Leave it to a team from Joe Ingles hometown to provide the Utah Jazz with a cold dose of reality. With defense-in-and-of-himself Rudy Gobert not playing tonight due to some planned rest, the Utah Jazz got tested early by a surprisingly competitive Adelaide 36er team. That’s not to say the Adelaide 36ers are not a good team—they are—but after Utah’s trouncing of the Perth Wildcats no one expected the 36ers to be leading at any point of the game and they led at multiple times throughout the first half. It wasn’t until late in the 2nd that the Utah Jazz adjusted to life without their Center of Unusual Size and played like the Goliath that they are in this matchup. The Utah Jazz ultimately would pull away and win this game 129-99, but it didn’t come easy.
In the first half, Adelaide’s Nathan Sobey made life difficult for Utah. He was making hustle plays and hitting shots. Sobey, who had been in Summer League with Utah in 2017, was masterful against the Utah Jazz starting guards. He didn’t just do his damage against the Jazz’s bench, he put it to Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio by scoring 12 points in just the 1st quarter on 3 shots and getting to the for 4 FTAs, making all of them.
The Utah Jazz seemed to be caught off guard; one part because they were adjusting to life with Favors at the 5, and, to be honest, it didn’t look like they anticipated the 36ers to have such a strong first punch. The 1st quarter was a “the other team is on scholarship, too” type of quarter.
Luckily, Donovan Mitchell came to play. In the Jazz’s last two preseason games, it has looked like Donovan wasn’t quite Donovan yet. He wasn’t featured on offense as much and seemed a bit off. If we had any worries by those first two preseason games, those worries are gone with tonight’s performance. This was OUR Donovan Mitchell. He scored 18 points in 18 minutes on 7 of 14 shooting while getting to the line for 6 FTAs. He was slicing, spinning, and making plays. He even had a strong, athletic SPIDA-dunk.
Meanwhile some of the other starters in this game—Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, and Joe Ingles—struggled. Those three went a combined 2 of 18. While they struggled from the field, Ingles and Rubio found other ways to contribute. Rubio got to the line 7 times, making all 7 FTAs. Joe Ingles ended the game with 7 assists as he was getting his teammates good looks.
Jae Crowder, however, struggled. Crowder, who is currently in what seems like a position battle with Thabo Sefolosha, was 0-7 from the field and left the game with 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. One thing we all have been looking for is that improved three point shot and, so far this preseason, it hasn’t showed up. The caveat there is preseason, but this year there is competition for that first off the bench when Favors checks out. If there is a silver lining, it is Thabo didn’t really light the world on fire either, only going 1 of 5 from the field and finishing with 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.
With the pair of Crowder and Sefolosha struggling, Quin Snyder went deep into the roster to put Georges Niang onto the court with the starters—Favors, Ingles, Mitchell, and Rubio. That’s an interesting development because O’Neale last year snuck into the rotation due to mainstays of the rotation—Rodney Hood and Alec Burks—struggling in preseason and early in the season. If Crowder and Sefolosha’s preseason struggles continue into early November, Niang could find himself getting opportunities to get minutes. Whether he can capitalize on them is a different story. For what it’s worth tonight, Niang have “his moment” when he was on the court. He had more fouls (3) than points (2) in only 2:52 minutes of play in the 1st quarter during his stint with the starters.
Speaking of Alec Burks, both he and Grayson Allen—the backcourt of irrational confidence—had great games against yet another Australian opponent. Alec Burks finished the game with 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 19 minutes of play. Grayson Allen also had a show with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting with 4 rebounds in 23 minutes of play. One bit of concern with Grayson is he had 4 turnovers. While it is preseaon, these turnovers were with passes that he was telegraphing and in the backcourt. Gotta be more aware with professionals defending. Otherwise, this was another great night for those two.
With all the attention that those two have been receiving, Royce O’Neale has been left on the back burner. He had 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting, but he was a =/- -1 for the game. The only one on the team who had a negative +/- rating.
Any fears that Donovan Mitchell was not going to be Donovan Mitchell can be put back into the crazy drawer. He looked like our beloved Spida-man. Maybe this is why we have a preseason?
Before preseason, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Royce and Dante Exum would be the first ones off the bench with Burks and Allen behind them. After three preseason games, the guard picture behind Rubio and Mitchell is even murkier. Dante Exum hasn’t played in two of the Jazz’s three games, Burks looks like he’s picking up right where he left off against Houston in the playoffs, Grayson Allen looks like a rotation player and pretty good marksman, and Royce O’Neale, while still the elite defender, doesn’t appear to be making the leap offensively that we were hoping thus far.
Derrick Favors looked like he was having a rough go of filling in for Rudy Gobert in the 1st quarter then he settled into it by the end of the 2nd quarter. He finished with a +/- +8. That’s not to say Derrick Favors is not a good defensive player, HE IS. But it makes you realize just how insane of a defender Rudy Gobert is. He makes defense look so easy that we take it for granted that not all teams just guard the paint so forcefully.
The 1st quarter was a rude awakening that if Gobert misses any time during the regular season again, it can be a quick trip back to the horrors of last December. While the lows of such a loss wouldn’t be as terrible, just think how Utah struggled on the onset against a team from the NBL. We’ve said this time and time again: while Donovan Mitchell determines the Utah Jazz’s ceiling, Rudy Gobert controls their floor.
If Grayson Allen has another preseason game like he did tonight against real NBA talent, he’s going to get minutes. Simple as that.
Is it too soon to get worried about Jae Crowder’s three point shot? Jazz need him to be around a 35% three point shooter. If not, Joe Ingles could be seeing more time at the four out of necessity and not out of design.
Kudos to the Adelaide 36ers. They are the Utah Jazz of the NBL league. They play tough defense, run a lot of sets that look like Snyder’s offense, and they hustle the **** out of you. Think we may have found our new favorite Australian team.
Utah Jazz play their next game on Sunday, 7:00pm MT in Portland against the Trail Blazers on NBAtv. Utah better come ready to play—and hopefully, Rudy is back—or the Trail Blazers will lead by 20 after one quarter.