I’m trying not to break my own rule.
I try not to make too much of any single regular-season game. Especially one that the Jazz won by double figures on a Monday night in January.
But some ugly trends reared their heads tonight in ways that I think the Jazz would not have been able to survive had they not been playing one of the league’s worst teams.
With Whiteside out again tonight, fans likely expected a poor defensive performance in the minutes that Rudy Gobert was off the floor. That’s been a trend all year, particularly when Rudy Gay has had to play the back-up Center instead of Whiteside (more on that later). That has not been too fatal a flaw for Utah this season because its offense is an absolute furnace.
But the Utah Jazz lacked the surgeon-like precision it has played with most of the season. Give the Pelicans credit, as they were able to pick up Utah’s ball carriers high and apply pressure early. The Pelicans were physical and aggressive, causing Utah to turn the ball over and hesitate, essentially gumming up “the blender” offense. The Jazz also didn’t sprint to their spots like they usually do, deflating the tight spacing wherein they normally operate.
But the Jazz offense has responses for essentially every type of defense. It’s part of what makes it so dominant. And tonight the Jazz just didn’t respond to New Orleans' aggressive style of play. You’ll take the outcome, but you’d like to see a little better execution on the first night of a five-game road trip.
Poor Perimeter Defense
Like a broken record, the Jazz perimeter defenders struggled and failed to contain the ball. Even when Rudy was on the floor, Utah’s guards & wings did a poor job containing, it just didn’t always result in an open look at the rim or kick-out with Rudy there to clean up the mess.
Additionally, the Jazz rebounding effort tonight was atrocious, allowing New Orleans to snare 17 offensive rebounds (good for 33% of those available).
With Whiteside out, I thought we saw Rudy Gay put in real uncomfortable spots. I think that, as this roster is currently constituted, we can probably conclude that Rudy Gay as a small-ball five is a bad look for the Jazz. Coming into tonight, the Jazz had played about 93 total possessions (comparable to about one full game) with Rudy Gay playing Center. In those possessions, the Jazz have an Offensive Rating of 92.5 and a Defensive Rating of 122, which ranks in the zero and 2nd percentiles, respectively. The Lineup data per Cleaning The Glass isn’t up yet, but I don’t imagine those minutes were much better than that tonight.
So, we’re in a position where we’re relying on Hassan Whiteside to play. Whiteside has been a very, very nice story this year. But the bulk of his career would tell you that he is not exactly the most reliable player.
How are we fixing it?
Like I said at the top. I try not to overthink these games. And I’m not sure a 115-104 Jazz victory game recap is the best place to perform this kind of prognosis… but let’s go ahead and do it anyway.
Clearly, the Jazz need an infusion of talent in the perimeter/wing defender role. But at what expense? If you’re the Jazz GM, how are you fixing this roster?
Because Utah has the best offense in the league, we’re going to have to graft some of that raw offensive talent into a defensive upgrade. So, to oversimplify it, let’s break down that offensive talent into three buckets: Dribbling, Passing, and Shooting.
(Let’s also, for the sake of not being totally absurd, assume that trading Donovan and Rudy, whose offensive contributions are immense but don’t really fit those categories anyway, are off the table.)
Outside of Donovan, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles have the best combination of dribbling, passing, and shooting. Ingles is a name we’re going to see in a lot of trade rumors before the deadline. He’s on an expiring deal and has a pretty matcheable salary. I don’t really see the Jazz moving Conley after extending him last summer.
Clarkson is a good shooter, and a good dribbler, but not a very good passer. He is also on a pretty moveable salary.
Bogdanovic isn’t a very good dribbler or passer but is the best shooter on the team. He also has a nice break-in-case-of-emergency post-game. He is on a slightly less attractive contract but is by no means immovable.
Which one of those subtractions from the offense would disrupt it the least? And who are you targeting in return? Remember, bringing back a starter-caliber talent will likely require either Jared Butler or Udoka Azubuike and a first-round pick.