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Should the Utah Jazz be concerned about Ricky Rubio’s offensive struggles?

The SLC Dunk Staff gives their perspective on Rubio’s struggles, Jae Crowder’s resurgence, and tonight’s upcoming Pelicans vs Jazz game.

Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

In this week’s SLC Dunk Chat, we discuss Ricky Rubio and Royce O’Neale’s offensive struggles, Jae Crowder’s resurgence, and what to expect from tonight’s New Orleans Pelicans vs Utah Jazz game.

Mychal Lowman: Alright, let’s get this started. Let’s start with this question: Are we overreacting about Ricky Rubio’s slow start to the regular season?

Taylor Griffin: I think we are properly reacting. I will defend Rubio’s honor until the day I die, but he has not been very good through four games. Rubio is the type that feeds off of momentum. He just needs to get something rolling and I really think he will be fine.

Jason Walker: Just about everything this early in the season can be considered an overreaction. We can’t make too many assumptions about Rubio until we see more from him.

Jordan Cummings: I don’t think it’s an overreaction. It’s been nearly 10 games (preseason and regular season) with the same problems. He’s had major problems offensively, and it’s not just his shooting. He’s had some bad turnovers, off-target passes (that lob to Donovan was a total gimme), and has just not looked the same.

I do think he’ll turn it around, but the slow starts have been a pattern for him throughout his career. It’s really strange to see a veteran player take so long to get his feet under him.

Mychal Lowman: I think the expectations of this team now allow for Jazz fans to be worried. When you had a player off to a rough start last season, the response was “They lost Hayward, they don’t know who they are, they’re learning in the offense.” Now? They’ve all played together for a year. The front office emphasized continuity. If anything, the choice to keep all parts together should have helped Rubio.

Jordan Cummings: And it’s not just a Rubio problem. Poor offensive play from one player on the court has a ripple effect on the other 4 players on the court. Our starting lineup has looked pretty awful so far. If these problems persist for another 5-10 games, then a change to the starting 5 probably needs to happen. I think it makes more sense to put Crowder in as the starting 4 than to put Exum in as the starting point guard.

James Hansen: I think that Rubio needs to fix the turnovers but we might be looking at the result of the actual problem which is a spacing problem with the starting lineup. There’s a reason that when Jae Crowder plays the offense improves dramatically

That was a long sentence

Mychal Lowman: In the hyper competitive West, a couple weeks of rough play is the difference between the 2 seed and the 5th seed.

Your English teacher weeps.

As does mine.

Jordan Cummings: How damn good has Crowder been, by the way? He’s looked awesome and is getting to the free throw line like crazy. Probably not sustainable, but it’s been a nice surprise to get Boston Celtics Jae Crowder this season

Mychal Lowman: He’s been amazing. That brings us to James’ point. Is Rubio having the sins of this bad front court placed upon him? Is he the scapegoat in all of this?

(I don’t think he is because he played well with both lineups last year, but it’s fair to ask if that’s contributing to his woes.)

Jordan Cummings: More shooting is expected from backcourt players than frontcourt players. So even if it’s not entirely his fault (if Favors could shoot threes, these problems would be much less apparent), most of the blame falls on him as the “quarterback” of the offense, playing a position that traditionally spaces the floor more than a big man does.

Mychal Lowman: That’s the hard thing with Rubio. He’s traditionally not been a great shooter. Part of last year’s second half renaissance with him was his improvement from beyond the arc and with that fading away free throw line jumper. Both of which have been auspiciously missing to start the season.

He also was a terrible finisher around the rim for his position before last season. By the end of the season, however, he had improved dramatically. That helped quite a bit. All three are underwhelming thus far.

Jordan Cummings: He was getting to the rim quite a bit last season, too. I don’t remember many layups from him so far this season. He’s shooting 22% from the field. Yikes.

Mychal Lowman: By the way, kudos to James for not starting this chat out with “Start Dante Exum”. What restraint.

