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John Keeffer , 2019-07-13 16:55:28
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For a team in a smaller market like the Utah Jazz, adding high end talent through free agency is always going to be a more difficult task. That is why the Mike Conley trade was such a major win for the team. If Utah had simply entered free agency to try and acquire a point guard, they would have had to renounce the rights to multiple players on the roster and it still would not have been guaranteed that they could bring someone in. They might have gotten meetings with some interesting options, but the likelihood was always going to be that those players sign with a bigger market.

The Jazz chose to trade for a player with multiple years left on their contract in order to avoid the uncertainty of free agency, and that is always going to be the best option for a team like Utah. Pulling off the Mike Conley trade immediately vaulted the Jazz into title contention. What happened after the trade was simply a thing of beauty.

With a core of Gobert, Mitchell and Conley, they Jazz capable of competing with anyone. The trade drastically reduced their depth, however, and the priority of free-agency was going to be building a team around that core. They struck quickly by bringing in four new players within the first 72 hours of free-agency. Bojan Bogdanovic was the biggest splash, as he signed to a 4-year, $73 Million with the Jazz within the first hour of free agency. Then came Ed Davis (2-year, $10 Mil), Jeff Green (1-year, $2.5 Mil), and finally Emmanuel Mudiay (1-year, $1.7 Mil).

Each player is player is going to bring something unique and effective to the table. For those who are fully invested in the Jazz but may not follow other teams closely, we’ll get you caught up on who each of these players are, and what they are going to be bringing to the table next year.


Bojan Bogdanovic – 6’8″ Small Forward/Power Forward

When Nikola Mirotic decided to spurn the NBA for greener pastures in Europe, the Utah Jazz had to turn their focus towards Bojan Bogdanovic as priority number one this off-season. The interest was clearly mutual on both ends, as the Jazz were able to complete the signing within the first hour of free agency.

For those who are unfamiliar with Bogdanovic, he is one of the true snipers in the NBA today. Since joining the league in 2014, he has never attempted less than three threes per game, but over the last several years has attempted five per game. An argument could honestly be made that he should shoot even more though, since he has been a career 39 percent shooter from three, and was even above 40 percent the last two seasons. Based on the role Jae Crowder was filling, it is reasonable to expect him to attempt more threes. 

Last season, Jae Crowder attempted an impressive 6.5 threes per game last season, but only shot 33 percent on those. Despite Crowder’s low shooting percentage, the Jazz offense was always worlds better when he was on the floor, due in large part to the spacing it provided. Now just imagine that all of those attempts are going to be given to a player who shot 42.5 percent from three last season.

“Bogey” proved that he was more than just a floor spacer last year though. When Victor Oladipo went down with a ruptured quad on January 23, all hope seemed to be lost for the Pacers, who at that time were a top team in the East. Bogdanovic stepped into the lead role for that team and saved their playoff hopes. He increased his averages over the second half of the season to 20.6 points per game, and even with that increased workload, he was extremely efficient.

The defensive side of the ball is where you are going to see people wonder about his negative impact. He is one of those players who plays hard on the defensive side of the ball, but he has clear limitations. I have always said that the value of having Rudy Gobert is that you can take on the risk of player an offense only player.With Bogey surrounded by Conley, Mitchell, Ingles, and Gobert, all very good defensive players, they will be able to cover up any minor imperfections on that side of the ball.

With the Jazz, he will likely be the third scoring option behind Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. That said, it is just another arsenal in Utah’s new and improved offensive army. The space he will provide is going to open up lanes that Mitchell and Conley have never dreamed of, and it will also stop teams from doubling Rudy Gobert on roles to the basket. At 30-years old already, there is a chance that he will be overpaid by the end of this deal. The immediate benefits of the deal are going to vault the Jazz into immediate title contention however. 


Ed Davis – 6’10” Power Forward/Center

Ed Davis only played 18 minutes a game last year with the Brooklyn Nets, but he averaged 8.6 rebounds per game.

I feel like I need to say that again, just to really emphasize how insane that is. 18 minutes a game. 8.6 rebounds per game. That’s about 2 rebounds per minute of playing time, and in the average NBA minute, there are maybe 3 possessions.The point is, while Ed Davis may not be a star, he has an elite level talent of rebounding the ball. Especially on the offensive glass.

Ed Davis was selected in the 2010 draft by the Toronto Raptors with the 13th overall selection, and since then has been bounced around the league quite a few times. Andy Larson summed it up nicely in the piece above, saying:

That’s where we are in the career of Ed Davis. The Utah Jazz considered picking Davis — the No. 13 pick of the 2010 NBA draft — instead of Gordon Hayward back then. Given a chance to play a lot of minutes and even start in Toronto, he found himself getting benched in crunch time, then was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the Rudy Gay deal.

Then, the Grizzlies let him go for nothing, and he signed with the Lakers on a one-year deal for the minimum. He played OK there, enough to earn a $7 million-per-year deal with the Blazers. But once again, Portland was comfortable moving on, and he went to Brooklyn on a one-year deal last year. Now, Davis has been forced out of Brooklyn’s cap situation to make room for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan, and he has signed with the Jazz.

Although he has been shuffled around a lot in his career, he became one of the more valuable and sought after big man free agents on the market. He may be destined to be a backup and has never scored more than 8.3 points per game in a season, but his skills will bring value to any team.

Losing Derrick Favors was not nothing for the Jazz. His absence will be felt next season. That said, Ed Davis can mitigate that loss with his elite level rebounding and defense. He doesn’t put up eye popping block and steal numbers. Even if you stretch his numbers to per 36, he averaged just .8 blocks and .9 steals per game last season. His impact on that side of the floor is still felt strongly though. He is extremely long and mobile, which allows him to effect shots in the post, while also being able to guard quicker players out on the perimeter. Opponents attempted 3.8 percent less shots at the rim when he was on the floor, and 3.9 percent more in the mid-range. His Defensive RPM was second in the entire NBA last season, behind only Rudy Gobert.

Even if he only plays 18 minutes a game, his positive impact is going to be felt on the floor next season.


Jeff Green – 6’9″ Small Forward/Power Forward

Jeff Green might have the best highlight reel of any non-star in the entire NBA. He has made a habit of flying in for gravity defying dunks and loves nothing more than to go out of his way to put someone on a poster. For a long time though, that’s all it was. Incredible highlights, but overall performances that left you wanting more. Over the last two seasons, Green has quietly found his true calling in the NBA, as a role player off the bench. That’s not meant to be a knock on him. Some players are just better suited for smaller roles off the bench, and they can make a large impact in that role.

Early on in his career, Green was supposed to be the Kevin Durant’s sidekick. While he always looked like a star, he never fulfilled that role. The Thunder decided to move on from him, and he was given a fresh start in Boston. After having to have open heart surgery and missing the entire 2011-12 season, it’s a miracle that he is still in the league today. Green shared his experience through a Player Tribune article, and said, “In one day, everything I knew about my body had changed. And all the confidence I had felt about maintaining this body had been completely drained. Standing in front of the mirror, I started crying. It was hitting me — this is forever.” To go from those emotions to where he is now is an incredible accomplishment.

Post-Heart Surgery, he came back and was playing some of the best basketball of his career. He had a two year stretch when he averaged 17 points and nearly 5 rebounds per game for the Celtics. He was then shipping off to the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2015-16 season, and has played for a different team every year since. He went from Boston to Memphis to LA to Orlando to Cleveland and finally to the Wizards this past season.

At this point in time, Jeff Green might just be underrated. 

Let’s try and look at Green for what he really is, and what he will be bringing the team next season. Even at 32 years old, he still has elite level athleticism. He is 6’9″, has a 7’1″ wingspan, and weighs around 240 pounds. Those measurements coupled with his athleticism allow him the ability to defend all five positions. Literally. He even played the center position at times for the Wizards last year. He’s not a lock-down defender by any means, but he is capable, and versatile. 

Offensively, he is still a high level athlete who can put pressure on a defense by attacking the rim. The Jazz seem to have a team who can get out into the open floor and run, and that is one of Green’s biggest strengths. At 34 percent, he is a slightly below average three-point shooter, but he is someone who defenses at least have to account for. He is actually extremely similar to Jae Crowder as far as shooting goes. He’ll need to work on moving the ball, but if he can buy into his role and Quin Snyder’s system, he’s going to be one of the bargain steals of free agency.


Emmanuel Mudiay – 6’5″ Point Guard

I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, this was the shocker of free agency. When the news broke that the Utah Jazz had signed Emmanuel Mudiay to a 1-year contract, I initially didn’t believe it. He just didn’t seem like the type of player the Jazz would need, let alone target. 

Then I heard the story of how he ended up signing with the Jazz, and my whole perspective on Mudiay changed. 

