1. Jazz are really struggling at all phases right now.
This is relatively obvious: they’ve lost 5 games in a row. But they’re doing so in really discouraging ways. Consider, over the last 5 games, the following two facts:
That’s non-ideal. In the locker room after the game, the team was really, really down, as was coach Quin Snyder in his press conference. Everyone was very quiet, muted in their reactions to tonight’s loss, more so than in any other loss this season. It was strange to see, and makes me think something unusual was said or done post-game in the locker room. That’s just speculation, but things were different.
Trey Burke looks pretty bad right now. He’s going under screens essentially as often as he did last season, and when he’s not, he’s running into the pick. On defense, it’s not pretty, and while Chris Paul is a master of running his opponent into those screens, it’s been happening against other teams as well. He’s also just not adding enough to make up for it on offense: 3 points and 3 assists in 28 minutes is not a good performance for any player, much less a team’s point guard. Trey’s had some good games recently, but this is discouraging. I’ve seen some call for Dante Exum to start, but his 5 point, 1 assist performance isn’t much to be impressed with either. Dante does seem to be defending better than Trey at this point, though, quite an accomplishment for a 19-year-old rookie.
Enes Kanter doesn’t look great either. As Quin Snyder said before the game, “We know Enes is a very talented offensive player.” Tonight, he didn’t show much of that, only playing scoring 6 points on 2-9 shooting in his 18 minutes. Why only 18 minutes? In my estimation, Enes’ defense and awareness were abysmal, especially early. While it’s unfair to put all of this on Kanter, the team lost every stretch for which he was in the game, he ended up with a -20 on the night.
Smart coaches have noticed those two’s difficulty in guarding the pick-and-roll, and so are running them through it time and time again. Steve Kerr did this a lot when the Jazz played the Warriors at the start of this losing skid, and Doc Rivers pushed the same buttons. The NBA is so pick-and-roll oriented now 1 that any weakness in guarding it is incredibly harmful. That’s where the Jazz are right now.
2. Quin played Favors and Gobert together more than we’ve seen thus far.
With Kanter struggling, this is a matchup that more fans have been calling for as the season progresses. Tonight, the Jazz played the rim-defending pair together more than any other game this season, and it seemed to work reasonably well: the Jazz were +5 in those few minutes. Why did Quin go to that lineup?
“I just thought from a matchup standpoint, those guys gave us some length in the game. Provided a little bit more disruption.”
I then asked him if that’s a look that they could go to more often:
“I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I mean, obviously, you guys are asking the question because we haven’t seen up until this point a whole lot, maybe at all, but it seemed appropriate, and we’re trying to figure out a way to give ourselves a boost. You know, if gives us a very different look offensively. Derrick’s all of a sudden guarding out on the perimeter, and he’s pretty good inside too. I think it just depends on who we’re playing.”
Count me in with the group that wants to see more of this look as the season progresses, regardless of matchup. Yes, doing so takes Favors outside of the paint, but I think we have over a season’s worth of data that he’s not an incredibly effective rim protector, as Rudy Gobert has the potential to be. It’s certainly not a sure thing, but I think it’s worth experimenting on, and the data from the pairing could be helpful as the decision on Enes Kanter’s contract is made this summer.
3. Gordon Hayward had an excellent game.
It’s clear that the Jazz depend on Gordon Hayward hugely, and he had a great game tonight, especially in the first half. He ended up with 30 points, including making 4 of his 5 3-pointers. When he wasn’t shooting it from outside, Hayward used his craft drive game to get to the paint and finish. It was a good game from him, and he’s well on his way to earning the $63 million contract he signed this offseason.
I also thought his quote tonight on what the Jazz need to do differently was spot-on:
“We have to find a way to be more destructive defensively. If we can get ourselves going on the defensive end, at least for me that’s what gets me going. If I’m more active defensively, offensively I’m a lot better. If we can do it as a team and try to get more deflections and get our hands on balls, maybe it will pick us up offensively too.”
I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The Jazz are still one of the slowest teams in the league, pacewise. It’s no coincidence that they’re also among the league’s worst teams at forcing turnovers. If they are able to get more turnovers, the fast break points will naturally improve the Jazz’s offense.