Andy Larsen: The Jazz’s halfcourt defense is worst in the NBA — and it’s for a very discouraging reason

The team’s defensive effort was lacking again in a 123-95 loss to the Timberwolves on Saturday.

(Stacy Bengs | AP) Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) controls the ball against Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton, back, during the second half Saturday in Minneapolis.

The Utah Jazz’s defense isn’t good enough.

And I have bad news: it’s for a really discouraging reason. The players, right now, don’t care enough about that end of the floor. I don’t know for sure why it is that the Jazz aren’t showing any heart on defense right now, but they’re not.

Right now, they’re an utterly poor defensive team. While it’s still early in the season, it’s not because the Jazz have faced opponents having outlier shooting nights. It’s not that the stars of the league are taking and making tough, tip-your-hat kind of shots. It’s not even that the Jazz are getting killed in transition (though they are).

It’s that they’re the very worst team in half-court defense in the league right now — they give up 105 points per 100 possessions in the halfcourt, according to Cleaning The Glass. Teams can walk the ball up the court and just comfortably get whatever they want against the Jazz’s set defense.

On Saturday night against Minnesota, the Jazz allowed 123 points in just 95 Timberwolf possessions. Woof.


First, let’s take a look at some examples.

No. 1: This is Minnesota’s very first basket of the game.

So two things here:

I get that John Collins is worried about helping in case Anthony Edwards drives. I also get that he is interested in closing out the Karl-Anthony Towns 3-ball. But don’t you think that Collins can simply do more to beat KAT to the spot here? Collins is smaller and theoretically quicker than Towns.

Also ... what is Walker Kessler doing? Rudy Gobert’s at the top of the arc. He’s just not a threat there. Help!

No. 2: Later in the quarter, in comes Keyonte George. He’s a vastly better defender than he was in summer league. That being said, there are still moments like this where he turns off defensively, and his lack of focus leads to other team’s baskets that are pretty much only his fault.

No. 3: But the other point guard right now is Talen Horton-Tucker, who doesn’t keep up with Edwards here at all. The play is clearly for Edwards, THT simply has to stay closer to him. This is a walkthrough for a player of Edwards’ quality.

No. 4: Moving forward a bit in the game. Kelly Olynyk turns it over here, which, well he’s always been a turnover-prone player living on the razor’s edge of play-making and play-ending. But the disappointment pause means that KAT can just beat him down the court, resulting in the Gobert dunk and insta-timeout.

Those plays all came in the first half — I regret to inform you that the second-half film is worse.

What the team and Will Hardy said

So naturally, I asked the Jazz’s players how that can happen. What’s the biggest issue? They all have a standard answer on what’s going on: communication.

“Let’s just start with communicating and having each other’s back,” Collins said.

“I think our communication needs to improve. ... It’s also just a chemistry thing, playing together more with the understanding that you have to talk, you have to be able to communicate on the defensive side,” Kessler said.

“We keep talking about communication. I’ll take the blame on that. ... I think that’s the big thing we can get better at,” Lauri Markkanen said.

Their coach had a different take.

“We’re just not doing a very good job at the point the point of attack, and the activity behind it is late,” Will Hardy said.

“We’ve got way too many moments where we’re not doing a good job on the ball. We’re not doing a very good job with secondary defenders. The activity has been pretty lackluster in general,” he said later.

“The focus has to be maintained for an entire possession and has to be maintained for an entire game. And it has to be all five people. If you have one or two people that are disconnected mentally, it’s really hard to play defense in the NBA.”

Frankly, I agree with Hardy more. I mean, sure, there are plays in which miscommunications occur, and opponent points are the result. But by and large, I see more examples where the defensive effort just isn’t up to snuff. Even in a situation with perfect communication, it doesn’t matter if the individual defenders can’t, or won’t, execute their jobs.

Pride, focus, and want-to are all issues right now.

Without them, this Jazz season is toast. They need to turn it around, and fast.