The Triple Team: Blazers beat Jazz 116-111; thinking about Jarred Vanderbilt trade possibilities

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 116-111 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Defending the opponent’s best players

Coming into the game, the Blazers have three 20 points-per-game scorers: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, and Jerami Grant. Lillard’s been out ever since the last Jazz game, though, leaving just two to focus on, amidst an otherwise pretty sketchy lineup.

And the Jazz let Simons score 45, and Grant score 33. Worst of all, Simons scored 23 of those points in the first quarter, when the Jazz’s defense was lacking, to say the least. Here’s a tweet from former Jazz analytics man Cory Jez to illustrate:

Take Simons first three. Simons is a 38% 3-point shooter, including 35% on pull-ups. He takes over half of his shots from three. I just really don’t think it’s wise for the Jazz and Collin Sexton to go under this screen.

Sexton, by the way, is at his best when he stays attached to his player on the perimeter and uses his slight figure and physicality to get through screens. He’s shown an ability to do that, but this isn’t that.

I also think that the game plan was a bit too soft on Simons early. The Jazz wanted to stick in their typical drop-big defense, but this is just too far for Walker Kessler to be back, no matter who’s on the court. Frankly, even against the fastest guards in the league, I’d prefer he come up two steps.

The good news is that the defense did improve throughout the game — the only reason the Blazers were able to get even 24 points in the fourth was because the Jazz started to foul to keep the contest going. But this is the NBA, and you’ll get beat if you allow a scorer to cook, even for a quarter like that.

2. The foul on Jordan Clarkson

Refs gotta get this one.

Let’s zoom out on the play to look at which refs were where:

So it’s rookie ref Intae Hwang on the baseline. Hwang is actually a rookie ref, a “non-staff official” who doesn’t get a full slate of games, but is called in when there are extra refs needed due to heavy schedules or whatever. He’s spent most of his career as a FIBA referee before only recently moving to the U.S.

I actually blame him least for this non-call: Nurkic is coming over and seems to stay pretty vertical, blocking his view of Jabari Walker’s arm.

Karl Lane is the ref near half-court, and I think he should have a good angle of the arm contact. He’s been in the league for 12 years. Tony Brothers is looking right at the play in the slot. I do not see how he misses it. He’s been in the league for 29 years. (He opened a restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s called “Brothers.”)

I also hate that, after missing that call, that they compounded their mistake by giving Will Hardy a technical for complaining after the play. (Hardy, in his post game press conference, said that he wished he would have yelled even more at the refs and gotten ejected.)

For what it’s worth, I think refereeing in the NBA has improved significantly over what it was 10-20 years ago. That being said, there’s still a long way to go — and I think a look at Brothers, specifically, might be in order given his recent suspension and how much consternation he seems to cause among NBA fans for his weird whistles.

3. Jarred Vanderbilt talk

Jarred Vanderbilt hit four threes tonight, 4-4 from deep. That’s pretty impressive given that he was 3-22 for his entire career coming into the season.

Now: we should acknowledge that these were all wide-wide-wide open threes. I mean, this is pretty much as little respect as you can give a person on a court:

And even after he had made three in a row, this shrug was what he got on the fourth.

That’s Portland’s prerogative. I do think it’s worth noting that Vanderbilt hasn’t taken a three with a defender within even six feet of him this season, so he still has a long way to go in terms of becoming a real shooter.

Could he get there? There are definite examples: Brook Lopez went from three career 3-point makes in his first eight seasons to being one of the best 3-point shooting centers in the NBA basically overnight. But honestly, I would argue that it’s pretty uncommon for a guy to go from taking no threes to being a threat as a 3-point shooter. Here’s the list of forwards since 2010 who made less than five threes in a season, if you want to go through it. How many of them became real threats, even as the league changed?

That lack of spacing makes it tough to play Vanderbilt late. In a majority of games this season, the Jazz haven’t played Vanderbilt to end the game. Most of the time, the Jazz finish with Malik Beasley or Talen Horton-Tucker or Sexton instead.

My point: if Vanderbilt is unlikely to ever be a shooting threat, and therefore unlikely to finish games in the playoffs... would you take a team’s trade offer for him?

I ask because Portland star Damian Lillard tweeted this after the game:

And that’s after saying this on a podcast earlier this year:

Also: Blazers assistant general managers Sergi Oliva and Mike Schmitz both had seats reserved in Vivint Arena for the Jazz’s game yesterday vs. Indiana.

So, Jarred Vanderbilt just had a good game against the Blazers. Damian Lillard wants the Blazers to trade for Jarred Vanderbilt. Portland’s brass just watched Jarred Vanderbilt play. This isn’t saying that the Blazers are definitely going to trade for Jarred Vanderbilt, but... I don’t think that possibility would shock me.

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