The Utah Jazz went into halftime down one to the depleted Detroit Pistons and it had all the makings of an early season Jazz classic. Underperforming against lesser competition, bench struggling against opposing reserve units, and offense sputtering, but then the Utah Jazz started the second half on a big run and didn’t look back. Utah would then cruise to a 104-81 win, the first time Utah has won by 20 or more points since October 26th against the Sacramento Kings.
A lot of that second half turnaround was due to Rudy Gobert’s defense and Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson’s scoring. Donovan Mitchell scored 6 points and Jordan added 6 in the third. On the defensive end, Rudy Gobert had 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block and limited the Pistons to an offensive rating of 63.2 points per 100 possessions.
The reactions may have been mixed to the Jordan Clarkson acquisition a week ago, but I don’t think there’s anyone who is doubting it now. In Clarkson’s last two games with the Utah Jazz he has scored 19 or more points from off the bench and he became the Jazz’s first bench player to score 20 or more from the bench. Utah was looking for an off the bench scorer who was ready to put up points in bunches and they got that.
Rational Reaction #1: Jordan Clarkson is giving Utah EXACTLY what they were looking for
Trading Dante Exum was always going to elicit emotional responses not because of what he could be but what he could have been. Dante Exum was supposed to be the face of the franchise, the star lottery talent, the next great Jazz point guard alongside Deron Williams and John Stockon (Sorry John Lucas III). But injuries happened, the opportunities for development in season didn’t line up with Utah’s playoff hopes, and Utah soon had to leave his potential in the rearview mirror for short term net positive production. Jordan Clarkson wasn’t exactly a guaranteed net positive. He was having a career year in Cleveland, but it could be the fool’s gold of “Someone has to score on this godforsaken team.” But here we are and Clarkson just notched his second straight game off the bench of 19 points or more with a 20 point outing.
Jordan Clarkson when playing the point guard position since joining the Jazz—EXTREMELY SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT—is leading the Jazz to 117.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s amazing. The defense isn’t suffering too much either as it’s giving up 107.1 points per 100 possessions. The key here is when he moves over the SG position, the Jazz have a negative net rating of 26.9 points per 100 possessions (hello, Emmanuel Mudiay at the point guard position). When Clarkson does share a court with Mudiay and no Donovan Mitchell that net rating drops to -44.4. One thing to watch as Utah approaches the deadline is where does Utah plan to put Clarkson? Do they see him as a Lou Williams point guard who can heat up from off the bench? If so... Emmanuel Mudiay may not be seeing any time on the court once Mike Conley returns from injury.
Oh and Clarkson said Utah had the best fans. Build the statue.
Rational Reaction #2: Both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert deserve to be in the All-Star game
There should not be a single doubt in the Western Conference’s All-Star Head Coach when he fills out the remaining All-Star reserves after the starters. If Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert played for Dallas, Golden State, or Los Angeles, they’d be shoe ins for the All-Star game. Instead they will be on pins and needles until the very last second about their All-Star selections. Donovan Mitchell put up 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal and had a +/- of +21 AND HE PLAYS MANY MINUTES WITH THE BENCH UNIT. Rudy Gobert put up 13 points, 19 rebounds, and 3 blocks on a night where he played opposite Andre Drummond. When those two players share the court this season (regardless of the surrounding personnel), the Jazz score 115.5 points per 100 possessions and limit the opposing offense to 105.5 per 100 possessions.
They are elite. Among the top 50 two player combinations in lineups this season (those who have played significant minutes together of 500 or more), they are found in six of them. That’s insane. Rudy Gobert ranks 8th overall in WAR according to FiveThirtyEight’s new Raptor system and #1 in Defensive Raptor. Donovan Mitchell ranks 8th (tied with Kawhi Leonard) in Offensive Raptor and unfortunately has the Jazz’s bench unit destroying his defensive Raptor score. By mid-January, that may be a completely different story. Same goes for Rudy Gobert. A better bench can only mean that Gobert can pad his lead in defensive Raptor.
If that doesn’t impress you, this should. This is the company that Donovan Mitchell shares right now with his numbers this season. These are the only guys to average the same numbers as Donovan or better in their third season in the NBA. It’s insane.
That’s it. If Mitchell continues this level of play, he becomes the first player since LeBron James to be this efficient while impacting the game at this high of level. Mitchell and Gobert should be in the All-Star game no questions asked.
Overreaction #1: Georges Niang probably got served a bit of humble pie
After the Jazz’s statement win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Georges Niang was feeling that exclamation point high and went on Twitter looking for that smoke. He found it in SLC Dunk alum Clark’s critique of his play in the first half when he wasn’t a net positive on the floor.
Tonight Georges Niang got pulled from the game early as the Jazz struggled while he was on the court—he scored a three in garbage time or he would have rocked a blank box score line. Juwan Morgan would soon get his first minutes and while he didn’t make a big impact on the box score, the Jazz were not outscored while he was on the floor. Niang would see minutes again in the second half, but the same thing happened. Pistons were looking for him on the defensive end and he found his way back to the bench. Niang would end the game as the only Jazz player with a negative +/-.
I’ve said this before, if you find yourself in the entertainment business—and basketball is—players got to avoid throwing the “if you haven’t played pro you shouldn’t say anything at all” mantra. Worse, searching your name on twitter looking for that smoke while you’re riding high is a bad look. It doesn’t yield great results with 200 followers and it certainly doesn’t yield great results with 72,000 followers. Fans critique. Sometimes it’s not nice. They ride the lows and highs of the games. In Clark’s instance, he still writes for Salt City Hoops. He’s going to critique. Players shouldn’t mad when it’s negative as long as it doesn’t cross the line of abusive.
This is also a great time to point out that although professional athletes are adult working professionals, they’re also young adult working professionals. In most jobs if you’re 26 or younger, you’re one of the youngest in your office, plant, or facility. There are a lot of life lessons of being a professional in that job. Sometimes you mess up—as we all do. Entertainers unfortunately have the opportunity of failing in front of thousands of people live and millions of people via telecast. That’s a tough crowd. I’ve only failed in front of crowds of about ~1,200 when acting AND THAT FEELS BRUTAL. Reading reviews of how someone hated your performance hurts whether it’s from a big city newspaper or a local one print a week sheet. But it’s part of the gig. But the other part of the gig is getting applauded and cheered on by thousands and millions of people when things go right. Being noticed for just being you wherever you got and making good cash for a job in entertainment. It’s a mixed bag and social media doesn’t help.
Tonight, Niang got served a bit of humble pie, but here’s to hoping he can step up in Jeff Green’s absence and show us what he’s capable of if trusted in a bigger role.
Overreaction #2: I love this Joe Ingles celebration
I love this and I will watch this always and forever.
Just the reaction.
Let’s put some music to it.
Underreaction #1: Can we not with the early season slumps?
The Utah Jazz are gaining steam. They’re winning in bunches, but the teams ahead of them in the standings are winning in bunches, too. I wrote about that in my downbeat earlier today—shameless plug. I know the schedule is tough. I know there’s new players. But plenty of other teams faced the same challenge and didn’t put themselves into a ditch. The early season struggles are for whatever reason or another a staple of the Utah Jazz since Quin Snyder. It feels nice to be getting these wins when the Jazz are favored to win, but wins over teams that matter matter more. Utah’s first statement win over a big time playoff team took place two nights ago over the Clippers and it felt like winning a playoff game. If Utah wants to leapfrog teams in the standings they have to beat all the teams they’re favored against AND show up in games against Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets.
The last two wins we’ve seen the Jazz’s true potential. Now it’s up to Utah to keep playing up to it and make up for lost time.