You’re not the only one. This season has seemed to run in parallel with last season on a number of fronts. Utah is 8-11 after 19 games just like they were the year prior. They are without one of their best players for a stretch just like last year at this time. Last year it was Rudy Gobert, this year it’s Donovan Mitchell. Utah is fast approaching a nightmarish December schedule just like last year. Adding to the “have we been here before” feeling is Utah playing the Sacramento Kings for the third time in a month and half’s time.
The last time these two teams played (only four days ago on Wednesday), the Sacramento Kings got a big win in Salt Lake City. Despite a big game from Donovan Mitchell who scored 35 points, De’Aaron Fox and the rest of the Kings crew got the win. Willie Cauley-Stein took advantage of a Rudy Gobert who seems to still be getting into Defensive Player of the Year rhythm. The Kings bench was the difference in that game.
De’Aaron Fox has been an absolute monster against Utah. He’s averaging 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 10 assists. He’s everywhere. Like a lot of point guards recently, he’s found increased success against Utah’s Rubio on the perimeter.
The same goes for Willie Cauley-Stein. He seems to be Gobert’s kryptonite. Check out these numbers. He’s averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
Unfortunately, Donovan Mitchell will not be able to suit up for tonight’s game. That leaves Utah once again without their primary—and sometimes only—scorer. Donovan Mitchell left the game early Friday night in Los Angeles due to a rib contusion. The Jazz will have to pick up the slack on offense through a team effort.
In LA, Quin Snyder routinely called Alec Burks’ number for scoring. That led to some quick points for Utah, but defensive lapses that the Lakers could take advantage of. Joe Ingles will have to play a big part in tonight’s game if Utah is to have a chance. Joe Ingles himself has been struggling as he has had to step up into a larger role with Ricky Rubio’s struggles shooting and the increased scrutiny on Donovan Mitchell. Ingles is averaging a career worst in turnovers at 2.6 a game.
This would be one of those times that Utah could really use a good Ricky Rubio game, but with Rubio stuck in the mire, most teams have been daring him to shoot and using Rubio’s defender to provide extra pressure to stop Ingles or Rudy Gobert.
Speaking of Rudy Gobert, he has been the topic of some less than stellar defense. That’s a sentence few of us expected to be uttering this early in the season. Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune has pointed this out as well.
Given the Jazz’s defensive quality overall tonight, this probably isn’t the time to bring it up. But I thought one play encapsulated something that I’ve been feeling this season: that Gobert hasn’t been good enough at protecting the rim this season.
In this season, the Jazz have defended the rim at a below average level with Gobert on the floor. Now, the midrange and 3-point defense has been even worse, but you would have figured that the Jazz could at least locking down the rim with Gobert out there. So far, that’s not the case. In fact, teams have shot about 2.4 percent better at the rim with Gobert in the game than when he is on the bench.
For what it’s worth, he still dissuades rim shots at about the same rate as seasons past. Teams shoot about 8 percent fewer shots at the rim when Gobert’s out there compared to when he isn’t. It’s just that now, they’re just making the ones they take.
For Utah to have a shot in this game, Utah can’t allow Willie Cauley-Stein to have another big game.
This will have to be earned as a team. Utah’s bench which has had to consistently come into games and bail out the sinking ship of a starting lineup night in and night out, could be checking into the game with the ship 5 feet below water. Without Donovan Mitchell out there—granted, he’s been struggling in 1st quarters as well—the starting lineup could be in an even bigger deficit.
For all of us on Exum island, he hasn’t really had a game in which he just shows out brilliantly. He’s been lightning for a game here or there, but in limited minutes. It would help Utah tremendously if he has a big game. The same goes for O’Neale, albeit he hasn’t been shining brilliantly. He is averaging more turnovers a game than last year and in less minutes. He’s a liability on the offensive end and giving the opposition easy buckets. He needs to keep the ball under control and consistently hit the corner three tonight.
When: 6:00 p.m. MT, Sunday Nov. 25
Where: Golden 1 Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 1280AM/97.5 FM
Donovan Mitchell — Rib Contusion — OUT
Kosta Koufos — Calf — OUT
What to watch for
Who fills in for Donovan Mitchell in the starting lineup?
Normally Royce O’Neale is the usual replacement here. But adding a struggling from three O’Neale to a lineup that is already starved for outside shooting and scoring seems like a death wish. That would make put a ton of pressure on Joe Ingles. Dante Exum could get the start, but the same situation remains. He needs spacing to survive and that lineup has none.
The most logical answer is Alec Burks. While his defense is suspect at a lot of times, offensively he can be a Donovan Mitchell-lite and he can get to the free throw line. He’s going to get targeted a lot by Sacramento’s offense and could find himself guarding Fox after a lot of switches.
One other possibility is Grayson Allen. Grayson Allen got a surprise start a few weeks ago. It went absolutely off the rails and was atrocious, but he’s a rookie. The result could be different now.
The turnover problem
Utah has been turning the ball over this season at a way above league average rate. That has given opponents a contra code in avoiding their patented half-court defense. Utah’s doing their opponent’s work for them every game. They are routinely giving up ~20 ppg off of turnovers. That’s just insanity. Without Donovan Mitchell, Utah has to curb it because they don’t have a scorer on the roster that can put up points in a hurry like Mitchell if the game gets out of hand by their own self-inflicted wounds.
There actually is a player that can get hot for stretches similar to Donovan Mitchell, but it’s not the first person people think about. Jae Crowder is going to get the shot attempts. Lately, he’s been ice cold, but if that changes in Sacramento, Utah could be in luck. If he gets going that can open up the spacing on the floor and allow Gobert to operate. It also opens up the paint for slashers like Exum, O’Neale, Burks and Rubio. It can take pressure off of Joe Ingles and allow him more room to operate.
The other part to this is Utah needs Crowder to guard Nemanja Bjelica. The Kings’ stretch forward has eaten Utah and Derrick Favors alive. He also is averaging 18 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists against Utah. His normal season averages are 11 points and 5.6 rebounds. Utah needs Crowder to be able to lock Bjelica down. Bringing him back to earth to his season averages allows Utah to stay within reach.
All eyes will be on whoever fills in for Donovan Mitchell, but Jae Crowder could be Utah’s life preserver without Donovan Mitchell.