Only four years ago, Mudiay was coming out of high school as the number one point guard prospect in the country. Instead of going to play in college, he decided to sign a 1-year contract to play oversees in China, and was then selected with the number 7 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Since then, he has never been able to live up to lofty expectations. In fact, he put together one of the most inefficient rookie seasons in the history of the NBA. After just two and a half seasons with the Denver Nuggets, they shipped him off to the New York Knicks. In his first full season with the Knicks, he had an impressive season for his standards. Given the opportunity to start, he averaged nearly 15 points, 4 assist and 3.3 rebounds. He also had a career year shooting the ball, thanks in large part to an improved mid-range game. It’s obviously not an analytically friendly shot, but when you shoot 48 percent on shots taken between 10 feet and the three-point line, it makes a bad shot a good shot.

Despite those improvements, the Knicks showed no real desire to retain him in free-agency. That allowed Mudiay and his agent to reach out to the Jazz to express their interest in signing with a team and an organization that they felt could help his development the most. 

That is what changed my opinion of Mudiay. There are a lot of area for improvement in his game, and he may never pan out, but I can respect a player who is humble an enough to recognize that those improvement opportunities are there. He chose to come to play with the Jazz knowing he may not have a large opportunity to play, but also believing that the developmental staff and culture could benefit his career going forward. 

He needs to take and make more analytically friendly shots. He needs to make better passes and turn the ball over less. He needs to be focused on the defensive side of the ball and use his size and length to his advantage. Oh, and the Jazz only signed him to a 1-year deal, so he needs to make those improvements fast. If he can, at just 23 years old, he could prove to be a terrific signing for the Jazz.

John is a Multimedia Journalism major at Utah’s Weber State University, where he has been a sports reporter for The Signpost. He also has previous writing experience at his own blog, The Wasatch Front, as well as at The J Notes. John moved to Utah at a young age, just in time for the Jazz’s back-to-back Finals runs.


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Richardson's late basket lifts Heat over Jazz

Steve Godfrey , 2019-04-25 05:50:38
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With heart and grit, the Jazz executed another solid defensive performance, but were doomed yet again by poor shooting. The Jazz kept Game 5 close made it tense down the stretch in Houston, but the Rockets ultimately completed the gentleman’s sweep with a 100-93 win Wednesday to win the first round series 4-1. 

The Jazz shot 23% from deep, 9-for-28, culminating with a Ricky Rubio air ball from the corner that would’ve given the Jazz a lead with 1:09 to play. Rubio played with pace and passion, yet it will be the flaw in his game that extinguished any hope remaining. 

After a strong fourth quarter in Monday night’s Game 4, Donovan Mitchell had one of the worst games of his career, gathering a stat line of 12 points and one assist against 4-for-22 shooting, including 0-of-9 from deep, and five turnovers. Turnovers hurt the Jazz late, as Utah squandered chances to stay close or take the lead with back-to-back turnovers in the final minutes. Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker stripped balls away from Mitchell and Rudy Gobert rolling to the hoop.

To win playoff games, on the road and on the brink of elimination, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot. As good as Houston is, it can be argued that the Game 3 and 5 losses were on the Jazz’s poor shooting, lack of execution down the stretch, and turnovers. The Jazz kept it interesting, however, until caving in the final minutes. 

Run down and a recap

The game kicked off with a quick 8-0 lead for Houston as all Houston starters scored a bucket, except for James Harden. Joe Ingles stopped a fast break and then nailed a three on the other end to get the Jazz on board, but then it was sloppy for both parties. By the end of one, the score was tied at 20 apiece, but the stat line really looked like this: 13 made field goals, 13 turnovers, and 12 fouls called between the two teams in the first 12 minutes. 

Despite holding Harden scoreless in that first quarter, the Jazz couldn’t do it again in the second as Harden kept shooting and finally started knocking them down. He got his first points at the nine minute mark, but then missed a fairly wide open dunk as Gobert came to challenge. Gobert turned that miss into a dunk of his own on the other end, while dominating for a three minute stretch. The Rockets went small and Gobert often found himself guarded by Harden and Eric Gordon down low. On Monday night, the big fella wasn’t able to capitalize on those mismatches, but on a run in the second quarter he had eight points, three rebounds, and a block.

The defense was humming and the Jazz were scoring just enough to stay even with Houston, until the last two minutes of the half as Eric Gordon banked in a three off the top of the arc with 30 seconds left and then James Harden took the ball to the cup with three ticks left on the clock. Houston went into the half with the lead, but also with energy and momentum. The crowd was back in the game and the Jazz looked deflated. 

For the next two minutes of the third quarter, that look of deflation lingered. Houston jumped out on a 7-0 run, but if one went backwards it was a 21-3 run in Houston’s favor. Quickly, Quin Snyder took Mitchell out and put Royce O’Neale on the floor who breathed life back into the Jazz offense. By the middle of the third quarter, he was the only Jazz player in double-figures, with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The rest of the Jazz up to that point was shooting just 26%. As TNT’s Reggie Miller noted, “Where would the Jazz be without Royce O’Neale?”

Before the 4th started, Mitchell had nine points on 3-for-16 shooting, still 0-for-5 from deep. He had four turnovers and one assist, putting him at -15 on the court which was the worst margin for a Jazz player at that point. From about the four minute mark in the first quarter to 2:24 of the third, Mitchell didn’t make a field goal. Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni was asked what Houston needed to do to prevent Mitchell from having a quarter like Monday night (when he scored 13 in three minutes) and he simply said “Eric (Gordon) has to be the man.”

Gordon did his job on Mitchell, but other Jazz players were able to put the ball in the hoop. An alley-oop from Ingles (finished with 11 points and nine assists) to Favors and then a Rubio steal and quick outlet for an Ingles lay in narrowed the Houston lead to two, 75-73. Surprisingly, Harden shots his first FT of the game at the 10:27 mark and missed both attempts. Rubio then raced down the court and put up another off-balance floater to tie the game. Miller, at that point, exclaimed, “There is no quit. Ain’t no quit in the Utah Jazz. It’s amazing how they play.”

Yet, as the clock ticked down the Jazz found themselves on the wrong side of the score as Chris Paul took over. For all of Harden’s brilliance, it was CP3 who came up clutch and played the leader down the stretch for Houston. To finish, the Jazz had the horrible airball, turnover, turnover sequence as Houston made free throws to seal the game and wait for (likely) Golden State and the second-round to tip off.

Numbers of Note

  • O’Neale led the Jazz in scoring with 18 points on an efficient 8-13 shooting performance. 
  • Derrick Favors played 18 minutes, yet was a team-high +8 on the court. He didn’t see playing time in the 4th quarter. 
  • The Jazz forced Houston into 17 turnovers that turned into 22 Jazz points. 
  • Utah had 13 more shot attempts than Houston, but shot 37% compared to Houston’s 44%. 
  • After losing in five games to Houston last spring, the Jazz stressed continuity over change and lost to Houston in five games in the playoffs this spring.

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.


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4 reasons to feel encouraged about Utah's chances vs Houston

Jared Woodcox , 2019-04-12 12:00:10
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – FEBRUARY 2: Nene Hilario #42 of the Houston Rockets plays defense against against the Utah Jazz on February 2, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz landed a less than favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs as they’ll face the Houston Rockets. But things are different from a year ago.

I, like most Utah Jazz fans, found myself cursing the basketball gods on Wednesday night. All the Jazz needed for a more favorable first-round matchup was for the Sacramento Kings to beat the Portland Trail Blazers’ scrubs or for the Minnesota Timberwolves to beat out the Denver Nuggets. Both were in prime positions to do so – Sacramento led by as many as 28 and Minnesota owned a double-figure lead late in the fourth – but ultimately it wasn’t to be so.

Instead, the Blazers moved up to third place in the West and the Houston Rockets dropped to fourth where they will battle the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Not only are the Rockets a tough matchup for the Jazz regardless of seeding, but the fact that they finished in fourth place has more to do with the injuries and other issues that got them off to a slow start than it has to do with their true talent level.

If you look at how they’ve played to close out the season, it’s hard to argue against them being the second best team in the NBA, behind only the Golden State Warriors. It’s atypical that a fifth-seeded team such as the Jazz would have to take on such an elite squad in the first round, yet here we are.

In other words, while Utah’s past two first-round wins against the LA Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder were impressive, this Rockets team is significantly better than both those teams were. For all those reasons, it would have been much more preferable if the Jazz had drawn the Blazers in the first round instead. But such won’t be the case so it deserves no further conversation.

My initial reaction upon realizing Utah was going to be facing the Rockets was similar to that of most of Jazz Nation. It was one of despair, frustration and an assumption that Utah had little to no chance of prevailing. After some time to think things over further, that could still be absolutely the case. However, I also believe there are some significant reasons that Jazz fans should feel more encouraged than I originally presumed.

