It’s strange how much can change between preseason and the regular season. About two weeks ago the entire narrative surrounding the Utah Jazz seemed to be finding out where its elite defense had gone and salivating over how good the offense was playing.
Four games into the season and the exact opposite problem presents itself. The Jazz have yet to allow a team to surpass the 95-point mark but Utah has only gone over 100 points once.
The jump in defense can probably be explained by the simple change between meaningless preseason ball and the onset of the regular season. Now that it matters, the intensity, effort and thus, execution, has risen to expected levels for Utah. The offensive struggles, however, are a tougher cookie to crack.
Breaking down the offensive production of Utah’s roster it’s fairly apparent to see the root cause in the team’s inability to produce on offense. Two players are excelling and the rest are either sub-par or not as involved as maybe they ought to be.
Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic are both enjoying wonderful starts to the season offensively to the surprise of mostly no one. Mitchell has had space with which to operate and is utilizing it to the fullest extent. He’s currently rocking a 24.0 points per game average, a number that would be a career-best if it holds throughout the season. But not only are the points coming along, the third-year guard is also as efficient as he’s ever been, making 51.4 percent of all of his shots and 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers. A single purposefully missed free throw is all that separates Mitchell from also being an 80 percent shooter at the charity stripe.
Bogdanovic might be exceeding numerical expectations a little with his numbers, posting what would also be a career-high PPG of 23.7 and shooting splits of 53.3/45.5/100, but he’s filling the role of offensive weapon precisely as expected.
Outside of those two, there’s a lot to be desired. And it’s not just Mike Conley, though his absence has been the headlining one. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert are also suffering through growing pains.
Last season, Conley, Ingles and Gobert combined to average 49.1 points per game. No sane person expected those numbers to copy and paste themselves onto this season, but that combined total is down to 21.8. Currently, none of these three guys are averaging above 9.0 points per game when last season all of them exceeded 12 and two were above 15.
The lack of supporting scoring from much of the roster outside of its stars (and including one of the stars) has created a very lopsided offense for the Jazz that is unlikely to be maintained. Through four games, almost half of Utah’s points (48.3 percent to be precise) have come directly from Mitchell and Bogdanovic, the top two scorers. For reference, last year just over a third (35.5 percent) of points came from the top two scorers on the Jazz that season, Mitchell and Gobert.
Breaking down the struggles of Conley, Ingles and Gobert and we have one understandable case with two more head-scratching and problematic cases. Gobert was the second-leading scorer on the Jazz last season mostly because one, he’s better on offense than most give him credit for and two, he was one of three players to average 30 minutes per game in Utah last year. With the addition of two volume scorers in Bogdanovic and Conley, expecting Gobert to match his 15.9 points average from last year is just not logical.
Ingles and Conley, on the other hand, should be much closer to their 2018-19 numbers than they currently are. Conley is sitting at an abysmal 7.8 points on 20.0 percent shooting. It’s easily his worst start to a season by a country mile, rookie year included. Even for Ingles, though not a scorer in the same sense Conley is, his current mark of 5.0 PPG would be his worst since averaging 15.3 minutes per game in his second season. The 33.3 percent shooing and especially 26.7 percent rate from downtown are also very discouraging.
So are Ingles and Conley washed up? Were the Jazz wrong to put trust in a couple of guys on the wrong side of 30?
No. Just no.
As cliche and frustrating as it is to say and hear, both the Jazz and its fans must play the waiting game as this team works out the kinks in the offense. Conley is a good scorer but it’s clear he isn’t yet comfortable in his Utah jersey. He’s playing rushed and it’s seeping into every aspect of his play. Once Conley settles in and plays his game alongside the rest of his teammates, he’ll be back to normal.