The Triple Team: Jazz play a loose defensive game against Wizards; is it fair to question Rudy Gay’s playing time?

Washington Wizards forward Will Barton, right, dunks against Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 121-108 loss to the Washington Wizards from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz just too undisciplined and not tough enough defensively

This wasn’t a good offensive team the Jazz were playing — the Wizards ranked just 25th in the league coming into the night. But the Jazz made their lives pretty easy.

Stuff like this, where players can just walk in to unguarded open threes? Ideally, you try to avoid those.

And you can see the panic in Markkanen’s eyes as he realizes no one is guarding a streaking Kyle Kuzma, which results in two easy points and a quick Will Hardy timeout.

I thought Malik Beasley had a rough defensive night, just getting caught up on screens and getting beasted a bit when he was switched onto the dynamic duo of Kristaps Porzingis and Kuzma.

Of course, that’s pretty understandable, given that Beasley left the road trip to be there for the birth of his new daughter, then flew back today to re-meet the team. He probably wasn’t physically at 100%.

Defensive plays like this are a little baffling. Clarkson isn’t really able to contain Kuzma, but what is Beasley helping here? And when Olynyk helps at the rim, his man, Corey Kispert, can just cut inside and score.

The Jazz have been winning games this season in large part by playing harder than their opponents. Tonight, I can’t really argue that they did.

2. Rudy Gay’s playing time

I’ve had this in the Triple Team queue for a bunch of games now, but I’ve wanted to wait until we got further away from Gay’s illness to see if it would hold up.

But it’s incredibly clear, when you watch Gay play: he’s not on the same level as the rest of these players. He looks every bit of 36, if not older: he looks like he’s running in mud. He defends without energy. He skips efforts on the defensive and offensive glass. It’s bad.

These two first quarter plays came back to back:

I’m sorry, but taking a standstill pull-up three with 13 seconds left on the shot clock isn’t a very good look for an offense, not when Gay shot 34% from three last year and has shot 20% from three this year. And then while I get that he has to help in the paint in transition, I’m going to need an explanation for only choosing to run towards Jordan Goodwin after the shot is in the air — if you’re not going to defend the shot, at least stay in the paint so you can help with potential rebounds.

In the third quarter, it happened again... except this time, Gay made the bad defensive play first, then shot a terrible shot.

It’s a missed switch, which does happen — but seems to happen way more frequently when Gay is involved. And then, that three Gay takes on the next possession is incredibly yikes-worthy.

In recent games, I can show you video of him not running to loose balls, just standing and watching his teammates rebound, and him just spacing in the wrong places. Tonight’s biggest play of the game came when the Jazz cut the Wizards’ lead to six, and then Gay fouled a Kuzma in the act of a three.

It just doesn’t make sense. Having him play at this level isn’t showcasing for a trade — he looks awful. He has a 5.6 PER, for goodness sakes. He plays completely outside of the Jazz’s “productive chaos” mantra. He’s just out there, on the court, and I don’t really know why.

3. Wizards as cautionary tale

Many Jazz fans probably weren’t paying super close attention last season, when the Wizards started the season 10-3 in the Eastern Conference.

They then finished the rest of the year 25-44.

That’s a 35-47 record, good for the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference. That gave the Wizards the 10th seed, with which they used on Johnny Davis. It’s obviously still early, but Davis has looked pretty poor this season in his summer league and NBA minutes — he certainly would have a long way to go to become a future star.

What happened? Kevin Pelton had a good story about it in ESPN today, but essentially, their early season start did rely on a lot of luck, just like the Jazz’s. “Like Utah, Washington benefited from poor opponent shooting early in the season. Through 15 games, Wizards opponents made a league-low 31% of their 3s. The Jazz ranked second in this category entering Friday at 32%,” Pelton wrote.

But from there, the Wizards’ opponents had the third highest 3-point percentage in the league — which we probably shouldn’t expect from the Jazz.

Regardless, for Washington, it was about as worst-case scenario as this Jazz season could get after this start: finding themselves in the middle of the league’s lottery. Now, this upcoming draft is more deep than 2022′s, and the Jazz also have the benefit of the Minnesota pick and the worst of Houston/Brooklyn/Philadelphia’s pick. They wouldn’t be as long-term rudderless as the Wizards are, essentially no matter what.

I do think it’s a worthy example to keep in mind, though. This early goodness doesn’t mean later season success is guaranteed, and the Jazz will have to keep up good play in order to maintain the good vibes.