Utah’s Defensive Inconsistencies Costing Them
Photo courtesy of Jeff Swinger- USA TODAY Sports
The Jazz currently sit 9th in the Western Conference with a 6-6 record and the main reason behind the early struggles has been the surprisingly poor effort on the defensive end.
One of the main features of Utah’s success last season was their ability to stop teams from scoring, particularly after the All-Star break. Leading the league with a defensive rating of 104.56 for the year, anchored by Rudy Gobert and getting defensive contributions from Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles and company.
This year, Utah sit at 16th in the league with a defensive rating of 109.3, despite Gobert pacing last season’s block average of 2.3 per game. Simply not receiving the help or effort from his teammates, Gobert’s play hasn’t been enough to stop other teams torching the Jazz’s lack of defensive effort.
Currently the Jazz rank worst in the league at defending mid-range shots, where teams are converting at 65% and shooting with confidence. On the fast break they’re just as porous, with Utah coming in at 22nd place with points scored per 100 transition plays.
It’s a reason why Grayson Allen has struggled for minutes despite strong offensive play, with his defense in transition lacking from the pre-season and halting his search for more rookie minutes.
The Jazz still have the roster to be a great defensive team like last season, but this season is posing new challenges, as Utah have gone from an underdog team to a group that’s hunted.
“Teams [now] come here with the mindset of attacking us. You can feel it. We’re not the Utah Jazz of last year in their head, and they come in here trying to be aggressive”, said Gobert following the loss to Toronto.
The Jazz have been wildly inconsistent through games already this season, balancing flashes of brilliance at both ends with lackadaisical effort and poor rotations. Against the Raptors, the Jazz looked as engaged on defense as they’ve been all season, causing five early Toronto turnovers and getting out to a 14-5 lead.
Following such patches of defensive excellence, the Jazz have lapses in communication and activity, with teams like the Raptors or Nuggets torching the Jazz on decisive offensive runs.
“We’ve played quarters, we’ve played minutes, but it seems like the runs that teams have against us — 20-0, 18-0, it’s not 8-0 and we can get a stop and regroup. It just kind of falls apart. We need to fix it quickly”, said Ingles.
Aside from the shooting explosion against the Warriors, the Jazz are 19th in the league shooting 46% from the field, and 18th from the three-point line at 34.8%, making the defensive struggles even more apparent.
In back-to-back wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, the Jazz were able to record an equal-season high 12 steals and score 31 points on 24 Dallas turnovers and held Boston to 44% shooting from the field while grabbing 37 defensive rebounds.
If Utah can keep up the energy and effort on a nightly basis, expect to see them make their way up the Western Conference standings.