The Triple Team: Three Thoughts on Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs 2/23/2015

February 23rd, 2015 | by Andy Larsen
In a harbinger of what's to come, Rudy Gobert towers over Tim Duncan. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In a harbinger of what’s to come, Rudy Gobert towers over Tim Duncan. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

1. Second consecutive remarkable defensive performance by Utah

After holding Portland to just 76 points on Friday (a season low), the Jazz turned around and held the world champion San Antonio Spurs to 81 points (a season low). This team is undergoing a remarkable defensive turnaround. Currently ranked 26th on the season, the Jazz have figured out, as if by magic, how to put the puzzle pieces together to become a sensational defensive team against Western Conference playoff contenders.

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with only 14 points, on 7-14 shooting. Overall, the Spurs’ starters scored just 33 points; the average NBA starting lineup scores 66. Let’s look at the Spurs’ murderers row of talent, what they average, and how the Jazz limited them tonight:

SpursJazz

A red-light/green-light of how the Jazz defended the Spurs’ best players. Note all of the red.

 

The Jazz held all but 2 of the 13(!) Spurs players that played tonight to under their season averages in points. Again, this is the 26th-ranked defense against the defending champion Spurs, who have all of their players healthy.

So how are they doing it? We asked Gregg Popovich, who said “Quin and the staff have done a great job of getting the system across and instilling the aggressiveness and physicality that’s needed to win in the NBA. They played unselfishly. They believe in each other. I thought they were tremendous, it was fun to watch.”

This isn’t just Rudy Gobert, by the way, although that definitely does help. Rudy’s averaged 27 minutes per game in the last 2 games; he was averaging 21.5 minutes per game before the trade. The 5ish minutes aren’t that much of a difference. But the Jazz’s team defense has stepped up from top to bottom.

Let’s leave it to Quin Snyder to have the last word:

“Rudy’s been very good, and he’s made an impact. It’s more than Rudy. I take nothing away from Rudy’s presence and it’s impact: it’s significant. But Dante Exum was terrific in pick and roll defense. Terrific. Elijah. Gordon had a stunt tonight… it was a big play, a timely play, because it took away a three point shot. I think Trey is working hard. Everybody’s trying to do their part. When you get that, it’s no one player. When someone is protecting you, it gives you even more energy and a sense of duty to do your job. And that’s all it is, everybody’s just doing their job.”

2. Two-game thoughts after the trade.

There’s been significant hand-wringing about the Enes Kanter trade, and understandably so: Kanter has impressed in his two games as an Thunderer, including a great plus-minus while on the floor, his statistical Achilles heel when on the Jazz.

But let’s take a step back and look at the larger picture: it really seems like everyone involved in this trade should be thrilled about it.

  • Enes Kanter is playing great, and seems happy: he’s diving on the floor and into the stands for loose balls, he’s throwing 75 foot outlet passes, he’s defending with energy, all things he was occasionally reticent to do in Utah.
  • Oklahoma City is thrilled to have the extra production while they have their best player and former starting center out.
  • The Jazz just pulled off 2 tremendous wins against Western Conference opponents, just their 5th and 6th such wins of the season. They’re playing fantastically, especially on defense, holding teams to their season low point totals. They also have more flexibility next season.
  • Grant Jerrett went from the D-League to the NBA. Yay!
  • Tibor Pleiss may be bought out of his contract and moved to the Jazz soon, though it’s clear that won’t happen immediately. Still: upgrade over being a backup at FC Barcelona!

Time will tell how this trade works out for the Jazz, trades aren’t judged less than a week later. But there’s no reason to be upset that Oklahoma City got better too: sure, the Jazz play them 4 times, but the upgrade over the 82 total games the Jazz play seems like it might be substantial.

Furthermore, OKC’s improvement actually helps the Jazz: the pick that must be given to Philadelphia in order to start the 2-year clock on their own pick is top 18 protected this season. So if the Thunder finish in the top 12 of the league, the Jazz have more at-bats to make their pick a first rounder, as the Thunder would have to miss the playoffs for 4 consecutive years in order for it to switch over to two 2nd round picks.

In sum, as a Jazz fan, it’s okay to root for Enes Kanter and the Thunder.