Jason Walker: Last year wasn’t the first time Rubio shot well in the second half of the season. He had a similar “renaissance” in 2016-17, his last year with the T-Wolves, and then didn’t retain that shooting into the start of next season.

Jordan Cummings: He has not made a shot inside 3 feet this season

James Hansen: But honestly we should start Dante Exum

Jordan Cummings: According to bball ref

Mychal Lowman: There it is.

Jordan Cummings: The shots inside 3 feet, I mean. Not about Dante

Mychal Lowman: Not one?

Jordan Cummings: Though... yeah probably

Mychal Lowman: He hasn’t made one?

Jordan Cummings: bball ref lists his FG% inside 3 feet as 0%

Mychal Lowman: Yikes.

Jordan Cummings: So he’s either missed every layup he’s attempted, or he hasn’t attempted one

He’s also at 0% from 10-16 feet - an area where he shot 47% and 44% the past two seasons

And 25% from 16 feet to just inside the 3-point line. (43% and 45% the previous two seasons)

Mychal Lowman: So James eloquent suggestion aside, how much of a leash does Rubio have if he struggles? That season he had a second half resurgence with the T-Wolves, he ended up getting benched for Dunn. It wasn’t until an injury got him back in the lineup.

Jordan Cummings: I’d say another 5-10 games

Mychal Lowman: Last year, the Jazz were not that deep at point guard as Exum and Neto went through injuries. Does the healthy backlog of guards (Grayson Allen, Dante Exum) shorten Rubio’s window for a bounce back?

Jordan Cummings: It’s possible he’s pressing too much and is kind of in his head like Donovan was the first 3 games

I think so. Having more depth means more options. Don’t have to stick with a cold player if there are 2-3 guys behind him that are NBA rotation players

I don’t remember the last time Utah had this many healthy guards

Jason Walker: I think because Rubio has a very long track record of being, at worst, a serviceable point guard, he’ll get a pretty long leash. Exum, Allen, and Neto don’t have that so they don’t get as much slack.

Taylor Griffin: As long as Rubio is healthy, I think you give him as long as he needs. The Jazz’s ceiling as a unit is achieved with Rubio playing like he did at the end of last season.

Mychal Lowman: I think I agree with Jason and Taylor. If Rubio struggles, I think Quin would rather play Exum extended minutes in a game than lose Rubio. That starting point guard spot in Utah means a lot more than it does in most markets.

Jordan Cummings: Is it just me, or is the Favors/Gobert rotation different from last year? The 2nd half of the season, Favors would head to the bench after about 4-5 minutes. Now it seems that Quin is sticking with the starting 5 for a bit longer. Or is that just me?

Mychal Lowman: Someone else on Twitter mentioned that during the Memphis game. It feels like Quin is trying to exert their size advantage on teams, but it hasn’t quite been working. Which is odd, this starting lineup was still one of the league’s best starting 5 units January to the end of the season.

While Donovan looks like he’s back to SPIDA-MAN, that starting 5 is struggling to build leads.

Jordan Cummings: It’s hard to take advantage of a size mismatch if the ball never goes in to the post player. Utah’s guards need to get the ball to Favors when he’s got 6 inches and 50 pounds on the guy guarding him

Mychal Lowman: And the Pelicans have been a wrecking ball to start the season. How does Favors fare against Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans?

Jordan Cummings: Utah struggles against stretch bigs

Mirotic and Davis might be the best stretch 4/5 combo in the league

Mychal Lowman: Mirotic (who is on my fantasy team, shoutout Flat Earth Flat Round Society) has been burninating opposing defenses.

Jordan Cummings: Remember when you didn’t think Utah should have traded for him, MYCHAL?


Taylor Griffin: You mean Nikola “Averaging 30 ppg” Mirotic?? There’s no way he keeps that up, but Pelicans have looked great and I’m scared Mirotic is going to light the Jazz up tomorrow.

