Fan's Choice: What’s Going on With the Jazz?
*This is the first edition of OTG's Fan Choice series. The concept of this series is to have the OTG readers/listeners pick one article topic every week. You can find more details on our Twitter page!*
2018 was a very fruitful year for the Utah Jazz. Rudy Gobert was named Defensive Player of the Year. Donovan Mitchell came in second in Rookie of the Year voting, and Quin Snyder was nearly named Coach of the Year. The Jazz won 48 games anchored by the league’s top-rated defense.
So what, pray tell, is up with the Jazz this season?
Utah is a just 8-8 at the time of this writing, and are fresh off of two particularly bizarre outings. The Jazz lost 118-68 in Dallas, followed by an awkward 35-shot, 31-point performance from Donovan Mitchell two nights later. A recent stomping of the Celtics in Boston is promising, but not enough to fully right the ship.
So, seriously, what is going on with the Jazz?
The Commercial Appeal
The stellar, stifling defense that propelled Utah to success last season has been largely absent this year. Going into the week, the Jazz were 21st in defensive rating, and 28th in opponent field goal percentage allowed.
To make matters worse, although Utah doesn’t give up all that many three-point attempts, they are allowing teams to shoot an effective 36.5 percent from deep. And the pattern holds for field goals really across the board: the Jazz limit the number of attempts from an opponent, but these shots still go in at an alarmingly high rate.
This shot chart, provided by PBPstats, highlights the problem. The Jazz are allowing teams to score at a high clip from all over the court.
Last year, Utah was quite adept at limiting shots at the rim. Likewise, straight away threes were just about the only long balls they allowed at a high clip. The Jazz were better at minimizing easy or high-yield baskets.
One small factor affecting Utah could be the NBA’s new “freedom of movement” rules. This is a club that is used to forcing opponents to scrape and claw for every basket. The Jazz actually commit a relatively average number of fouls, but Rudy Gobert believes the new point of emphasis is a problem regardless.
“I think [the new rule] impacts everyone,” Gobert said. “We want to be a physical team and we want to impact the other team’s movement. It’s a big change and it’s hard with all those screens and guards that are using that as an advantage to get fouled. It’s hard, but it’s the same for everyone so we have to adapt.”
I don’t know Quin Snyder to be one to make mistakes. I fully expect the Jazz to revisit their strong defensive ways sooner rather than later. It’s imperative they do so.
Utah’s poor defense is such a problem because this is not a roster built to score in bunches. The Jazz are designed to win with a defense-first approach, but that doesn’t mean the offense hasn’t been disappointing as well.
As Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explained on The Lowe Post, the Jazz have, at best, one elite offensive weapon in Donovan Mitchell. Beyond that, Utah’s roster is full of complimentary players, but lacks the same kind of firepower the best teams employ.
Mitchell is averaging about 21 points per game on the season. That’s not enough to lead a team looking to go deep in the playoffs. Gobert and Joe Ingles, the next two most prolific scorers on the team, must find ways to become more effective on offense.
At the end of the day, plenty of other teams play the same team-first basketball with deeper, more potent rosters. That isn’t to say the Jazz can’t compete and be successful, but certainly the margin of error for the team as presently constructed is incredibly thin.
Perhaps we should have seen the above coming. It’s easy to fall in love with Cinderella teams, and the Jazz were plenty loveable last year. Maybe we overlooked flaws and shortcomings in favor of the endearing rookie Donovan Mitchell or head coach Quin Snyder’s smooth system.
I wonder if the team even sipped its own kool-aid a bit too much. Mitchell’s 35-shot performance feels like a young player grappling with inflated expectations.
The Jazz are a fine time in a loaded Western Conference. They have an average offense in a time where scoring reigns supreme, and their defense has coughed and sputtered to start the season.
We’re likely to see Utah in the postseason. There’s a lot of talent and this is a club with a strong foundation. But until the defense returns to form or they find a new gear on offense, the Jazz may just continue to struggle.