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Mike Conley talks to referee (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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New Rotation, Shooting Bolsters Jazz Past Grizzlies

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz finally found their stride in Orlando after a difficult three-game stretch to resume the NBA season. The Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies 124-115 behind hot shooting and a new rotation in the Jazz backcourt. Despite winning their season reopener, the Jazz had struggled for nearly all of the past three games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Lakers.

Through the first 12 quarters of play from the Jazz, the team failed miserably to connect on open shots, while the bench has struggled to contribute outside of a few spurts from Jordan Clarkson. My theory is both issues are related to the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic. Without their best three-point shooter, the Jazz struggle to knock down shots (duh), but furthermore, coach Quin Snyder is asked to dive deeper into his rotation that usual.

That has led to more minutes from a player like Emmanuel Mudiay alongside fellow Jazz reserves that were usually occupied by the top eight players inside the Jazz rotation.

Here’s the thing, I think Mudiay is a good player. And like every other NBA player, the better talent he plays with, the better he looks. That’s why he’s had mostly positive minutes for the Jazz this season in a spot role. However, without Bogdanovic, Mudiay is now surrounded by a less talented overall lineup. That means more defensive attention not just on him, but on Georges Niang, Tony Bradley, and Clarkson in the second unit. As a result, the second unit struggled through three games, plus the first quarter against Memphis before Snyder changed his lineup.

Rotation Changes

Snyder supplanted Mudiay in the rotation with Rayjon Tucker, who has been out of the Jazz rotation for the most part since Mike Conley returned in late January. Tucker is a mega athletic rookie who shows flashes defensively but has struggled offensive to contribute outside of a few highlight dunks. Like most G League callups, Tucker has tried to replicate the offensive role he had with the Milwaukee Herd which just doesn’t work at the NBA level.

Snyder tried using Tucker heavily during the three scrimmages in Orlando but abandoned the plan over the last three seeding games with the rookie recording only five minutes in the loss to the Thunder. Though Tucker played just six minutes against the Grizzlies, the rookie appeared to show a better grasp of his role within the Jazz offense. Instead of taking low percentage threes (all threes for Tucker have been low percentage this year as he is 0-6 on the season) Tucker attacked defenders on close-outs, compressed the defense, and kicked out to open shooters.

The rookie has a strong frame and quick feet which allows him to defend multiple positions, especially against the smaller Thunder roster.

“I think his versatility as a defender is something that can help us,” Snyder said. We’ve got a lot of guys that have the capability of doing that. It’s an opportunity to get guys in the game.”

The side effect, and maybe the most important detail of having Tucker replace Mudiay is that the ball is now forced to stay in the capable hands Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Clarkson, or Conley to run the offense. Each of those four guards is capable of running the Jazz offense and can handle additional defensive pressure.

It’s a small adjustment, but work keeping an eye when the Jazz face the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

Shooting Finally Turns in Jazz Favor

The Jazz have been the worst three-point shooting team in Orlando through three games, having knocked down just 28-108 attempts from deep. That changed against the Grizzlies, and it was the main reason the Jazz won the game.

Not only did the Jazz knock down 40 percent of their three-point attempts, but they also took a staggering 45 shots from downtown. In fact, 53 percent of the Jazz shot attempts came from downtown against the Grizzlies, with 18 overall makes.

“Coach [Snyder] the whole time has told us to keep shooting,” Ingles said. “We knew the shots we’ve been taking were good shots. I don’t think we’re a team that really takes bad shots, so we were aggressive.”

The Jazz starters, Conley, Mitchell, Ingles, and Royce O’Neale combined to connect on 16-34 threes during the game, led by Ingles six makes. The Jazz are 21-5 this season when making 15 or more threes in a game, and they simply can’t make that many threes if they aren’t attempting a high number.

Without Bogdanovic, the Jazz are going to be a less potent three-point shooting team on average, but they can’t avoid taking good looks.

Clarkson and Niang still struggled to shoot from deep, combining to hit just 2-9 three-point shots on the game. Niang is now just 2-18 in Orlando good for 11 percent. Meanwhile, Clarkson moved to 5-26 for 19 percent. Still, the Jazz need the two reserve shooters to continue to look for their shot, hoping they can return to their more productive season averages.

Mike Conley Flourishing

For the many lows the Jazz have experienced in Orlando through four games, Conley has been a consistent bright spot. The Jazz guard followed his 24 point, eight assist performance against the Lakers with a 23 point, seven assists outing versus the Grizzlies.

Though Conley never seemed to dominate any one stretch of the game, he consistently knocked down shots, executed the offense, and provided the Jazz with a steady hand. Snyder said one of Conley’s biggest contributions during his recent excellence is his leadership.

“Leadership would probably be something that I would put at or near the top of the list,” Snyder said of Conley’s contributions. “And in order to lead, you have to find a comfort level, and I think that’s happened with him.”

Conley struggled early in the season with Utah to find his shot before a hamstring injury held him out through most of December and January. The veteran guard has now scored in double-digits in 11 straight games, 18 of his last 19, and has scored 20 or more in three of the four games played in Orlando.

“I’m really just starting to have fun with it,” Conley said of his recent play. “I know exactly what’s being asked of me. I think is fairly clear. I’ve had this whole year to learn, I’ve had time off to adjust and prepare myself and now just go out there and play the game I’ve always played.”

The Jazz now turn their attention to the surprisingly dangerous San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are 2-2 in the bubble but have proved to be a tough opponent in each of their four games. The two teams face off Friday at 11:30 am MT.

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