Are The Jazz Great, Or Are The Kings Simply Awful?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After snaking a 10 game win streak in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Thursday night, the Utah Jazz bounced back with one of their most thorough wins of the season over the Sacramento Kings 123-101.
There’s been some debate about the Utah Jazz recent 10 game win streak which ended against the New Orleans Pelicans about whether the Jazz are playing like the best team in the NBA or if they’re simply beating up on the bottom half of the NBA the way any good teams would.
Unfortunately, the Kings didn’t do anything to help those doubters determine the true level of play from the Jazz over the last month and a half. They did, however, provide a clinic on the difference between how good teams play and why bad teams struggle.
Over the first 5:25 of the game, the Kings repeatedly struggled to defend the Jazz pick and roll, whether it was Nemanja Bjelica or Marvin Bagley III, both players allowed Rudy Gobert to roll to the rim and simply out-physical them for easy baskets at the rim. Gobert had 10 first-quarter points after repeatedly abusing the Kings miserable defense.
The play below is a good example.
Rudy's got 10 points early
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 19, 2020
The first problem here for the Kings is that Bjelica is matched up with Joe Ingles. No, Ingles isn’t the fastest player on the Jazz, but he’s one of the team’s best creators and smart enough off the dribble to abuse any opposing defender, much less one as slow of foot as Bjelica. Buddy Hield who is guarding Royce O’Neale in the corner here should have found Ingles on the defensive end. Mind you this is off a made Kings basket, this should be a case of Sacramento getting lost in matchups in transition defense.
It’s not just bad basketball, it’s wrong.
Then, Bjelica and Bagley simply don’t communicate on what they’re trying to accomplish when defending Gobert and Ingles.
Pause again. The Ingles and Gobert pick and roll has been THE staple of the Jazz offense over the past 45 days that has made them the best offense in the NBA. Not having a set gameplan going into the night on how they were going to defend this exact play which the Jazz run over and over is perplexing.
Bjelica appears to be willing to go under the screen against Ingles who is shooting 51 percent from the floor over his last 20 games for the Jazz. Again, it’s not bad basketball, it’s wrong.
If the plan for Bjelica to switch onto Gobert, Bagley didn’t get the memo and seemed prepared to play drop big defense rather then rotating up to Ingles to cut off the three-point shot. By the time Ingles decided to make the lob pass to Gobert, neither Bjelica or Bagley are within three feet of either Ingles or Gobert and the result is an easy rever alley-oop for the Jazz center to extend the lead to 11 points just 4:48 into the first quarter.
Kings coach Luke Walton was aware of the defensive issues in the first quarter.
“We changed our coverage up a little bit to try to deal with that pick and roll with Gobert,” Walton said, “and maybe that confused us.”
Now, part of the reason the Jazz can run this play is because of the quality of players on the roster. Looking at the spacing on the floor, Bogdanovic is on the short corner, one pass away from Ingles and shoots 41 percent from three. In the weakside corner is O’Neale who shoots 45 percent from three.
Spacing the floor above the break is Donovan Mitchell, currently lined up at point guard, who is begin guarded by Harrison Barnes, currently lined up at small forward, for some reason. Mitchell shoots 36 percent from the floor and more specifically 38 percent from that spot.
Gobert was second in the NBA in made dunks this season going into the game against the Kings.
Admittedly, that’s a tough lineup to defend and still the Kings found maybe the approach to doing it.
So while the Jazz may have yet to prove in their recent string that they can play this way against the top teams in the NBA, it’s clearly they’re dismantling the worst teams in the NBA.
While the Jazz have been the best three-point shooting team in the NBA this season, they still look inside to Gobert for dunks to get their most efficient offense, and they were successful in doing that against Sacramento to open the game.
Gobert had 10 of the first 21 Jazz points, causing an already bad Kings defense to defend the paint more quickly, opening up the perimeter for best shooting team in the league. In total, the Jazz scored on each of their first 10 possessions to open the game.
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) January 19, 2020
The Jazz responded to the Kings collapsing defense by finding open shooters and knocking down three three-pointers in the final 6:35 of the first quarter to lead 38-22 after 12 minutes.
After Gobert’s quick start, Bogdanovic was the catalyst for the Jazz defense, scoring 21 first-half points on 7-8 shooting including 3-4 from deep to secure a 63-49 lead at the half.
— Sam Farnsworth (@SFarnsworthKSL) January 19, 2020
Mike Conley rejoined the Jazz lineup, coming off the bench for reserve guard minutes. Conley had missed 14 straight games for the Jazz, and 19 of 20 overall with a strained hamstring. Despite a quiet night that saw the 13-year veteran finish contribute three points and three assists, the Jazz were 10 points better than the Kings when Conley was on the floor.
“Mike is as much a part of our ground and kind of the identity that we have built,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “Even though he has been out for a bit, that is who he is.”
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) January 19, 2020
In total, five Jazz players finished the night scoring in double-digits. Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 30 points, his ninth such outing this season. Gobert scored a season-high 28 points, Mitchell added 22 and Jordan Clarkson added 20 off the bench. Georges Niang was the Jazz fifth double-digit scorer, finishing with 10 points.
After the Jazz built a 26-15 lead with 5:18 left in the first quarter, the Kings never trimmed the lead to fewer than 11 points over the final 41:18 of the game, providing the team one of the most comfortable wins of the season.
The Big Picture
Despite the win, the Jazz found themselves in the fourth seed in the Western Conference behind the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers, with a record of 29-13. Though this was an easy win for the Jazz, it’s not hard to imagine every team in the West looking back at one or two bad losses against teams they should beat at the end of the year and regretting how it impacted their final standings. Currently, the Jazz are 24-3 against teams below .500, so those bad losses have been uncommon so far this season.
The win over the Kings marked the end of the Jazz long stretch of games against sub .500 teams in the NBA. 11 of the Jazz next 14 games are against teams with above .500 records and every team that finishes above .500 this year will make the playoffs.
While the recent stretch of 16 wins in 18 outings will do wonders for the Jazz when it comes to playoff positioning, the next 14 games will be a strong indicator of how good the team actually is against the league’s better opponents.
With Conley’s return to the lineup, Emmanuel Mudiay was relegated to third-string point guard minutes and didn’t see the floor until the final 3:18 of the game. Rayjon Tucker who had been getting a short stint in the first half of games since his signing in late December was also held out until the final minutes of the blowout.
It will be worth monitoring if Mudiay makes it back into the rotation once Conley moves back into the starting lineup. Clarkson is a spectacular scorer off the bench and a better than advertised passer but seems to flourish attacking off the ball, which may reopen a spot for Mudiay as the backup point guard.
The Jazz host the Indiana Pacers Monday night.
Utah Jazz Scoreboard
Utah Jazz Team Leaders
Utah Jazz Standings