Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 118-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Offensive struggles — though understandable ones
The most enjoyable part of this season has been the Jazz’s offense: they’re 3rd in the NBA, behind only the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns. Those teams have multiple big-time All-Stars, where the Jazz don’t have players who have been regarded at that level coming into the season.
But the Jazz’s offense struggled much more today, especially in a first half where they only put up a 95 offensive rating. Why?
First, well, Rudy Gobert exists, and is really good. The Jazz only had two shots within three feet of the basket in the first half, according to Cleaning The Glass. I just looked it up: those shots happened when Gobert wasn’t in the game. Instead, Gobert forces these wacky, tough shots that just don’t have a good chance of going in.
Jazz fans know this well: if you lock down the paint to that degree, other teams can become really one-dimensional. The Jazz did bounce back in the second half, but the Wolves’ offense did in the fourth quarter, too.
Secondly, in that one dimension — 3-point shooting — the Jazz missed a lot of shots. They only made 29% of their 44 threes. We don’t yet have tracking information on this game to know exactly where the Jazz’s shots came from, but Synergy Sports said that 20 of their catch-and-shoot threes were unguarded, while only 15 were guarded. Ideally, you make more than 13 threes with that mix.
Thirdly, they’re really missing Lauri Markkanen. The players with higher efficiency and usage than Markkanen this season are: Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and ... Bojan Bogdanovic. (Miss you, Bogey.) Those are elite, elite players, and it makes a lot of sense that the Jazz would struggle offensively without him. The Jazz are 12-4 when Markkanen scores 20 or more — when he’s scoring efficiently, the Jazz are a powerhouse.
Without Markkanen, the Jazz’s big shot-takers were Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley. Clarkson scored 21 points on 20 shots, while Beasley scored 23 on 18. That’s not terrible for either guy, but it’s also not above league average, and leaves you vulnerable to, say, D’Angelo Russell scoring 30 points on 16 shots.
Of course, this doesn’t even mention that the Jazz are also missing Collin Sexton and Simone Fontecchio right now, two other offensive threats. So, again, it makes sense that the Jazz would struggle more than normal.
In other words, I think this was a situational loss for the Jazz. They were playing a great defender, shot the ball poorly, and didn’t have their best player. It happens.
2. Unwritten rules
Perhaps the biggest talking point on Twitter after the game was Gobert’s basket with 2.4 seconds left, with the game already in hand. (The other biggest talking point, Gobert’s return, is being well covered by Eric Walden in his article on this very website.)
Malik Beasley was mad about it: “Just disrespectful. It’s one of the unwritten rules of basketball. I told him that.”
Beasley is kind of an emotional guy, so I’m not exactly surprised when he takes offense to something. But I was more interested when Mike Conley was asked about the play, and was also upset:
“There’s unwritten rules in everything. Obviously, we didn’t like what happened at the end of the game. But it happens. It happened. We’d rather win the game and not have to worry about it. It is what it is, but obviously we don’t like it.”
Gobert responded, too, saying he meant no disrespect.
This also happened in another game tonight, Suns/Pelicans, when Zion Williamson threw down an honestly very awesome dunk in the same situation. Chris Paul, Cam Payne, and so on got mad, too.
However, it is ludicrous that the Jazz got mad at Gobert for doing this. Jarred Vanderbilt did exactly the same thing in the last Wolves/Jazz game!
I also thought Wolves coach Chris Finch had a good point:
Hey, if you want the other team not to try, you can’t try either. From multiple angles, it’s pretty hypocritical for the Jazz to be upset about it.
Even without that angle, to be upset about it is extremely silly. If the other team scores points because they can, that’s fine. It’s not disrespectful. It’s within the lines of a 48-minute basketball game. And in a league where players care so much about stats — reading their box scores, getting bonuses for their stats, and asking the scorers’ table how many steals or blocks or assists or whatever they have — players are going to score if you leave them open. Deal with it.
3. Remembering Grant Wahl
This is pretty far astray from this game, I realize. But without legendary writer Grant Wahl, we don’t have the Triple Team.
I don’t know if Wahl invented the “three postgame thoughts” idea, but I do think he popularized it. In a world where everyone has access to the box score and play-by-play, it’s hard to argue the traditional game story is as valuable as it once was; the 3 things approach to a gamer makes a lot of sense. Now, it’s everywhere: the Deseret News even does a version.
Yet, the “three thoughts” idea is a footnote in his stellar career. Wahl, who died Friday while covering a World Cup match in Qatar, was a four-time winner of the “Magazine Story of the Year” award given by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He wrote “The Chosen One” story on LeBron James that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, introducing him to a nationwide audience in a much bigger way. It seemed like hype at the time — and LeBron has shown just how right Wahl was over and over again.
Even that resume would mean a Hall of Fame career, but it’s soccer in which Wahl’s done most of his best work. From a best-selling book on the time the L.A. Galaxy brought David Beckham to the U.S., to being the leading U.S. soccer reporter for over a decade, Wahl has defined coverage of that sport. He’s covered 12 World Cups and five Olympics.
Most importantly, Wahl was just a fighter for doing what’s right. When new Sports Illustrated management forced paycuts on writers, he stood up for the writers’ union — to the point where he got fired. When FIFA management was corrupt as all get out, he ran for FIFA President himself.
And when traveling to host this World Cup, Wahl covered both the soccer stories on the field and the bigger human stories on the ground. During the group stage, yet another migrant worker was killed at Saudi Arabia’s training ground in Qatar. When asked about the death, Qatar Supreme Committee CEO Nasser Al-Khater actually told the BBC:
“We’re in the middle of a World Cup, and we have a successful World Cup. And this is something that you want to talk about right now? I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep. Of course, a worker died. Our condolences go to his family. However, it’s strange that this is something that you wanted to focus on as your first question.”
That’s as evil and callous as it gets! And Wahl called Qatar out on it in his article yesterday.
Today, at age 48, Wahl died. He died suddenly, unexpectedly, while covering the Netherlands/Argentina match.
It may be a coincidence. People do die without warning sometimes. He was feeling ill in the days before his death. On the other hand, his family believes that he was killed. It will be important to watch this story moving forward, to learn what really happened, to find the truth and report it.
After all, that’s what Grant Wahl did. He will be extraordinarily missed.