Sorry, no results were found for
The Utah Jazz Have Put The NBA On Notice Ahead Of The Postseason
Donovan Mitchell and co. are now fourth in the West (46-33), eyeing homecourt advantage in the first round
by Louie Claudio | Apr 9, 2018
Most Popular

What is most remarkable with the Utah Jazz’s sudden resurgence into the Western Conference elite is its similarities to last year’s team despite being remarkably different in personnel and confidence. A look at key offensive and defensive fundamentals and you’d be hard-pressed to find any differences between this year’s team and last.

Utah Jazz Team Rankings, 2017 vs 2018
(Basketball Reference)

STATISTIC

2017

2018

Offensive Rating

12

16

Defensive Rating

3

2

Pace

30

26

Opponent FG%

2

3

Opponent Points

1

2

The Jazz’s core offensive and defensive stats are strikingly similar across the past two years. Quin Snyder’s team has heavily relied on defense in their games and has often utilized the length and interior presence of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in order to deter opponents from quick cuts and rash scoring.

But on the other side of the coin, Utah’s offense has always been subpar at best, relying on a horrifyingly slow pace and long possessions to maximize the chances of making the best shot. The Jazz are actually shooting a tad worse this year (.466 vs last year’s .461). In 2017, Gordon Hayward really grew into the facilitator and all-around scorer role, having dished out 21.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 3.5 apg (second best passer, next to George Hill).

This year, Utah still continues to slog through their offense, but with a few key blink-and-miss adjustments that help create drastic differences in the way they play. But first, perhaps biggest adjustment.


MITCHELL MANIA

Donovan Mitchell’s output doesn’t eclipse Hayward’s offense. Rather, he provides it in a way that is more complementary and supportive to the team’s development. Mitchell, a slightly undersized yet fiendishly freaky athlete, combines Dwyane Wade’s silky smooth footwork and explosiveness with Westbrook’s frame and fearlessness.

Fellow rookie Dennis Smith, Jr. may have been touted early as this rookie batch’s dunk connoisseur, but Mitchell is proving to be just as springy and perhaps even a tad more heady than the Dallas guard.

Continue reading below ↓

It’s a miracle that the Jazz have given him enough exposure to truly shine, but let’s face it: it’s a miracle that he’s doing this consistently at 19 years of age in his first ever pro season.

Credit this to a talented rookie falling into a perfect fit, or a relentless scorer falling into a team that has no clear creator on offense. The rookie sparkplug has erupted for 20.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, and 3.6 apg, and while these don’t seem too far off from Hayward’s numbers last year, Mitchell switches it up by doing things a differently.

Mitchell and teammate Joe Ingles have both attempted a combined 975 threes, a significant change from last year’s 681 threes by Hayward and Rodney Hood. Mitchell’s insistence to change up his offense and still shoot a respectable .340 from the arc is a huge insurance policy—which is why despite his initial coming out party, the NBA is still finding it difficult to defend him properly.

Mitchell is being treated like a go-to guy in his first season, and his teammates have embraced it. He has shown that he has a decent quick stroke and ho hesitations in shooting open or contested threes. Despite being somewhat inefficient, his volume scoring is desperately needed by a team that never had one in the past few years. Mitchell can cut, spin, dunk, and pivot his way to the basket in a way few 21-year olds can. When teams adjust to Mitchell’s herky-jerky offense and collapses, Jazz perimeter players and cutters usually benefit by getting open shots.

Add in newly motivated Ricky Rubio, a fellow guard and NBA outcast, who is shooting a career-best .351 from the three. Rubio is consciously trying to shoot more threes (third in the team overall in long-range attempts), and is freeing up space in the interior for the bigs to feast upon.

Continue reading below ↓

This badly needed influx of limited but complementary guard talents has helped bring about the most interesting and significant change in their team dynamics this year: riskiness, unpredictability, and ball movement.

MORE FROM FHM.COM.PH

GUARD BONANZA

Utah Jazz Team Statistics, PG-Related Factors, 2017 vs 2018
(Basketball Reference)

STATISTIC

2017

2018

Steals

29

4

Turnovers

20

13

Assists

28

20

Utah’s offense, despite still being middle-of-the-pack, has improved tremendously this year due to strong guard fundamentals. From being 29th in steals, the Jazz have jumped to second best in the league on the shoulders of Rubio, Mitchell, and surprisingly, Ingles. For a quick comparison, Ingles was already the Jazz’s best in steals (96 total steals in 2017). This year, he’s just third (86), behind the two new guards, who have both collected more than 100 steals each.

Credit Gobert and Favors for providing enough interior security to allow more gambling on the perimeter, and Rubio’s natural PG instincts mixed-in with Mitchell’s rookie aggressiveness have combined to add an exhausting tempest of ballhandling defense to their already elite interior presence.

In short, it’s getting significantly harder to score against the Jazz and keep possessions intact. The Jazz’s additional generated possessions now allow greater freedom for players to produce points, and the influx of threes also bodes well for their offensive spacing. This terrorizing wall of defense will certainly frustrate Jrue Holiday, Dejounte Murray, Jeff Teague, or even Russell Westbrook in the first round, especially if they try to force possessions.

And much like the prime Roy Hibbert of the old days, Gobert’s sheer elite interior stopping power can single-handedly change the complexion of the game and force opposing scorers to shoot outside their comfort zone. Mitchell and Rubio might have been the secret ingredients to this new mix, but Gobert has always been the signature ingredient.

Add in the presence of solid shooter and defender Jae Crowder, who is proving to be healthier and more dependable than the injury-plagued Rodney Hood, the advent of workmanlike Royce O’Neale, and the return of the dynamic Dante Exum (who is showing significant improvement in his few games back), and it looks like the Jazz have a strong eight to nine-man rotation that can give fits to any playoff aspirant in the West.

Continue reading below ↓

In summary, the Jazz are still maximizing their possessions, are making it just as hard to score against them, and is beginning to diversify on offense. But fans should always be cautious about trusting a rookie to lead the playoffs—a more singular defensive strategy will certainly test the Jazz’s playmaking and non-Mitchell offense.

But hey, who’s not rooting for Donovan Mitchell to go down in a blaze of irrationally confident glory trying to prove his doubters wrong in every isolation possession?

 

View other articles about:
Most Popular
Latest Stories
Most Popular