Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-111 loss to the New York Knicks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Making smart choices in driving
This feels like a very niche point to start a Triple Team about a whole game with, but it was essentially the downfall of the Jazz tonight: too many turnovers due to ill-fated drives.
Talen Horton-Tucker will start us off tonight. After a very nice stretch of three games where he accumulated a whopping 20 assists in his limited minutes, THT was sketchier in his decision making vs. NYK. He does a good job in driving and drawing the defender here, but he’s moving so fast that he can’t really deliver a lob pass, but the hooking low one you see here. That means the Knicks’ guards can steal it.
This is kind of a similar situation for Collin Sexton: he’s driving, gets Jericho Sims to commit, and then hits the dropoff to Walker Kessler — but it’s at a very stealable height level.
In general, this is just going to be a really tough pass to make in the NBA. It was a favorite of Dante Exum’s, which is one reason Exum is no longer in the NBA. THT needs to look to the perimeter here.
I do give credit to the Knicks defenders for making these plays — and the others that led to 21 Jazz turnovers tonight. Their help defense was engaged at a far higher level than it has been recently, like when they allowed 145 points to Oklahoma City in their last game. They had a players-only meeting at a Utah restaurant last night to discuss their defensive woes, and it seemed like it benefitted them at least in the short-term.
2. The Jazz’s lack of individual stoppers
Once again, the Jazz were destroyed by Jalen Brunson down the stretch. Seem familiar?
Now, to be fair, Brunson’s actually having a great season: 20 points per game, 7 assists per game, both career highs. He’s 11th in the NBA in Offensive Win Shares. He’s using the ball slightly more often than he did with Dallas, but he’s turning over the ball significantly less. He’s been really good.
I think having great individual defenders actually matters less in the NBA than maybe ever before. This is a team game now, and teams are so adept at forcing switches and getting the matchups they want, anyway.
But I do think it’s at least somewhat valuable to force them to do an action or two in order to set it up — it at least wastes precious shot clock. Something like this, where the Knicks can literally just clear space and have Brunson literally just post Mike Conley up from the 3-point line, can just be so quick and easy.
Will Hardy, on the other hand, would argue that this is actually the shot that you want the Knicks to take, and that even if Brunson is a very talented player, you’d rather give up his turnaround midrange jumpers instead of double-teaming him and giving up open threes to other players. It’s an interesting argument, and one I generally buy.
(On the other hand, this from Malik Beasley, who the Jazz also tried on Brunson, isn’t good enough.)
The problem is the Jazz’s roster: they don’t have great individual defensive stoppers.
We’ve seen that in the last couple of games. When Joel Embiid toasted the Jazz for the 7th best NBA game in the last 40 years, they just kind of had to hope and pray that either Kelly Olynyk or Lauri Markkanen would be enough. They weren’t. Likewise, when Brunson got cooking tonight, they had to hope and pray that Conley or Malik Beasley would be enough. They weren’t.
There’s no real big, veteran players on this roster that the Jazz can turn to and reliably give A-level defensive efforts. And that makes sense, given that those guys are pretty rare. (I wish they would have kept Stanley Johnson, who I think is capable of that, but I understand why they didn’t.) And that means that there are going to be more games like the last two, where they just get beaten by the NBA’s best.
That is doubly true if the Jazz make the playoffs — but that’s not a concern I thought I’d be having earlier in the year.
3. A quick look at the Donovan trade players
As we all know, these Knicks were very likely going to be the home for Donovan Mitchell on the trade market this summer. Mitchell himself thought so.
What would the Jazz have gotten in the deal? As always, HoopsHype is a great source for what was being reported at the time. R.J. Barrett would have been the player centerpiece, along with either Immanuel Quickley or Quentin Grimes. The trade would have also sent Evan Fournier to a third team for another expiring contract. Finally, the biggest differences in negotiations were on how many picks and pick swaps the Jazz would get: the Jazz wanted three unprotected firsts, the Knicks only wanted to offer two, plus a protected pick. (ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the deal would also include a pair of pick swaps.)
How are those guys doing? Pretty poorly, to be honest.
R.J. Barrett is scoring 19 points per game, but is doing so on such poor percentages that, statistically, he has a -0.1 Value Over Replacement Player. In the Knicks’ loss to Oklahoma City this weekend, he was actually benched in the second half. The Knicks have been better overall and defensively when he’s not on the court. Tonight, he shot 5-18 from the field, but the Jazz fouled him frequently, and he got to 18 points.
Immanuel Quickley is averaging 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his 22 minutes per night — not amazing, but not terrible. But once again, the percentages kill the value: he’s shooting just 37% from the floor and 28% from three. He was, however, key in this game tonight, keying the fourth-quarter run that ultimately sealed the victory for the Knicks. Interestingly New York sources say the Knicks have received trade calls on Quickley. I don’t know if he’s worth the full first round pick, but he probably has some positive trade value before his extension.
Quentin Grimes is recovering from a foot injury, and has only played minor minutes in five games this season. It’s unclear how much of this is because of the injury: the Knicks say this is because of conditioning and other factors, but it’s not like they’re ramping up his playing time. He didn’t play tonight against the Jazz.
In the end, I’m not sure all of these three guys combined would be worth one Lauri Markkanen, let alone Sexton and Agbaji. That being said, Cleveland looks like its in a better long-term position than the struggling Knicks, and the Knicks’ picks may end up being worth more than the Cavs’. We shall see.
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