pelicans ran pick-and-roll with Jonas Valanciunas and Ingram, the Jazz would switch it, leading Gobert to guard Ingram on the perimeter and O’Neale would fight Valanciunas for the rebound down low.

But O’Neale is a very good rebounder. Ingles is a pretty bad one. O’Neale is smaller, but he’s a much more physical presence. Ingles, honestly, sometimes can shy away from contact down low. So I wasn’t sure how that that defensive scheme would work.

It did, though! Ingles pushed Valanciunas well down low, and then the other Jazz players helped too. Maybe this play works out differently if it’s not an airball, but I like that two players are bracketing Valanciunas for the rebound.

Same idea here. Ingles dissuades the lob pass into Valanciunas by fronting him — then look at Mitchell be right on the spot with the early boxout.

In the end, JV only had two offensive rebounds, despite a ton of Pelicans missed shots when he was in the game.

Okay, how about on a late switch? Ingles ends up on the much quicker Devonte Graham here, but contests the shot well.

I think Ingles has generally been poor defensively this year. But in this pretty defined role, he was able to make a big impact on the game by fighting down low and doing the little things. The Jazz have missed that from him this year, but tonight was better.

3. Quin’s postgame

I expected Quin Snyder’s postgame to be relatively straightforward tonight, but he was sending real messages again. Take a look at some of these quotes from Snyder — his words in italics.

We can’t lose our resolve to do those (little) things because we’re individually not getting something out of the game that we want. It has to be a collective mindset. Frankly, with the group we have, those things are challenging. Because we’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays and shoot the ball, right? But if that’s what we’re going to be about, it’s not going to be enough. Maybe it’s enough on a given night, but that’s not the team that we need to be in order to win at the level we want.

There’s a lot there! There’s Snyder confirming the idea that the Jazz haven’t been doing those little things because they’ve been thinking individually. And in particular, that the sheer amount of talent they have on the team, and the number of mouths they have to feed, can hamper that “collective mindset” unless they undertake the “challenging” efforts to work together.

We’re going to continue to have teams that get up for us, you know, prepare to play us. And that’s an opportunity for us to get better, but we can’t allow those things to splinter us. The game is hard enough.

“To splinter us” — again, it’s a danger he’s worried about. But he gives a counterexample from tonight’s game.

Rudy Gobert tonight got four shots because Valanciunas was back, you know, basically at the rim. He was determined not to let (Gobert) get below him. But our guards did a better job of making reads in the lane and having our eyes out.

So, despite me advocating for more Gobert shots in last night’s Triple Team, is Gobert going to have 10 shots every night? No. But what the Jazz can control is their ability to make better reads in the paint — and in particular, to pass the ball more often.

So what were the conversations like in order to get those better reads?

There’s a difference between being self-centered and selfish. We’re not a selfish team, but I think we as people, you know, can have that — that’s probably our nature, you know, is to think about ourselves. And tonight, we’re thinking about our teammates and thinking about the team. That’s one of the beautiful things about this game, when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that’s what it felt like tonight.

He’s explicitly rejecting the idea that the team is selfish — but he’ll accept that people’s individual nature to be focused on their own success. And, importantly, that self-centeredness is something they can overcome.

I think we’ve got a core group of guys experience that, and know it deep in their bones. We’ve got some new guys that I think are adapting to that and want to be a part of that. But it’s not like — it’s not just easy. I think that it requires a level of commitment and a level of selflessness for our team. Because of the way we’re built, that’s even more important.

Mitchell and Gobert are two long-tenured players on the team, but are, certainly, some of the problem of self-centeredness. But Snyder here believes that the team-first mentality is “deep in their bones” — though they may forget it from time to time.

That’s the neat thing, if you say Jazz Basketball, we kind of know what that looks like. Sometimes it’s not happening as frequently as others, due to whatever external circumstances, but we know what that means. And those guys, I think, really responded to that tonight. We were more connected in a lot of ways, and that’s what we get. Even in the littlest things: setting screens, pick and roll defensively. And it feels good, so it’s gratifying to play that way, not just to win, but to play that way.

A “Jazz Basketball” shoutout! It’s been a while since that phrase got a good press conference mention, but we do all know what that means: playing as a unit, moving the ball, playing tough. Jerry Sloan started it, really, and now Quin’s relaying it as a team ideal. Love that.

I think, frankly, continuity can be overrated. We’re not the same team as we were last year. To the extent that you bring back a core group of guys — but everybody’s different, you know, everybody’s had different experiences from the time the playoffs ended to this year. So I think because of that, finding and a new level of consistency is something we have to work towards.

Man, after how many references from Jazz employees over the years about how the Jazz’s year-over-year continuity is going to take them to the promised land... how refreshing is it to hear someone say that continuity is overrated?

Just because the Jazz were good last year doesn’t mean they’re going to be good this year. And, you know, in the playoffs, they weren’t that good last year. Given that, I want this year’s team to be different — it’s means an opportunity to do more than lose in the second round.

But in order to reach the level they want, they have to find themselves anew this season. They can’t lean on what they did last year anymore — they have to play consistently better.

And I hope Saturday night’s game was the start of that.

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