I’m by no means projecting that Utah’s going to shock the world and win the series, but I’m also not NOT projecting that. My J-Notes colleague Josh Padmore recently touched on why Jazz fans shouldn’t be afraid of the Rockets, and I’m here to expand on some of what he started. Here are four reasons why this series could be more competitive and positive for Utah than Jazz fans may have originally presumed.

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Salt City Seven: Persistence, Resurgence and the Guy in the Corner

Dan Clayton , 2019-04-01 20:22:28
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The Salt City Seven drops every week 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.

An important quote from Jazz players or personnel during the week.

“We improved. When you work at something and it’s important to you, you’re going to figure out ways to be successful at it. It’s who we are.”

-Jazz coach Quin Snyder, on how his team has improved on the defensive end

Team defense is usually about choices. NBA players are too talented, and the offenses built around them too intricate, to take everything away. So defenses pick and choose where to apply the most pressure. But like squeezing one part of a balloon animal, when you squeeze one part of the balloon, the air just finds its way to another part of the balloon.

Take the league’s top defense, for example. The Bucks devote an inordinate amount of defensive focus to protecting the paint, and for good reason. Milwaukee’s opponents take the smallest percentage of their non-garbage time shots at the rim, and convert the smallest percentage of them, per Cleaning the Glass. But that comes with a trade-off: the Bucks also allow their opponents to take 35.8% of their shots at the 3-point line, the highest figure in the league. Their system works for them because of their long, athletic personnel, but their defensive identity still reflects that choice.

Almost as a counterpoint, you have another Eastern Conference power, the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly defense allows opponents to take the fourth fewest threes (as a percentage of their offense in meaningful minutes), but all of that running out to shooters creates fissures that have allowed the ninth most rim attempts. 

Both Philly and Milwaukee are elite in terms of overall shot defense (by opponent eFG%), and yet they exist opposite each other on the spectrum of defensive choices, a perfect allegory for how hard it is to deny an NBA offense both the paint and the three.

Enter the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz don’t believe in such choices. When Snyder says that the team has improved at defense, what he means is that the Jazz have found the discipline to smartly challenge shooters and to protect the paint without collapsing and over-helping. This makes Utah a rare breed, a defense capable of protecting the two most fertile areas for NBA offenses. Utah is the only team in the top five for limiting rim attempts AND 3-pointers. 

No contenders are even close to being elite at protecting both areas. Golden State is 2nd at limiting rim attempts, but 19th at limiting threes. Toronto is 11th and 10th, respectively. None of Houston (15th/8th), Boston (8th/28th), Denver (24th/23rd) or Portland (19th/2nd) have the defensive versatility to shut down both zones at an elite level, and we already covered Milwaukee (1st/30th) and Philadelphia (22nd/4th)1.

Utah is just special defensively, the second-best overall defense in the league this season, and the best in March. Their system is obviously designed around the unique talent of paint anchor Rudy Gobert, but it’s deeper than that. They have committed defenders at every rotation spot, and that discipline to the team goals on each possessions makes the group better collectively than the sum of its parts.

Yes, Gobert’s presence back behind allows guards to pressure the outside differently than a team that doesn’t employ the DPOY and his 9-foot-7 standing reach. But that doesn’t mean that the perimeter defenders are playing recklessly. They play with a distinct set of overarching principles in mind, augmented by smart game plans for specific opponents. No team allows fewer wide-open 3-point shots than Utah and the same is true if you add together the open and wide-open threes. The Jazz guards and wings aren’t gambling; they know what they want to do defensively, and by and large, they do it.

Sure, they get tripped up, as they did on Friday night when they allowed 117.5 points per possession to the lottery-bound Wizards. But that was the only game in the last 11 in which Utah’s defensive performance was below average, and in six games over that span, their DRtg was in the top 10 percent of all games played this NBA season.

In other words, the defense is clicking in again. 

 

Stats that tell the story of the week or highlight a timely topic.

0:43

That’s the total amount of time that Utah has trailed during the second halves of games during their current 4-game winning streak. In fact, of the 192 total minutes in those four games, Utah trailed for exactly 11 of them: 24 seconds against Chicago, 5:04 against Phoenix, and 5:32 against Washington. They never trailed against the Lakers.

280

Gobert currently holds a 280-272 edge on Giannis Antetokounmpo as this season’s dunk leader, but his 280 also makes him the all-time leader for dunks in a season (since the NBA started counting them, anyway). Gobert’s response to setting the record was great, as he reflexively gave the nod to his teammates: “It’s their record, too.” Fair enough, since 73% of his dunks this season have been assisted. “All I have to do is put it in the basket.” For the record, that’s a gross oversimplification, but his desire to share the praise is laudable nonetheless.

38%

Barring a late surge, neither Joe Ingles nor Kyle Korver will finish the year above the 40% mark for 3-point shots (with the Jazz, in Korver’s case). Both are sitting on 38% right now, and assuming both guys take five per game over the Jazz’s final six, Ingles would need a nearly impossible 21-for-30 finish to reach 40%. Korver would only need a 17-for-30 close, which feels more attainable except that he’s shooting just 29% over the last five games. He “only” needs a 14-for-30 close to lock in a true 40% for the season, including his 16 games with Cleveland. 

+13.8

Jae Crowder had a pretty brutal outing on both sides of the ball in Atlanta, Utah’s lone loss of their last 10. But since then, the veteran forward has turned it around and then some. He owns a team-best +13.8 net rating during the streak, and he has hit 46.8% of his threes over that span. Donovan Mitchell and Raul Neto have also both been hot during the streak, shooting 50% from outside over these four games.

 

Breaking down the Xs and Os behind a Jazz score from the week.

The downside of the Jazz spending the week blowing out lottery teams is that they never really had much of a need to dig deep into the playbook. Most of their scoring since the last SC7 “Playbook” section came just in the regular flow of the offense. However, they did find some opportunities to attack bad defenders by adding a single pass to some of their most basic actions. 

For example, watch how much difficulty DeAndre Ayton and Richaun Holmes have guarding the pick-and-roll when the Jazz add one simple pass to the action.

These are both very simple plays: just a high pick-and-roll to the middle. But because the Phoenix bigs are playing way back in both cases, the Jazz use a simple pass across the top to get them out of Derrick Favors’ roll path. Crowder and Mitchell attack the seam on the 45-degree angle, and force the “containing” big to do something other than contain. So instead of a pick-and-roll, these plays are pick-pass-and-roll plays, and Utah is using them a lot. It allows Favors (and Gobert) to roll into a conflicted help defender instead of rolling into a wall.

Here’s another example of adding a single pass to one of Utah’s pet plays. We’ll call this one “Spain plus one.”

The Spain P&R is what you see at the beginning of the play here: a high P&R for Ricky Rubio, but with a shooter like Korver (in this case) or Ingles simultaneously setting a backscreen on the big. The shooter pops, the screener rolls, and the guard drives, and because of all of those options, teams usually get something out of Spain P&R.

A clever way of stopping Spain has crept across the league, and rookie Elie Okobo tries it here. The best way to stop this play is for the guard in back to pick up the ball and let the ball handler’s man slide over to pick up the shooter while the big works through the screen to stay with his man. The Jazz guard Spain this way. Okobo recognizes the play and correctly steps over to pick Rubio up, but what the Jazz are banking on is that Jimmer Fredette, in just his second game back in the NBA, won’t have picked this tactic up yet and won’t know he’s suppose to switch out to Korver.

They were right: he hasn’t. In fact, you can see Korver recognize Jimmer’s confusion and cut to the wing early. As soon as he realizes that Fredette plans to follow Rubio, he doesn’t even bother setting the backscreen but instead darts to an open spot on the wing. Jimmer gets so lost that eventually he is stuck on the wrong side of Ekpe Udoh’s roll. There’s no way he’s going to get back to Korver in time, so Georges Niang’s guy slides over to help, and that’s where the simple pass-off leads to a wide open three.

(Tangentially, this might be part of why the Jazz appeared confused at the adoration Fredette got from the Utah fan base. Jimmer’s college years will always be a special memory to his fans in the Beehive, and I’m sure on a level, the players understood that. But the Jazz had just spent the evening attacking the defensively unaware guard, so it must have been a little odd for them to hear such boisterous cheers directed at a player they had targeted and, if we’re honest, kind of embarrassed. The Jazz were +25 in the 14 minutes Jimmer played, largely because of plays like this where they went right at him.)

The week was full of plays like these ones: the simplest of actions deployed with an extra pass to force bad defenders into making the wrong decision.

 

After each Jazz win, Twitter helps us decide who was that game’s MVP or most memorable performer.

Jazz 125, Suns 92: Rudy Gobert

Gobert scored a season-high 27 (on just 11 shots), added his 59th double-double of the season (10 boards), and while he was at it used this game to set the all-time record2 for dunks in a season. Not bad, right? Just as importantly, the Suns wanted nothing to do with Gobert when he was in the defensive paint. The visitors shot just 29 percent at the rim with Stifle around, and he just got whatever he wanted all game on offense. Ricky Rubio started the game with energy when others seemed to be lacking and finished with 18 points, while Favors had another great game with 18-8-5.

