The Triple Team: Jazz’s loss to Magic shows the downside of having a small roster

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 115-107 loss to the Orlando Magic from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jazz bench and fans hope for the best as Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) tries to make a three point shot to tie the game agains the Golden State Warriors but fall short 140-137 during an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

1. The Jazz are so small

The Jazz have the worst defense in the league in the month of February.

I think this game was a really good example of why. I actually thought the effort was there. They didn’t have a lot of turnovers (13), they didn’t allow a huge number of fast break points (18), nor did they allow a huge number of second-chance points (9). Nor did the Magic shoot well from three overall: 10-30 for 33% is below league average.

So why did the Jazz get beaten offensively today? To me, it’s a roster issue: The Jazz are too small.

It’s the end of the game, after a free throw, and it’s Collin Sexton guarding Franz Wagner. Sexton wasn’t the only small who guarded Wagner today; Kris Dunn also found himself matched up on the 6-10 forward for much of the game. Meanwhile, Sexton and Dunn stand at 6-3.

That means that the Jazz have to send help, and a lot of it. It’s first Keyonte George stunting into the lane, leaving Jalen Suggs open. (Suggs was a bad 3-point shooter in his first two seasons, but has been shooting 38% from deep in year 3.)

It also means that the Jazz are very exploitable on switches. This video below wasn’t the Jazz’s base configuration, but now Sexton’s guarding Paolo Banchero. Keyonte George sees the mismatch and comes to help. (Will Hardy was frustrated postgame that George freelanced in this way.) Again, it’s a wide, wide open three for Suggs.

Besides the mismatch issues, there are other significant disadvantages to being small:

• Their rim protector is either John Collins (too small) or Lauri Markkanen (not that adept at it), so the Jazz have to send bodies at the rim and can have a penchant for fouling. (Walker Kessler’s presence really helps this, but he was out due to a foot strain vs. Orlando.)

• But being small also means their closeouts aren’t scary — Suggs shot with ease over George in the first video, for example.

• It’s harder to win the rebounding battle, and you have to dedicate more resources to it. (The Jazz are actually good at this, 2nd in the league in rebounding percentage in February.)

• Referees frequently give advantages to bigger players over smaller ones when there’s a clear advantage.

But the Jazz traded away their only playable wing, Simone Fontecchio, at the beginning of the month. Another, Otto Porter, is away from the team while he figures out if he wants to take a buyout. As a result, the Jazz are just so easy to exploit, and we’re seeing the consequences — they’ve lost seven of their last eight.

2. Lauri Markkanen struggles

It’s not a full-blown catastrophe, but Lauri Markkanen has struggled recently. He’s averaging just 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds over the last three weeks on 39/36/95 shooting splits. For the season, he’s at 23.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, shooting 49/40/89.

I asked Will Hardy if there’s anything he’d like to see more of or differently from Markkanen:

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