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The Triple Team: Utah’s John Collins unhappy with Chicago Bulls assistant after shoving match

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 119-117 loss to the Chicago Bulls from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

Utah Jazz forward John Collins (20) dunks against the Chicago Bulls during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

1. John Collins’ season-high

The Jazz lost, but they were underdogs in this game by a 4-point margin. That the Bulls shot well from three and the Jazz didn’t was probably the biggest determining factor of the game. But wins and losses don’t matter a great deal to this team right now, so let’s skip the 3-point variance discussion in favor of other topics.

In particular: John Collins had his season high tonight with 25 points. While that’s not a huge number for a player who the Jazz are paying $25 million, I think it does reflect some better play from him recently, especially on the offensive end. After spending October, November, and December shooting below 50% from the field, he’s now back above 50% in January, February, and so far in March.

John Collins' monthly splits.

The biggest difference has been his shooting within 5 feet of the basket. After starting 65% from there in those first three months, he’s up to 78% in the last three months. What’s going on?

“I think our team understands John much better,” head coach Will Hardy said. “I think early in the season we were getting him the ball a little bit late on some of those pick and rolls and I think the team’s done a good job adjusting to John, and they’re hitting him in stride a little bit more.”

I agree.

The bad news is that while Collins has been playing better since the turn of the calendar, the Jazz still have had better plus-minus results with him off the floor. That wasn’t the case tonight (Collins was a +4, while his backup, Omer Yurtseven, was a -6), but the overall numbers still aren’t friendly.

It has stemmed the tide of his fall, though. This graph shows just how rough those early season games were to his overall value. (DARKO DPM is an all-in-one stat relatively well respected by the analytics community.)

John Collins' DARKO progression.

Can he bounce back into the positive in 2024-25? The Jazz will be hoping so.

2. A kerfuffle!

I won’t write about all kerfuffles, but this one was certainly unique.

The Jazz were down a single point. The Bulls had the ball and Utah needed to foul right away. Jazz guard Collin Sexton fouled Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan right in front of the Bulls’ bench.

“It was a normal hard foul, and then next thing you know Torrey [Craig] came up. It’s a hard foul, it’s basketball. At the end of the day, I’m not trying to hurt anybody,” Sexton said.

Then: more mayhem than you’d expect!

Craig, out for the Bulls with a right knee sprain, comes up and confronts Sexton about the foul. Then, John Collins confronts Craig. Where it gets interesting is when Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming gets involved, and pushes Collins away.

When that happens, everything explodes. Referees turn around, Collins pushes Fleming then, including with a hand in the neck area of the Bulls’ coach. Kris Dunn gets into the action and is dragged back out of it.

In the end, techs were assessed to Collins, Fleming, and Craig, which I think is the right call. But it could have been an absolutely game-changing moment — after all, if Sexton hits the three at the end of the game, it would have turned an overtime ending into a Jazz win.

After the game, Collins wasn’t happy with Fleming. “I’m standing there, and the coach comes over and just shoves me for no reason, and I just protected myself. I’m just standing there and the dude just puts a forearm into my chest and is pushing me back. He needs some more self control, but, it’s whatever. I don’t know what to say about that, that was weird. ... A coach touching me is unacceptable.”

We’ll see if anything further comes of it. I wouldn’t be stunned if the NBA fines either Craig for instigating or Fleming for pushing, but I could see the league just deciding that the $2,000 penalty for technical fouls is enough.

3. The passaggio

Yesterday, Defector had a good idea: They watched all of the box score assists in Monday’s NBA basketball action, and decided whether they were truly deserving of the word.

We all know that there are different kinds of assists, some more valuable than others. They split them up into three categories: “fake assists,” ones that had nothing to do with the ball going into the hoop; “real assists,” in which the pass clearly led to the bucket in a good and useful way, and “passaggios” — as they explained, the “tastiest of passes.”

Overall, they found that 20% of the assists from Monday were fake; plays like this:

I agree with the Defector folks — overall, I would prefer these not be called assists.

Meanwhile, 5% were passaggios. The Jazz actually led Monday’s action in passagios, with three.

So I figured I’d do the same with Wednesday night’s Jazz assists. In all, the Jazz had 28 assists on Wednesday. How many were fake?

Overall, I found only one fake assist: a pass from Yurtseven that led to some Talen Horton-Tucker dribbling before a pull-up three.

On the other hand, there was only one passaggio tonight, I felt: THT kicking it out to Collin Sexton for this three.

So while over 90% of the Jazz’s assists were real tonight, I still like the mental construct of fake vs. real. vs. brilliant. And mostly the word passaggio, to be perfectly honest.

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