Jazz 115, Lakers 100: Joe Ingles

The crowd’s chant of “We want Joe!” is probably a good hint that Ingles finished with the narrative edge on Game Ball. He was also really important from a basketball perspective, and the reasons overlapped. The night was set aside to advance Autism-related causes, a chance for the Ingles family to share their journey with the Jazz community to raise awareness. So Joe, with his two-year-old son Jacob’s name etched into his sneakers, had delivered a huge and personal assist before the clock started at the arena. Then he went and collected 14 more assists during game play, a Jazz season high. Vivint had pledged $5,000 to the cause for each of Ingles’ first five assists, and he fulfilled that quota in the game’s first 10 minutes. He narrowly missed what would have been the first regular season Jazz triple-double in 11 years — he had 11 points and nine rebounds to go with those 14 dimes — which is why the fans wanted him back in the game late. Gobert (22 & 11, three blocks) and Favors (20 points, 9-for-13) dominated the paint again, but this game had Ingles stamp on it, both inside the 94-by-50 rectangle and out.

Jazz 128, Wizards 124: Donovan Mitchell

Jae Crowder was sneaky great on defense while also hitting shots, and Joe Ingles was a real candidate. Ingles had his second straight double-digit assist night (10) to go with 18 points and a lot of fun chatter, including after he drew a key offensive foul late in the game. But 35-5-5 should make this pretty easy. And even though Mitchell did have some struggles early in the fourth quarter, he bounced back to finish off the Wiz, and still managed to get his 35 points on just 23 shots. Gobert (13 & 17) sealed the deal with a late block and Rubio (17 points) was aggressive throughout.

 

Tracking the wild Western Conference postseason race and the Jazz’s place in it.

Six games left and the playoff race is taking shape.

The field is set: eight teams are in, with only positioning still up for grabs.

Houston’s division title will make it hard for the Jazz to move up past No. 4, even if the Rockets slip. At this point, Utah’s best chance at homecourt advantage in the first round is by overtaking Portland, who would need to lose at least two more. Their Friday game at Denver is their only projected loss, but they have three other games — at Minnesota, at the Lakers and home against Denver — that are basically toss-ups, per FiveThirtyEight.com.

On the other side, since Utah owns the tiebreaker over the Clippers, they’d have to lose twice before they were at risk of slipping past fifth.

So more likely than not, the Jazz will find themselves in the 4-vs.-5 matchup for the third straight year. Still to be determined: who they’ll face and where they’ll start.

 

A quick look at the Jazz’s next seven nights of action.

The Jazz play six of their next eight at home, starting with three lottery teams visiting this week. 

Monday: Hornets at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MT 

  • State of the Hornets: Charlotte had four impressive wins in a row before starting their 4-game Western swing. But they’re 0-2 on this trip after a 47-point drubbing by the Warriors, and now head to Utah on a back-to-back as they cling to faint playoff hopes.
  • Jazz-Hornets: Mitchell’s 30 and a 20-and-17 night from Gobert helped Utah edge the Hornets back in November, 118-111.
  • Key for the Jazz: Pick-and-roll defense. Kemba Walker uses more possessions as the P&R ball handler than anybody else in the league, and he and Damian Lillard are the most efficient by far of the volume guys in that category.

Wednesday: Utah at Phoenix, 8:00 p.m. MT

  • State of the Suns: Igor Kokoskov’s new team had a fun little 7-4 stretch where they got to play spoiler, but now they’ve lost six straight.
  • Jazz-Suns: Utah has won all three matchups so far, by margins of 28, 17 and 33. Although last week’s contest injected some drama into Wednesday’s series finale, as the Jazz seemed to take exception with Devin Booker’s attempt to make history at their expense. 
  • Key for the Jazz: Non-Booker Suns scored just 33 on 12-of-42 shooting last week, which tells you that Utah’s game plan broadly worked. That said, they’ll also want to make sure he doesn’t drop another 59.

Friday: Sacramento at Utah, 7:00 p.m. MT

  • State of the Kings: Sacramento had lost seven of 11, including a loss in Houston on Saturday that ended their playoff hopes. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still playing hard; in fact, in their next time out after elimination, they beat the Spurs in San Antonio. 
  • Jazz-Kings: The Jazz are 2-1 against the Kings so far, having won both the road games and lost the previous home matchup during their November malaise. 
  • Key for the Jazz: Control the game. Sacramento is a high-paced team (second in the league) that commits and forces a lot of turnovers. 

Sunday: Utah at L.A. Lakers, 7:30 p.m. MT

  • State of the Lakers: LeBron James has been shut down for the rest of the season, which tells you what you need to know about the state of the Lakers. They have won four of five, though — the lone loss coming to the Jazz. 
  • Jazz-Lakers: Utah lost during a November visit to Staples, but has since beat the Lakers twice at home, including last week’s wire-to-wire win. Overall, Utah has won 13 of 15 against L.A.
  • Key for the Jazz: The Lakers were actually just 28-27 with LeBron this season — but so far they’re 7-15 without him. And since a handful of other rotation players may also miss that game, it’s absolutely a must-win for Utah.

 

Because after all, we’re here to have fun.

Nothing deserves to be memorialized in this space more than the biggest non-basketball story of the week intersecting with the actual game — even in a week when Mitchell got his own pedestrian bridge named after him.

Ingles and his family made what must have been a very complex and challenging decision to share their journey with Jazz fans, but then took it a step further by actually going front-foot with it to create some awareness and help destigmatize autism spectrum disorder. Then he actually took his crusade onto the court, literally using basketball (via an assist challenge from the Jazz’s arena sponsor, Vivint) to raise money for autism-related causes. Then, awash in the glow of a near-triple double on a night his performance was dedicated to his sweet son Jacob, Ingles got the water bottle treatment and just sat there and absorbed it like a champ while sporting his trademark smirk.


That will do it this week, the penultimate Salt City Seven of the season. Join us next Monday as we tee up the final regular season games of 2018-19.

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton


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For the Second Time, Korver Has Boosted Utah’s Offense After a Midseason Arrival

Steve Godfrey , 2019-02-01 14:15:28
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As soon as the Utah Jazz traded for Kyle Korver in November, the deja vu juices started flowing, a callback to his first sting with the club from 2007 to 2010. Back then, the sharpshooter revolutionized an anemic offense; has he done the same in tenure number two? 

Remember, remember

In 2007, the Jazz were coming off a year in which they went 51-31 and won the Northwest Division. The team qualified as the fourth seed for the playoffs and beat the favored Houston Rockets in a classic seven-game series where the Jazz won on the road in a nail-biter for the decisive victory, 103-99. They advanced to face the Golden State Warriors,  who as an eighth seed had just upset the Dallas Mavericks. After defeating the Warriors in five games, the Jazz unexpectedly found themselves in the Western Conference finals, ultimately falling to the San Antonio Spurs, the eventual champions, in five games.

With confidence and newfound expectations, the next year, however, started too slow. On the night of December 29, the Jazz traded for Korver with a 16-16 record. The team went on to win 19 of its next 22 games. The Jazz finished the season 54-28.

Before the trade, nearly half of the team’s first 32 games in 2007 saw the Jazz shoot below 35 percent from three, and they attempted fewer than 10 threes a dozen times, as I wrote earlier this year at the Deseret News. With Korver hovering on the perimeter, the Jazz attempted less than 10 only two more times in the season. By the end of the season, the Jazz ranked 10th in the league in 3-point percentage with 37 percent. 

Back to today

Korver’s return to Utah has had a similar impact on the 2018-19 Jazz. The Jazz shot below 35 percent from three in 14 of the team’s first 22 games. Prior to the Korver trade, the team would hoist 30 bombs a game, good for 10th in the league, but connect on only 32 percent, which ranked 28th out of 30 teams. 

As Ryan Ashton with the JNotes pointed out, that lack of a shooter infected the overall offense, too. On November 28 — the day before the Jazz acquired Korver from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Alec Burks and picks — the team’s offense was a shambles. Ashton writes, “The Jazz ranked 27th in the league in offensive rating, putting up just 104.5 points per 100 possessions.” One abled body out on the arc has completely changed that identity and that statistic. 

In the month of January, where the Jazz accrued an 11-4 record, the team shot a deep bomb on 41.6% of its possessions (compared to 38.7% in November) with a 34.7% shooting percentage (compared to 30.5% in November). They also nearly jumped into the top-ten with 110.9 points per 100 possessions (12th best in the month). 

Granted, the team still isn’t in the top half of the league when it comes to their percentage from outside threes, or season-long points per 100 possessions, but they are creeping in the right direction and one has to connect the dots back to Kyle Korver. 

