The Triple Team: Perimeter defense lets the Jazz down in loss vs. Bulls; Ochai Agbaji’s emergence; Lauri Markkanen’s dunks

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 126-118 loss to the Chicago Bulls from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Jazz couldn’t defend the perimeter

Where do the Jazz have any continuity from last year? Only in one place: their backcourt. Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson are the significant players that remained from last year’s roster, and they’re both in Utah’s normal finishing lineup.

And those guys simply don’t really bother the players they guard, at least, not during clutch moments with any consistency. Conley’s small, and can’t really play a physical style of defense anymore. Clarkson is too slight, and never really had the defensive fundamentals down to an average level for his position.

Here’s Conley not making an impact.

And here, Clarkson doesn’t really bother LaVine either — though credit for staying closer than Conley did.

(You’d like to have Jarred Vanderbilt, the guy who is in the lineup in large part because of his defensive acumen guard those guys, but I can’t say he was the most impactful defender either.)

There were many fans who wondered why Talen Horton-Tucker was in the game to finish it. Well, there’s your answer: Hardy was hoping that a player with someone with length and effort would be able to bother DeRozan and LaVine.

But THT is also not a lockdown defender, in part because of his age and inexperience. DeRozan just baits him into giving two free throws here.

In other words, if the Jazz were to make it into a playoff series, I’d expect them to have the same problems they did in any of the last Jazz playoff years: opposing guards would likely take advantage, just as Chris Paul or Jamal Murray or Jalen Brunson or Reggie Jackson did.

2. Ochai Agbaji, another career high

It’s fun to see a player get two career highs in consecutive gamess — and that’s what happened with Ochai Agbaji.

To be sure, much of Agbaji’s success was about the Bulls being so willing to help off of him from three. I understand why they did, as Agbaji was shooting 29.6% from deep coming into tonight. But that’s a small sample size, and he knocked down all four threes he took.

The thing he was able to show tonight that he hasn’t shown with the Jazz before is an ability to attack the closeouts or defensive mistakes with one or two dribble drives. In the G-League, he struggled with the ball in his hands, but these are simpler plays — attack the open space.

Again, he didn’t add much else to the box score besides the scoring: one rebound, one assist, zero steals and blocks. I want to see more secondary skills from him. But his defense was interesting, and Hardy put him on some tough matchups even late in the fourth quarter.

Finally, this is a small thing, but I also want to see him be more aggressive in transition — in other words, just run. This was the only example I was able to find on the NBA.com video, but I noticed Agbaji getting kind of stuck in transition multiple times.

If he runs past Andre Drummond here, the Jazz have a 5-on-4. Now, obviously, the play worked out, but there’s definitely a chance that Rudy Gay gets stopped here, and he has to move the ball — the Jazz could have used the advantage in that circumstance. Role players running is so important, and it’s a simple thing Agbaji could add to his game.

Still, it’s very encouraging. These great shooting performances hopefully give him the ability to get NBA minutes to work on the other stuff, such that he can be an impact player even if and when the shot doesn’t go down.

3. Lauri Markkanen: 8 dunks

Lauri Markkanen had eight dunks tonight. That’s tied for the second most in a game by anybody in the NBA this season — Giannis Antetokounmpo had nine earlier this year. (That’s no surprise, Giannis leads the NBA in dunks.)

Here’s the video of all eight.

Again, see how different they are? First one comes from a dribble handoff, second from transition, the third from essentially attacking a closeout (though it’s pretty amazing how he’s able to spin through this one), fourth comes from an inbounds play, the fifth just comes from hanging out in the dunker spot, sixth is in transition, seventh is a closeout drive (the highlight reel one), and the eighth off a quick one-two pass from Gay.

He’s also the only NBA player this season with 70 dunks and 70 threes, and you can see that at play in the video above: defenses are so worried about the three ball that they’re giving up the interior.

Another note from the above video: Patrick Williams got absolutely demolished tonight. I remember there were some rumors this offseason about him being the centerpiece of a Gobert trade — I hated it then and I hated it now. He does not look like a particularly good No. 4 overall pick.

Markkanen, though, looks truly awesome.

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