1. The Jazz’s defensive switch is a little insane at this point.
In the first 12 minutes, Denver scored 29 points. In the next 30 minutes, they scored 32 points.
Those sort of insane defensive runs1 are starting to become par for the course for the Jazz, which is just scary. Over the course of those 30 minutes, the Jazz’s defensive rating was 56.1. The Nuggets shot 12/56, for 21%. They made 2 out of 21 of their 3 point attempts, for 9%. After a defensive stretch that good for that long, it’s almost impossible to lose a game.2
It’s also pretty nuts how the Jazz are able to play this well defensively despite forcing such a low amount of turnovers: only 6 forced tonight. Elite defenses generally cut short a lot of possessions through forcing turnovers: after all, after a turnover, the opposing team has no chance of scoring; even by foisting up a bad shot, they have some chance. The Jazz didn’t do this at all tonight, but still were able to be elite defensively through challenging the shot extremely well. To give you an idea of how rare this sort of performance is: the last time a team gave up 6 or fewer turnovers and had less than a 90 DRtg3 was in November of 2012. Only 13 games like that have happened in the last 30 years.
The Nuggets, by the way, are not a bad offensive team right now: they’re ranked 14th in the NBA since new coach Melvin Hunt took over. During the 30-minute drought, they tried lineups big and small. Nothing worked.
Rudy Gobert will get and deserves a large part of the credit tonight: his interior defense led the way for the Jazz. The Nuggets scored just 16 of their 33 restricted-area attempts, that’s not good. But I want to give a very loud shout-out to Elijah Millsap’s defense: the Nuggets scored just 18 points in the 21 minutes he was in the game. His ability to shut down an opponent’s attack by somehow slithering over the screen while staying in front of his man is an incredibly valuable skill. Those two shared the team high in plus/minus tonight with +20s, and it’s easy to see why.
2. Dante Exum had his most aggressive game yet, as well as the most facilitating game for any Jazz player this season.
Dante’s 12 assists is a new season high for any Jazz player, which is both impressive and kind of sad. We’re not that far removed from the John Stockton era, who had 588 games(!) with at least 12 assists. Deron Williams had 123 games with at least 12 assists in his 5.5 season Jazz career. In other words, this shouldn’t feel so cool. In the last 30 years, the Jazz have had a player get at least 12 assists in over 30% of games. This year, counting tonight, the Jazz now have had a player have 12 assists or more in 1.3% of games.
But before tonight, that sad percentage was a 0, and so we must at least admit progress. This is especially true because the feat was done by Dante Exum, who drove to the paint significantly more often tonight than he has in any other game this season. To illustrate this point4: Dante Exum accumulated 10 assists total in his previous 10 games before getting 12 tonight. Ben Dowsett has some good quotes from Dante and Quin Snyder about what it was that changed for tonight’s outlier game, but my two cents: I think it’s really good to see Exum, after a rough offensive season, have a great offensive turnaround game as a result of a conversation with his coach.
3. Rudy Gobert’s offensive game was essentially perfect.
Okay, he didn’t make all of his free throws5. But other than that, Rudy was 7 for 7 from the field, accumulated 12 rebounds, an even had 2 assists, for a grand total of 20 points. He played to the hyper-efficient roll-man model that players like Tyson Chandler have taken to offensive success before: if you take few shots, but nearly all of them near the basket, they tend to be easy looks. Gobert’s developing those type of rolling skills, even flashing a 360 degree spin around a defender to lead to a layup with his left hand.
Quin Snyder agreed. Here’s the full quote from Quin tonight:
“I think you see those things every game, and tonight there were more of them. He’s working at it. I think the key thing for him is just, there’s a level of patience. I don’t think we anoint him at any point in time, ‘Okay Rudy’s arrived as an offensive player’ or ‘Rudy’s arrived in this way, shape or form’. Clearly, people are captivated by him because we talk about him a lot, deservedly so. I think he’s a little further along offensively than people realize, and that’s because he’s worked at it. You know, you look at him from the free throw line. To me, that’s the thing that I really like. When he gets fouled, he makes you pay. He converts. I think if he can make a 15-feet jump shot, and he’s getting better at finishing around the rim, especially when he doesn’t dribble. He and [assistant coach] Alex Jensen are tireless, as far as the amount of work he’s putting in. It’s showing.”
Gobert doesn’t really need to develop a post-game: that’s not ever going to be an efficient model for him. But if he can continue to work on his finishing, and then develop a short-jumpshot counter to use when teams sink off of him deep into the paint, he’ll be an incredibly efficient offensive player.