The Triple Team: How the Jazz’s play in summer league reveals a defensive change is coming

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Jazz bench reacts after a big play in Jazz Summer League action, between the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers, at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 86-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jared Butler, Xavier Sneed, Tacko Fall don’t play

I hate to lead off a Triple Team with who wasn’t on the court... but, to be honest, that was the lead story in a drab summer league game for the Jazz.

Second-year player Jared Butler suited up, but didn’t play for the Jazz. After the game, summer league coach Bryan Bailey said that the Jazz were just resting him in order to avoid playing him back-to-back-to-back games. The same was likely true for Xavier Sneed, the Jazz’s two-way player who made the roster last season.

On one hand, I understand that approach: the Jazz’s sports scientists have probably recommended that course of action, and it’s not like we don’t see players rest during regular season back-to-backs as well. On the other hand, the Thunder suited up franchise cornerstones Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey on Wednesday, and even played them through some moments of fatigue. (Holmgren, especially, looked like he was tired in the second half of his game. Maybe the Thunder are trying to raise his stamina?)

Finally, attending fans were incredibly disappointed that Tacko Fall didn’t play. Fall was truly awful in the Jazz’s first summer league game on Tuesday, looking downright glacial compared to everyone else on the floor. But he’s tall (7-6) and fun — I even saw a kid with a Tacko’s face centered on his white T-shirt. It was a little wild that the fans chanted “We want Tacko” and not “We want Butler,” but hey, so it goes.

I guess what I wish is that the Jazz would throw up the bat signal in some way if their stars weren’t playing in the game, even if healthy. (We asked Butler if he was going to play in Wednesday’s game on Tuesday, and he said he would, so it was a surprise not to see him out there.) It was a great crowd of over 7,000 that expected to see their favorite players, and they didn’t really get to.

By the way, the Jazz’s other two-way guy, Johnny Juzang, was in a car accident shortly after arriving in Salt Lake City, and is now in the NBA’s concussion protocol. There’s no word on how he’s doing, but given that he’s in the protocol, it’s a good bet that he’s still experiencing concussion symptoms — something you certainly don’t want to rush back from.

2. How much of the Jazz’s style of play is Will Hardy’s influence?

In lieu of interesting players, what about the style of play that they’re playing?

I asked Bailey, the Jazz’s summer league coach, about how much the Jazz’s style of summer league play will be the direction of the Jazz moving forward.

“Some of it, obviously defensively, is what Will wants to implement during the regular season,” Bailey said. “Some of the plays we’re calling is, might have been something else last year, might be the same play we’re calling something different right now just for the summer league.”

So if the defense is sticking around for the future, how would Bailey describe that defensive system?

“First of all, just being aggressive, being physical. Switching a lot of ball screens on and off the ball. Getting used to that, I think the biggest thing is just our shifts — we were better defensively today.”

The Sixers make this three, but the Jazz do switch the screen; they also have a perimeter player helping down into the paint to prevent the pass to the roll man.

The Jazz were not a switching team last year, or at any point in the last eight years. Rudy Gobert was under the employ of the Jazz, and when you employ Gobert, the right thing to do is to funnel plays to him in the paint and have the world’s best defensive player play as large of a role as possible. Switching doesn’t do that.

But switching does prevent paint penetration most often, and provides maybe the clearest way for defenses to stay with offensive players without needing rotations on the back side. Then, the Jazz want players to shift to help out in isolation or closeout situations.

That portends a very different Jazz system than what we’re used to. Get ready for that come October.

3. Quick player impressions

I’m not sure any of the Jazz’s summer league players who played tonight have a great chance at actually making the roster... but they’re going to try anyway. Here are quick initial impressions on a few of them.

• Justin Robinson, 24, has spent three years up and down in the NBA, including with the Bucks, Pistons, and Kings last year as a two-way guy or 10-day guy. He was a really good shooter in college, but is 25-80 at the NBA level so far. Like most 6-1 players, where he struggles most is inside the arc: he’s shot just 32% from 2-point range in the NBA. He’s reasonable enough at controlling the ball and playmaking, so it’s not like he’s hopeless, but just really has to adapt his game to find an NBA role, and will have to play nearly entirely on the perimeter. I thought he was the Jazz’s best player tonight, though.

• Bruno Caboclo, Mr. “Two years away from being two years away,” has now been in the NBA for seven seasons — though he played overseas in 2021-22. He is still ridiculously long, but his body has filled out in thickness impressively: he’s almost too big now, maybe not springy enough. Regardless, the body wasn’t and isn’t the problem, the problem is still a lack of self-control on the court. He had seven fouls tonight, bending that rule a bit, and added five turnovers in 25 minutes. He was a team-low -15, despite some bright moments. We’ll give him this, though: he was playing with the Brazilian national team and didn’t arrive in Salt Lake City until yesterday, so maybe a bit of jet lag is to be expected.

• Vic Law was named to last season’s First Team All-NBL — the Australian National Basketball League — alongside famous former Jazzman Bryce Cotton for the Perth Wildcats. He has, unfortunately, been extremely outclassed in the Utah Jazz’s Summer League so far. A 1-12 FG start against the Thunder wasn’t great on Tuesday, and then he looked out of sorts again today, enough that he saw the bench more in the second half in favor of James Palmer Jr., who just looks like a better player. I hope he keeps killing it in Australia, though — being one of the best players down under for that league’s most historically successful club in a terrific country is a great life.