The Salt City Seven drops every Monday throughout the regular season, with seven regular features meant to relive the week in Jazzland from various angles. Check in every Monday for the quotes, stats, plays and performances that tell the stories from the last 168 hours in the world of the Jazz.
“The feeling that this team is having right now, it’s great. We just have to take that momentum and keep building and keep playing our game.”
Jazz guard Ricky Rubio, after Utah’s 123-124 loss to Golden State
The remarkable part of this quote is that it followed a heartbreaking, last-second loss. That’s the kind of line you’d expect to hear from a team that was stringing wins together, but Rubio said this just minutes after his former teammate Jonas Jerebko got a fortuitous angle on a last-ditch tip with a fraction of a second remaining.
Rubio wasn’t alone in sounding upbeat after the loss, either. You get the feeling that the Jazz felt they acquitted themselves well in their first major test of the new season.
“For our group, at this point of the year [and] against a team of that caliber — obviously, it goes without saying — we did a good job competing in the end,” coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think there’s anything we need to hang our heads about. It’s an opportunity for us to look at and get better.”
“There were a couple of plays that we can kind of go over and say this happened or this happened,” Donovan Mitchell agreed, “but we rose the bar from game one [against Sacramento]. We got 80 more.”
The Jazz have already had 13 individual double-figure scoring nights, just two games in. That’s the most 10-plus performances the franchise has ever enjoyed in the first two games of the season. Also of note: those 13 double-digit outputs came from eight different fellas, which ties three previous Jazz teams1 for the most players to hit double figures in the first two games of the season.
Maybe they were serious when they said #TeamIsEverything.
On the other end, though, Utah needs to get back to who they are. Their 113.7 defensive rating through two games ranks in the league’s bottom third. And sure, it’s not like they’ll have to play every other game against the Warriors (119.2 DRtg on Friday), but their defense wasn’t great against Sacramento, either. They allowed the lowly Kings 108.3 points per 100 possessions in that game. Some of that will come from…
…cleaning up the turnovers. Sacramento and Golden State scored a combined 43 points off of Utah’s 34 turnovers in those two games, meaning Utah gave up a 126.5 DRtg on those plays alone, and 133.3 after their 18 live ball giveaways. Since rule changes limit Utah’s use of the “Euro” stop-the-break foul, Utah will have to be more careful about live turnovers that lead to run-outs.
Down the stretch against Golden State, the Jazz got a little iso-happy, and as a result, they scored on just six of their last 18 offensive trips.
“Obviously we didn’t score like we wanted to, or like we did in the first half,” Snyder said of Utah’s game-closing drought. But when they actually ran stuff, it was generally pretty effective. Case in point: this nifty alley-oop play for Rudy Gobert.
The Jazz run a basic “horns flare” quite often to initiate their offense. In that action, a big and a wing go to the top corners of the key, and then the wing pops out around the big to receive the ball and get into the play (see diagram to the right). They ran that action a ton for Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and now for guys like Joe Ingles and Mitchell.
The difference here is that Mitchell doesn’t pop out until after Rubio has actually used the pick. Because of that, Klay Thompson has had to show on Rubio’s left-to-right dribble, and so he has to scramble back as Mitchell heads toward Gobert’s screen toward the sideline (flare screen). Because Thompson is out of position there, Draymond Green has to step out to Mitchell. That was the Jazz’s design all along, and Gobert has already started his roll into empty space before Mitchell has even caught the ball. Had Green stayed home on Gobert, Mitchell gets an open catch-and-shoot three.
All of that — Rubio using the pick, Mitchell’s flare cut, and Gobert’s pick and dive — happens in just under five seconds.
Jazz 123, Kings 117: Joe Ingles
Dante Exum got a lot of votes based on the narrative that he saved Rubio’s bacon on the latter’s rough all-around night. And Exum’s minutes did help the Jazz turn the tide when they quite improbably found themselves in an early hole to the Kings. He and Alec Burks came in and changed the dynamic of the game with their aggressiveness, and each came away with 13 points and four assists.