Keep Connecting, now to wins

The stat floating around connects Jazz wins to threes by Korver. 

Specifically, Korver has made 2+ of his deep shots 17 times this season, where the Jazz have only lost one of those outlined games. If we stretch it just one further, the newly named KK has made 3+ of his deep shots 13 times; the Jazz have won every time. It would seem a delicious recipe: give KK open looks, give him seven or eight attempts, and the Jazznote should light purple with victory. 

Keep connecting, now to lineups

It’s worth noting that the team’s second-best five-man lineup involves Korver. 

If we look specifically at four-man groupings, Korver is in three of the top five. 

Why? With Ingles or Mitchell taking over as playmakers and floor generals, they are best when flanked by shooting threats. Mitchell, specifically, draws the defense in, kicks out, and ball movement can begin. The defense has to decide: do we stop ball; do we guard corner with Ingles; or press upon Korver off a screen? Either way, an open look and a deep shot ends up happening. 

Looking into the treasure chest of information that can be found on stats.nba.com, Korver has connected on 92 threes this season, with 91 of them being assisted given that is his bread and butter off the catch. Of those, 67 made threes have occurred while in a Jazz jersey, 23 specifically assisted by Donovan Mitchell. Something is working when Mitchell runs the show looking for his sharpshooter outside. We know what Korver’s game is, but his craft is at a point that it still can’t be stopped. The defense knows he wants the corners, the defense knows he curls hard off screens, the defense knows he can flip the wrist in a second flat. Yet despite that knowledge, his eFG% is 58.9, a notch above his career average.

Granted

Many things went right in January with Mitchell performing like a superstar and the defense getting back to stifling quality.  In addition, the schedule lightened up and more games were played with the Jazz in home jerseys. That said, a small key in that run and a connection to any win is when Korver hovers around the perimeter and puts the ball in the hoop.

As the Jazz once tweeted, if only we could all be as good at something as Korver making splash. 

 

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.


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Richardson's late basket lifts Heat over Jazz

John Keeffer , 2019-01-09 22:54:19
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After a week-long road trip that ended in a difficult loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Utah Jazz have officially made it through the first half of the season. While the 20-21 record may not be what many people expected, it may have been the best case scenario given the incredibly difficult first half schedule they had to trudge through to get to game number 42.

It has been well-documented that the Jazz have gone through the hardest schedule in the NBA. Over the course of the first 41 games, they played a league-leading 25 games on the road. From November 9 through December 4, they played 14 consecutive games in a different arena.

Per teamrankings.com, the Utah Jazz have had a strength of schedule (SOS) of 2.0. The second place team in the league is the Houston Rockets at a 1.1. That means that the Jazz have had a schedule that has literally been twice as hard as any team in the league. Over the second half of the season, their SOS will be a -1.0, which will be the second easiest in the league.

Many experts selected the Jazz to be one of the top teams in the west. A few even projected them to finish as high as the No. 2 seed behind the Warriors. Given the high expectations, it makes sense that people would be disappointed in a 20-21 record at the midway point. But an analysis of their record should put that 20-21 in a different light. 

Last year, the Jazz achieved a 31-10 record in their final 41 games. They should be able to make a similar charge this season.

To predict how the Jazz will perform of the second half of the season, I went through the remaining opponents and bucketed them into categories by rough odds of winning. The “near 100%” category are teams the Jazz should beat every time out, followed by teams against whom they should win most of the time (we’ll call this group 75%), teams who are in a similar tier (50%) and elite teams against whom wins are harder to come by (25%).

  • Near 100%: Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Phoenix
  • 75%: Orlando, Detroit, Dallas, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte
  • 50%: LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Minnesota, Portland, San Antonio, Memphis, Sacramento
  • 25%: Denver, Houston, Golden State, Milwaukee, OKC

From there, I factored in whether the game was home or away, if either team will be on a back-to-back and how any previous matchups have gone. Here are teh resulting projections.

When it is all said and done, I have the Jazz finishing with a 29-12 record over the second half of the season, which would have them ending with an impressive 49-33 record on the season. That is definitely a high bar for any team to achieve, but many factors point to the Jazz being able to accomplish this.

The primary reason is a home-heavy schedule. I mentioned earlier that they have played 25 games on the road, verses 16 games at home. Going forward, it will be the exact inverse, with them playing 25 games in the confines of the Vivint SmartHome Arena.

The Jazz’s record is not too different at home versus on the road (8-8 in Salt Lake City, 12-13 elsewhere), but they have been a much better offensive team in Utah. On average, they make five more threes per game, and shoot four percent better from distance. Their overall offensive rating jumps from 104.7 on the road to 111.2 at home. As a reference, an offensive rating off 111.2 overall would have the Jazz slated as the ninth best offense in the league.

If the Jazz can maintain their offensive efficiency at home, while pairing that with their already dominant defense, the wins should start piling up.

There are going to be a few stretches that are crucial to the team’s success. They are actually entering into that first stretch now. Starting Wednesday, Utah will play eight of the next nine games at home. During that time, they will face Orlando, the Lakers (potentially without LeBron James), Chicago and Cleveland. The lone road game will be a tough matchup against the Clippers, and then the most difficult game at home will be against the current leader in the west, the Denver Nuggets.

Due to injuries, it sounds like Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha will be out at least 1-2 weeks. The timing coincides with a home heavy stretch with beatable opponents, so they may have a chance to get through these injuries while pulling their record above .500.

The next stretch to watch is from March 13 through April 5. This is where the Jazz will have a chance to make up some serious ground, and could even secure a spot in the playoffs. They will be facing multiple teams with records below .500, and that close to the end of the season, it’s possible that some of those teams will have little incentive to win.

This stretch also features the longest road trip of the second half of the season, but even that is looking like a cakewalk compared to what the Jazz have gone through. They will play Washington, New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, all projected lottery teams as of right now. There’s a good chance that they go 4-0 on the road here, and if everything pans out, I have them winning 13 games in a row as they near the end of the season.

That could be a tad optimistic, but the most difficult game in that stretch is a home game against the Lakers. James hasn’t won a game in Salt Lake City since 2011.

For those Jazz fans who have suffered through a stressful up-and-down start to the season, your patience is about to be rewarded. The Jazz made it through the most difficult first half to a season in recent memory, and while it wasn’t perfect, they didn’t drown. The second half of the season is going to be much kinder. Barring more health challenges, a win total in the high 40s and a third consecutive playoff berth are still quite possible. I predict a 29-12 finish, which would have them ending at 49-33.

John is a Multimedia Journalism major at Utah’s Weber State University, where he has been a sports reporter for The Signpost. He also has previous writing experience at his own blog, The Wasatch Front, as well as at The J Notes. John moved to Utah at a young age, just in time for the Jazz’s back-to-back Finals runs.


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Clint Johnson , 2019-01-01 20:03:19
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Here’s a trivia gem: of the 30 NBA players who have made 350 or more three-point shots over the past three seasons1, who has the highest shooting percentage from long range?

Stephen Curry? Wrong! He’s actually third on the list at 42.2-percent.

Number two? Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz at 42.7-percent.

The runaway winner at 44.1-percent? Kyle Korver, also of the Utah Jazz.

Wait a minute…

So, the Jazz have TWO players who nail threes more accurately than STEPHEN FREAKING CURRY! That’s as measured over a nearly 200-game sample, which is pretty hard to dismiss. With two such marksmen, how can the Jazz rank only 23rd in the NBA in long-range shooting this year2? It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Over the past several seasons, Kyle Korver has been the league’s most accurate sniper, with Jazz teammate Joe Ingles right behind. With both on the roster, why is Utah ranked only 23rd in the NBA in three-point accuracy? (AP Photo / Craig Mitchelldyer)

The problem isn’t that Utah lacks quality shooters. It’s that they have serious shot distribution problems. Let’s use the celebrated shooting of the Warriors for comparison.

Golden State has four players shooting 37-percent or better from three this season: Curry (44.9-percent), Quinn Cook (43.3), Alfonzo McKinnie (37.7), and Jonas Jerebko (37.5).

The Jazz have four players shooting 37-percent or better as well: Thabo Sefolosha (50-percent), Kyle Korver (40.5), Joe Ingles (38), and Royce O’Neale (37.3).

Yet where the Warrior’s four most accurate shooters are taking nearly 53-percent of their team’s long range attempts, Utah’s four most accurate shooters account for only 38.8-percent of attempts.

That’s better than a 14 percentage point difference, which is massive.

The same dynamic can be found on the three-happy Houston Rockets. Even during a down year, when they rank just above the Jazz in 22nd place in three point accuracy, almost exactly half (49.9-percent actually) of their long-range attempts come from players making 46-percent or better from three.

In painful contrast, most of the Jazz’s three point shots — 62-percent, in fact — come from players shooting between 29- and 34-percent. Giving six out of ten shots to mediocre to poor shooters doesn’t seem the best competitive strategy.

