“Just gotta play with more force. Gotta get to where you want to go. Gotta have a little more poise.”
Words from Gordon Hayward go a long way to summing up Thursday night’s lethargic Jazz loss to the Magic. A game that felt more like a somewhat-intense scrimmage from both teams early on got away from the Jazz in a hurry when Orlando upped their level in the second half, leaving the Jazz behind and looking up once again at a .500 record on the year.
The absence of Rudy Gobert will be a big talking point, and while it was felt for the second time this year against Orlando, it didn’t seem enough to place the loss on Thursday. It’s definitely true that the Jazz played a different defensive style to some degree, something SCH’s own Dan Clayton noted during play — without the league’s best rim protector on the floor to funnel driving players to as the basis for the team’s defense, the Jazz were forced to throw a lot more help to the middle and open up shots elsewhere.
The Magic only did manage 23 3-point attempts, though, and it really felt like Gobert’s presence would have only made a marginal difference on several breakdowns. Turnovers on the other end were obviously a huge issue, with the Magic putting up 17 transition points on the night. Hayward seemed to agree.
“A lot of the stuff that they got was from the perimeter… [Rudy] can’t stop turnovers and fast breaks and layups,” he said.
So while elements of the game plan which are changing rapidly will require some perfection as the Jazz adjust to life without the Stifle Tower, it didn’t feel as though these were the main culprit on this night. Sloppy play hung over the entire contest, particularly to start each period coming out of the locker room — “We didn’t have the energy at the beginning of the game… I didn’t feel like we had it in the third quarter, either,” said coach Quin Snyder. “I would have thought we’d come out more focused tonight, given the situation.”
Though renewed focus has typically been a strength of this Jazz squad under Snyder, both this and their schematic changes will need to turn around in short order. A stretch of play that had originally been circled on the calendar as a chance to rack up some wins with a lengthy homestand has quickly become a tipping point for the season with Gobert on the sidelines — should the Jazz enter the new year still below .500, assuming the West returns at least somewhat to the form many had expected, they could have a few teams between them and the playoff spot they so desire. That word is key, though; nights like these where the force1 is absent from their game have only become tougher to play through minus a key contributor.
“Wasn’t the kind of effort we need to win a game like this,” Snyder said.
21.3 — Turnover ratio for the Jazz, otherwise known as the number of turnovers they averaged on a per-100-possession basis. If basic math serves, the Jazz turned the ball over on over one-fifth of their total possessions Thursday night. The Magic scored 18 points following these turnovers.
13.0 — Percent of Jazz possessions used by Derrick Favors, far and away his season low in games he played the entirety of. More on this below.
Hayward lights up, then peters out: Gordon Hayward’s first half, and particularly his first quarter, were probably the strongest stretches of offensive basketball we’ve seen from him this year. He was running through contact to score up close, and was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc with 18 points to close the half.
The second half? Not so much. The Magic picked up their intensity, something Gordon himself noted, and held him to just 1-6 shooting and six points. His stroke from deep was gone (1-5 in the 2nd). Like other points this year, an opponent tightened up individually on Hayward and dared other Jazzmen to beat them, and the rest of the group wasn’t up to the task on this night.
Doing themselves no Favors: As noted above, the involvement for Derrick Favors offensively was at a season low, surprising because it was also the third-largest number of minutes he’s played on the year. As Snyder explained, at least part of this was a response to the way Orlando defended.
“There were a couple times Fav was fighting on the post and we weren’t able to deliver a post pass — we’ve got to do better at that,” Snyder said. “But there were a lot of situations where we were playing pick-and-roll, and you’re rolling, and there’s three guys in the lane. That’s where they are. So if you try to force it to him, you get a turnover. You’ve gotta skip it to the weak side, and that’s why we shot 33 threes.”
Snyder is absolutely right — the Jazz shot their season-high from deep in large part because, when they went to smaller lineups, Favors drew in weak side help while rolling down the lane, leaving shooters open. Still, though, it was hard to shake the feeling all night long, even in big lineups, that Favors wasn’t as involved in the offense as he usually was. There was a period midway through the second half where, even with the Jazz playing four wings around him, Favors simply stood on the baseline for several consecutive futile Jazz offensive possessions while the wings either screened for each other or went to isolation situations. Favors as a roll man is lethal with so much space on the floor — putting him in pick-and-roll with shooters dotted around in these lineups pretty much has to be the go-to set, and shouldn’t go a long series of consecutive possessions without being used.