But Jingles was part of that lineup that flipped the game, too, and more often than not the game ball lands on the mantle of the true game MVP. That was Joe, who kept the Jazz close early and then led the timely serge with his scoring. He finished with 22 points, six assists, four steals and four threes. Mitchell got going late, Gobert was huge, and Favors — as I wrote on Friday — feasted on the pick-and-roll. But this is as much a nod to Ingles’ aggregate start to the year as anything: a team-leading 49 points in two games for the forward.
A busy week lies ahead for the Jazz, who will play four times in four different cities over the next seven nights.
Monday: Memphis at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MDT
- State of the Grizzlies: Memphis has split its first two games, but got bad news on Saturday when they learned they could be without starter JaMychal Green for up to six weeks.
- Jazz-Grizz: Utah won all three meetings last year, but in recent years, this rivalry has generally gone however the Rudy Gobert-Marc Gasol rivalry has gone.
- Key for the Jazz: Keep Mike Conley from collapsing the defense. He had 11 assists in Memphis’ Friday win, including many that fueled journeyman Garrett Temple’s 30-point night.
Wednesday: Utah at Houston, 6:00 p.m. MDT
- State of the Rockets: The 1-1 Rockets are adjusting after some turnover in their role player ranks, but the big story is Chris Paul’s X-game suspension after a Saturday scrum in L.A.
- Jazz-Rox: You know the recent history: 0-4 for Utah against Houston last season, followed by a 1-4 second-round series loss.
- Key for the Jazz: Without Paul, Utah’s defensive scheme will surely be to force the Rockets into the midrange — which they did last spring, but the elite midrange scorer just made buckets anyway.
Saturday: Utah at New Orleans, 5:00 p.m. MDT
- State of the Pelicans: The 2-0 Pels are red hot, averaging 140.0 points per contest so far.
- Jazz-Pels: Utah took three of four last season and seven of the last eight overall, but New Orleans has had a mini-makeover, especially on the frontline.
- Key for the Jazz: Utah’s bigs will have their hands full defensively: Nikola Mirotic (33.0) and Anthony Davis (28.5) have been filling it up with their versatile offensive talents.
Sunday: Utah at Dallas, 5:00 p.m. MDT
- State of the Mavericks: Rookie Luka Doncic (26 in Dallas’ Saturday win over Minnesota) and All-Star transplant DeAndre Jordan (22-and-10) are adding hope for the 1-1 Mavs.
- Jazz-Mavs: The Jazz swept last season’s three games and have won six of seven in the rivalry.
- Key for the Jazz: Doncic looks like the real thing, but don’t forget noted Jazz pest JJ Barea; he has really been the motor for Dallas’ egalitarian offense, with 21 assists through two.
It’s early to dive into the Western Conference playoff race in earnest, but we’ll make use of this space throughout the season to track Utah’s odds and placement. And so far, so good.
Heading into the season, projection systems generally saw Utah as sharing a mini-tier with the Rockets. The models designed by FiveThirtyEight, Kevin Pelton and Jacob Goldstein gave the Jazz an average of 54.3 wins going into the season, much closer to Houston’s 55.6 than to the 49.7 to 50 of their next closest competitors, the division rival Nuggets and Thunder, respectively. And while 538 has since upgraded the win projections for the Nuggets and Pelicans, they still lump Houston and Utah together with 98 percent playoff odds.
One outlier: the ESPN BPI rankings have the Jazz bringing up the rear of a Rox-Nugs-Pels-Jazz tier after the No. 1 Warriors, but even BPI ranks the Jazz as a near playoff lock, with 80 games to go.
Here are some more historical tidbits from Utah’s first two games.
Ingles’ 49 points are the most ever by an undrafted Jazz player in the first two games of a season. In fact, as far as I can tell, no undrafted NBA player has scored more than that in the first two games at any point in the three-point era2.
And then there’s this gem from the fine folks at StatMuse.
With 19 points & 15 rebounds in a win at the Kings, Rudy Gobert joins Carlos Boozer (2x) and Karl Malone (1x) as the only Jazz players to post 15p/15r in a season opener since 1983. #TeamIsEverything
📊 https://t.co/xAvCr10WO8 pic.twitter.com/ZdNrPNQT5g
— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 18, 2018
That’s a wrap for this week. Join us next Monday for our seven sections recapping seven more days.
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