Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 131-119 loss to the Golden State Warriors from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Can the Jazz defend without Rudy Gobert? Or, where art thou, Derrick Favors?
It’s a question I’m becoming more worried about. Tonight, Gobert was absolutely remarkable: 24 points, 27 rebounds, and the Jazz outscored the Warriors by 11 when he played. But that means for the 16 Derrick Favors minutes, they were outscored by 23.
In particular, when Favors was in the game tonight, the Jazz scored 78 points per 100 possessions offensively, and allowed 148 points per 100 possessions defensively. Yikes on both counts.
There are a few explanations for this. One: the offensive struggles aren’t really Favors’ fault. He’s not an offensive mastermind, but is basically about as good as Gobert at offensive things. Instead, it shows how important Mike Conley is to the Jazz’s offensive execution. If Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson are turning the ball over, the defense doesn’t have much of a chance to be good.
But secondly: Favors isn’t a very good defender right now. Gobert had total control of the paint tonight, it was wildly impressive to watch. But as soon as Favors comes in the game, opponents immediately feel comfortable in attacking inside again. It’s like a light switch has come on in their heads.
Honestly, he doesn’t look like he’s at 100% physically, which is pretty concerning given that we just finished the All-Star break. This isn’t much of a contest, for example.
Now, we should note that the full season numbers aren’t bad: 108 defensive rating on the year during Favors’ minutes — not as good as Gobert, obviously, but good enough. Playing backup center to Gobert is always going to be a tough job because the Frenchman is just such a defensive star, he’d make anybody look lackluster in comparison.
From the eye test, though, it does look like something that’s going to be trouble for the Jazz in the playoffs. It might be worthwhile to give Favors a breather here and there throughout the season, or to try Juwan Morgan or even Ersan Ilyasova or Georges Niang at center, to go full small-ball.
One milder option is just to play Favors fewer minutes and Gobert more. Given the gargantuan difference Gobert was making, he should have played more than 32 minutes tonight. Playing your best player 32 minutes isn’t enough in a game like that; in particular, Gobert should have played Favors’ 4th quarter minutes when the Jazz were rolling with him in the lineup.
2. When Bogdanovic struggles, he really struggles
Bojan Bogdanovic, last season, showed an ability to provide for the Jazz’s offense in multiple ways, scoring inside and out. In particular, he was effective at bullying his way to the basket, getting inside, drawing fouls, and more. He even showed that ability in the Jazz’s very last game, against the Rockets.
But there are games in which Bogdanovic has to realize that dribbling is going to be very difficult. Tonight was one such night, as Draymond Green was sometimes defending him and sometimes lurking nearby. No player is more adept at getting steals in these situations, and it’s here where Bogdanovic’s dribble is too high and too slow. Green stole Bogdanovic’s dribble twice tonight.
I’m not asking Bogdanovic to eschew the drive game completely, but take this play: just take the open three! Driving into the paint just makes your life significantly more complicated — and mathematically less likely to succeed.
Finally, he just has to be more stout on the defensive end. The key mistake he made was in fouling a jump shooter on a 3-point shot, which kind of concluded the Jazz’s chances of staying close. But many players make mistakes like that, but simple drive-bys might be more damaging to the Jazz’s defense overall.
In the end, Snyder played Joe Ingles down the stretch, despite Ingles not having a great game himself. I think that should be a point of flexibility: if Bogdanovic has it, he’s a terrific end-of-game weapon — he made two buzzer-beating game-winners last season, for goodness sakes! If he doesn’t have it, though, he can be a liability, and the Jazz have other options (Ingles, Jordan Clarkson) to consider.
3. Attacking switching defenses, good and bad
The Warriors did a lot of switching on the Jazz Sunday. It was interesting to see how they dealt with it.
On the down side, when the Jazz attacked those switches in isolation, they were totally worthless. They had 18 isolation plays, and only 7 points on those plays. I don’t need to get my calculator out to tell you that’s not good offense.
On the up side, when they found other ways to take advantage of the switches, they were really good. The most obvious way is to just pass it to your big guy — Gobert — when he’s now being defended by a little guy. Dunks can abound.
So can rebounds: Gobert’s eight offensive rebounds came in large part because he was able to either tap out or secure rebounds against smaller guys trying their best to block him out.
But you can take advantage even when teams choose to switch small-small actions. This was my favorite one in the first quarter… watch how Clarkson seals his man unexpectedly, giving him a free lane to the rim from Conley’s pass.
Smart, clever, and well executed. Again, you see the value of Conley’s timing on the pass, but Clarkson’s knowledge that the Warriors are going to switch makes this play.
Switching defenses have been real trouble for the Jazz in previous playoffs (Hello, Golden State and Houston series), but I’m much more confident in the Jazz’s ability to attack them in this iteration, thanks to Conley, Clarkson, and, yes, even Bogdanovic.