Jordan Cummings: (I actually don’t remember if it was you. But you know who you are, whoever it was haha)

Mychal Lowman: It was me. I thought Niko and Jae would be equal contributors this season. Put that in the “stuff Donovan would hate-like if I tweeted it” folder.

Jordan Cummings: Even if he regresses to the mean, a power forward putting up 15 points and 8 rebounds on 36% 3 point shooting would be just what the doctor ordered for this Jazz team

Mychal Lowman: What does Utah have to do to have a chance tomorrow?

Jason Walker: Honestly, I don’t think Jae Crowder would be too far off those numbers were he to start in place of Favors.

Jordan Cummings: Utah has to force NOP into bad shots

Mychal Lowman: Wooo boy, Jason coming in strong with the hot take.

James Hansen: I agree with Jason

Jordan Cummings: Can’t let Mirotic light the nets on fire from deep, can’t let AD get inside, and they for SURE can’t let Jrue Holiday go nuts defensively. He’s going to create problems for our backcourt if they make bad passes or dribble into traffic. Already too many turnovers.

Mychal Lowman: The good news with New Orleans is Utah always seems to have their number. Jazz are like their Portland.

Jordan Cummings: Crowder’s had one season shooting better than 34% from 3. He doesn’t have the consistency and track record of a guy like Mirotic. I love Crowder. He’s perfect for this team. But Mirotic is damn near the perfect power forward to put next to Gobert

Jason Walker: Mirotic and Davis are averaging a combined 23.3 rebounds, 7.4 of which come on the offensive end. Boxing out will be a big key.

Taylor Griffin: Jazz have won last four in New Orleans..

Jordan Cummings: The good news is that Jrue Holiday hasn’t hit a 3 yet this season (as of this morning of 10/26). He’s 0-for-11. And E’Twaun Moore is shooting 27% from deep. The bad news is that this probably means that both of them scorch it from deep and combine to go 8-of-12 from downtown and we lose by 15

Wouldn’t be a Utah Jazz game without a random Jazz killer somewhere. E’Twaun Moore fits the bill. Journeyman? Check Having a rough start to the season? Check. Has lost to us a bunch of times in the past? Check. Pissed off revenge game? Probably.

Mychal Lowman: Dang. Pelicans and Jazz is going to be a great game. Never forget that the Pellies were on the wrong end of Donovan’s first 40+ point game.

Jordan Cummings: That game was legendary. I’m still blown away by Donovan’s ability to just completely take over a game in the clutch.

Mychal Lowman: But Jazz were lucky to avoid playing DeMarcus and AD at the same time for a full game last year three out of four times if memory serves me right.

Jason Walker: Yes, but Rudy Gobert has usually done very well defending Cousins. Davis has been the one to always kill the Jazz. Though, to be fair, he does that to everybody.

Mychal Lowman: The Jazz are one of the few teams that can throw 3 elite defenders at Davis: Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Ekpe Udoh.

James Hansen: On the offensive end, Donovan should have a strong game because the only rim protector he’s facing is Davis. If Davis focuses on Donovan he just has to hit Rudy with Lobs. That will work better when Jae is on the floor on the perimeter though because it pulls Mirotic out.

Mychal Lowman: What about Jrue Holiday?

Jason Walker: I think what James said will be good for Donovan because one of the things he struggled with initially this season was good decision-making. If Davis is playing him hard all game at the rim and Mitchell ends up with 12 assists, we’ll know he had a good game. Not because he scored 40, but because he helped the team win.

Jordan Cummings: Utah will have to run ball screens with either Rubio or Ingles to get Holiday switched off of Donovan.

And if they don’t switch, Donovan will have to read the defense and find the pass.

Jason Walker: Holiday played 40 minutes in the game where Mitchell scored 40

Mychal Lowman: SOLD

Taylor Griffin: Pellies will be coming off a B2B, so it will be interesting to see how they come out of the gates

Jordan Cummings: Mitchell was guarded by Moore and Rondo a lot in that game. And when Jrue was his primary defender, they ran a lot of ball screens to get him space or force a switch.

