1. Bad Jazz defense despite slow pace.
In a game where both teams score under 100 points, it’s tempting to say that the real culprit in a loss was the offense. After all, 93 points doesn’t look like a particularly impressive offensive total. But in tonight’s game, each team only had 85 possessions, so in fact it’s a much different story: the Jazz put up a 109 ORtg, while Orlando put up a 115 ORtg. Once you adjust for the pace of play, Utah’s offense performed at a top-5 team level, whereas it’s defense performed at a league-worst level. That’s especially true once you consider that there were only 6 fast break points combined for the two teams tonight, so the Magic were very successful at just breaking the Jazz down in half-court sets time and time again.
This is where it gets worrisome for the Jazz. Essentially, the ingredients for a good game defensively were there: they got back in transition defense, like Quin stressed so heavily during preseason and training camp. Orlando was the NBA’s 27th best offensive team coming into tonight’s game. Derrick Favors blocked 5 shots. The Jazz didn’t give the ball up on offense often, with just 12 turnovers, thus preventing easier looks. The Magic were without probably their best player in Nikola Vucevic. And yet, they still struggled hugely.
The stats aren’t pretty for one Enes Kanter, who ended up with a game-low -16 plus/minus. In the 27 minutes Kanter was on the floor, the Jazz had a 145 DRtg, also a game low. On the other hand, when Kanter wasn’t on the floor, the Jazz allowed the Magic just a 74 DRtg. We mentioned on the show yesterday how we felt that maybe too much of the blame was flowing to Enes Kanter for the Jazz’s defensive problems, but the stats from tonight’s game make it difficult to conclude anything but that.
Quin Snyder again tied the problems in tonight’s game to a need to compete. As Quin said, “You can talk about positions and habits, but at some point you’ve got to compete, and that’s what we need to find.”
2. But, a 3 hour 45 minute practice didn’t help much.
Given the need for defensive improvement, it would make sense to have a defensive focus in practice. Yesterday, Toronto coach Dwane Casey talked about how, when he first joined the Raptors, that they spent “probably 80%” of practice on defense; after all, they were worst in the league, so they had to work on that first. In the year Casey took over, the Raptors went from 30th to 14th defensively, so he may know something about the subject.
I asked Jazz F Steve Novak what the distribution was in the Jazz’s practices:
“There’s, I would say, a very healthy balance. The majority of things we start out with in practice are majority defense and then we transition into offensive stuff, but Coach, he puts a lot of emphasis on both – he has an offensive mind and a defensive mind. I’d say it’s pretty much split down the middle; we feel like a lot of our offense is based on our defense, the best creation of our offense is getting stops, not having to take the ball out of bounds. So I’d say it’s 50-50. Yesterday was definitely more of an offensive day – I’d say we did offense for 3 of the 4 hours.”
I actually think the offense has been good recently, so it’s somewhat discouraging to me that the Jazz have spent so much time on the offense compared to the defensive side of the ball. Now, much more of defense comes down to effort and reaction: it’s much easier to build out a defensive system compared to an offensive one. I don’t completely believe Casey’s proclamation that they spent fully 80% of their practices on D. It’s also easier to look at offense in heavy-tape sessions; yesterday’s was a lot of film watching. But despite all of those caveats, the Jazz’s focus needs to be defense, just so they can prove they are capable of putting up a decent defensive performance.
3. Derrick Favors has taken a big leap.
Derrick Favors put up a big stat line tonight, scoring 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks for the Jazz tonight on 10-17 shooting. It was a nice performance from Derrick, who nevertheless looked absolutely devastated in the locker room after the game. Derrick’s been taking the losses personally, and he really, really cares about the performance of the team overall.
Favors has been putting up a tremendous season, putting up a 23 PER for the season, good for 13th in the league. While he’s not going to make the Western Conference All-Star team, just because the Western Conference also features all of Dirk, Duncan, KD, Griffin, Gasol, Cousins, and Anthony Davis, he’s put up a big season thus far.
Tonight, he also held his counterpart big men to low numbers: Channing Frye and Kyle O’Quinn combined for 24 points, an improvement over previous big men. I think some of this success might be because they lack the length of the big men that Favors has faced recently at the center position. The clearest example to me is when Indiana center Roy Hibbert went off for his career high against Favors; maybe Derrick’s set up to succeed when the big men he’s playing against are closer to his size?
It’s a real question whether or not Derrick Favors is best as a PF or a C, and after 20 games, the jury is still out. It’s something to look at moving forward as Favors keeps playing this year.