And it isn’t. The problem is, the Jazz have limited options to shift that shot distribution in their favor.

The biggest problem is that good as Korver and Ingles are from long range, neither have the modern NBA cheat code that is the off-the-dribble three. I don’t mean a single dribble with a sidestep for a shot. I mean the ability to initiate the pick and roll or isolate a defender, move fluidly with the ball over multiple dribbles, and then drill the three despite a solid contest by a defender.

Having that type of player, almost always a guard, means a team can get a reasonably efficient look from three nearly any time they want. It isn’t only Curry and Harden, though a photo of each appears in the dictionary under “off-the-dribble shooter” as each chucks 11 or more attempts while shooting well3. Kemba Walker, Paul George, Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, D’Angelo Russell, Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, and even Spencer Dinwiddie all take numerous off-the-dribble attempts from downtown yet are shooting at a 35-percent or better clip.

The Jazz guards’ deficiency in this area is glaring. Ricky Rubio (33.8-percent) and Raul Neto (33.3) are managing only middling percentages on mostly wide open shots. Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell (29.3) and Dante Exum (29.8) are actually shooting worse from long range than Derrick Favors (30.6). Let that sink in.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Utah’s “stretch four,” Jae Crowder, is smack dab in that middling area of accuracy as well, matching Rubio’s 33.8-percent on the season.

Mitchell, Rubio, and Crowder combine for 17 attempted threes per game. That’s exactly half the team’s attempts. Thus far this year, they’re making 5.5, good for a measly 0.97 points per shot.

Meanwhile, Korver and Ingles are making 4.2 threes on only 10.8 attempts, a much richer 1.17 points per shot. But it’s difficult to get them more quality attempts because those shots have to be generated for them by the rest of the offense — which is complicated greatly when opponents simply see no need to check Utah’s guards beyond the three point line. A stretch four with limited stretch-i-ness doesn’t help much either.

The situation is complicated even further by Utah’s utter lack of reputation shooters beyond Korver and Ingles. Sefolosha and O’Neale are both shooting the ball well this season, but even so, how many defenses will panic at a duo who combine to make only a single three a game?

There’s no reason to believe any other player on the roster will blossom into a substantial long distance threat. Even if Mitchell returns to last season’s form, making 34-percent of his threes, that would be unlikely to instill much terror in opponents on its own.

Contrast that with Klay Thompson, shooting 34-percent this year after never being beneath 40-percent from three in his career. Or Eric Gordon, career 37-percent shooter from distance making a piddling 30-percent so far this season. Despite their struggles, these players still exert substantial gravity on defenders. Their rep says the awry shooting is likely to end any moment.

So the Warriors and Rockets will almost certainly improve their long range accuracy as skilled shooters on their rosters find their typical form again. Most Jazz player’s typical form is, well, pretty much what we’ve seen this season.

So is Utah doomed to dwell amongst the NBA’s most shooting inept despite having two of the world’s best shooters on their roster?

There is some cause for hope. Since the Korver trade, Utah has shot a stellar 38.1-percent from three. If carried throughout an entire season, that would be good for fourth in the league.

But smart money is on reversion to the mean, possibly a vicious one. In that same span, look at how well a bevy of Jazz players have shot the long ball: Sefolosha 65-percent; George Niang 55-percent; Crowder 42-percent; Neto 40-percent; O’Neale 39-percent; Rubio 38-percent; even Exum 35-percent.

Utah won’t fall back to the 32.6-percent mire they floundered in to start the season. Korver and Ingles are genuine snipers and will continue to cash in on their ten-odd attempts per game. Plus, the attention they draw will give teammates continued open shots. Some of those will go down.

But the fact is the Jazz have made worse than 30-percent of their threes in 13 of the team’s 37 games this year. They did that only 20 times all last season. Probability says fans should brace for more than another seven such stinkers before the playoffs, which isn’t what you’d expect from a team with the league’s two most accurate shooters.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton , 2018-12-28 09:36:13
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The Utah Jazz entered their nationally-televised home date with the Philadelphia 76ers as a dominant defensive team. But on Thursday night, they hardly looked the part.

Behind a meaty 23-and-14 from Joel Embiid, 24 points from sharpshooter JJ Redick, and a triple double from sophomore1 star Ben Simmons, the Sixers absolutely confounded Utah’s vaunted defense. Those three led a balanced attack that exploded in the middle quarters: Philly outscored its host 73-50 in the second and third on their way to a 114-97 win in Salt Lake City. With the victory, the Sixers also claimed the season series sweep, having edged the Jazz when the teams met on Broad Street in November.

Utah entered the game on an amazing defensive tear. Prior to hosting Embiid and Simmons, the Jazz had played seven straight games (and nine of 11) with a defensive rating that was better than the best defense in the league. They led the league in opponent points per 100 possessions for the first 26 days of December by a wide margin; in fact, the gap between Utah’s 96.9 for that period and the next closest team2 was wider than the gap between the second and eighth best December defenses.

In a single evening against Philly, the Jazz gave almost that entire cushion up.

Utah’s defense allowed the Sixers to score 1.46 points per possession in the second quarter and 1.41 in the third.

The Jazz had opened up a 7-point lead entering the second quarter, but that’s where things started to go awry for Quin Snyder’s club. The Jazz D looked mostly helpless as Philly opened the quarter by scoring on nine of their first 10 possessions. The resulted in a 21-14 surge — including eight from Embiid and seven that Redick scored on and-1 plays — that brought Philly even at 43-43.

The next big Philly run started just before halftime. With the score knotted at 50 and less than 90 seconds to play before the break, the Sixers got buckets on each of their final three offensive trips. The Jazz did force four empty possessions to start the third quarter3, but weren’t able to take advantage, going 0-for-3 with a pair of turnovers of their own. And that’s when Philly got back to scoring.

Over the final 10 minutes of the third quarter, Philadelphia had 20 offense possessions and scored an astounding 38 points. 

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown obviously came to town with an astute plan to create fissures in Utah’s elite defense. The idea involved getting Jazz big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors to defense in space, and force Utah’s guards and wings to guard multiple actions. The Jazz often struggle to defend “re-screens,” plays where a big sets a pick for the ball handler and then flips it and sets a screen for the guy to go back in the other direction. The Sixers exploited that weakness.

That’s a relatively simple play on paper: just a drag screen with a dribble hand-off to TJ McConnell’s left, and then when Dante Exum cuts him off by getting through the screen, they set a pick going back to his right. But it gets complicated because the Jazz have different defensive rules for different types of screens. The on-ball defender, the screener’s man, and the three help defenders all have different roles for a perimeter screen to the outside (the first screen) than they do on pick-and-roll farther in for a player going toward the middle. Philly is betting here that if they re-screen, someone on the Jazz will get confused about their role on a play or simply be too far behind their man to impact the play. 

Re-screens for guards frequently discombobulate Utah’s defense because they require bigs to alternate between defensive styles within a split second. Favors and Exum both do a good job on the initial action. Favors gives Exum room to squeeze through so that the latter can cut off the ball. But on the re-screen, Exum is supposed to go over. He makes the correct read here, but it’s a tough angle for him to go over when he was already lower than the level of the screen, and when he gets hung up on the pick, Favors is too far back to bother McConnell’s shot.

And then there were plays like this where Philly sought to stretch out Utah’s bigs.

It’s not very common to see Gobert confused on a defensive play. But the Sixers complicate his job by throwing two simultaneous screens at him that he has to read and navigate. There’s a cross-screen for Embiid to attack the lane, and a pindown for Embiid to pop to the outside. Gobert is more worried about the former, so he hurries to cut off the paint, biting hard on the decoy and leaving Embiid free to waltz into a perimeter shot.

This play works because of a combination of special talent and smart clipboard work. Embiid’s combination of size and skill require a lot of attention from big men who aren’t used to making decisions out in space, much less guarding pindowns. And when you pair those elite tools with a smart play design that makes Gobert unsure exactly what he’s guarding, it’s too easy for Embiid to get comfortable.

Philadelphia also attacked in transition, and rebounded five of their own misses during that stretch. 

The craziest part about that stretch is that the Jazz were scoring plenty themselves. They piled on 27 points during those 10 minutes, and they did so on 50 percent shooting, 5-for-8 from three, and 8-for-10 from the line. But even that wasn’t enough to keep up with a team that was simply red hot. 

In fact, Utah had several strong offensive performances. Donovan Mitchell surpassed his season average with 23, and Gobert added 17 (on just nine shots) to go with 15 boards, five assists and two steals. Exum had his best scoring night of the season, racking up 20 points in his second career game against Simmons, a fellow Aussie and personal friend.

