Staff Scrimmage: Writer Roundtable Weighs in on Jazz-Thunder ahead of G1

April 15th, 2018 | by Salt City Hoops

Melissa Majchrzak via utahjazz.com

You’ve come to the right place for smart, diverse takes on the Jazz’s upcoming playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Five of our writers answered questions about key players, burning topics and of course… predictions. Spoiler: our panelists have a lot of different views about most things, but they all see Utah being competitive in this first-round, best-of-seven battle.

Which Jazz player HAS to play well for Utah to win the series?

Allen Schowengerdt: Ricky Rubio has to play well. He has to be locked in defensively at all times when he matches with Russell Westbrook. He also has to make Westbrook work on defense. Westbrook likes to float around and take some chances on defense. If Rubio can take advantage of that, stay focused on defense and stay out of foul trouble, the Jazz will have a good chance. 

Clint Johnson: While Rudy Gobert is the most important Jazz player, I think the biggest difference maker one way or the other will be Joe Ingles. He’s been brilliant this season both scoring and facilitating. But his athletic limitations may make him vulnerable to the focused defensive scouting of playoff basketball. If he can’t get room for his deliberate shooting motion, or create opportunities for teammates with his slow drives full of fakes, Utah won’t win the series.  

Steve Godfrey: Gobert. He MUST do what he does best for the Jazz to win. Yes, he is the anchor to the team’s defense and fuels the best lineups, but his impact could also be telling for the future of the Jazz, and maybe the NBA. Can he stay on the court amid shooters? Can he guard Westbrook or others in space? The Ringer’s Jonathon Tjarks pointed out how difficult that was for Gobert against Steph Curry’s Warriors last postseason. As Tjarks said, “If it starts to become a trend this postseason, there may be a ceiling to how good a team built around Gobert can be.” Gulp.

Allen Reihman: I’m going to cheat a bit and say Quin Snyder. Last time these two teams played, 40 percent of Utah’s minutes went to players who have since departed or fallen out of the rotation. Andre Roberson was in,  Gobert was out. So while coaches will generally analyze the regular season match-up to determine initial playoff strategies, they now have a paucity of data. The Game 1 advantage may go to the team that can play the best ad hoc basketball — a possible advantage for Westbrook and Paul George over the scheme-dependent Jazz. 

Quin will need to be imaginative to get off on the right foot, and then pivot quickly as the data flows in.

Andrew John: Jae Crowder. This may raise some eyebrows. The easy answer is Gobert, but Crowder will likely be matched up against one of Paul George or Carmelo Anthony throughout the series, and the Jazz will likely need to neutralize them to have a shot to win. I think all can agree that Westbrook is going to get his. If Crowder can make life difficult for the other two guys, and help stretch the floor with his shooting, the Jazz will be in good shape.

Which OKC player will have a bigger impact on the series than most people think?

Allen S.Raymond Felton. OKC is extremely banged up at shooting guard and we might see Felton get extra minutes because of it. The Jazz were able to take advantage of him last year in the Clippers series. They will need to be able to do that again. If Felton is effective off the bench for OKC, that would be troublesome for the Jazz.

Clint: Jerami Grant. The loss of Roberson is HUGE for the Thunder, and I believe makes them slight underdogs in the series despite home court advantage. George can only guard one of Ingles or Donovan Mitchell, and Utah’s offense will start actions going through whoever George isn’t guarding. If Grant can supply some of the defensive length, athleticism, and energy that typifies Roberson’s game, this becomes a much harder series for Utah.  

Steve: Gobert and Steven Adams split their two head-to-head games this season. In Utah’s win, Gobert dominated with 16 points and 13 boards. In the Thunder win, Adams was a beast with 20 and 9 while limiting Gobert to five points, six rebounds, and only one block. Over the course of their careers, the New Zealander has the head-to-head edge (10-4). My point: Adams is really good and an underrated cog in the Thunder’s machine, especially against Gobert. If he outplays Gobert, that’s a huge OKC advantage, but it would be hard for Utah to win even if Adams manages to play Gobert to a draw.

Allen R.: We all know what PG13 can do on offense, but his defense will be a huge factor. Westbrook had primary defensive responsibility for Mitchell last time the two teams met, and the rookie went off for 29 points on 12-for-16 shooting. Billy Donovan will not repeat this mistake and George will likely assume primary responsibility, especially in the fourth quarter. Against George’s length and athleticism, expect Donovan to drive and kick, as the Thunder are a poor team at 3-point closeouts.  The Thunder will force the Jazz to beat them with 3s from the likes of Crowder, O’Neale, and Rubio. They’ll stay close to Ingles.

Andrew: Probably Corey Brewer. He’s had perhaps the best mini-stretch of his career since signing with the Thunder early last month, and is a guy who can hurt teams without needing the ball in his hands. He’s no longer a great defender, but has the length and versatility to defend multiple guys, and can still get hot from 3. 

What’s fair to expect of Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio in their first playoff series ever? 

Allen S.: If they don’t provide something close to their regular season averages, then the Jazz are in trouble. But the beauty of Snyder’s offense is that each player will be able to feel out the game and adjust to how OKC is defending them without getting too far outside of their own game. The crazy thing about Mitchell’s season so far though is that even though it’s not fair to expect, I do kind of expect special things from him now.

Clint: That they not let missed shots take them out of the series. Both have shown they can win or lose Utah games based on whether shots are going in. When shots aren’t, they have to contribute in other ways and find ways to score. In particular, they need to break the paint to create opportunities for teammates and get to the line. Both players are capable of that, and they’ll need to balance any cold shooting with extra aggression toward the rim.

