SC7: Snyder’s Masterful Job, Gobert Keeps Dominating & More

March 23rd, 2018 | by Dan Clayton

Psst, tell a friend: Snyder has done extraordinary work over the last two months  (Streeter Lecka via ESPN)

It’s Friday, time for another Salt City Seven. Every week, we review the previous 168 hours in Jazzland by sharing these seven sections that hopefully bring all the key moments and important narratives to life. Amid a tense playoff race, let’s first pause to deliver well-earned props to a very deserving member of the Jazz.

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

With 10 games to play, the Jazz have  clinched a .500-or-better record. Of course, that’s not their end goal, but it’s remarkable given the 19-28 start and their December-January funk.

This latest handiwork of Quin Snyder further validates the fourth-year coach’s standing as one of the league’s best coaches. A master motivator and a wiz with the clipboard, Snyder has led his Jazz back from the brink of irrelevance with a 22-3 push. 

It’s a remarkable turnaround on many fronts, but more so when you consider the challenges of coaching a team into a cohesive, selfless juggernaut when so many divergent individual motivations are at stake. Utah has a number of players whose basketball futures are, to some degree or another, uncertain. From a human standpoint, it would be understandable if some of these rotation guys had some of those concerns in the backs of their minds, tugging them mentally from a focus on team-centric basketball. 

  • Derrick Favors is about to enter a pivotal offseason. As an unrestricted free agent in his prime, his next contract could be the biggest payday or his life; a player’s third contract often is. 
  • Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh could earn the club’s faith in the form of a guarantee on their 2018-19 salaries. (The same is true for Thabo Sefolosha, but he’s out for the season with a knee injury.)
  • Dante Exum is months away from his first free agency period as a pro. He’ll be a restricted free agent, and because of the way injuries have shortened his résumé, he’ll enter free agency as a largely unproven commodity. The injured Raul Neto is also entering restricted free agency.
  • Rookie Royce O’Neale has a fully non-guaranteed contract for next season. While the low price tag probably removes some of the suspense, he is very literally playing for his future with every stint.

With so many looming uncertainties on various players’ horizons, it would be easy for the Jazz to devolve into a “get mine” style of play. That Snyder has kept the team focused on a singular mission, even after the teams playoff hopes had all but vanished by late January, is beyond impressive. 

They’re doing more than just not playing selfishly, too. They’ve been one of the most connected teams over the past two months. Their team assist percentage has climbed from 56.3% to 60.7% during this 22-3 stretch, and one of the hallmarks of this run has been the frequency with which Jazz players pass up a good shot to get a teammate a better shot.

They’re connected on defense, too. Part of this is because they’ve replaced the rotation minutes of guys who weren’t as bought in defensively with others who want to defend as a unit. Nobody in Utah’s current rotation has a season defensive rating of greater than 103.9 (or, consequently, a negative net rating). If you focus just on the post-January 24 period that coincides with Utah’s hot streak, all of their rotation guys have a DRtg of 99.5 or better.

Think about that for a second: over the last two months, Utah’s worst individual DRtg is still better than the best team DRtg in the NBA this season.

Some of those numbers may not hold up as Utah runs a tricky gauntlet in their final 10 games. Teams like San Antonio, Golden State (twice) and Portland will test that defensive connectivity. But regardless of how it turns out, Utah can take another .500-plus season to the bank.

If they split their final 10, they’ll likely extend their season with a playoff push. If they win six or seven more, that could be enough to avoid a tough matchup with the likes of Houston or Golden State in round one.

But regardless of their final win total, it has been a masterful job by Snyder to keep everybody on the same page given all of the challenges and uncertainty. He has maximized the roles of players who want to play the right way, and he’s fielding a team full of players who don’t care who takes the shot or who gets credit for a stop. It’s a beautiful brand of basketball, and some of Snyder’s best work yet.

 

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

“I think it’s an empirical fact, frankly (that Gobert is the league’s top defender). Empirical from the standpoint that if you look at every number, he’s dominant. Like, not just good. He’s been dominant… I’m just stating what’s been happening with our team, what Rudy’s doing is special right now.”

– Snyder on Gobert’s dominant impact on defense

Snyder’s right: 56 games worth of Rudy’s defense might have had more of an impact on this particular season than 70-80 games of any other guy’s defense. He’s first in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric. He holds guys 9 percentage points below their average around the basket area, 4 percentage points on two-point shots overall, and even 3 percentage points when he has to cover the three-point line. The Jazz allow 97.5 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor, which is better than the best team mark in the league. And the Stifle Tower’s presence in the middle allows the Jazz to pressure differently outside, holding opponents to a lower three-point percentage and scoring slightly more points off of turnovers because of the aggressiveness that Gobert’s safety net unleashes in perimeter defenders.

He’s had a tremendous impact, and has helped the Jazz turn around their season, winning 22 of their last 25.

