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Three themes from Utah’s three games of the season

Inconsistency, Donovan Mitchell's struggles and 3-point shooting

NBA: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Yea, we’re just three games into the season but we’re already going to look at the storylines from the Utah Jazz season thus far. In just 144 minutes we’ve seen a team that looks like the best in the west, a team getting upset by a perennial lottery team and nearly get upset again but pull out a win. This season is already a roller coaster so let’s get right into it.

Tale of two teams

As the first paragraph already touched on, we’ve seen two very different types of teams from the same Jazz roster this year. Utah’s win over Portland just about broke Jazz Twitter with the seeming implication that, while it was just one game and most noted that fact, it appeared that the Utah Jazz were lining up to be one of the elite teams in the West.

Two games later, the hype has faded after a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and an underwhelming performance in a close win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The culprits of this inconsistency will be the subjects of sections farther down this article, but one of them to discuss right now is perimeter defense. Damian Lillard — you know, the guy who averaged 48.8 points and 10.2 assists on 54/57/92 shooting splits over six games in January — went 4 of 12 against the Jazz (1 of 7 from three) for just nine points. CJ McCollum had 23, but needed 19 shots to get there.

In the two games since facing the Trail Blazers, Utah has allowed perimeter guys to go off. First, Minnesota rookie and 2020 first overall draft pick, Anthony Edwards, went off for 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Then Oklahoma City second-year guard, Luguentz Dort, had a career-best 26 points on 9 of 11 shooting.

Donovan’s struggles

Save for Mitchell’s 12 straight points to close out the game against Oklahoma City, which included a game-winning floater, the newly minted $195 million-dollar man has been an incredible disappointment. The points volume is mostly there at an average of 20.3 per game (down from 24.0 last year), but the efficiency is flat-out not present.

Mitchell’s shooting is sitting at 32.3 percent overall, 27.6 from three and 76.5 on free throws. If you exclude his final seven minutes against OKC (where he went 5 of 9), he’s sitting below 30 percent shooting from the field (28.3).

Right now, the young star is forcing up poor shots and is settling for 3-pointers too often. Mitchell was eighth in the league in 3-point attempts per game prior to the start of yesterday's games and the only one in the top 10 in that category who was shooting under 38 percent from deep.

3-point shooting

In that glorious season opener, which they won 120-100, Utah rained in 19 threes on 50 attempts. Those 50 attempts were the most ever in franchise history for a non-overtime regular season game. It seemed to confirm the suspicion that the Jazz were going to launch threes at an franchise-record rate, a suspicion borne partly from the 44.0 attempts the team averaged in the preseason.

However, that 3-point shooting rate has dropped to 35.0 attempts in the last two games with a shooting percentage of just 32.9. The Jazz are in the opposite boat right now than the one they were in last year. In 2019-20, Utah led the league in 3-point percentage but were 10th in attempts. Now they’re fifth in attempts but 16th in percentage (these ranks being prior to the Dec. 29 games).

The drop in 3-point percentage seems to be coming largely from inefficient shooting from Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell. The two are shooting 33.3 and 27.6 percent, respectively, on a combined 14.7 attempts per game.

Shooting is going to be a major theme of this season if the attempts keep coming. Right now, the Jazz are on the low end based on their potential, but this is something that could easily rise given just how many great shooters are on the roster.