Utah’s first home preseason game of the 2015-16 season was, to put it lightly, a sloppy affair. The Jazz had more turnovers (14) than assists (13) on the night, shot an ugly 31.2 percent from the floor (including 22.7 percent from deep) and generally felt out of sync offensively for the second consecutive game.
Some of this is explainable, of course. Preseason caveats are certainly in play, and teams like the Jazz (and really everyone, to some degree) are going to have nights where their shots just aren’t going down. Also potentially at issue was the team’s ability to work together behind the scenes over the last week or so.
“We had our first real practice in about seven, eight days [today],” said coach Quin Snyder. “So now we get a chance to practice, and to try to clean some stuff up where we can be more efficient offensively and hopefully make some shots, too. Sometimes guys just don’t have good shooting nights.”
The practice sentiment was echoed by Gordon Hayward in his own postgame remarks, and it’s definitely valid to a point so early in the team’s time together. Despite the chemistry most of this group has together from last season and beyond, getting a team back together and up to crisp NBA form isn’t a simple flip of a switch. Particularly in a specific and complex motion system like the one Snyder emphasizes, even slight lineup tweaks or a single player returning from an absence (read: Alec Burks) can make a big difference.
All that said, it’s not unfair to make a few takeaways. What Snyder had to say about the results of less practice time was illuminating in this sense: “This is a good opportunity. It’s a true look at where we are.”
Unfortunately, caveats aside, where the Jazz are currently is coming off a loss to a severely weakened Portland team1 missing their only true game-changer in Damian Lillard — in a game where Utah played essentially their full complement of players. It’s reasonable to have a few moderate concerns, especially in a few specific areas.
“We just weren’t very good offensively — we didn’t make plays, we didn’t make shots, and we have to learn to be better,” said Snyder, summing things up pretty succinctly.
Things will improve, and this is no time for panic. Monday’s game had a strange flow to it, with several iffy fouls limiting time for both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in stretches. The Jazz did pick up their play markedly in the second half, especially their pressure defense, and were likely a few missed shots or errant whistles from turning an ugly loss into an ugly win.
Snyder will use a week’s worth of good practice time to the fullest, though — be sure of that. It was evident from his tone and demeanor postgame that he knows his group can be better, and knows his own role in driving their precision remains vital. These first four preseason games might be enough to dampen some of the more outlandish optimism for this team heading into the season, but it’s much too early to assume they should wildly affect the long-term prognosis.
“I think it’s hard to analyze our team at this point,” Snyder said. “It just doesn’t all click yet.”
A few other notes:
- Alec Burks was Utah’s best player Monday night, continuing an impressive run over the last few games. He finished with team highs in points (19), assists (3), and made free-throws, with eight boards on top of it2. He’s been Utah’s best offensive option the last two games, blowing by defenders at will and bending defenses, and even had several positive defensive sequences away from the ball — an area both he and the coaching staff have harped on as a point of emphasis. He’s likely Utah’s largest bright point thus far in the preseason.
- On the other end of the spectrum, it’s been a rough couple of games for Derrick Favors, particularly a 2-11 night from the field Monday and just a 5-10 showing from the free-throw line. Derrick seems the slightest bit tentative — drives to the hoop that were dunks last year are occasionally softer layups thus far, and a few have rimmed out here or there. And on the other end, Favors struggled for the second consecutive game against perimeter-oriented marks. It’s not all his fault, of course, as Utah’s scheme against pick-and-rolls left Meyers Leonard wide open for a couple of the 3s he hit while Favors guarded him. Whether it’s the team or the individual, though, it’s a concern — this is now the second time we’ve seen a team downsize against Utah’s starting big frontcourt with success, a primary concern of many an analyst (this one included) coming into the year. “That’s kinda who [Derrick] is. He’s gonna be powerful, and he’s going to have to guard some pick and pop 4s,” Snyder said. “But this is the NBA, right? That’s what we’re going to see, and I worry less about him defending those guys out on the perimeter as I do us making sure we’re spacing and being precise on offense, I think that’s a harder thing for us to deal with right now.” This isn’t the first time Snyder has somewhat downplayed his level of concern at such lineups hurting the Jazz’s star tandem up front, and in this case he’s right that the offensive end of the floor is also a concern. But while he obviously isn’t going to admit any sort of panic level (and certainly isn’t feeling any this early in the year), this doesn’t look like a theme that’s going anywhere…
- …Particularly if the Jazz continue to have success in smaller units of their own, another thing that happened on several occasions. Monday night’s game was probably the most time the Jazz have spent with just one traditional big on the floor in a single game since Snyder took over last year, and it’d be tough to argue the Jazz didn’t benefit from the space. Guys like Burks and Rodney Hood seemed to have a whole new world open to them with just a single big down low, one who risked opening up Favors or Gobert (or briefly Jeff Withey) for a dunk if he helped too far. Snyder used multiple lineup combinations here, including several with four wings on the floor and no traditional point guard. “It created a different game for us, both offensively and defensively, and at that point I felt like we needed something,” said Snyder. “And it was also something I felt like we got a chance to see in practice.” Once again, don’t expect these sorts of units to go anywhere anytime soon.
- Part of what helped pick things up for the Jazz later in the game was their own emphasis on initiating offense earlier, something Snyder has spoken about in the past and couldn’t have been happy with in the early parts of Monday’s game. The Jazz simply cannot afford to spend 10 seconds just setting guys up to run a play — they aren’t a good enough offensive team. Far too often in the first half, someone like Favors on the block didn’t even receive an entry pass until there were eight or nine seconds left on the shot clock, meaning if the first action went nowhere, the Jazz were immediately in a panic scenario. This absolutely contributed to their low assist totals and lack of ball movement overall. Pace is far more than just advancing the ball quickly up the court, and in Utah’s case there’s almost no question that what happens after they cross halfcourt is becoming the more important factor. It’s simple math: More time on the shot clock when initiating plays means more time to bail out and look for second and third options if things break down, and these are often necessities for a Jazz team that won’t always be capable of scoring easily. Expect more of what the Jazz showed bits of in the second half moving forward — quicker, more incisive action to begin plays.
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