Jazz show prowess against shorthanded Sixers; how different is this team from last year?

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 120-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Defending the outside against small formations

The Sixers came out extremely understaffed in tonight’s game: Ben Simmons is out due to drama, Joel Embiid is out because he has COVID-19, as is Matisse Thybulle. Danny Green also missed the game due to a hamstring problem.

That meant the Sixers had three realistic options:

1. Play Andre Drummond in the middle

2. Play a non-factor like Charles Bassey or Paul Reed in the middle

3. Go small, with someone like Georges Niang in the middle.

Option #1 went absolutely horrendous. More on that later. Option No. 2 was also quickly rejected by Doc Rivers. So that meant a lot of small formations, with Doc Rivers using the Clippers’ strategy to attack the Jazz.

But in the end, they weren’t as good at it as the Clippers – instead, they often attacked Rudy Gobert, a no-no.

Jazz fans know that Gobert is actually quite good at defending in space; eventually you see a lot of these kind of possessions:

But I was more intrigued to see how the Jazz sent help when the other players were attacked. Here, the Sixers attempt this weaving game to infuse Tyrese Maxey into space. But the Jazz executed a late switch really well meaning Bogdanovic was there at the right time to make his scoop layup much more difficult.

Part of what made this possible, of course, is that the Sixers really don’t have that fast-paced guard style that can tear down the Jazz’s worst perimeter defenders. Tyrese Maxey is the closest, but frankly, he chose to attack Gobert the most. So while I was relatively encouraged by the Jazz’s defense against these looks, it’s still a lower bar for success than the Jazz will need in the playoffs.

2. The Impact of a Bad Inner Back

Speaking of Gobert, I think we sometimes take him for granted. I mean, before Gobert came along, jazz fans had to deal with the internal defenses of Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson and Mehmet Okur in the pick-and-roll-focused NBA.

Watching Andre Drummond play just reminds me of those days. He only played 12 minutes tonight but the Jazz was a +22 in those minutes as they just cut and dice Drummond into oblivion.

This is an incredibly easy pick and roll dunk that Drummond makes possible. Man.

Here he just doesn’t have the awareness or the speed to get Bojan Bogdanovic on the three-point line in the transition.

Very much a “you reach, I teach” moment here from Clarkson on Drummond.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this: Drummond’s lack of talent was the biggest reason the Jazz won this game, while they had problems with the likes of the Magic and the Pacers. Because Drummond was so exploitable, they were able to score almost every time he was on the ground.

I miss him with the Lakers too. An unabashed Lakers hater, Drummond went to great lengths to ensure that team’s eventual failure last year – not playing Marc Gasol in favor of Drummond minutes was a pretty crazy decision. At least this year they have Russell Westbrook to poke fun at, as well as the new name of their arena.

3. What stands out?

With such an easy game tonight, it seems like a reasonable time to fill some space and do a status check on the Jazz. Who knows, this may even become a semi-regular part of the Triple Team.

Let’s take a look at the general team stats first:

Jazz Team Stats from 2021-22 (Basketball Reference)

What stands out?

• They are in third place offensively, thanks in large part to their ability to go to the free-throw line more times than any other team. The way the umpires called for play did not hurt the Jazz’s offense.

• They shoot more threes than any other team, but they score only 26th in the NBA. That, you might think, will change. They shoot 6 percent worse than last year; the NBA shoots an average of 2.2% worse than last year.

• They’ve gotten worse at rebounding: after finishing 3rd last year in offensive rebounding and 5th in defensive rebound; they are 7th and 11th this year.

Next up: the player stats. Here, since we’re using some aggregated metrics that you’re probably less familiar with, I’ll compare last year and this year (this year at the top):

Jazz player stats from 2021-22. (Cleaning The Glass)

Jazz player stats from 2020-21. (Cleaning The Glass)

What stands out?

• Joe Ingles’ usage figures have collapsed. He still shoots quite effectively, but has a very hard time going on the attack. Mike Conley also has lower score, assist and usage numbers.

• Jordan Clarkson has had a very inefficient year so far

• Eric Paschall just hasn’t been as efficient at scoring as Georges Niang. He can defend, but the Jazz only have an offensive rating of 101 when he’s on the ground.

Finally, let’s give a small sample of setups:

Most used Jazz setups in 2021-22. (From CleaningTheGlass.)

What stands out?

• Oh, okay, all the top lineups were still good overall.

• Conley/Gobert’s banking minutes were still mostly good, but when Conley was replaced by Trent Forrest and Jared Butler, it was tough. Paschall is acquitted!

Yet another stat for you: The Jazz ranks as the 4th best half-court defense and 4th worst transitional defense according to CleaningTheGlass. That says a lot.

But in the end, this season so far has been functionally very, very similar to their regular season last year. Some age-related decline to be expected from Conley and Ingles, a relapse from opening the rotation a bit to young point guards, occasional unlucky shooting and good play from Hassan Whiteside were the biggest differences.

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