Jazz Game Six Brink Of Elimination Mailbag
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz find themselves facing a win or go home game six against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
With the season coming down to one game, it’s time to answer reader mailbag questions about how the Jazz got here, and what to expect in the near future.
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Jazz Game Six Mailbag
Because it’s one of the most easily distinguishable adjustments a team can make, there are lots of questions about Quin Snyder’s rotation both in personnel and actual minute distribution, so let’s start there.
First, (and readers may get sick of hearing this in this article) the loss of Mike Conley dramatically changed everything in the series for the Jazz and I think it plays an enormous role in why Snyder has been less willing to alter his personnel against the Clippers.
When Conley went down, Snyder was already forced to alter the team’s rotation and minute distribution, so he was less able (or willing) to shake up the roster as he started the series with one arm tied behind his back.
After losing a stabilizing force like Conley, the natural inclination has to be to find your regular identity wherever else it can be had. For that reason, sticking to the normal personnel throughout the playoffs makes sense.
Think of it like skiing down a steep mountain. The Jazz lost one ski as soon as they got off the chair lift, but they still have to make it to the bottom of the slope. The best way to get down the hill is by keeping your other ski as well attached to your body as possible because it’s half of what’s gotten you down the mountain before.
Conley is the ski that fell off, the rest of the roster and how they’re used is the last ski Snyder has to rely on to get him down the hill.
Furthermore, this is the rotation Snyder has used all year, even when Conley went down for 21 games during the regular season, and the Jazz went 15-6 during that stretch. That’s a pretty good batting average.
I think this was a difficult gamble for the Jazz last offseason after the loss to the Denver Nuggets when the two biggest weaknesses were slowing down Jamal Murray, and finding a way to get adequate center play when Gobert was off the floor.
With a long list of wings and perimeter players already on the roster, the Jazz erred on the side of familiarity by signing Favors and giving him the full MLE. That didn’t leave a lot of money for a wing defender outside of Shaq Harrison, who they signed during training camp.
Harrison was never able to crack the rotation and was waived by midseason, and Favors gave the Jazz good, but not spectacular play for most of the season. At this point, Favors $10 million per season looks like it might be a tough pill to swallow for the next two years.
Then, when Udoka Azubuike went down with a severe ankle injury, while rookie defensive wings like Desmond Bane and Jaden McDaniels showed promise throughout the season, it made the decision to draft a third-string center with a first-round draft pick look even worse.
Simply put, those decisions may end up being difficult for the Jazz teambuilding timeline, and they could have long-term implications. However, if Favors body does deteriorate, and the Jazz can turn Azubuike into a high-level backup who mimics some of the things Rudy Gobert brings to the table, he can still add value as a late first-round pick.
Additionally, not using the bi-annual exception remains a strange choice over the last two seasons, especially with some of the low-cost players in the postseason right now that are making impacts on their teams.
Overall, signing Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Clarkson to extensions were big wins, some of the moves around those pieces have yet to pan out.
Remember though, it could always be worse. The Portland Trail Blazers spent significant money and sent out draft picks to get guys like Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. and they did little to help the Blazers championship chase.
A lot of these moves are coin tosses, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
This is perhaps the player I’ve been most confused about with the Jazz as well, both from his signing and then his lack of use.
The Jazz have a very strong identity, they’re an excellent pick and roll team, they have the ability to penetrate a defense with Mitchell and Conley, they shoot as well as any team in NBA history, and they’re terrific defensively.
The one thing they lack however is true versatility, especially in the frontcourt. While the Jazz can mix and match pieces in the backcourt, they haven’t toyed with their rotation among bigs, largely because Gobert is so dominant that you want him on the floor as much as possible.
However, the one person who could buck that trend and has shown the ability to play multiple frontcourt positions is Ersan Ilyasova who brings a combination of floor spacing, rebounding, and some effective, albeit gimmicky defensive tactics.
Considering the Clippers have gone small for long stretches in this series, the ability to match Ilyasova against Marcus Morris even for a few minutes, while maintaining steady rebounding and adding a shooting punch on offense seemed like a natural adjustment, especially as Favors and Georges Niang have struggled in their roles.
Had Ilyasova spent more time in the rotation maybe he’d be playing more in the playoffs, but with the Jazz chasing the top seed and the team winning at a high rate, perhaps the opportunity never presented itself.
I was surprised the Jazz didn’t get Niang signed to a contract last summer while he was a restricted free agent with a non-guaranteed deal heading into 2020-21. Then, with the Jazz spending so much money in the offseason, it made more sense that they wanted to preserve financial freedom to operate as close to the luxury tax line as possible.
After Niang had a very good year for a ninth-man in the rotation, continuing to shoot the ball well while improving his defense, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d be a priority for the Jazz this summer.
However, this series against the Clippers has been a rough go for the forward, shooting just 15 percent from the floor and 10 percent from three, while averaging as many turnovers as points, and as many fouls as rebounds and assists combined.
Ultimately I think the Jazz will offer him a contract to bring him back, as he is a valuable minute eater who shoots the ball extremely well and does enough of the other things during the regular season to justify owning a roster spot.
However, the Jazz may cap how much they’re willing to throw at him, understanding his struggles in these playoffs, while another team is willing to pay a higher price to add an elite shooter to their roster.
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