3. Schedule gets easier

The Jazz have played the NBA’s toughest schedule thus far, which has helped mask their improvement despite not having a significantly better record than last season. Now, the Jazz play the league’s easiest remaining schedule, especially over the next few weeks. The next 8 Jazz games are:

  1. Home vs. Los Angeles Lakers
  2. Away at Denver
  3. Home vs. Milwaukee
  4. Away at Memphis
  5. Away at Boston
  6. Away at Philadelphia
  7. Away at Brooklyn
  8. Home vs. New York

That’s a really winnable schedule: Utah will be favored in probably 6(?) of those games. All of a sudden, a mini run going into the end of the season sounds very plausible for this quickly improving Jazz squad. Focus will be tested. If any of Hayward, Favors, or Gobert get injured, they’ll be completely decimated, but things are looking good now and later for the Utah Jazz.

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
Andy Larsen

5 Comments

  1. Sir Jacob says:

    Wow, I don’t think I could disagree with your trade assessment more. I guess you need to keep those press credentials? ;) But seriously, why would matter to the jazz if Kanter is helping his new team?

    We could have had the same defensive improvement just benching the big Turk.

    • Spencer says:

      And we would not have a first round pick, a second round pick and two prospects with potential to be solid contributors off the bench. We also got instant cap flexibility to the tune of about 11million dollars with Kanter’s cap hold and Novak’s 3.8 million not in the picture.

      I am willing to bet we will like how the Jazz spend that 11million to improve the team more than we liked Kanter’s improvement on the team.

      Kanter was not coming back. Period. So you get something or you get nothing.

  2. Andrew says:

    Yeah, the way I see it, Kanter deserves more than anyone else on the team to have a real shot at success elsewhere. He’s the one that got screwed in his development more than anyone else on the team by the Ty Corbin era. If he’d had 3.5 years of real development, either he wouldn’t have wanted to be traded, or he would’ve been worth a heck of a lot more than the peanuts we got for him. So, good luck to Kanter, just don’t become a Jazz killer in the years to come.

  3. Steven says:

    Well i’m feeling pretty stupid now! All season I have been losing sleep watching the Jazz on League Pass in the early hours of a London morning and feeling really tired at work the next day, well I decided not to watch the Portland and Spurs game on the night, and then the Jazz go and win both games in style. I can’t say I am THAT surprised i’ve seen the improvements come over recent weeks, bit by bit progress was made, and it wasn’t all the Gobert factor, I think the acquisition of Millsap has been an under the radar factor too, as has the stepping up of each and every player on the court. I’ve had three disappointments this season, the injuries in the backcourt, the PG play, and the Kanter trade.

    I say that, but at the same time had the injuries on the backcourt not happened, we probably wouldn’t have pulled Millsap into this squad and that would be a loss. His defensive attributes have been a real addition to this squad,

    The PG play has been improving of late. Trey has been adding to his game. Dante is showing slight signs of being less passive on the offensive end of the floor. If he can be more aggressive in that end of the floor in the last third of the season the Jazz have a chance to make the next stage of the teams development a reality.

    I’m still disappointed Kanter was traded, I think he has the makings of a points machine. It won’t take much for him to be a regular 20-30 point guy. Thats a lot of points the Jazz will lose, but maybe the defenisve force that seems to be developing now it won’t be missed that much. As much as I hate to lose him, I might have to concede it just might end up being a better fit in Oklahoma. At OKC he has two stars in Durant and Westbrook that can be the focus of the opposition, in his 3 and half years in Jazzland there wasn’t a star player here. He may end up getting less touches of the ball, and less opportunites to score big in OKC if Durant and Westbrook are having efficient shooting nights but he will probably have the space to put up his points up quietly and efficiently. With Ibaka having his back he probably also has the chance to put up more improved plus/minus numbers, (+36 in only his second OKC night, better than Westbrooks +33).

    Personally I wasn’t upset that Kanter was traded, its a business, I knew it was a possibility. I was upset at the return, I think OKC got Kanter on a steal, dumping Perkins on us was worth all the fodder we got.

    I did think that after this trade, that the Jazz might get beat up by Portland and the Spurs, after running a lot of good teams close – well I was wrong. And now we have some very winnable games ahead. Good for the lads on the floor. Not sure what thats going to do for the first round draft pick this year, might be time to reassess who we are going to draft lower down on the board, unless Lindsey can do a miracle with all the acquired 2nd round picks and good mojo that OKC and GSW owe us.

  4. Mewko says:

    That would be really cool if we got on a hot run during the final stretch of the season. We could easily eclipse 30 wins if we play like this, and the schedule will help us out too.

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