The Triple Team: What to make of Luka Doncic’s calf injury, as the Utah Jazz prepare for Dallas

Which Jazz players had an impressive regular season, and which ones disappointed?

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, left, dribbles around a pick set by center Rudy Gobert, right, as Portland Trail Blazers guard Keon Johnson, center defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, April 10, 2022. The Jazz won 111-80. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 111-80 win over the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. On Luka Doncic’s injury, and the timing of the Jazz’s game

On Sunday, we learned that the Jazz will play the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.

Frankly, the biggest storyline of the next week appeared out of the blue in the third quarter of the Mavericks/Spurs contest, when Luka Doncic strained his left calf. Here’s the injury:

It’s a weird one. Doncic makes contact, but the injury looks like it happens as he bursts out to the 3-point line. The Mavericks confirmed that it’s a calf strain, and he missed the rest of the game as well. Here’s good news: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “there’s initial optimism that Dallas star Luka Doncic hasn’t suffered a significant injury.”

But then, the Mavericks got another smaller bit of bad news: Game 1 between the two teams will be the first game of the playoffs, on Saturday at 11 a.m. MT. That reduces the amount of time that the Mavericks will have to get Doncic back and healthy.

So here’s the obvious question: Will Doncic be back for Game 1? If not, when is it reasonable to expect him to come back? Obviously, we’re not the doctors with direct access to Doncic’s injury, but previous NBA calf strains can be indicative of when might be fair to estimate his return.

Jeff Stotts at InStreetClothes — a good follow for all injury-related coverage — keeps a database of NBA injuries. This season, he says, the average time lost to a calf strain was 16 days, but the minimum was three.

Meanwhile, Stotts also notes that Mavericks guard Frank Ntilikina missed 12 days with a calf strain earlier in the season. Calf strains vary significantly in severity, but you’d also figure that the Mavericks will be more inclined to bring Doncic back a little more quickly than the average team would during the regular season.

So just from the above, I’d put an early bet on Doncic being available at least some point in the Jazz’s series. Whether or not he’ll be available by Game 1 — well, I don’t feel comfortable guessing either way on that.

I wonder if the Mavericks will slow-play the release of information on Doncic’s injury. It would make some sense: the Jazz would have to prepare for Doncic-ball and non-Doncic-ball. Each player really would have to learn multiple styles of play, multiple individual scouting reports to watch.

2. End of season stats

Well, with 82 games in the books, we have a final look at the Jazz’s stats for the season. Here’s the basic per-game numbers, scroll if necessary.

What stands out?

• No Jazz player played 82 games. Mike Conley played 72 games, more than any other player besides Jordan Clarkson and Royce O’Neale. The back-to-back sitting strategy worked and kept Conley healthy all season.

• O’Neale actually led the team in total minutes, just as he did last season. That’s a fun piece of Jazz trivia that will be able to stump some folks in a decade, I reckon.

• Donovan Mitchell got less effective from 3-point range but more effective from 2-point range when compared to last season. Interestingly, he drew fewer free-throws than last year: 6.0 compared to 4.7 per game. Turnovers rose too, slightly. Advanced stats put the season as roughly equally effective as last year — not the leap I hoped for. That being said, I thought he was really excellent for nearly all of his games, except for those blasted fourth quarters.

• Rudy Gobert improved his FG%, leading the league again. He also led the league in defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. However, his block rate went down a little, and his turnover percentage went up. The Jazz were still dominant with him on the floor, but just less so than last year. Still: 15 points, 15 rebounds, and DPOY-defense on a nightly basis is pretty darn special.

• Bojan Bogdanovic was really good this year: putting up career highs in rebounding percentage and career lows in turnover percentage. Pretty impressive, honestly, that we haven’t seen more decline from the 32-year-old, but he’s still playing like he’s in his prime.

• Conley, however, probably did lose a step. He once took 45% of his shots at the rim as a rookie, that number is down to 7%. His usage went down, while his turnovers went up. He’s still definitely an above-average NBA point guard at 34, but probably not an All-Star anymore.

• Clarkson had a season roughly in like with career norms: a 50.6% eFG compared to his 50.7% career average. Unfortunately, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year performance will look like an outlier unless he improves in his 30s.

• I don’t think Rudy Gay has averaged 8 points per game in his life. He’s not a negative player, I don’t think, but his strengths are all pretty meh at this point, too. Clearly, getting DNP-CDs was not what he bargained for, but it’s hard to blame Quin Snyder, either.

• What a brilliant year from Hassan Whiteside. 65% shooting from the floor? Rebounding like a maniac? Playing decent enough positional defense? Blocking shots? All at the minimum? Utah got a bargain at backup center — very impressive year. There were times when he looked completely lost out there, but you’ll take it given the 40-50 games of pretty incredible play.

• Quick hitters: Joe Ingles looked like he had lost two steps before the ACL tear — maybe he was just tired from the Olympics? Or maybe he’s 34. Danuel House revitalized his career in Utah. Juancho Hernangomez went from throw-in to possibly playing in the playoffs. Trent Forrest is a perfect point guard besides his complete inability to shoot — and it may well cost him eight figures. Eric Paschall discovered a 3-point shot but lost rebounding juice this year, but I think he became a more valuable player overall. ‘Dok can’t stay healthy. Nickeil Alexander-Walker unfortunately didn’t improve on his league-bottom efficiency in a Jazz uniform — this is a huge summer for him to save his NBA career. Jared Butler’s got to improve his turnover rate and his efficiency moving forward, but there’s stuff to build on.

• Man, the Jazz played a lot of random players this year.

3. Quick thoughts on the season that was

Well, that didn’t go how I expected. Vegas had the Jazz’s over-under win total at 52.5 games, and I honestly figured that the Jazz should easily surpass that total, so long as they stayed mostly healthy. Maybe that was just homerism, but I thought that the Jazz’s combination of high-level talent and depth would be perfect for a regular season spell, even if the players took some games off here and there.

Heck, the Jazz should have won more than 52.5 games — just don’t lose the easy ones that they did! With the Jazz taking as many threes as they do, there is going to be some runs given and taken, but you just can’t lose three 15-point fourth quarter leads in a six game stretch. That’s too much.

In the end, though, the depth wasn’t as good as we thought it was. The bench, led by Clarkson, Ingles, and Gay, all regressed. So when Mitchell and Gobert missed time in January, it was a catastrophe; the team went 4-12 in the month. Every team dealt with COVID this winter, and the Jazz’s outbreak came last, but the Jazz didn’t handle it well at all on court.

I was also frankly surprised at the lack of cohesion the team showed. I figured that Quin Snyder was a strong enough voice to keep them together more than this, but the ball clearly stuck at important moments. They sometimes sniped at each other on social media or in press conferences. The rumors of other teams’ interest in Snyder were also a big surprise I wouldn’t have seen coming at the beginning of the year.

The struggles meant that the Jazz weren’t able to work on some of the postseason wrinkles as much as I thought they could — they were too focused on getting the fastball working to throw curveballs frequently. Small lineups uniformly performed terribly, and were largely abandoned midseason. So were zone defenses, looks that might work to keep Gobert closer to the rim at all times. The team never figured out how to force turnovers. When healthy, starting lineups weren’t tinkered with.

And as a result of the turmoil and disappointment, they go into the playoffs as underdogs, without home-court advantage. Now, I think they’re talented enough to pull off an upset. But in order to do so, they’ll need to be at their best — something we’ve only seen rarely in this roller-coaster 2021-22 season.

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