SC7: Help Coming From the Schedule? (Plus Six More Jazz Bits)

December 30th, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Melissa Majchrzak via

There isn’t a ton of good news to discuss in this last Salt City Seven of 2017. The Jazz have been in their deepest and most protracted funk of the season, but as we cover in the main section today, things might be about to turn as the schedule heads into January.


A quick(ish) exploration of a prominent theme from the week or the current state of Utah Jazz basketball.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday, the Jazz will head into 2018 well below .500. They close out the calendar year against the Cavaliers, but regardless of the outcome of that game, Utah will finish December either five or seven games below an even mark.

We knew December would be a tough month. What we didn’t know is that the Jazz would only get 41 December points (in 133 minutes) from Rudy Gobert, who hurried back from one injury just to suffer one in his other leg six games later. They’ll have to deal with his absence well into January as well, forcing them to cobble together an identity without their defining defensive star.

But it wasn’t just Gobert’s absence that hampered the Jazz. Star rookie Donovan Mitchell hit something of a rough patch, missing a couple of games of his own with a toe problem, and struggling with more focused scouting reports when he does play. In Utah’s current 2-10 slide, Mitchell has shot just 31 percent from three. He’s still scoring (20.9 points per game) because of the sheer number of possessions he’s using, but it has been a challenging month as teams’ awareness of the burgeoning star heightens.

Alec Burks has cratered, making just 17 of his last 56 shot attempts (and four of his last 16 threes) after playing undoubtedly his best stretch of games in the past three years. Joe Ingles, while still facilitating well, has had a rather pedestrian run of games scoring the ball, too: 8.9 points on 40-37-60 shooting numbers over his last 12. Ricky Rubio’s shot continues to be a shaky enterprise, and Rodney Hood has had as many games scoring under 12 as he has had over 20.

The result of all of that is that Utah hasn’t just been beat in 10 of their last 12, but they’ve also struggled to compete lately. Seven of their last nine losses have been double-digit margins.

There is some good news, though…

Utah’s schedule is about to get a little softer, at least in terms of opponent strength. It will still be a road-heavy month — eight of 13 outside the Beehive — but instead of facing each conference’s best teams, they have a friendlier slate. They will face 11 straight teams with records below .600 before finishing the month against the Raptors and Warriors.

So things will likely start looking up soon. After all, it would be hard for them not to.


Words from a Jazz player or coach about a relevant or timely topic.

There’s a difference between being reported on personnel who you are versus a game plan, which is more what you do. It’s his credit that he’s transitioned into that as far as people prepare for that… It’s a credit to him. They (opponents) see some of the things in him that we see in him, and they recognize it.”

– Quin Snyder, to the Tribune’s Kyle Goon, on how teams are paying more attention to Mitchell

It’s hard to tell how much of Mitchell’s struggles are related to teams’ increased awareness of who is, and how much is just typical rookie wall stuff after playing more than a full college season’s worth of games.

But this now becomes an intriguing subplot to the next 10 or 15 games: how will Mitchell push through his latest stretch where he has been less impactful in overall terms than he was in November and even early December?

The ride for rookie guards in the NBA is never a straight A-to-B proposition, so it should surprise precisely nobody to see Mitchell experience some typical ups and downs. He has seen games where teams were ready for his drive-and-scoop plays with that long 6’10” wingspan, he has seen games where he got less airspace as a shooter, and he has had games littered with defensive mistakes.

That’s all par for the course for a young guy coming into his own. And along the way, he’s earned recognition from a long line of stars from around the league who have stopped him after games to give him words of encouragement.


Stats and figures that help tell prominent stories from the week.

14 & 8

One name that was absent from the list of struggling Jazz men we ran though above: Derrick Favors.

Since Gobert’s injury woes started, Fav has seen a decent amount of success as the lone traditional big in Utah’s 4-out lineups. He has averaged 14 and 8 since November 11, and he’s doing it on 56.5 percent shooting.

He has had some rough games interspersed, but largely he has been a bright spot for Utah in his role as provisional starting center. That said, it’s certainly not his role in the long term, which raises the question as to whether his strong recent play means as much to his hypothetical trade value as it means to his current role with the club.


A quick dissection of an awesome bit of Jazz offense from the week.

Utah’s offense with Gobert out differs from their usual stuff in a variety of ways. For one, they run far less cutesy stuff, probably because they don’t have to. The offense with these 4-out lineups the Jazz have run almost exclusively since Gobert’s latest collision is less contingent on duping the defense with layer upon layer of trickery and fluff disguising the meet of the action.

But they also try to strike quicker. Utah is definitely trying — at least selectively — to be a more mobile unit while Gobert mends, and one way they’ve found success at doing that is by running a simple staggered screen toward the middle before the defense is fully set.

These three plays all come from this week’s action and all involve an early stagger. In the first, which vaguely resembles pistol action, Ingles gives to Hood on a dribble pitch and then he and Ekpe Udoh set up the staggered screen for Hood to get to the middle. Since the defense is still getting settled, there’s confusion as to whose job it is to jump out at Hood. Everybody stays under the double screen, so Hood correctly pulls up and nails a three.

The screen on the second clip (which was actually from earlier in the same game) comes even earlier. As such, the three defenders involved in the action are still finding their respective guys, and Rubio is able to attack toward the middle and force Zaza Pachulia to switch. With the big guy on him, Rubio just needs a simple stutter step to get by him for the layup.

And earlier in the week, Rubio ran straight (and hard) into staggered screens right after crossing midcourt. Two guys followed him in a panic, leaving a two-on-one at the top of the key. Udoh screened for Hood to get another open one.

These three plays generated nine total points1 and yet none took more than :09 of clock time. By catching the defense off balance with a play that requires multiple defenders to make split-second decisions, Utah generated three good looks in a week when good looks weren’t always easy to come by.


Doling out credit for Jazz wins, one imaginary Spalding at a time.

No wins this past week, which means no Spalding love this time around. Don’t worry: as explained above, January should bring a few more wins.


A look at the Jazz’s postseason probabilities

Utah’s rough recent stretch has cost them some optimism in the playoff department.

The Jazz are still one of 10 teams in the thick of the Western Conference race, but their likelihood looks less certain than it did even a couple of weeks ago.

The LA Clippers have now leapfrogged them behind a strong run, so the Jazz are currently in tenth place. They’re as close to No. 13 Dallas as they are to the current eighth seed, New Orleans.

As such, FiveThirtyEight has dropped them to basically a coin toss to make the postseason. That will climb if the Jazz take advantage of a milder average opponent in January, but they now find themselves looking up at nine teams as we approach the midpoint of the season.


Because, at the end of the day, this should be fun.

While we keep analyzing and overanalyzing Ricky Rubio’s on-court ups and downs, the Spanish guard just keeps right on being an awesome human.

Congratulations to Rubio on this recognition, but more importantly on the impact he’s making.

Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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