“There was a point where we stopped competing. We all have to own that.”
- Quin Snyder
It is difficult to have something sound with a more resounding THUD than the Utah Jazz’s terrible performance last night against Dallas in which they had the second worst loss in franchise history, but here it was in Quin Snyder’s words.
“We stopped competing.”
This is coach speak that you hear from time to time with all teams, but it stands out more than Waldo fully dressed on the beach when it is spoken in Utah. This is the franchise that was built by Stockton and Malone under the tutelage of Jerry Sloan. A place where fans will forgive a player if they’re not as talented, but completely forsake that same player if they just don’t give it their all. In a state that was established on the Mormon hymn “Push Forward, Saints,” it is unacceptable to give up. You work it out.
Which brings us to last night’s shellacking by the hands of the now 6-8 Dallas Mavericks. That loss pushed the Jazz to 7-7 on the season which isn’t terrible. Whether you lose by one point or fifty, it still counts the same. But fans should rightfully worry if the loss will have lingering effects outside of the loss column and on this Jazz team’s psyche.
Ben Dowsett of The Athletic said that he had texted some employees near the team and that morale was low. Last year’s statement loss came much later in the season against the league worst Atlanta Hawks on the road. After that game, many assumed that was the nail in the coffin for the Utah Jazz’s playoff hopes. Had a couple bounces gone the other way in Detroit the day after, it very well could have been. But the Jazz’s statement loss of this season has come earlier in November.
It is very fair to reason that the season is young and Utah has nothing to fear. They figured it out last year, and they will surely figure it out again last year. That would also be a trap.
Utah required a historic run of games that the league had never before seen in order to just get back into playoff contention. Had just two games swung the other way, the Jazz would have been on the outside looking in. Instead, Utah landing the 5th spot.
Last year 10 teams were vying for 8 spots with the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets left with their hands empty. This year, 12 teams are realistically vying for those same 8 spots and Dallas seems to be flirting with competence with Luka Doncic raising their ceiling.
Last year the Utah Jazz were patient with Ricky Rubio’s early season struggles, which, should be noted, were not just early season struggles. He was a below average point guard 52 games into the season before he turned it around. Ricky Rubio has played almost 20 more games as a below average point guard for Utah as he has as a league average or above point guard. This year, Utah is almost through 20% of their games and Rubio is not only struggling he is having a decline that would rank as the 11th biggest decline for a player in production in NBA history.
Many have said Utah is struggling with a tough schedule just as they did last year. The similarities, though, stop there. Hard stop.
Last year, Utah was also struggling with their identity and roles as they had brought in a lot of new players—Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Donovan Mitchell, Tony Bradley, Jae Crowder, Ekpe Udoh, Royce O’Neale. Utah was also dealing with significant injuries throughout the year and declines from Joe Johnson, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, Rudy Gobert, Thabo Sefolosha, and Rodney Hood. Utah dealt with all those significant hurdles and somehow managed to still be hanging around 10th in the West end of January.
This year, Utah has the tough schedule, but are only integrating one new player: Grayson Allen. Georges Niang was around the team as a two way player last year. The team has a franchise best in continuity percentage—only losing Jonas Jerebko in the offseason. The team had all offseason to work together. Rubio even stayed in Utah to work on his game. The only significant injuries this Jazz team has dealt with is Raul Neto. That’s it.
Utah’s upcoming stretch also will do no favors:
- @ Philadelphia
- @ Boston
- @ Indiana
- vs Sacramento (now competent)
- @ Los Angeles Lakers
- @ Sacramento
- vs Indiana
- @ Brooklyn
- @ Charlotte
- @ Miami
- vs San Antonio
- vs Houston
- @ San Antonio
- @ Oklahoma City
- vs Miami
- @ Orlando
- @ Houston
- vs Golden State
- @ Portland
- @ Oklahoma City
- vs Portland
- vs Philadelphia
- vs New York Knicks
The first reprieve from the vicious schedule is Brooklyn then the next time Utah gets to come up for air is against the Knicks at the very end of December. Utah—and fans—should not be pointing to a January where Utah can go on a run. Winning streaks are not easy even if it’s against the NBA’s worst teams. If Utah continues at their average trajectory, they very well could be counted among those ranks.
Utah is average. They’re not a playoff team, they’re not a lottery team, they’re just there. Check out their ranks after 14 games:
Offensive Rating: 108.5 (19th)
Defensive Rating: 110.1 (20th)
Strength of Schedule: 14th
They’re average. White bread. Basic. They’re replacement level basketball.
Fans have preached that all Utah has to do is tread water until January and everything will be alright. They point to last year’s turnaround as a template. Expecting the same result last year when Utah only had a 10% chance of making the playoffs at the time they started their historic run, it’s not just naive, but idiotic. Utah has issues to fix now, and if they don’t, their complacency will dig them a hole that they will be unable to climb out of.
These teams are going to be the teams Utah faces—if they make it there—in the playoffs. Utah has a glaring issue at point guard. Teams are not defending Rubio at all as he’s struggling at the rim and beyond the arc. Rubio not being a threat from long range would be completely okay if there weren’t times that he looks completely lost on the defensive end.
Teams are hanging off of Exum as he’s only a threat at the rim. Teams are using that extra defender to make life more difficult for Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert.
Utah has a problem with playing Favors and Gobert together. Favors may be having a career year individually, but that career year is not translating into increased team success. Players don’t know what their role is as Quin Snyder’s rotation is as haphazard as a computer controlled NBA2K team. Players don’t know when they’ll be in or out and in what capacity. Exum, O’Neale, and Allen do not receive the same benefit of the doubt as say Ricky Rubio.
Utah is seeing a regression of sorts from their amazing rookies of last year—Royce O’Neale and Donovan Mitchell. Donovan Mitchell has improved in other areas and is still scoring, but efficiency is down. Royce O’Neale doesn’t look like O’Neale from last year at all.
Rudy Gobert seems to be the only Jazzman who seems to have improved. Is increase in points per game seems almost impossible as he’s doing so with less spacing and less consistency on the perimeter.
Utah had been projected to be as good as the 2nd best team in the West. Right now they’re in a knockdown dragged out cage fight to be the 8th seed in the playoffs. Expectations are a helluva drug. Last year, Jazz fans were thrilled to see their team hovering around .500 after losing Gordon Hayward.
But this isn’t last year.
The bar has been raised. The games matter more. Losses hurt more. In a more competitive West, losses mean more. As such the panic meter is a lot higher earlier in the season. There’s still a lot of season left and plenty of time to work it out. But Utah can’t be complacent and tread water until January. That’s why this loss hurt so much more.
For a team whose identity last year was built around just outworking their opponent, it should be against its nature to sit around and wait until 41 games in before they flip the switch. Even more so, the Western Conference won’t allow them the luxury.
Utah has to fix things now to stay in the hunt of the playoffs, let alone home court advantage, come April.