Wipes-sweat-off-brow GIF, anyone?
The Jazz finally found themselves on the right end of a nail-biter Sunday night, eking out a fantastically close 97-96 win in Atlanta that wasn’t sealed until Paul Millsap missed a shot he’d frankly normally make as time ran out. It was a strange game in many respects, one where Utah seemed to alternate between focused and discombobulated pretty frequently against a Hawks team doing much of the same. The curiousness of the game might be best summed up by the fact that the Jazz, despite winning, actually allowed significantly more points per-100-possessions (106.1) than they scored (103.8), per NBA.com.
Much of what we’ll analyze from the win will be contained below due to its specificity, but one prevailing theme (aside from a clunker in Orlando Friday night): This team fights. The Jazz still have a number of issues, especially offensively, but there have been five or six times already this year where every shred of momentum seemed to be going in the opposite direction, only for them to claw back.
This sort of thing is downplayed too often, and is a nod to both the players and the guy coaching them. I’ve been more critical of certain on-court elements pertaining to Quin Snyder than I had ever expected at a couple points so far this season, but to doubt his ability as a motivator and a guy his players want to play for would be borderline treasonous. There are absolutely a not-too-small number of teams in the NBA who don’t get full-on, nightly buy-in from every man on their roster, and the results absolutely show for many teams. We’ll talk specifics below, but as the details come and go, knowing the character that’ll be there every night with this team is a swell baseline to start at.
4.0 — Amount per-100-possessions by which the Jazz have been outscored this season without Rudy Gobert in the game — the only Jazz player with a negative figure here. While Derrick Favors has been absolutely fantastic and the team’s best overall player so far, Gobert seems to still be having the largest early effect on the scoreboard.
40.6 — Another per-100 rating, this time the positive differential for Utah’s three-wing lineup of Hayward, Hood and Burks when they play specifically with Utah’s starting frontcourt of Gobert and Favors. This unit still needs many more minutes for this to be a concrete trend, but they should absolutely get those minutes in short order. Of 85 lineups league-wide that have logged over 25 minutes together, just three have outscored their opponents by more.
37.5 — Percent of Jazz misses that a Jazz player rebounded while Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors shared the court Sunday.
.448 — Per-possession scoring rate1 for the Jazz on plays following baseline out of bounds plays, per Synergy Sports. Their figure for sideline out of bounds plays isn’t much better, at a still-atrocious .492 PPP. The Jazz were below average in both these categories last year as well, but not to nearly this degree — Snyder needs to quickly get to work devising something a bit more creative for his inbound sets, which nearly cost the Jazz a win against the Hawks.
0 — Minutes for Trey Lyles tonight, his first goose egg of the year. Jeff Withey has clearly surpassed him for fourth big minutes when the Jazz even have need for such a thing, and if that keeps up, it could behoove the Jazz to get Lyles some time in Idaho to develop at game speed.
“I think sometimes it’s just a placebo effect, where guys feel that there’s more out there that we can help them with — it lets them help themselves.”
-Quin Snyder postgame, speaking about adjustments from shootaround to Jazz play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack on Root Sports. Remember that stuff above about how fantastic a teacher Snyder is for these guys? Rinse, repeat.
The usual suspects: Won’t we be more surprised when Derrick Favors doesn’t go for something in the neighborhood of 18-24 points, 9-13 boards and a couple blocks or steals? The man is just a machine so far this year, once again lifting the team on his back in the second half and abusing former teammate Paul Millsap down low. Fav was again joined by Alec Burks in the plus column for the Jazz, and while Trey Burke only saw 23 minutes in this one, he continued to be lethal from deep and provide a scoring injection off the bench. Rodney Hood returned from injury to get in on the action as well, finally locating his stroke from beyond the arc and playing a well-rounded game. Gobert was… well, Gobert.
On the other end of the spectrum, Gordon Hayward once again struggled after a couple good games. We’ve been over this every which way, and while no one means to pile on Gordon, it’s just because of how important he is to the team. Some of it continues to be the way teams are loading up against Hayward and daring the Jazz to beat them elsewhere, but it’s more than that also. He’s struggling badly on his open looks, especially from 3, where he now checks in at an ugly 27 percent on the year2. As always, we’re nowhere close to panic time. But Gordon has seemed stuck in the mud for long stretches this year, and while the team has weathered that storm, continuing to do so could prove very difficult.
More halftime adjustments: I’ve been picking nits with Snyder’s game plan all year3, but can rarely do so for his halftime adjustments. They’ve consistently been spot-on throughout the season, and Sunday was no exception. Take a look at this Kyle Korver jumper from the first half, and pay particular attention to where Rudy Gobert (guarding the screener) is located:
See how Gobert was too far back to contest Korver’s shot? That was frequently the case for both Rudy and Favors early on Sunday, and the Hawks exploited it on more than one occasion. Utah’s bigs are at their best near the basket and are naturally inclined to stay as close to it as possible, but good shooting teams like the Hawks will play on that sort of thing. They repeatedly brought Korver or another shooter around the corner on Gobert or Favors, daring them to leave their comfort zone, successfully so early on.
That changed in the second half, minus one or two small lapses. Snyder clearly instructed his guys to step up on these sets, and where knockdown shooters like Korver were initially getting high-percentage looks in the first, they were being forced to pass out in the second. Combine that with the fact that Horford, most often the roll-man in these sets, was off with his own J early and therefore hesitant on pick-and-pops (until a couple late-game 3s), and the Jazz ground Atlanta’s offense to a halt on several occasions simply by making this singular adjustment. If anyone ever asks you how much impact a coach can really have on a game, show them this note.
The Jazz, chronically over-helping: The Jazz are a bit too eager to help on defense at times. This is a note I’ve made before, but let’s illustrate it a bit — keep a close eye on Favors as the following play unfolds:
Favors is initially positioned inside the paint as a possible helper for a pick-and-roll taking place at the top of the key — nothing wrong with that. But as the play unfolds he starts ball-watching, and this is where he gets hurt. As the two-man action dies and Horford is essentially driving one-on-one with Gobert near the rim, Favors remains stationary in an attempt to help. Here’s the thing, though: Rudy doesn’t need any help there, and certainly not the type that leaves you 20 feet from a legitimate 3-point shooter. Horford had barely been able to hit the rim on his isolations against Gobert to that point in the game, and even if that weren’t the case, how many guys are there in the whole league who you don’t trust Gobert against by himself near the rim?
These are split-second decisions, and it’s tempting to not be so hard on them. But they can make the difference between winning and losing, plain and simple. This has been an all-too-common theme for the Jazz this year (and last), with apologies to Derrick for using him as the guinea pig — it’s actually been the wings who are the most frequent transgressors. Guys like Gobert and Favors don’t need help down low nearly as often as the Jazz have been giving it, and they’ve had issues with over-exuberance helping on shooters outside as well. The energy is great, as is the intent, but Snyder will have to work on dialing things back to just the right level. It’s no easy balance, and will take time.
Neto not so neato: It pains one to say it given his likable persona and blue-collar style on the floor, but Raul Neto is becoming an offensive liability in short order. He’s down below 30 percent shooting on the year after a hot start, and has hit just 11 percent of his 3s in his last five games. It’s not his individual numbers that are the real killer, though — it’s the way they affect everyone else on the court. Neto is such a minus on that end that it trickles elsewhere, allowing defenses to overload guys like Hayward and Favors without fear of being exploited. Neto continues to work hard defensively and do many of the little things well, but it’s gotten to the point where Snyder may have to consider other options to start games, especially given the numbers noted above regarding both Burke and the three-wing lineup.