Early Takeaways From the Jazz’s Opening Week
Bench to the Rescue
In both games, Utah’s bench has been able to come in and not only steady the ship but turn deficits into large leads. Third in the league for Plus/Minus bench units so far, per NBA Advanced Stats , the Jazz’s second unit has been a big reason why Utah have started the season so strongly.
In Sacramento, the bench was able to turn a 16 point deficit into a 21-9 run to close the first quarter, and the Jazz never looked back from there, in the 123-117 win.
The bench continued to be a factor in the 123-124 loss to the Warriors, with Dante Exum’s athleticism and explosive first-step helping him to an eye-catching 13 point performance.
Jae Crowder and Exum have been the standouts off the pine so far, averaging 15.0 and 13.0 points per game respectively, per Basketball Reference.
Utah was able to bring back 13 players from last year’s roster, and the chemistry between every player shows, especially in their bench production.
Backing internal growth rather than external solutions, the Jazz have been able to already get improvement out of guys like Crowder, Exum and Burks, to offer them a different look.
A lineup with Crowder replacing Derrick Favors at power-forward is both Utah’s most effective offensive and defensive lineup, per Advanced NBA Stats.
Crowder’s first full season under coach Quin Snyder will see a lot of the former Cavalier play heavy minutes as a small-ball four, which was effective against the more mobile Warriors, where Crowder poured in 17 points off the bench.
With 36 and 43 points off the bench against the Kings and Warriors respectively, expect Utah’s depth to be a factor as the season progresses.
Mitchell Forcing the Issue
Expectations have been high for Donovan Mitchell’s sophomore season, and while averaging 21.5 points over his first two contests are strong numbers, his efficiency to get there hasn’t been as impressive.
With an 8 of 21 shooting performance against Sacramento followed up by a 7 from 23 line against the Warriors, including numerous tough contested jumpers, Mitchell is being paid more respect and being made to take tougher shots.
Forcing his looks while he’s getting tough defensive coverage is something that the second-year guard acknowledges he needs to work on.
“More physical, they’re taking away my easy looks, and now I’ve just got to be able to hit tougher shots. That’s all it is,” Mitchell said following the close loss to the Warriors.
Mitchell’s ability to deal with the hype, improve and continue to lead the Jazz through the season will be a storyline to watch.
High Pass Heavy
A new weapon for Utah’s offence during the pre-season and training camp was utilizing more lobs and high passes into the paint for the Jazz bigs to either dunk or lay in. Rudy Gobert, Favors and even backup big Ekpe Udoh were beneficiaries of these passes in their opening game against Sacramento, taking advantage of the Kings younger bigs.
Coach Quin Snyder has put more focus on executing these plays, to take advantage and create more space for Utah’s plethora of shooters around the arc.
Speaking after the win against the Kings, Snyder said, “We have that length at the rim with both Rudy and Fave. It has to be a good pass. I’d rather have them throw it high rather than low, at least that gives them a chance to get it. The confidence to throw those passes is a good thing.”
A large part of the success of the high passes is Gobert’s added strength and improvement to the lower half of his frame, making it much harder to shift the reigning Defensive Player of the Year under the rim.
Utilizing Gobert especially in these high pass offensive sets could easily see his PPG move towards the 16-18 mark, after his 13.5 last season, per Basketball Reference.
While not an offensive set that will be guaranteed points in every game, it is something for the Jazz to utilize in the right game, and take advantage of.