The Utah Jazz are scuffling.
Just a couple weeks removed from the 20-1 stretch of games where a loss was nigh unfathomable, the Jazz have lost 4 of their last 6 games. Over that stretch Utah has allowed a 116.1 ORTG to opponents, a mark that would 27th for the season.
Furthermore, Jazz are allowing 55.3% eFG to opponents in those 6 games, a mark that would rank 25th for the season. Utah’s defensive plan of forcing inefficient looks has wilted of late with the team ranking 22nd in location eFG% on defense.
Last night in San Francisco, it all came to a head against the Golden State Warriors, where the Jazz allowed the 2nd highest eFG% to an opponent all year. While Utah had a fairly good defensive game plan execution in the half-court, the Jazz found themselves defending in transition with the 6th highest frequency of the season and the 3rd highest efficiency*.
* Data thanks to Cleaning The Glass
While Utah couldn’t have been expected to continue to win games at a 95% rate, this latest version of the Jazz is a surprising overcorrection.
You’re likely wondering, “What about the defense is accentuating this recent skid?”
This question has a lot of possible answers and all likely share an ounce or two of the truth. A brief scan of social media, fan forums, and even beat writer’s work will comprise the short list below:
- Is Derrick Favors injured, over the hill, or overmatched?
- Bojan Bogdanovic can’t guard a barstool
- Quin is being stubborn about lineup decisions
- Jazz are turning the ball over and not rebounding
Favors is certainly not the player we’ve come to expect. Per B-Ball Index, Favors is in the 24%tile of rim deterrence; he’s been in the 72%tile or better the previous four seasons. Teams are just waltzing to the rim when he’s on the floor.
Bogey has certainly had ups and down shooting the ball this year but from a defensive standpoint, it’s been consistently bad. While Bojan has lived in the “C” grade range for his career per B-Ball Index, he’s trending toward an “D-”/“F” grade this season.
Lineup adjustments are tricky and take some time to evaluate their impact. What may work for one matchup doesn’t necessarily indicate its best for the next. Whether a fair criticism or not, there are a lot of variables most of us fans can’t fathom.
As those who’ve read the author’s work before, turnovers and offensive boards (or swinging possessions) are one of the frequent topics of slight concern. Over the last 6 games, Jazz are allowing a -4.7 Points Swing (would rank 28th for the season).
All the above contribute to the problem at some level. In research for this article, a specific lineup combination surfaced as a big contributing factor for the recent defensive struggles.
Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson are two of the most exciting, highlight-prone players the Jazz have. With their dynamic styles of play, fans might naturally want to see them on the floor together carving up defenses.
Offensively, they’ve been stellar. Utah is scoring 116.6 points per 100 possessions, good for the 77%tile of all NBA lineups. A glance at the negative net rating about stops your heart.
When Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson share the floor, the Utah Jazz are getting blitzed on defense.
To say it’s been ugly is a bit of an under statement.
They’ve played a total of 980 possessions together sporting these ratings. A quick use of the awesome sample size app by Andrew Patton and Ryan Davis shows that the ratings are stable enough to use as an estimate for the second half of the season (or in other words, don’t expect this to get much better).
Derrick Favors’ personal defensive rating has felt the brunt of this poor backcourt combo. When Utah roles out Favors and just one of Clarkson or Mitchell, the defense is an excellent 104.6. That marks drops all the way to 118.5 when Favors shares the floor with both.
Even Rudy Gobert, the greatest defensive player in the league, Utah’s defense goes from 105.1 with one of the two to 115.5 with both.
Just as oil and water don’t mix, neither should Clarkson and Mitchell be sharing the floor with each other.
Why So Terrible?
Mitchell and Clarkson have been undoing Utah’s defense all season. What exactly are these lineups doing to be so brutal defensively?
First off, opponents have an all-access pass to the hoop. With both on the floor, opponents are getting nearly 37% of their shots in the paint. Compare that to 31% when the Jazz allow overall.
Opponents are shooting 40.1% from 3. Compare that to the 35.9% the Jazz are allowing for the season. Teams are getting excellent shots and making them at a cringeworthy rate.
With Clarkson and Mitchell, opponents are getting to the free throw line more as well (19.3% of possessions vs Utah on the year at 15.8%).
It’s just not working right now. Quin needs to look for ways to reduce their time on the floor together, which has shown via 2,565 possessions to sport a 104.4 DRTG.
The Utah Jazz should immediately begin lineup reconstruction to eliminate Mitchell-Clarkson combinations. They are too poor defensively to help us win games against elite backcourt talent.
The front office and coaching staff should continue to explore options for trades, role adjustments, and strategy tweaks. All of the above possibilities, however, involve a lot of unknowns and an amount of data that is less than satisfactory.
A lineup tweak to keep Mitchell and Clarkson from sharing minutes is one of the most data driven and quick to execute (relative to a trade) decisions that could boost Utah’s defense in the second half of the season.
Just remember, oil and water don’t mix.