Kyle Korver added 11, albeit somewhat inefficiently: he made just two of seven 3-point attempts. And outside of Mitchell and Gobert, most of Utah’s main guys struggled. Joe Ingles shot 4-for-12 from the field, Favors made just a single bucket on his way to four points, and Jae Crowder came off the bench to make just one of four attempts. But the player who most felt the funk on offense on Thursday was starting guard Ricky Rubio, who shot 1-for-10.

But Utah really didn’t lose the game at that end. For two quarters, the Sixers simply had too easy a time scoring points. That’s atypical for Jazz opponents — especially lately — and Utah will have a chance to get its defense back on track on Saturday, when the Knicks make their lone visit of the year to the Salt Lake Valley.

 

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton


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Trade Season Preview: Utah’s Assets & Who Can Be Traded When

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With December 15 almost here, the NBA trade season is about to start in earnest. That is, except for teams like the Jazz, Bucks and Sixers, who have already taken bites at the proverbial apple.

Those three teams didn’t wait for mid December to make impact acquisitions on the trade market, functioning as the primary buyers in the three swaps that have been consummated since the start of the regular season. Philly added star wing Jimmy Butler,  while Utah and Milwaukee added rotation-quality vets in Kyle Korver and George Hill, respectively.

But for the rest of the league, options are about to open up. Roughly 20 percent of the league’s players will go from being off limits to tradeable this Saturday, and dozens more will have restrictions lifted in the weeks to follow. Basically, the menu is about to open up for teams looking for ways to improve their rosters.

Normally at this point of the year, I unveil my trade likelihood rankings for the Jazz. But with the team having just acquired Korver, that might prove to be the move for now. GM Dennis Lindsey will still answer his phone and pounce on any perfect opportunities that come up, but most of the club’s remaining pieces that have trade value are guys they still believe in. And since Lindsey has intentionally set the Jazz up with flexibility for the 2019 offseason, it seems unlikely that he’d OK any deal that eats into that spending power in a major way. Unless someone they would target next summer somehow comes available, the Jazz are likely looking for deals around the margin — if anything.

But there’s still plenty to discuss as it relates to trade season. So here’s your primer on who’s coming available shortly, what the Jazz have to work with, and educated guesses as to which Jazzmen are more or less likely to come up in conversations.

Can be traded starting 12/15

On the Market

There are 84 players who can’t currently be traded, but who become fair game this weekend. For a full list of these players, expand the graphic to the right. The Jazz have one player on this list.

Most of these guys can be traded without any restriction starting on Saturday, but for 19 of them, they will have the right to veto trades — called an implicit no trade clause — after their general trade restriction lifts.

Can be traded starting 1/15

Another 19 NBA players are still off the market until January 15, though. This is because these players received big raises using their Bird rights. Again, the full list is on the right; click to expand. Utah’s Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Raul Neto are all on this list because of their July contracts.

One of these players — Zach LaVine — can veto trades after January 15 because his offer sheet was matched by the Bulls.

Ten others have somewhat random dates when they can be traded. This is mostly because they signed their free agent deals later in free agency, so their

Can be traded starting other dates

clock started later than the other players. In Kevin Love’s case, it’s because he signed an extension that exceeded the limit of extend-and-trade transactions, so he can’t be traded for six months from that July 24 agreement. One player in this group — Dwyane Wade — will have veto power on trades.

And there are some players who have other restrictions altogether. Seven have restrictions that extend beyond the February 7 trade deadline, so they can’t be traded until after the season (if at all). Eight recently traded players, including Korver, can’t be moved if a deal requires their salaries to be aggregated with other

Other restrictions

players1. And five players can be traded anytime, but because of pending rookie extensions, it would be extremely hard to work out the math on a potential trade.

OK, now you know who’s on and off the table.

Utah’s Goals

The Jazz like their roster and their near-term flexibility enough that they may leave well enough alone, having already acquired Korver in late November.

The club has long been rumored to be after some additional help from a big scoring wing — someone who can defend multiple positions and take some pressure off of burgeoning star Donovan Mitchell. Many expect them to target the likes of Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris or Klay Thompson when those three hit free agency next summer, and Otto Porter is a player in a similar mold who some think could made available by the front office of the underperforming Wizards.

If anybody on the Jazz’s wish list showed up on the trade block, I could see them trying to mobilize. Sure, they’d have to give up assets, but they’d get the inside lane on retaining the player, since they’d acquire the rights to re-sign the guy regardless of cost. Either way, they’d have to surrender some of their current roster to add a player of that caliber. Signing somebody this summer would require some cap gymnastics — cutting ties to free agents and/or non-guaranteed contracts. So you either surrender those assets now via trade or in July to carve out cap space. 

But let’s be honest: it’s unlikely any of those four become available. Thompson is an All-Star player on a title contender, Middleton is co-leading potentially the second-best team in the East, and Harris’ Clippers are unexpectedly in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Even Washington is normalizing a bit, making a fire sale for Porter or other Wizards seem less imminent.

So a move for an impact player is not very likely between now and the February 7 trade deadline. And that’s fine, as Utah seems to really like its core guys. They do have a combination of favorable contracts, though, if the right role player hits the market.

Assets

The main problem with Utah’s assets is this: in most cases, they like their guys as basketball players too much.

For example, Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are their best trade chips — and also almost completely untouchable. Joe Ingles is a huge part of their success. Ricky Rubio has embraced the team culture. Derrick Favors, while considered by positionally superfluous by some, is playing well and is now the longest-tenured Jazzman. Who do you trade when you like all of your guys?

Let’s take a look at the Jazz’s trade pieces, broken into categories.

Non-player assets. The most significant thing the Jazz have here are draft picks. The Jazz own all of their own firsts for the next seven years2, and they also have an extra second coming from San Antonio in 20223 and rights to swap seconds with Cleveland in 20244. They do, however, owe their 2020 second-rounder to Cleveland5.

They also own three small traded player exceptions (TPEs) — essentially leftover amounts from when they traded Alec Burks, Joe Johnson and Rodney Hood that they can now use to absorb a player. Their three exceptions are in the amount of $3.98M, $3.71M and $2.39M, and they can accept players that make up to $100K over those amounts.

But these will be hard to use. You can’t bundle those exceptions to acquire a $10 million player, and you also can’t combine them with other assets. They can only be used to acquire a player (or players) who fit into a single exception, and the list of desirable players making more than the minimum6 but less than $4.1M is very small. That number shrinks further when you start scratching off players whose teams wouldn’t want to simply give them away in a trade.

Which is why most smaller TPEs expire unused. The Jazz’s $3.98M TPE will be good for another 11.5 months, while the other two effectively expire at the trade deadline.

Untouchables. Mitchell and Gobert are off the bargaining table. Unless something dramatic changes about those relationships — like a messy, public trade demand — Utah won’t even consider talking about those two in trade discussions.

Not untouchable per se, but not going anywhere. Ingles is an underrated part of the Jazz’s success, someone who’s likely more valuable to the Jazz in basketball terms than he’d be as a trade chip. He’s responsible for a huge chunk of the offensive creation, often guards the opponents’ best wings, and is the Jazz’s best volume 3-point shooter. I’d be shocked if he were dealt.

Royce O’Neale falls into this category for a similar reason. He’s having a disappointing sophomore season, but when you have a player who can impact games defensively like he does on a minimum contract, you keep him. And because Utah smartly inked him to a deal that can go as long as three years, they’ll also have full matching rights if it looks by 2020 as though he’s an important part of their plans.

Limited value on their own. Outside of O’Neale, Utah’s other low-cost depth guys probably don’t have the asset juice to be at the center of any trade package. If any of Raul Neto, Georges Niang or Tony Bradley get moved, it’s probably as an add-on to a deal.

The same is probably true of Grayson Allen, although he has more promise than the three mentioned above. His salary just doesn’t add a lot of juice to a deal, so it’s still unlikely he’d be moved on his own.

Expiring salary. Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh are both smart veterans on modest expiring contracts. They don’t have a ton of trade value, but their combination of savvy play and ending deals could entice a team that needs to get off some small contracts as they prepare for 2019. Utah likes what both guys offer when they make it onto the court, but each is the third guy at his respective position, so it’s certainly worth exploring if the Jazz could parlay their expiring contracts into an interesting project or a guy who can contribute more.

The pieces. Five players remain who we haven’t talked about yet. And let be crystal clear about this: the Jazz like all of them! This is in no way a list of guys that should be viewed as expendable of on the block. But if an opportunity arises to add a quasi-star, starter or even a sixth man type, it’s likely going to cost Utah one of these pieces.

Korver is the least likely in this group to be traded, but he’s an asset. A lot of teams were sniffing around the sharpshooter before Utah snagged him from Cleveland. If Lindsey decided to flip him, he’d have some options. But what complicated things is that his salary can’t be combined with others’ in a trade until after January 29.