Steve: It feels like Rubio has been around forever because he has been on the international radar since he was a teenager. Because of that experience in Spain, I’m not too worried about his play in the NBA postseason. Mitchell, on the other hand, does worry me a bit. Louisville only participated in the NCAA tournament during his sophomore season, and they lost to Michigan in the second round, 73-69. What’s promising in that close loss is that Mitchell balled out, leading the team across the board – 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Mitchell has shown a lot of composure and maturity beyond his rookie status this season, but he is also about to star as the defensive game plan and face tenacious defender Paul George in a grueling two weeks. Can he keep his star play up? 

Allen R.: We all know that rookies struggle with playoff pressure, so why do I just know that Donovan will step up?

AndrewDespite some inconsistencies, they should play as well as they did during the regular season. It’s their first time to the playoffs, but I don’t think that’s an unfair expectation. That said, it also means that it’s unfair to expect them to outplay Westbrook and PG. That’s not likely to happen. 

What has to be happen for this postseason to be a success for Utah?

Allen S.: The first and most obvious thing that can make this postseason a success is Mitchell learning what the playoffs are like, adjusting, and becoming a go-to playoff scorer before the Jazz are eliminated. It’s also a success if the Jazz are able to improve on their performance from last year with this roster. That means that the system is working and they are close to contending.

Clint: At a minimum, they have to pull the Thunder into a long, competitive series of at least six games. When healthy, the Jazz have been as good as OKC has been this year, and more consistent. But if in the pressure of the playoffs the Thunder appear to be a different caliber of team, it will frame the Jazz’s late-season rush as a mirage. Now, no team in the West wants the Jazz. If they go out this round, Houston had better give at least a small sigh in relief or they wasted the playoff opportunity.

Steve: This season has been amazing for the Utah Jazz considering the turnover from last year’s team, Rudy’s injury, and how tough the Northwest Division became and the strength of schedule the Jazz had to overcome. That said, Utah can’t be content with just being in the playoffs. They are in a series they can win while proving their future impact and dominance to the rest of the league. Win a series and the Jazz match last’s years outcome which is scary, and only the beginning of what they may be capable of moving forward.

Allen R.: The regular season is already a success. The Jazz have established two franchise cornerstone players. And the protracted “must win” atmosphere has given the Jazz an opportunity to excel in quasi-playoff experiences. For the playoffs to be a success, they need to beat OKC and win a game or two against the Warriors. 

AndrewThe Jazz have two franchise cornerstones under 26 locked into long-term contracts. That’s a good place to be. After losing Gordon Hayward, few expected a 48-win team this year. Considering the expectations entering the year, even within the organization, and the seemingly bright future ahead, a competitive first round series would be enough to give this year a stamp of approval from inside the organization and the fan base. 

Prediction time!

Allen S.: I predict Jazz in 6, but OKC wins if it goes 7. The Jazz have the deeper roster and, in my opinion, a significant coaching advantage. That combined with how well they are playing leads me to pick the Jazz. But Westbrook can access a gear that the Jazz might not be able to compete with, and that is what he will do in a Game 7 scenario. This is going to be so much fun.

Clint: Utah in six. I just think the Jazz are the better, deeper team. Westbrook and George are all-world talents, and Adams is an elite role player. But OKC is missing their Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Utah has theirs. Carmelo Anthony has been a fifth wheel. And I think Snyder is a better NBA coach than Donovan. The only way OKC wins this is if Westbrook and George dominate four games or Anthony has an unexpected resurgence. Against a defense as good as Utah’s, both scenarios are unlikely. 

Steve: Jazz in six. Utah is healthy and hot at the right time, which is all you need for postseason success. I don’t see OKC flipping the switch. Instead, I see a better coach and better depth to compensate for the star power and scoring from OKC. Westbrook can collect his stats, but the Jazz defense will be able to slog down everything else to give Utah a chance. They steal a game in OKC while defending the homecourt to the excitement and buzz this team has brought SLC. Even as a Jazz Junkie, I honestly can’t see them losing the series. Let’s go.

Allen R.: Jazz in 5.  They lose game 1 and then win the next 4.  They do this by:

  • Making Westbrook beat them from above the break (e.g., go under screens) and suffocate PG13 and make him beat you inside where Rudy awaits. They must face-guard PG13, if he goes off from 3, it is “lights out” for the Jazz
  • Kill the break by taking care of the ball and not worrying about the offensive glass.  If the Jazz are forced into many fast break “Euro fouls,” OKC will get into the penalty and the Jazz will die at the free throw line.
  • Making their open 3s. A concern is that three-point shots have high variability, and if the Jazz go cold they could lose a home game, forcing them to find two wins in OKC.

Andrew: Jazz in 6. Had Gobert not missed significant time, it’s fair to think the Jazz would have won more than 50 games, and wouldn’t have lost the regular season series to the Thunder. Utah has been a different team since Gobert returned and Crowder arrived via trade, and the Thunder hasn’t yet played this version of the Jazz. It should be a tight series. 

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: George’s 8 Threes Sink Jazz 108 – 116 | Salt City Hoops

  2. I recently ran over your blog and have been reading along. I figured I would leave my first comment. I might want to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I trust a similar best work from you later on also. Truth is told your creative writing capacities have motivated me to begin my own blog now.

  3. Jeff Morgan says:

    It is nice to know these players. I am not really a fun of Utah since I am not from Utah but this list is astonishing. Love it. Keep the hustle!

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