Three Under The Radar Questions Before Jazz Host Grizzlies

May 22, 2021, 2:39 PM | Updated: 2:40 pm
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies defend Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Ja...
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies defend Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz found out late Friday night they’d be hosting the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the playoffs.

Considering they entered the week with the potential to face the Los Angeles Lakers or the Golden State Warriors to begin the playoffs, the Jazz have to be thrilled that owning the top seed in the West bared out a matchup against the talented but inexperienced Grizzlies.

While all eyes will be on the backcourt matchup between the Jazz Donovan Mitchell and Ja Morant, let’s look at three questions that come in under the radar before Sunday’s game one.

Jazz And Grizzlies Backup Centers:

The backup center was a major point of contention last year in the playoffs for the Jazz as any non-Rudy Gobert minutes were a roller coaster ride against the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz tried both Tony Bradley and Juwan Morgan to varying success but decided in the offseason they needed to invest in a more proven option.

When free agency opened, the Jazz signed Derrick Favors to a three-year, $30 million deal specifically for his ability to relieve Gobert in high-leverage games. However, the results were mixed.

Favors was the only Jazz player who didn’t end the season with a triple-digit plus-minus, coming in at just +37 over 68 games played, the next closest was Donovan Mitchell who was +287 in just 53 games.

Now, there are a few reasons for that. First, Favors played the fewest minutes of any rotation player this season, though the gap between him and other rotation players isn’t enough to account for the Jazz drop in play while he was on the floor.

The most obvious reason Favors didn’t have a better season was that he played the fewest minutes with Gobert who was the league-leader in plus-minus by a significant margin. While every other Jazz player fed off of Gobert’s enormous impact, Favors was left to clean up the minutes when he was off the floor.

On the flip side, the Jazz will be preparing for two players they’ve seen very little of this season in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman. Jackson Jr. didn’t play in any of the teams’ three matchups this season while Tillman played a total of 22 minutes in two meetings against the Jazz.

In the Grizzlies’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday, Jackson Jr. and Tillman played 38 combined minutes and accounted for 21 points in an overtime game.

Memphis and the Jazz have similar substitution patterns with their starting centers, as both Gobert and Jonas Valanciunas start games, sub out early in the first quarter, return late in the first, then repeat the process in the second quarter, and second half.

Despite Valanciunas having a spectacular under-the-radar year, Gobert was +47 in three games against the Grizzlies this season. But, when Favors was on the floor, the Jazz were -14.

Assuming both Gobert and Valanciunas will play extended minutes in the series, especially if the games are close, the number of Favors’ minutes with the second unit will be reduced. However, if Memphis can manage to limit the leads the Jazz can build when Gobert is on the floor, Favors’ minutes will be crucial in deciding the outcome of the series.

Who Will Jazz Fans Dislike More – Brooks Or Allen:

Perhaps no player got under Jazz fans’ skin more this year than Dillon Brooks who was rather animated in the Grizzlies’ back-to-back road losses in Utah in March. Brooks matched up against Donovan Mitchell, allowing the All-Star to score 35 points in both outings, but continued to chirp in both meetings.

While Brooks was a rock in the shoe of the Jazz, Grayson Allen might be the most disliked player across the entire NBA. The former Jazzman entered the league with a reputation as a dirty player having had several high-profile tripping incidents while at Duke.

Allen has faced the Jazz five times since being dealt to Memphis after his rookie season and has yet to have any negative run-ins, but none of the meetings have had the same implications as these playoffs.

Brooks will enter the series with a target on his back after earning a reputation as a stopper against Steph Curry in the play-in tournament, while Jazz fans might have a soft spot for Allen.

However, don’t be surprised if that changes when Allen inevitably has a dustup with a Jazz player (watch his matchup with Mitchell) in the first half of game one.

Brooks will be the more high-profile player in the series and for good reason, but don’t be surprised if Allen leaves the series as the villain.

Gobert’s Legacy:

It’s difficult to stay Gobert’s legacy is an under-the-radar element of the series as the false narrative that he’s been played off the floor has somehow permeated the NBA subconscious.

However, Jazz fans need to prepare themselves for two very real scenarios that will further damage Gobert’s legacy, even if he’s the most impactful player in the series.

First, Valanciuas is going to put up gaudier numbers than Gobert, and that will further the perceptions that he’s not an All-NBA caliber center.

In 19 career matchups, Gobert averages 12.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, while shooting 61 percent from the floor against the Lithuanian big man. Valanciuas averages 15.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, and shoots 57 percent from the floor against Gobert.

It will be easy to leave the series saying Valanciunas outplayed Gobert, even if the Jazz eliminate Mephis in five games.

Second, Ja Morant is probably going to dunk on Gobert and it’s going to be the lasting image from the series, regardless of the outcome.

After his breakout 35 point performance against the Warriors, the NBA will be hungry to show off their bright young star (especially with Zion Williams missing the playoffs). And truthfully, Morant is worthy of the praise, he’s in the midst of his coming out party much like Donovan Mitchell had against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2018.

He will be looking to embarrass Gobert who like all great shot blockers, won’t back down from a challenge at the rim. Gobert will win more of the meetings than Morant, but eventually, he’ll breakthrough, and it will be used against Gobert throughout the playoffs.

Unfortunately for Gobert, there may be no real way to change the casual narrative of his career, regardless of how deep the Jazz make into these playoffs, especially if he ends up getting outscored, and on the wrong end of a poster.

At this point in his career, Gobert seems to understand the narrative, can fans grow to accept that their superstar center will always be underappreciated?

The Jazz and Grizzlies tip-off Sunday at 7:30 pm MT, the game will be broadcast on TNT.

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Three Under The Radar Questions Before Jazz Host Grizzlies