Mychal Lowman I worry about the Big Easy flu.

Two days off in New Orleans? Hoooo boy

Taylor Griffin: #nightlife

Jordan Cummings: hahaha. Too much gumbo will getcha. Great, now I want gumbo

Mychal Lowman: Hopefully Rubio spends some time with #EkpesFilmClub, it worked for Mitchell.

Taylor Griffin: What’s the deal with Royce? I’m worried about him.

James Hansen: He’s really struggled. It looks like he’s really trying to penetrate and I just don’t know if that’s his game. I was hoping to see him be more of a spot up shooter and lockdown defender this year

Jason Walker: Royce’s strength has been mainly to be a positive in the +/- while not really showing up in the box score. And this year, he’s -21 in four games and was -5 in an 11-point win over Houston.

Taylor Griffin: I kinda feel like he has been thrown in at awkward times though. Like he hasn’t been able to find his groove in any of the rotations like he did so well last season.

Jason Walker: Dante’s been eating his minutes I think.

Mychal Lowman: A byproduct of the big rotation? Quin has gone 11 deep in the depth chart some games.

Jordan Cummings: Royce has a Wes Matthews game but that’s not the style of game he’s been playing so far this season

Mychal Lowman: Royce looks like he’s trying to show everything he’s worked on in the offseason all at the same time in one play when he has the ball.

I think he’ll be fine, but because of the Jazz’s deep bench we could see him lose minutes while he gets it together.

Jordan Cummings: Yeah. Seems like a lot of players have been forcing the issue so far this season

Thinking instead of just letting the game come to them

At what point do we start to ask how significant the loss of Igor Kokoskov was for this team?

Mychal Lowman: Having a strong guy like him as the assistant took a lot of the burden off of Quin. It’s probably invisibly the largest adjustment for Utah this season.

Jordan Cummings: Quin is the mad genius with Xs and Os. Maybe Igor was the emotional/mental compass of this team

Jason Walker: The Jazz are a good enough organization from top to bottom that losing an assistant like Igor won’t make a noticeable difference.

Mychal Lowman: Let’s end on this: what is everyone’s prediction for Pellies vs Jazz?

Taylor Griffin: Pelicans run out of gas late, Jazz put the locks down defensively in fourth quarter, Mitchell scores 30, Jazz win 108-95.

Jordan Cummings: Utah wins in a close shootout, 115-112. Donovan scores 28 and Ingles goes nuts from deep putting up 23 of his own.

Jason Walker: I think Donovan will push things on offense to try and build on what he did against the Rockets with moderate success but more than a few mistakes. Davis gets his 35 points, 15 rebounds but the Jazz pull away late 110-99

Andrew Bailey: Pelicans win comfortably, make us worry more about the things we’re already worrying about and force the Mirotic haters to do a self-examination on their bad takes from when Utah was thinking about trading for him. :disappointed:

Sam Goodrich: Utah blows out New Orleans 135-110. AD is no match for The Stifle Tower and The Joker.

Jordan Cummings: Who is The Joker, Sam? I’m confused

Andrew Bailey: When did Utah get Jokic?!

Jordan Cummings: hahaha Andy I love you for that Mirotic salt

Sam Goodrich: Fave of course, it’s his evil villain of choice

Way to ruin the mic drop

Mychal Lowman: I think the Pelicans win this. Mirotic is going to prey on Favors and force Quin into small ball. Donovan shines again but Rubio’s struggles continue with Jrue Holiday guarding him.

Jordan Cummings: Hopefully this is the first game we actually see Ingles at power forward for stretches. I don’t think he’s played the 4 yet this season.

James Hansen: Jazz win big as Donovan has broken through his wall. And also because Jae gets subbed in quickly and plays 30 minutes