Jazz vs. Clippers: Battle of the Bigs

April 14th, 2017 | by Jarom Moore
Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

Ahead of the Jazz-Clippers first-round playoff series, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the talent and matchups. Here, Jarom Moore dives deep on the big men from each roster.

Who has better big men?

Really, let’s start with the crux of this whole debate: whose bigs are better? In my opinion, the Clippers’ starters are better than the Jazz’s. However, any bench play is hugely in the Jazz’s favor (which should come as no surprise with the Clippers’ ever-present bench problems).

Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are slightly better than Rudy Gobert and either Derrick Favors or Joe Johnson, because Blake is very, very good. However, once either of them sits the Jazz should have a huge advantage. Bench minutes will decide which unit of big men wins this series.

Who plays for the Clippers?

Of the available 48 minutes at each big man position, Griffin averaged 34 at power forward and Jordan played 32. Those will probably go up to 38 for each (depending on whether the Jazz decide to deploy the hack-a-Jordan strategy). That leaves about 20 big minutes to spread, and a significant drop-off for the Clippers.

Let’s run through the possible names, Diamond Stone, Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson,  Paul Pierce, Marreese Speights and Luc Mbah a Moute. (It took me hours to try and figure out who actually got backup minutes at the four. Everyone and no one played it.)

Now let’s eliminate the first three and realize that Paul Pierce might get a bulk of power forward minutes. Mbah a Moute has to be their preferred backup going from the 3 to the 4 when needed.

What happens when DeAndre sits? This will be the most interesting situation. Do they just go small? Speights isn’t awful, but in the playoffs with tightened minutes they want good production.

I’m expecting the Clippers playing small basically whenever Jordan sits. I have to assume they play small and have Luc or Blake guard Rudy. Then on the other side they pull Rudy out of the paint with Mbah a Moute or force him to guard Blake.

Their lack of quality backup is countered by using a big to pull Rudy toward the perimeter.

Who plays for the Jazz?

Rudy should get 38-40 minutes per game. That leaves a very interesting 58 minutes to spread. Popular opinion is that Joe Johnson is getting huge minutes. Look at him getting at least 28 minutes per game with the rest. Favors will probably get 20 minutes per game (if his health allows, which we’ll discuss in a minute). If Favors is actually healthy this will be a three-man rotation, but I still think Jazz coach Quin Snyder stays light on him.

The scenario above leaves about 10 minutes. Boris Diaw, Joel Bolomboy and Jeff Withey have played real minutes recently, but I’m assuming these last 10 will be split between Joe Ingles and Gordon Hayward.

I think we see some mad scientist stuff from Snyder in the playoffs. Lineups like George Hill, Rodney Hood, Ingles, Hayward and Johnson while DeAndre sits could be awesome.

However, I could easily be overthinking all of this and Quin may just do what he’s wanted to do this whole year: Gobert, Favors and Johnson, 96 divided by three however he chooses, and then goes to whoever’s hot at the end.

Who shouldn’t play?

Ignore these names this series: Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone  for L.A. with Trey Lyles, Joel Bolomboy and Jeff Withey for the Jazz. None of them should see the court, I mean literally they should be blindfolded and can only react on sound.

Names that should give you pause when they are checking in: Paul Pierce and Marreese Speights for the Clippers and Boris Diaw for the Jazz. All will probably play (Boris might start), but there are just better options. The reason each will play: ringzzz. All have won so if things get rickety they might be used as stabilizers. If any are in it could mean their team is searching a bit. For either team, going small could likely be a better option.

Is Favors healthy and how does he change this series if so?

The Clippers have had the Jazz’s number recently. It’s been rough, but if there is an equalizer it could be Favors. We’ve all seen what he can do when healthy and this might be the series to see that big payoff from the 2011 Deron Williams trade.

The luster has come off a bit where Favors is concerned, but let’s get something straight: when healthy he is maybe a top-10 big defender in the league. It was two years ago that this team was him and Gordon. He slowly started stretching the floor and his defense was so very good.

His personality and demeanor is now his role: understated, complimentary, nice and, when allowed to shine, incredible.

If somehow the Jazz win the series, it will be because Derrick is healthy, on the court and hitting shots. Yes, I believe he can be that much of a difference maker.

If Derrick is struggling suddenly either Boris gets some big numbers or I think we will see Gordon getting minutes at the 4 with the Joes. Really, I would rather see Gordon and Ingles guarding Blake than Boris. Johnson would probably get the lion’s share of guarding Blake in this scenario.

Is Blake mentally healthy/checked in?

Blake Griffin is really, really, really good. This thought might be more about me projecting than actual facts, and I’m okay with that.

His four games against Utah he’s had 16.8 points per game, in a 3-1 record. He scores 5 fewer points per 48 in losses than wins. His relationship with Chris Paul is interesting. They are both alpha males, if Paul tries to take over a game does Blake slow? If the Jazz can take a series lead does he start thinking about the next team he wants to play for?

Again, this might be projecting a desire from me, but the Clippers, as a whole, are sort of filled with fragile egos. If the Jazz can get into Blake’s head it could change how this series goes down.

How angry will Rudy be?

Man, moving back the awards presentation to after the season might be the best thing to happen to L.A. If he were to lose the Defensive Player of the Year award to Warriors forward Draymond Green before or during the series, he would be hulk smash mad. Angry Rudy is the best Rudy. That being said, it doesn’t seem like he likes Jordan very much. Their play styles are very similar and Rudy loves those challenges.

Also, if Rudy can be his dominant self early in the series that could help break the psyche of the Clippers. Rudy will bring fire, but does his desire to prove something ratchet up? Everything else will go up in intensity, especially the Clippers who know how to match playoff intensity.

How angry does Rudy get?

Can DeAndre Jordan match Rudy’s intensity?

I literally just said the Clippers know how to match playoff intensity. On the other hand, if Rudy goes Goku all over DeAndre’s Majin Buu early in game one or the series can DeAndre get mad back?

Is he a frontrunner who will pout if chips fall wrong early? The more I think about this whole series I think the mental side could crack for the Clips. Jordan’s mind is not exception.

Small ball

Both teams will use some of it, but how and when? I’m expecting the Clippers to look small when Paul is out so Blake can play point center forcing Rudy to guard him at the 3-point line. The Blake point run is fascinating and frightening.

How will the Jazz go small? Do they ever actually go small in this series? Taking Rudy out sounds a little crazy. However, for his sitting stints it’ll be interesting to if Snyder can concoct something different and unique.

If any small ball happens the question will be this: can either of the Joes or Gordon really body up Blake for any extended amount of time? They succeeded in the win, but if it worked every time the Jazz would use it every time.

How does this series really play out with the bigs?

Two teams who use and prefer a two-big lineup battling in the playoffs. I believe that fouls are the x-factor in this series. Any game where Blake or DeAndre get into foul trouble should be disaster for the Clippers. On the flip side, losing Rudy could be a death knell and giving Blake free points will end games.

In the playoffs with a tight rotation the edge goes to the Jazz, slightly. Can the Jazz capitalize on the 8-10 minutes per game where Blake sits? If so, the Jazz will have a decided advantage in the big man area of the game.

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