Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-108 loss to the Toronto Raptors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. That was a good reminder of what watching a young team is like
None of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gay, Royce O’Neale, or Jordan Clarkson played against the Raptors — most of them stayed in the United States for this game. That meant one of the NBA’s least-experienced lineups played a mostly healthy Raptors team tonight.
And goodness, was it fun. These underdogs scrapped their way to a remarkable 17-point lead. Sure, they lost it at the end with some hellaciously played basketball, but we’ll always have that first half, when Eric Paschall earned comparisons to Zion Williamson and LeBron James from Raptors fans. Even end-of-bench NBA guys — G-League guys, really, can look terrific for long stretches.
However, we also got a reminder of the downside of relying on those young guys. There’s just a severe lack of consistency that you see from play to play. When mistakes are made, players hang their heads. They try outrageous shots. When a shot goes in, they’re more likely to take a bad one next time. Maybe most importantly, they just don’t know their games that well: they think they’re capable of everything they were in college or are in the G-League, but haven’t really learned what NBA length and speed takes away.
Still, I loved the experience. The weakness of the 82 game season is that you get a lot of games that basically set up to be pretty similar from night to night. When we watch Rudy Gobert or Mike Conley or Donovan Mitchell or Bojan Bogdanovic play every night, we know what to expect — changes in their game’s happen by degrees, not wide swaths.
This was different. We had no idea who would start, or play. Who would take over the scoring roles? Could any of these guys deal with Toronto’s length? Has Jared Butler improved? What does Elijah Hughes look like in NBA minutes? Is Danuel House helpful? Malik Fitts was good for the Clippers for two shakes of a lamb’s tail, what would happen if you played him significant minutes? ‘Dok is big, could he hang against the smaller Raptors? Could he punish them?
It reminds me of mid-00s or early 2010s Jazz fandom, when everything was possible. Can Andrei Kirilenko be a No. 1 contract guy? Who is this Paul Millsap, and how can he do all this? Carlos Arroyo is on fire! The Core Four of Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors is going to change Jazz basketball forever, right? And Trey Burke will lead the way!
Ah, well. Some of those guys turned out to be really good, and some didn’t. So it goes! It’s the magic of potential.
Do I want 82 games of what we got tonight? Not really. But I loved the chance to see it, even for a game.
2. The good
So as you can tell, this is a relatively untraditional Triple Team: with so many of those questions above to answer, I didn’t want to ignore anything. Let’s just handle it bullet-point style:
• Eric Paschall was terrific for the early stretch of the game, and finished with a good night overall of 29 points. His bully-ball allowed him to get into the paint, and his vertical athleticism allowed him to finish in traffic for some pretty impressive baskets.
I also thought his 3-point form looked more consistent, though he ended up 2-7 from deep. Honestly, he played well enough to maybe make a claim for being in the rotation more often — I think there’s a case for him to get minutes, situationally, when the Jazz just need more size, physicality, and toughness.
• Elijah Hughes shot the lights out of the ball, scoring 26 points on 7-12 3-point shots. He’s only been a 32% career 3-point shooter in his 15 G-League games, after shooting 34% from deep in college. But I loved how he didn’t hesitate to take open looks, even as defenders were closing out. Honestly, taking and making those looks is just about the most valuable skill a role player can have.
I also enjoyed the quick decisions he made. Hughes talked about this after the game: at Syracuse, he was an isolation player, which means he just dribbled the air out of the ball. Maybe his biggest adjustment has been becoming a 0.5 second decision-making player: to decide to shoot, drive, or pass as soon as he gets the ball. He did that tonight, and it was really impressive.
• Danuel House looked like he belonged in only his first game. He just does really nice things — obviously, he’s able to hit threes, but he also moved the ball quickly among teammates he didn’t know that well. He clearly was hustling with regards to his point of attack defense as well. You can tell, when talking to Quin Snyder: he has a real chance to stick with this team.
• Jared Butler had stretches where he ran the game, particularly with impressive passes early in the third quarter.
Will any of this matter moving forward? Well, we’ll see. But I think the performances of these guys above were promising, and might be enough to give Snyder an impetus to try them out in games where the main guys are around.
3. The bad
But, yeah, the Jazz lost by 14. Indeed, they didn’t cover the spread, either. So what went wrong?
• There were constant turnovers from both guards, Butler and Trent Forrest, in the second half. Butler had eight, Forrest had seven. That is way too many, even taking into account Toronto’s length and aggressive style of defense.
This is a flashy pass to Whiteside from Butler. It’s also incredibly easy to intercept.
Both men were attacking traffic without much of a plan in the second half. In the end, decision-making has to be a priority for either of them to make a more consistent dent in the rotation, because those turnovers are so frequently killers on both ends of the floor.
• Speaking of that, the transition defense was awful, especially late. The Raptors averaged 1.61 points per transition possession. The Jazz looked tired, which is understandable; they’re certainly not used to playing that many minutes! But not getting back cost them numerous points tonight.
• Hassan Whiteside looked lazy. Now, he’s coming back from his first game since going under concussion protocol, so there could be good reasons for this. On the other hand, he looked really energized when he was posting up, and really un-energized at the unsexy plays of “getting back on defense” or “recovering to his man.”
I get why Whiteside would be disappointed to be the only rotation regular playing in the game. But he’s on a 1-year minimum contract, for goodness sakes, and certainly well rested. Trying would be advised.
• ‘Dok still doesn’t fight for position on the glass. He’s huge, but doesn’t use it at that aspect of the game.
• Malik Fitts struggled to make an impact (except for the half-court shot he hit, that was great). But sir, I promise you, this is a bad shot for anybody in basketball except for, like, Kevin Durant and maybe DeMar DeRozan. There had better be 0 seconds left on the shot clock if you’re taking this, not 10.
The Jazz had an 80 offensive rating with him in the game and a 135 offensive rating with him on the bench in 20 minutes.
Eh, who cares. It’s one game of 82, and a fun one at that. The Jazz are expected to have nearly everybody — save Ingles and Gobert, in COVID protocols — back in action tomorrow.