Believe what you will about Dante Exum’s recent struggle to find consistent minutes, but I still hear a constant hum of reassurance that the Jazz are believers. He’s currently working through some of the growing pains and inconsistencies that he might have gotten through earlier in his career if not for the injuries, but if Exum gets anywhere near his ceiling, that could really transform the Jazz. Because of that, the Jazz will hold on if they can — but I left him in this section because if a difference-maker becomes available, the Jazz might have to weigh including their Aussie prospect to beat other offers.

Jae Crowder still has a season and a half left on one of the NBA’s bargain contracts. It would look even sweeter if he started to return to career norms for shooting, but Crowder is a known commodity. It’s not often you find guys in the fringe starter/sixth man tier making that amount of money. He could be a chip, but on the flip side, he embodies a lot of Jazz values and seems to be a big part of the positive locker-room culture.

Same goes for Rubio. We all know what the liabilities are there, but the Jazz love his leadership and attitude. And when the Spanish Samurai is playing well, Utah hits another level as a team. That said, if the Jazz need to assemble salary and talent to go get a guy on their wish list, Rubio’s nearly $15 million expiring contract makes him a candidate. 

And that brings us to Fav. He must be tired of reading his name in this context, but the reality is that once again he heads into trade season with a combination of basketball value and contract favorability that will result in trade mentions. Like Rubio, he’s one of the few touchable Jazzmen with a salary that helps Utah piece together enough outgoing money to add a player in the $20M range (like Porter/Harris), which means he’ll wind up in a lot of fake trade machine deals. Include him in imaginary trades at your own risk, though; the reality is that he has continually saved the Jazz’s bacon7, and the starting lineup with Favors and Gobert is back to being really good overall.

So… Will the Jazz Make a Major Deal?

In the last 18 months, Utah has acquired Korver, Crowder, Rubio, Bradley and some guy named Spida via trade. They have been very active on the trade front.

Lindsey has proven shrewd in this area. He hasn’t won every individual deal he’s ever made, but taken on the aggregate, his deals have allowed him to shape the roster with players who fit the culture and identity of the team while keeping options open to add another borderline star.

If given a chance to pounce, he may finally move his chips in and go after one of those guys he covets. Otherwise, he’ll keep his powder dry for 2019 while looking for smaller moves that improve the rotation around the margins. Don’t be surprised if the next two months feature only minor roster tweaks — or none at all.

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton


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Clint Johnson

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When a team respected as an ascending contender sits at 11-13 with nearly a third of the regular season done, as the Utah Jazz do now, something has gone really wrong. Likely more than one something.

There is no arguing the the Jazz offense has been a major disappointment. Opinions on how worrisome this should be run the gamut from nothing to hyperventilate about (ESPN’s Zach Lowe) to this better improve quickly (Sports Illustrated’s Kaelen Jones) to this is consequence of a fundamental identity crisis (The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti).

Much of the explanation for the struggles has gone to Utah’s sporadic shooting from long range. With good reason. Only 10 NBA squads take threes with greater frequency than the Jazz, yet only three teams in the league — the Thunder, Hawks, and Wizards — make a lower percentage than Utah’s 32.6 percent. 

It’s a bad combination, particularly in an era that prioritizes and, through the rules, privileges spacing. 

Yet shooting isn’t the Jazz’s biggest offensive problem, and wasn’t even prior to the unexpected trade for Kyle Korver.

I’ve been writing for several weeks now that, realistically, the Jazz need two ball handlers to score efficiently as well as two shooters to hit threes at a good volume and clip for the offense to work.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the first component is the most lacking.

Utah certainly gets better shooting in the games they win. In victories, Utah’s top two shooters in any particular game1 have thus far cashed in nearly one additional triple despite taking one fewer attempt from three than in losses. Those three additional points and an extra possession would have been enough for victory in Miami.

But scoring, or the lack of it, by Utah’s ball handlers has been far more decisive than three-point shooting in determining the outcome of games this year.

Consider that in losses, whichever of Mitchell, Rubio and Ingles2 is Utah’s most efficient scorer with the ball in his hands has produced 21.6 points on 17 shots. In wins, the points produced by whoever is the best of those three jumps to 26.5 points on 18.6 shots. 

That five-point difference is huge — but perhaps not as huge as the difference in performances by the team’s secondary shot creator.

In victories this season, the Jazz have gotten highly efficient scoring from a ball handler who is not their primary shot creator: 16.6 points on 10.8 field goal attempts. This has typically been Ingles or Burks backing up Mitchell, or on several occasions Mitchell bolstering a Rubio explosion.  When the team has two players who can take the ball in hand and score efficiently, the offense hums.

What is the secondary ball handler averaging in losses? 12.2 points on 12.2 shots. That’s a drop from 1.54 points per shot to a single point per shot. 

Put together, the picture becomes glaringly obvious. 

In victories, a ball-handling duo has carved up Jazz opponents to the tune of 43.1 points on 29.4 shots (1.47 points per shot). In losses, that plummets to 33.8 points on 29.2 shots (1.16). That’s a ginormous difference of more than nine points on practically identical shots. 

Scoring from a second ball handler is the key to the offense, and maybe the Jazz’s season. The team has already lost three contests where one guy showed up large but a secondary compatriot didn’t3.

Mitchell simply needs more help more consistently in his ball-dominant role.  

Ironically, trading Burks for Korver may actually exacerbate this fundamental problem with Utah’s offense. Burks was the only Jazz player beside Mitchell who could routinely get to the rim and finish there, which is absolutely essential for Utah’s pick-and-roll predicated offense.

The team knows what it’s going to get from Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors: super-efficient shooting on limited possessions. Even in losses those two are shooting 64 and 54-percent from the field, respectively. The problem is they only combine for 15 to 16 attempts from the field most games.

That leaves nearly 70 shots the rest of the team has to take.

When Jazz ball handlers are punishing defenses with their scoring, that inhibits defenses from dropping defenders as readily into the path of bigs rolling to the hoop. That means more attempts at the rim for bigs, and more quality shots for Jazz bigs is always good for this offense. Moreover, when the men with the ball are putting up points, it takes a huge burden of Utah’s spot-up shooters.

Remember, Utah’s two highest scoring games this season (133 and 132, both victories) were on nights when then team shot 33 and 31-percent from long range respectively. This offense doesn’t require a barrage of threes to work well. It does require players producing points when they initiate the pick and roll.

Three-point shooting is vital in today’s NBA, but the Jazz offense doesn’t catalyze off shooting like Portland or Golden State. Everything in Utah’s offense starts when a player comes off a pick and a big rolls to the hoop. With Ingles and Korver on the roster, the Jazz realistically can rely on two of the very best shooters in the entire world — yet neither have the revolutionary off-the-dribble three of Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard. They need other players to earn enough defensive attention to get them good looks.

The Jazz won’t often win without being able to repeatedly put the ball into a few players’ hands who they can trust to score efficiently. Not create shots for others, as Jazz ball-dominant duos dish only one more assist in wins than losses this year. This team needs points from the point of attack.

For defenses, the answer has become fairly simple: make Mitchell score on jumpers off the dribble, make Rubio score in volume from anywhere on the court, and make Ingles score off the dribble. Chances are pretty good that two out of the three won’t happen the same night, at least not at a high enough volume, in which case the Jazz probably lose.

Can Mitchell do his work largely off of jumpers? If he’s shooting off the catch, absolutely. He’s a good catch-and-shoot shooter who hasn’t had much opportunity to prove it given the on-ball burden he’s carried. Moreover, he’s a blur to the rim off cuts and hard close outs. But again, these opportunities require someone else handling the ball well enough, and menacingly enough in a defense’s eyes, to draw attention away from Utah’s clear top option.

The situation is clear. If Donovan Mitchell is the only Jazz player who concerns defenses with the ball in his hands, this offense will struggle.

Rubio fueled the Jazz’s stunning run up the standings late last season with an uncharacteristic months-long burst of offensive competency. This year he’s been mercurial, never good enough for long enough stretches to really make defenses worry.

Ingles has already matched his career high in scoring twice this year, but he’s still only averaging 12.5 points and just over 10 field goal attempts per game. 

If one of those two doesn’t emerge as second high-ish usage scorer for the Jazz, it’s hard to see where needed help may come from. Dante Exum can get to the rim when he wants against just about anyone, but he isn’t finishing those shots frequently enough. It would require a major leap in both productivity and consistency for him to even garner mention as an option to fill this need.

Nope, it will be Ricky or Joe or no one.

Hopefully, Korver’s presence will inject some vigor in Jazz shooters, giving everyone a bit more space to work. 

Hopefully, Mitchell will stay healthy and gain comfort as Utah’s offensive alpha and omega, lessening pressure on everyone else.

Hopefully, when the schedule eventually turns away from what has been a months-long road trip, Utah will feast on easier competition.

But the single biggest question for the rest of the season is whether Quin Snyder will be able to look to either of his starting smalls not named Mitchell and say, “You’ve gotta get us some baskets.”   

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

Clint Johnson


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