It seems crazy to say that games this early in the season are must win games, but that’s the reality of being a Western Conference team in a league that won’t seed the top 16 teams in the playoffs regardless of conference. The Utah Jazz face two VERY IMPORTANT games this week, one on Wednesday against the 76ers and the other against the Milwaukee Bucks. While the 76ers is an exciting game as it’s always fun to see the EXTRA SALT brought by Sixers fans and the Ben Simmons-Donovan Mitchell rivalry, the Bucks games is very important when it comes to benchmarking. When Utah plays Milwaukee, fans will get to see how far Utah has progressed defensively and offensively against a team that took them behind the woodshed in preseason.
The Utah Jazz have lost two straight games—one expected and one not—and both have had the same set of issues. Mike Conley struggling, offensive rebounding in late game situations, and turnovers. Coincidentally, those were almost the same issues that plagued Utah when they played the Milwaukee Bucks in preseason minus the offensive rebounding. To be fair offensive rebounding wasn’t much of an issue for Utah in that game because their defense wasn’t that great. Not hard to prevent the opposing team from getting an offensive rebound when you’re not making them miss.
Milwaukee has the third best offensive rating and 12th best defensive rating. They are a machine. With Utah’s lack of size, a frontline of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez is a nightmare for Utah. Giannis can outmuscle any person Utah throws on him unless it’s Gobert. If it’s Gobert, then Utah is left to guard Lopez with 6’4 Royce O’Neale or 6’8 Bojan Bogdanovic. It’s not ideal.
There is a bright side. Milwaukee is the worst offensive rebounding team in the league at 16.8%. So if Utah struggles to get offensive rebounds against Milwaukee, Utah Jazz GM Justin Zanik and Head Coach Quin Snyder know there’s a much bigger issue at play. The last two teams who Utah played were top 10 in that regard—but it is hard with the small sample size to determine if it’s just because they were lucky enough to play the Utah Jazz.
On the flip side, Milwaukee gives up an 18.9% offensive rebounding percentage to their opponents this season, a league best. The Jazz are 2nd worst in the league in offensive rebounding this season. Basically, don’t expect Utah to come away with a lot of offensive rebounds in this matchup.
The Utah Jazz are the 10th worst team in the league when it comes to protecting the rock. The good news is they were one of the top five worst teams before last night. They are improving. One of those big reasons is Mike Conley who is averaging 3.1 turnovers a game. Just behind him is Rudy Gobert at 2.9 turnovers a game. That makes the Conley-Gobert PnR—a play that should be Utah’s most deadly—Utah’s most dicey play. It has the potential to open the spacing and terrify opponents. Due to the lack of familiarity between the two players, it’s just resulting in pain. A lot of it.
As the ball handler, Mike Conley is turning over the ball at a 15.5% TOV rate. He’s in the 20th percentile when it comes to being the ballhandler in a pick and roll. That’s not good. Adding to the pain is he is the ballhandler in a pick and roll in almost 60% of his plays. But there’s relief in site. When Ricky Rubio first got to Utah and was acclimating to Snyder’s advantage offense, he averaged 4.2 turnovers per game. By the next month he had decreased that to 2.7, a difference of -1.5. Quin’s system is designed to build momentum for an offense, but it’s intricate and—for Mike Conley—it’s a big change from Memphis. He’ll adjust and the turnovers will go down. When Conley is comfortable, then the turnovers for Gobert will decrease as well.
The other struggles of Mike Conley
To put it bluntly, this is the worst start of a season in Mike Conley’s entire career including his rookie year. He’s shooting the lowest he’s ever shot after the first seven games at 31.8% from the field and only hitting at 28.2% from three. He’s not getting to the line as much with only 4 attempts a game, and he has almost as many turnovers (22) as the most he ever had in his career after seven games (24). For someone that was sold as a plug and play player, it hasn’t been great.
The good news here, is it’s Mike Conley. His shooting should improve because the quality of the looks he’s getting are better. He’s shooting more shots from the corner three than he has ever shot in his career, and he’s hitting them at a 40% rate. That will improve. It’s hard to see how he could suddenly drop off a cliff. If he did, it would be the type of thing that gets a 30 for 30 documentary due to its rarity.
Defensively, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Jazz give up +10.4 points more when he’s on the court. The only aspect that he’s been solid is in the steals department. The bright side is Rubio struggled like this offensively and defensively when he got to Utah. Despite all of Mike Conley’s struggles, the Jazz are STILL one of the best defensive teams in the league. Their potential is so much higher, once—NOT IF—Mike Conley gets comfortable.
With all the issues, this seems like the type of game Mike Conley and the rest of the Jazz can shake off their issues and go off for a big game. They have a full week to stay at home, practice, get more familiar with the offense, watch film, and get to sleep in their own bed. If you want to see them turn it around on Friday night. Here’s information for the game and how to see it and where to buy tickets. Get them now while everyone is feeling down. When the Jazz throw down on the Bucks, you’ll get bragging rights.
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena
When: Friday, November 8th, 2019 at 7 p.m. MT
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All stats in this post are from CleaningTheGlass.com.