Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Did the deep bench just outplay the rotation regulars?
With the top six Jazz players out, the bench was moved into the starting lineup, and the deep bench — roster spots 10-14 — were moved into the bench roles. And you know what? For the most part, it was roster spots 10-14 that outplayed the rotation regulars.
If you didn’t know it, you would have sworn that Hassan Whiteside and Jordan Clarkson (last second barrage notwithstanding) were the undisciplined youngsters, and Trent Forrest, Jared Butler, and Danuel House were the savvy veterans.
This is exactly what the Jazz want out of their offense: attack rotations, make quick decisions, find the open man, take advantage. And it’s Butler with the initial drive and pass to the corner, to House, to Elijah Hughes, to Eric Paschall. Jazz basketball hasn’t looked that fluid in a week.
Or this play. The Suns run this little play to try to get Cameron Johnson popping out for a three. Who’s a little late in coming out to close out Chris Paul? It’s Rudy Gay and Whiteside. Who’s on the spot to take the bad pass to Johnson? It’s House.
How many times have you seen an older Jazz perimeter player not make the effort to get back in the play after getting hit off-balance on a screen? Butler does here, and gets the steal.
And then there was the play of Forrest, who just played with incredible poise for a second year player. This is the veteran savvy kind of stuff: Forrest is mostly alone offensively, but he zig-zags his dribble through the Suns defense to cut off Paul, pretends he’s going to go elsewhere, and then attacks the rim protector perfectly to get the basket.
He had a career-high in points with 17, and for good reason.
It’s enough to make you say “Hey, maybe these young guys should get a chance more often!” We all know there are games when Clarkson is hurting you on both ends of the floor, or Whiteside isn’t trying, or Joe Ingles doesn’t have it. Players get in foul trouble or injury trouble all the time. Maybe House, or Forrest, or Butler, or even Elijah Hughes are capable options in times of misery?
Heck, that’s probably what tonight was — Quin Snyder giving these guys a chance.
Regardless, at the very least, they’re playing with more energy and effort than the older guys on the team. You’d probably expect that right now, but when the regulars’ legs get weary, the youngsters can add something too.
2. Hassan Whiteside’s effort
We’ve talked about this before, but let’s zoom in on Hassan Whiteside. His effort level so visibly has ups and downs that turn him from “useful rotation player” to “completely unplayable.” It’s clearly wasn’t a conditioning issue (forgivable after being out for a couple of weeks), but it was a straight-up want-to issue.
Take the rebounding for example: the Suns had 18 offensive rebounds tonight — it ended up playing a big part in their win. And I can put together a whole compilation where I thought Whiteside could have been more engaged in getting those rebounds.
There are times when Whiteside is a fearsome defender. But there are just as certainly times where he takes plays off. And this late in the fourth... well, he just has to be more engaged here.
I wonder if you could essentially have a platoon backup center: play Whiteside when he’s playing well, and some other to-be-acquired backup center when he’s not. Udoka Azubuike got a chance, for about 2:40 in the first quarter, and was so bad that he didn’t see the floor the rest of the game. He, clearly, cannot be the alternative when Whiteside is struggling.
But could the Jazz get someone else? On the other end, midseason 10-day Suns pickup Bismack Biyombo had 16 points and 13 rebounds, playing hard and even acting as a facilitator at times. Yes, he airballed a free-throw — he’s not an amazing player by any stretch. But the difference in effort was night and day, and the Jazz could use a third rim-protector that can stay on the floor for more than two minutes.
Marc Gasol mentioned that he hasn’t shut the door on his NBA playing career, and Mike Conley mentioned that he’d love to have Gasol play in Utah. I think that could make sense. Could you get Cody Zeller in the upcoming Blazers firesale? Willie Cauley-Stein is also not the smartest player, but he was just waived. Essentially, you’re just looking for a better option to push Whiteside to become the better player he can be.
3. Other teams’ fans aren’t happy either
Never has this been more obvious than on the weekend, where the Jazz played the two best teams in the NBA. Those opposing teams won both of their games, and yet, by reading what their fans thought of their teams’ performances, you would have thought they were the Orlando Magic or the Charlotte Bobcats.
The great @monilogue compiles opposing teams game threads — we’ve cited them before when talking about how demotivating the Jazz’s threes can be. But these threads are also revealing of how fans of other teams see their players... and the results aren’t always pretty.
Take Chris Paul: he’s absolutely changed the Suns, right? The major piece in getting them to the NBA Finals? Well, he had five turnovers in the first half, and you’d think the Suns were going supernova — you know, in the bad “final death of a star” way.
CP is playing for the Jazz tonight
Paul is being lazy as ****.
Is CP3 drunk?
Or Devin Booker. Very good player, right? Career-long Sun?
Devin Booker trying his best to lose the game
Booker still chucking the ball, huh? 34 shots?
Book 0 points in the fourth 😕
The Suns are the consensus best team in the NBA so far this season, which makes sense. After all, they’re 7.5 games ahead of any competition in the Eastern Conference, and a full 3.5 games ahead of the Golden State Warriors. (They’re 8 games ahead of the Jazz now too.)
Speaking of the Warriors, their game thread was even crazier: full-out attacking literal Steph Curry for his bad shooting night.
I lowkey have a theory Steph is having vision problems
Literally can’t hit open shots anymore. Actually disgusting
Steph might be washed, y’all.
Steph added 5 pounds of muscle this offseason, that has to be why he’s shooting like Ray Charles there’s literally no other explanation
I’m gonna sue Steph for the emotional damage he is causing me 💀
Russ more efficient than Steph this year 🤣 what a chucker
Steph has low an IQ as Westbrook, TOs, bad fouls, and dumb shots. He just used to make those shots.
Steph is, quite genuinely, killing me right now
Stephen Bricky lol
I suggest Steph tries a game or two in G-League to come back spitting fire
Just keep Steph on the bench pls
Bench Curry. Im as big a steph-defender as anyone. But he just need to be sent home for a week or two to reset, this is getting ridiculous.
Steph shooting us out of this game. Jesus
You gotta bench Steph, this is a team game. Disrespectful to the other dudes on the team playing hard.
Steph is a moron.
Steph did almost everything he could to choke that game
Why is Steph celebrating? You literally shot us out of this game. Relax “mvp.”
That’s Steph Curry! I get that he had a bad game, and has had a bad stretch in the last couple of weeks... but don’t you think leadership of one of the most remarkable multi-season runs in NBA would get you more leeway than that? And in a season where the team is the second-best team in the NBA? In a win?
I guess my point is threefold:
A) The grass doesn’t always seem greener on the other side — even when it is objectively greener.
B) Other fans are actually even more skeptical and often meaner than Jazz fans, in my experience.
C) Other teams have their problems too — and even the best teams with great players have bad games, low-effort nights against shorthanded opponents, and so on.