Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 117-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Sometimes the opponent makes threes
Hey, do you remember the last time the Jazz lost to the Nuggets?
The Jazz have won six in a row before this, so the Nuggets last win against the Jazz was January 31, 2022. Denver took a 25-point lead into halftime because they shot 15-of-17 from the 3-point line. 15-of-17! They were so hot that The Ringer, when looking for the quintessential hot 3-point shooting performance, used this particular game.
This game wasn’t quite like that: the Nuggets shot “just” 46% from three. But that number was higher before garbage time began, and the game’s two defining runs were on the back of the 3-point shot.
Seven of those threes came from Bones Hyland, the Nuggets’ version of Jordan Clarkson. To illustrate the point, here are those guys’ per-36-minute numbers from last season:
The Jazz’s version of Jordan Clarkson, Jordan Clarkson, went 0-7 from three. We all know that either player can have hot shooting nights and take over a game, but tonight, Hyland made his and Clarkson missed his. The Jazz shot just 25% from deep, meaning the Nuggets made seven more threes, and that was all the difference.
2. Rim protection by committee
The Jazz no longer have Rudy Gobert. Tonight, they didn’t even have Walker Kessler (illness). That meant that the team had no real rim protectors — at least, not before garbage time.
And yet, the Jazz had one of the best rim protection performances of the season, according to CleaningTheGlass. Not just among Jazz games, but among all of the games played in the NBA so far. They allowed the Nuggets to shoot just 12-26 within four feet of the rim. Most of the time, teams make 64% of their shots that close.
How’d they do it? Honestly, through some impressive efforts down low from everyone else on the court. The Jazz’s guards did an excellent job of timing help well, and then coming through with athletic blocks.
Look at this play from Talen Horton-Tucker for example. He waits until Hyland chooses a side, then comes over to help protect the rim with an impressive block.
Clarkson is definitely not someone you think of as a rim protector, but tonight he had two plays similar to this one, where he just timed a play perfectly and stopped a layup.
It’s something that you wish that the Jazz could have done more in the previous era. Then, if it wasn’t a center getting a block, you rarely saw blocks; now, it feels like help could come from anywhere. But this strategy isn’t all roses: the Nuggets 34 free throws played a significant role in the game. In the Gobert era, the Jazz led the league in preventing opponent free throws.
3. New player impressions
Once again, this season is all about figuring out the following question: Which 3-5 players on this Jazz team will be a part of the next contending Jazz team?
And in that framework, tonight was very interesting, thanks to the Jazz’s injury report. Kessler, Rudy Gay, and Simone Fontecchio were all out due to either illness or COVID health and safety protocols. That meant significant minutes for Leandro Bolmaro, Ochai Agbaji, and even an appearance from Udoka Azubuike.
Agbaji got his first real minutes tonight, playing 19 in this game, and he ended up scoring nine points, all from inside the arc. I thought he did a very good job of cutting at the right times and getting out in transition — that sounds like an easy thing to do, but players like Corey Brewer made entire careers out of essentially only that skill.
He did miss all three of his threes, and added only one rebound, no assists, no blocks, no steals. You can see him kind of struggle on the glass here, not really boxing out, not getting up high enough to get the rebound, and then committing the foul down low. The 6-7 Christian Braun made the 6-5 Agbaji look small.
I’d like to see more of Agbaji, though. Not so much because this was a commanding performance or anything, but mostly because he’s a 2022 lottery pick, at 22 years of age. If he’s going to develop, now is the time.
I continue to like Bolmaro, while also basically understanding that his limitations mean he probably doesn’t deserve to be part of the rotation right now. Honestly, poor man’s mid-career Ricky Rubio is a reasonable comparison. Like Rubio, he’s pesky as all get out defensively — he picks up full court, and almost uses one arm like a sword, just poking and prodding and waving at the ball. He’s a stylish passer, most valuable when he’s navigating a defense. And also like Rubio, he’s pretty decent from the mid-range and pretty iffy from deep.
Why did the Jazz keep Bolmaro over, say, Jared Butler or Stanley Johnson? One rumor I heard was that there was a team that, had Bolmaro would have become available on waivers, would have made the waiver claim. We know that Butler and Johnson passed through waivers unclaimed, so that might indicate that Bolmaro has higher value. At least from one team, anyway.
Azubuike played the final nine minutes of garbage time, and did a good job of using his length to muck things up — this time, he got two steals and one block. On the other hand, his positioning was still problematic. The refs passed on calling multiple 3-second violations just to make their dinner reservations, and offensively, Azubuike had a turnover after standing out of bounds. It’s his first game back, so we’ll give him some slack.
It’ll be interesting to see if and how much the Jazz send these three players to the G-League. All were outside of the main rotation, so you’d figure they’d benefit most from the extra reps of the minor league — but all three are also clearly next in line when the team faces injuries or illness.
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