 

Keeping track of Utah’s playoff chances

Make no mistake about it: the Jazz’s loss to Atlanta, after leading by double digits on their own court, stings. But all of the teams in the playoff race have their inexplicable losses like that one. Zoom out to the larger view, and Utah has still given itself a shot, not just to make the postseason but to climb into a more favorable matchup. The problem is that now, after four straight lottery-bound opponents, the strength of schedule metric that was their ace in the hole is now working against them.

The race remains tight.

Quick insights:

  • Minnesota has a cakewalk of a closing schedule and a great tiebreaker situation because of their conference record. 
  • New Orleans got through that brutal 5-in-6-nights stretch that was created by the rescheduled game with the Pacers. They finished 4-1 in that stretch, but now we’ll see if the fatigue from that stretch impacts them in the next few games.
  • The Spurs still don’t know when (if?) they’re getting Kawhi Leonard back, but appear to have turned it around.
  • Portland is looking relatively safe in the third spot, but don’t write them into your bracket in pen just yet. They still have five road games against good teams.

 

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

11-1

Tuesday’s loss to the Hawks marks the only time this season the Jazz have lost a game in which Rubio scored 20 or more. The story of that one is this: when you’re defining offensive talent is a rookie, there will be nights when he more or less shoots you out of a game.

Atlanta had a very unique scheme: they dropped the big way back on all pick-and-rolls, but not just back to the free-throw line like most conservative schemes do. They had their bigs fall halfway back into the paint, cutting off the Gobert roll and turning Utah’s ball handlers into pull-up shooters. Rubio made his, but Mitchell and Ingles did not, so the Jazz couldn’t scrape together enough points to beat the Hawks on a night when their defensive rating was 95.

.346 TS post All-Star

Speaking of the up-and-down nature of rookies, Royce O’Neale has gone cold. Jae Crowder’s arrival certainly changes O’Neale’s role in some ways, but this stark a drop-off is pretty unforeseen. Before the break, he shot .574 overall (true shooting), but his three-point in particular has abandoned him: from 39.5 percent to 19.2. Yikes. He’s still a smart, hard-working player and because of that it’s a good bet that he’ll be fine in the long run. But he’s now been off for about a month.

 

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

Most of the Jazz’s scoring plays are pretty straightforward these days. That’s not a bad thing — their basic flow stuff have been working, so most of the recent buckets come on variations of the same basic clipboard stuff we’ve been highlighting in this space for several weeks: right-side pick-and-roll with reversal to the left corner, a weakside cutter at the 45, simple high P&R stuff, etc.

But if you want to find something clever, a good idea is to look at Utah’s first play coming out of a timeout. 

Look at how far back Dewayne Dedmon is when all the initial screening activity takes place.  Gobert sets a flare screen for Crowder and then a backpick for Rubio, and Dedmon barely moves from his spot below the free throw line. But when Crowder’s pass hits Ingles on the move, already curling around Gobert’s pick, Dedmon has to react, and that opens up just enough space for the drop pass. The Jazz love running side P&R where the guy using the pick catches the ball after clearing the screen, because teams usually have a different strategy for guarding off-ball screens, so a guy catching mid-P&R can put the defense into “oh crap” mode.

But the most impressive part of this play is the finish. As we discussed last week, Gobert’s versatility on P&R finishes is part of the reason he’s getting increasingly dominant as an offensive threat. He’s no longer just a dunker. Here, he double-clutches, reaches past two defenders, and reverses it softly off the glass. That’s something the center didn’t use to have in his repertoire.

 

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

Jazz 103, Kings 97: Rudy Gobert

This was the game that prompted Snyder’s quote above about just how dominant Gobert has been lately. The Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t want much to do with Gobert, and Sacramento didn’t have a single starter convert on over 33.3 percent of his shots. Gobert was one of five Jazz guys with a DRtg in the EIGHTIES (!!) and just for good measure, he scored 22 points on just eight shots, plus added 13 boards and four blocks. Mitchell’s scoring (28) and Ingles’ all-around game (14-7-9) earned them consideration, too.

Jazz 119, Mavs 112: Joe Ingles

Tougher call here, but Ingles gets it. We could have gone with Mitchell, who iced it with back-to-back late buckets and had 26 overall. Could have gone Rubio, who had five steals and another high-scoring game (22). Thing is, Jingles did a little of everything. Scratch that: he did a LOT of everything. A lot of scoring (18), a lot of assisting (10), a lot of rebounding (7) and a lot of defense. After Dallas’ JJ Barea went off with 20 before intermission, Ingles switched onto him and forced him into a quiet second half. Across all facets of the game, Swiss Army Joe was extremely valuable. Derrick Favors (19-7-5) was awesome, too. 

 

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

We end on a question that will twist your brain into a pretzel shape.

This one will plague philosophers for centuries.

Seeing the NBA’s second all-time scorer go up against one of it’s premier defenders would be a real “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” type of conundrum. Then you have two prolific and creative passers, both sneaky physical and very capable thieves.

It seems like Rubio and Malone would find it easier to develop instant chemistry. Stockton was never a big lob-thrower, whereas Rubio’s style as a passer might be more what Malone is used to. But then again, would the All-D Gobert and Stockton even let them score enough?

I’m stumped. Who you got?

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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