“We always want to go to those guys,” said Snyder, referencing Favors and Hayward, but on this night they really struggled to do so, especially in the second half and especially with D-Fav. Look for it to be a point of emphasis Saturday against an Indy team he had success against a few weeks back.
Small units open up, for Burke in particular: The largest effect of Gobert’s absence was felt in the amount of small-ball Utah played, easily their largest amount on the year. They were almost exclusively playing with one big for the remainder of each half after Trevor Booker left the floor. It changed their style significantly, with a four-out alignment much like Dan discussed earlier Thursday functioning as the primary alignment offensively.
While the entire team struggled with execution in the second half, both in these groupings and others, the biggest overall beneficiary seemed to be Trey Burke. We’ve discussed in the past how Trey’s size can make seeing the optimal passing lane difficult against certain teams, but going smaller (and often forcing defenses to downsize with you) allows bits of extra visibility that seemed to really open things up for him Thursday. He had several fantastic, rotation-skipping cross-court passes in the first half, including one sequence where he hit Alec Burks wide open in the weak side corner for a 3-point attempt, recovered the missed shot himself, and then found Hayward for yet another open 3 which Gordon canned.
“Fav did a great job pulling that weak side man, and that corner was open all night,” Burke said after the game. Utah’s shooting will really come into focus over the next month — lineups like these are sure to be more common until Gobert is back in the fold, and whether the Jazz can nail the looks teams allow them while trying to neutralize Favors in the lane could be the difference.
Inbound sets still an issue: Like they have on other occasions this year, inbound sets reared their ugly heads at the Jazz Thursday night. After a silly Orlando foul put the Jazz within five with 34 seconds to go with the ball, the Jazz committed an ugly five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds, forcing a turnover that effectively ended the game. Players and coach alike noted after the game that standard inbound plays see heightened intensity from the defense near the end of a game, as one would expect, but this can’t be an excuse.
“You have to be more alert,” Snyder said. “We’ve run that play 20 times in practice. We count, and do all that. We’ve gotta execute better. You have to move faster — I don’t know how to say it any other way, you’ve got to move harder, faster, quicker when they slow you down.”
Like the Favors point above, Snyder is right. Urgency was nowhere to be found on these sets, another of which would have possibly been its own five-second violation if not for the above-noted silly foul on Orlando before the inbound.
At the same time, though, it might be time to wonder whether Quin should re-work his playbook on out-of-bounds sets. The Jazz currently rank 27th and 28th in the league, respectively, for baseline OOB sets and sideline OOB sets, per Synergy Sports, scoring at an almost unconscionably low rate that seems more and more impossible the longer it lingers. Many of the sets seem to contain a bit too much fluff and diversion for smart NBA defenses, which only end up putting the Jazz in panic mode if their preferred option isn’t available. Let’s break down the fateful play from Thursday night as an example — first, the clip:
First, the Burkii (Trey and Alec) run simultaneous loop cuts:
Burke ends up on the strong side sideline, while Burks cuts between Utah’s two forwards at the elbows as if to loop back around to the weak side arc:
Instead, though, Alec reverses course, running straight back to the top of the key between Favors and Hayward, who attempt to utilize what’s called an “Elevator Doors” set — they try to allow Burks through while closing the doors just as his defender gets there (in this case he went around, but it didn’t matter):
Look, none of this is bad on the surface. The Jazz almost certainly needed a three at this point, and elevator doors is a great way to get a wing an open look from deep. The problem, like with many of their sets in these situations, is how long it takes. Watch the clip again — it takes nearly three seconds before Burks is even reversing his course in the paint, and by the time he’s through the doors and to the top of the key, it’s too late.
Quin’s ideas in these situations are typically good or great, but he seems to have baked in just a bit too much fluff and pomp for them to be effective at times. His point about urgency remains — if the Jazz run this with more purpose, maybe they don’t turn it over. But we’re reaching a point in the year where many teams simply are what they are, and if the Jazz are constantly in situations where their guys aren’t able to execute with the speed and force needed, it might be time for Snyder to look at some simpler options that will allow them to do so. As always, there’s virtually no doubt here that he’ll get things back on track in short order.