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The Triple Team: The Jazz play selfishly on offense, and lose to Lakers’ small lineups on defense

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) drives past Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 101-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Selfish, selfish offense

Does this team want to win together? Or are they just looking to try to do it individually?

There were so many selfish moments in tonight’s game, where players tried to do it alone rather than rely on their teammates. And the result was terrible offense against a team that’s been a tire-fire defensively — over the last three games, the Lakers have given up 128 points per game, and the Jazz scored 95.

The Jazz want to play advantage offense: run a pick and roll, force the defense to move, then find the open man. But against both switching and non-switching defenses, the Jazz’s players chose to call their own number rather than find the open man — and that meant just awful shots.

I watched every single Jazz missed shot. I’ve made a compilation of nearly all of the times I thought the Jazz took a bad shot, with three players the culprits in the plays I saw. Well, four players... one player’s plays we took out of the video. We’ll get to him later.

The Jazz need to realize this fundamental truth: they’re not good enough to win without trusting one another.

Donovan Mitchell is a very good player, and he sometimes can take over games by himself. But he’s not an efficient player when he does only this — If he did it every night, the Jazz would be a 40-win team.

Bojan Bogdanovic is a very good player, and even he has had moments (okay, mostly against Denver, for some reason), where he takes over games by himself. But he is highly dependent on open threes generated by his teammates for his efficiency — he scores 0.73 points per possession in isolation situations.

Rudy Gay used to be the number one guy on a team, and, honestly, his quick-attack threes have been effective offense. And yet, I do want him to realize when the Jazz would benefit overall from running something that involves multiple players getting hands on the ball.

None of these players are James Harden. None of these players are Kevin Durant. They’re not Giannis, they’re not Steph, they’re not Embiid, they’re not Luka, they’re not Jokic, they’re not LeBron, they’re not DeRozan. They can’t just try to score themselves and have it be efficient offensively. They need to work with each other to create valuable offense.

Pull-up threes are fine — if they’re open. Isolations are okay — If there’s a substantial mismatch. But at all times, the Jazz need to be thinking about how they can get the kinds of shots that have propelled them to the No. 1 offense in the league: catch-and-shoot threes, dunks and layups around the rim, and free-throws. If they don’t have that, and it just devolves into my-turn, your-turn basketball, the Jazz are toast.

2. Adapting when Jordan Clarkson is bad

There was a time at the beginning of last season where I had a saying: “All Jordan Clarkson shots are good shots.” That’s because he would take the silliest shots — stepback threes, one-handed fadeaways from all over the court, incredibly tough scoop layups, and so forth, and he’d make everything at a high enough rate that the process didn’t much matter.

This year, that has not been the case. His bad shots aren’t going in. Goodness, look at this tape — if this player didn’t have a Jazz jersey on, he would be mercilessly made fun of by the Jazz’s fanbase:

After tonight’s game, when he shot 2-13 on some awful looks, he’s down to a 48.9 effective field-goal percentage — he’s at least 5% worse than every other player on the team. He also is probably the Jazz’s least-sound perimeter defender.

Look, there is some upside here. If Clarkson regains his form, you have 6th-man-of-the-year potential, a guy who can attack switches and score in the playoffs.

But it’s not so much potential that you can’t consider trading him. Nor is it so much potential to worry about benching him if he’s having a bad game. Personally, I felt that it was really clear that Clarkson was having a bad game by early in the fourth quarter, and that the Jazz would have benefitted from playing Gay or Ingles or Eric Paschall or Elijah Hughes or Denzel Valentine in Clarkson’s stead. Honestly, 4-on-5 might have been better, at least on offense.

The Jazz have to be willing to adapt when their players are playing poorly. They have enough depth to make short-term switches. Paschall, especially, has proven himself capable.

Instead, Quin Snyder waited until the 3:24 mark of the fourth to sub out Clarkson, putting in Mike Conley. While I agree with limiting Conley’s minutes — even when he was the Jazz’s best player, it’s good to have the perspective of the postseason in mind. But not playing anyone else? That, to me, was Snyder’s worst decision of the season, so badly was Clarkson playing.

Clarkson, when he’s bad, is actively losing you games. The guy is the coolest person in the world, but self-destruction can and should be avoided.

3. Jazz got killed by small lineups again

The Jazz were outscored by 22 points when LeBron James was at center tonight.

Hey, does that sound familiar? That’s the way that the Jazz defended the last time they were in Los Angeles — Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Yes, the offense was problematic in those lineups, see above. The defense was also bad: the Jazz had a 131 defensive rating against the LeBron-at-center lineups.

That’s discouraging! And honestly, it felt similarly to the way that those Clippers series did: the Lakers, even with average players around LeBron, were just asking questions that the Jazz couldn’t answer.

I’m sorry, this is not acceptable defense. And it’s on four possessions in a row.

They have real, real questions to answer tonight. Stanley Johnson was basically the interior version of Terence Mann — they can’t be beaten this easily. They’ve had half a season to work on their approach here, and there are no positive results.

Sorry for the downer, guys. Don’t blame the messenger.

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