Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 115-109 win over the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Bogey brilliance
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 36 points tonight.
If I had told you that, you’d probably have a decent guess about how it happened: Bogey got hot from three. Like last year’s game against the Nuggets, in which Bogdanovic scored a remarkable 48 points, he made eight of his 11 threes to get him halfway there.
But tonight wasn’t what you’d expect: he only made one of his six attempted threes. Most of it was inside the arc and at the free-throw line. And he did it by making everyone who guarded him look kind of silly.
Aaron Gordon’s a pretty well-regarded defender, but he just can’t recover against Bogdanovic — the latter uses his size so effectively, gets two solid dribbles off, and dunks on the Nuggets.
Or how about on the smaller Davon Reed? Bogdanovic posts him up from darn near the free-throw line, but casually backs him down, leans middle the whole way... then surprises him with the turn towards his right for the easy layup.
And this is a pretty impressive play, too. First, he gets a steal by fronting Jokic — it’s a bad pass, but Bogdanovic does well to get across the seal to get it. Then he sprints down the floor to get the pass from Conley, adjusts, and puts the bunny home.
Now, among all the Bogey support, I am here to tell you that his 13 rebounds were not anything special. I think two of them were half-contested, at best. Mostly, Gobert and Whiteside weren’t in the game to Hoover up the misses like they usually are, the Nuggets got back on defense, and he got all the easy ones.
But still, it says a lot about the versatility of Bogdanovic’s game that he was able to do this tonight. He’s been very efficient from 2-point range this season, setting a season-high by shooting 54% from inside the arc. Tonight, in the post, in the midrange, and at the free-throw line, Bogdanovic just was too much for the Nuggets to handle.
2. Running the offense with Rudy Gay at the 5
My beat writing partner, Eric Walden, will have the scoop on Udoka Azubuike’s surprise start, along with the nuts and bolts of how Rudy Gay and ‘Dok were able to defend literal league MVP Nikola Jokic. Okay, sure, he scored 26, had 21 rebounds, and added 11 assists — but the Jazz won and the defensive situation wasn’t a catastrophe, a major win.
So rather than focus on their contributions, I want to hit on how impressed I was with how the offense looked with Rudy Gay at the five. That’s been a problem this year: those lineups have only scored with a 101 offensive rating this year, which is just 7th percentile among NBA lineups, according to Cleaning The Glass. Tonight, though, they had a 131 offensive rating when Gay was on the floor.
Typically, their problem is that without the screening of Gobert and Whiteside, the Jazz struggle to get paint penetration inside. But tonight, they found some creative ways of moving the defense without getting that in the traditional pick and roll way.
Like this: Royce O’Neale pretends to screen, but just slips it to get to just inside the free throw line. He gets the ball, and has the opportunity to figure out who’s open. Gay is, and it’s cash money.
This one is clever too: Clarkson runs a pick and roll, and is kind of casually trapped by the Nuggets. Gay gets the outlet pass. But just then, O’Neale sinks to the paint, drawing his defender down low into the paint, and the result is a Bogey three.
Or, sometimes that in-cut just pays off by itself.
That last video is a pretty good example of another trend: I thought the Nuggets played horror-show defense tonight: they neither credibly defended the three nor the interior, the rotations were all out of sorts, and the transition defense was unfocused at best. But the Jazz did a good job of making it just the little bit difficult they needed to in order for the Nuggets to fall apart.
3. On Miye Oni and Danuel House
The Jazz bought Miye Oni with some spare cash, later, they sold him to save more cash.
That’s basically the story of yesterday’s trade. Back in 2019, the Jazz thought Oni had potential, and so spent $2 million on the No. 58 pick in order to draft him. And truth be told, he did have potential: Oni can move his feet relatively well, and has long arms, and had some good sense offensively — mostly in that he knew his limitations and didn’t do too much.
But he did foul too much, and the 3-point shooting stroke never got consistent enough. And so after 54 games with the Jazz last season, he fell out of the rotation this year. That meant that his contract was a burden, costing the Jazz ~$5.5 million in luxury tax payments alone if they kept him, and ~$2.5 million if they waived him outright.
Instead, they took door No. 3 and saved all the money, but spent a 2028 second-round pick. The Thunder sent back a million dollars in the trade as well, saving the Jazz $3.5 million in cash in all.
Whether or not that deal makes sense basically depends on how good that pick is. If it’s in the 50s, and the Jazz can spend $2 million to get one just like it as they did in 2019, it will have been a good deal. If it’s in the 30s, and the Jazz aren’t able to buy a pick like it for $3.5 million, or even more, it will have been a bad deal.
Of course, we have no idea how good the Jazz will be in 2028 — that’s another 25 variants from now, anyway. It’s small potatoes either way, really, but sometimes small potato bets can turn out to be big potatoes: remember, Jokic himself was the No. 41 pick in 2014.
In other news, with Joe Ingles’ COVID diagnosis comes the ability to sign a 10-day hardship contract without worrying about the luxury tax. The Jazz did exactly that today, signing Danuel House to a 10-day.
I like House — theoretically, anyway. With James Harden and the good Rockets teams, he was a knockdown 3-point shooter, making 42% beyond the arc. As the Rockets have dwindled, he started to make less and less of them, and last year, he was under 35%. Is that a function of fewer open shots? Or is he getting worse? Both are plausible.
Likewise, his defensive effort, theoretically could be a boon. He really, honestly tries on the perimeter, especially in that Houston switching defense. He keeps players in front, and goodness knows the Jazz need someone like that. Can he still do it now? Again, that’s the hope.
It’s funny, House is a 28 year old, so he’s in the prime of his career. But I think he has potential to be more valuable than the typical 10-day in an unusual way: because he’s done it before, perhaps he can regain that form. It might be tough to do so in a week and a half in a Jazz uniform, but he’ll have a chance, and I appreciate the Jazz’s decision to give it to him.