The Triple Team: Why Utah Jazz veteran Rudy Gay got his first DNP-CD of the season

Plus All-Star center Rudy Gobert gets going in the paint in win over LeBron-less Lakers

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Los Angeles Lakers guard Malik Monk (11) goes to the hoop, as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers, at Vivint Arena, on Thursday, March 31, 2022.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 122-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Rudy Gobert gets his shots and points

Here’s Rudy Gobert’s last 10 games:

You can see that Gobert had not gotten a lot of shots on the road trip: only eight in both New York games combined, never more than seven in a game. And one reason the Clippers were so much more successful against the Jazz the second time around than they were 11 days prior was that Gobert wasn’t getting the easy lobs and finishes at the rim.

The Lakers, though, are currently a very small and low basketball-IQ team. And so the Jazz could pretty reliably find Gobert for these finishes.

You can see the Lakers’ looseness on a play like this. This is a very slow, lob-y pass from Bojan Bogdanovic. But he makes it because Trevor Ariza chooses to double him on the pick and roll for some reason, and Malik Monk is very slow at being able to help from the weak side.

This, though, is the kind of play where you see the value of Bogdanovic as a spacer — and how his presence can actually open up Gobert for more dunks. Watch the movement of Ariza now, guarding Bogdanovic in the corner. Conley looking Bogdanovic’s way, even for a split second, causes Ariza to scoot over. That opens up the lob possibility to Gobert.

So that’s going to be one huge question for the Jazz against the good teams they have left in their schedule — Golden State, Phoenix, and Memphis: can they reliably find Gobert against smart defenses now that they have Bogdanovic? The first video is, frankly, the kind of play that a good defense swallows up. But the second play is more of a pick-your-poison kind of play, the kind that the Jazz’s offense can create when it’s humming well.

2. Rudy Gay doesn’t play

I don’t think Rudy Gay has had a DNP-CD in his career before today. At the very least, I can’t find one on Google.

That’s going to be interesting to monitor. In particular, Gay had actually been playing pretty well on the Jazz’s road trip: he was averaging 9 points a game, the 5th-highest mark on the team. And he actually had the second-best plus-minus during the Jazz’s road trip, bested only by the other more famous Rudy on the roster. Gay has certainly not impressed this season, but his play on the trip was probably better than we’d seen the rest of the year.

And yet the Jazz benched him during the fourth quarter against the Clippers on Tuesday night, so he watched the Jazz’s calamitous collapse — Eric Paschall played instead, which is interesting, given that Snyder has frequently gone away from Paschall. And he straight up wasn’t chosen for selection against the Jazz on Thursday. Instead, Snyder played Juancho Hernangomez 20 minutes.

I asked Quin Snyder about the decision after the game.

“Rudy and I talked this morning. He came here because he wanted to win. And for a vet, in his case, he understands that there is going to be a number of situations where — I can list them off for you — where I think he gives us a higher ceiling because of some of the things he can do,” Snyder said. “Because of his size, his ability to defend the post against guys that aren’t bigger than him. And then, he’s been shooting the ball and he can score in the post. There’s a lot of things that Rudy does that we value.”

“But that’s true for our whole group. We’ve had guys that are injured, they come back. You know, everybody needs to be needs to be ready to go. Some nights, guys are going to play more than others because of matchups and all those types of things, so. I think it’s something for our whole team to hang on to, and whoever is out there to support each other. That’s why I said he’s a pro.”

I can’t imagine this is how either the Jazz or Gay imagined how this would go — certainly not in year one of his new three-year deal. But here we are, and it’ll be interesting to see in which situations Gay plays vs. those in which he sits.

3. Greg Monroe and Hassan Whiteside

On Thursday, we learned more about Hassan Whiteside’s foot injury that has caused him to miss action since the Jazz’s loss to Boston. After the Dallas game, he was sent home directly to Salt Lake City to get more imaging done on the injured foot.

Those exams showed that Whiteside has a minor bone spur fracture — the injury was called a foot sprain in the injury report, but it appears there’s a fracture involved. The team also said that “He can proceed, as tolerated.” — which, to me, reads that he won’t need surgery on the foot.

Can he play through the foot pain, though? I truly don’t know. Foot injuries are obviously extremely tough for big men, and there’s nothing worse than a Whiteside that’s playing at under 100%. But there’s no doubt that, when healthy and interested, Whiteside’s been extremely effective for the Jazz this season: his plus-minus even exceeds Rudy Gobert’s. I don’t think the Jazz have ever had a backup center where that was the case, even as the Jazz have used Gobert to prop up all sorts of weird lineups.

Monroe’s been playing that backup center role since, and, well, the results have been pretty replacement level. While the Jazz give up 109 points per 100 possessions with Whiteside in the game, in the limited sample with Monroe out there, the Jazz have given up 123 points per 100 possessions. Whiteside’s length might allow him to deal with this play more effectively than Monroe does, for example.

But Monroe hasn’t been a catastrophe, either. He has decent enough touch and short-roll passing ability, the kind of stuff that keeps the Jazz’s offense moving.

In the end, it’ll be interesting to see what the Jazz do for the playoffs. Do they keep Monroe? That might have to be at the expense of Whiteside if his injury is too severe, or Trent Forrest, or an injured Udoka Azubuike. Even if Whiteside is healthy, might be tough to not have a third-center option at the ready, given how bad the Jazz have been without a center on the court this year.

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