The Triple Team: Jazz get worked on the glass to lose a nail-biter to the Phoenix Suns

Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk (41) falls after a collision with Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Phoenix. Olynyk was called for a blocking foul. The Suns won 113-112. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 113-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The rebounding

Last night, I wrote about the Jazz’s inability to get a defensive rebound, and how it was probably going to be a consistent issue given the Jazz’s personnel.

Our expectations for you were low, but holy cow.

No Jazz player got a defensive rebound from the 3 second mark of the third quarter to the one minute mark of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Suns got seven offensive rebounds during that stretch. DeAndre Ayton’s previous season high in rebounds was 15 — he had 21 tonight. Devin Booker also set a season high in rebounds with 11, and his previous season high was eight. The Jazz weren’t just bad at rebounding, they were broken at it.

First, I have to report that Jarred Vanderbilt and Kelly Olynyk are getting killed down low. Vanderbilt doesn’t budge Ayton one inch while going for this ball, and his tip is futile. Even if he got more on the tip, it’s only going to go out of bounds — this isn’t a good enough rebounding strategy.

Second, because of the above, teams are really understanding that you can find success against the Jazz on the glass, and crashing heavily. You kind of just have to tip your cap to Torrey Craig on this play: he surprises Markkanen by coming in for the rebound from the side, where he’s not expecting help.

Third, and disappointingly, effort is a problem. This rebound bounces incredibly high, but the Jazz don’t have anyone but Nickeil Alexander-Walker fighting down low with Jock Landale, a center. So yeah, he gets beasted. There’s plenty of time to make a play for this ball.

If the Jazz get even one of those seven defensive rebounds, they win this game. They didn’t — a huge missed opportunity.

2. Not fouling on the last play?

The Suns got the ball with 26 seconds left — only a two second differential on the shot clock. But the Jazz didn’t foul, Booker just shot the three at the very last second, and because the rebound was at all contested, the game was over. It was, uh, unwise.

Here’s the play:

It wasn’t, though, what coach Will Hardy wanted them to do. Here’s what he said:

”We did not execute on the last play defensively at all. I will take responsibility for that, I clearly did not communicate very well what we wanted to do on that last possession... We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul.”

Yeah, that makes more sense. The Jazz have time to double and maybe force a steal or foul a better player, so might as well try to do that before committing the foul. And in those last 10 seconds of the shot clock, there was some legitimate drama about maybe the Jazz getting the ball back without fouling, best case scenario. Once Cam Payne has the ball safely, though, Malik Beasley should probably just foul.

While we’re here: what is the shot clock differential threshold where it makes most sense to foul rather than play it out?

There’s actually not a lot of research I was able to find on this. In general, the game probability models usually suggest fouling at the end of games more frequently than happens in real life. Up three, foul to prevent a three; up two, foul to ensure the non-three and give yourself a chance to win, and so on.

This model by Patrick Macfarlane of the Philadelphia Phillies — note, baseball analyst, not basketball — suggested that it was actually all the way up at 36 seconds, leaving at least 12 seconds on the shot clock to get a basket for the offensive team. He found this by taking into account how much more likely the trailing team is to score with more time on the clock; two seconds left doesn’t give you a good opportunity to get a good shot, anyway.

36 seconds feels too high for me, but I don’t really know. Obviously, it depends on a ton of factors: your own and your opponents’ offensive and defensive skill, their free-throw shooting ability, whether or not you have a timeout, and so on.

If anybody else knows of other research I’m not aware of here, drop me a link in the comments, on Twitter, or in my email. If I don’t get anything, maybe I’ll code my own Foul Or Not To Foul Calculator.

3. Is Nickeil Alexander-Walker making a rotation case?

Alexander-Walker played 30 minutes against the Warriors last night, and 16 minutes against the Suns tonight — two of his three highest minute totals of the season. Hardy, even with Mike Conley out, has made him a DNP-CD at times this season, but has he more recently made a case to be in the permanent rotation?

If he is, it’s a primarily defensive one. Alexander-Walker was projected to be more of an offensive player when coming into the league, but he’s now adding most value by being the Jazz’s biggest pest on guards. Over the last two games, he’s defended Steph Curry and Devin Booker better than any other teammate, and limited them to average games for them. Against the Jazz’s defense, that’s a win.

I think he does four things defensively effectively. First, he applies heavy ball pressure. This is looks really good, but isn’t mostly the key. It honestly is frequently beaten, because NBA players have quick first steps.

But then secondly, he does a good job of getting back into the play by tipping balls after he’s been dribbled past. I watched this play on Curry three times before I realized it was NAW getting back into the play; he had three steals against the Warriors.

Thirdly, I think he navigates screens well. Hardy said he utilizes a good mix of going over or under a screen to stay with his man, and it was a key reason he played so much on Curry last night. The Jazz needed screen navigators, and NAW was the one who delivered.

Fourthly, he does a good job of convincing referees that he’s fouled on moving screens — a fancy phrase for flopping. Is he fouled here? Yes. Does he sell the contact extremely well? Also yes.

If he stays within himself offensively, he’s got an even better case. Remember, last season with the Pelicans, NAW had the worst shooting percentages in the NBA. Tonight, he took five shots, four of them open threes. He knocked them all down, which is great, but just limiting himself to high-percentage looks is I think the key.

Will he actually play with a fully healthy guard rotation? I don’t really think so: Conley, Sexton, Clarkson, Beasley, and Horton-Tucker are just better. But he’s at least making a case to have his number called as a change of pace, and maybe more importantly, giving NBA teams some video evidence of his contribution on the floor when his contract runs out this summer.

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