One game in, what do we know about the Utah Jazz? It’s hard to really draw any conclusions after one game, especially the season opener. But it is nice to finally have some meaningful regular season action to look at and digest a little bit. Here’s what I noticed in watching game 1/82 for the Utah Jazz last night.
Defense: Same, But Different
The Jazz defense for the last several years has been pretty dominant. They seem to always hover around the top 5 in the league in defensive rating, and this year has started off no different. They held the Oklahoma City Thunder to 86 points, with a defensive rating of 90.5. Anchored around three-time DPOY, the Jazz defense filtered the Thunder into the exact shots they wanted them to take, which eventually led to some scoring droughts and an opening night W. A lot of what the Jazz defense did last night looks very similar to years past. Slowing things down, forcing tough shots, elite rebounding, etc. There were some things that the Jazz did last night that seemed a little different. Individually, the Jazz players seemed to be much more active. Guys seemed to be flying around just a little bit more than last year, getting in passing lanes, fighting around screens, etc. Maybe it was just because everyone had a little more juice in the first game of the season, but it was nice to see. You can tell that Donovan Mitchell is actively trying to improve his on-ball defense. He held Lu Dort to 7 pts on 2-10 field goals, which was much better than the 42 points he scored against the Jazz last season.
The Jazz ranked dead last in forced turnovers last season, and it was something that a lot of people wanted to see them do better at this season. They forced 14 last night, which is an improvement over their average last year, but still not great. Only 2 deflections in last night’s game, and oddly enough, 0 fast break points lol.
Bojan Bogdanovic looks healthy, and Bojan Bogdanovic looks GOOD. Bojan dropped an easy 22 last night on 10-17 shooting and made it look almost effortless. Bogdanovic admitted this offseason that he was still dealing with a lot of wrist pain and soreness through the 2020-21 season and playoffs. He claimed to be 100% coming into this year, and man did it look like it last night. Looked like prime 2019-20 Bogey, scoring at different spots of the floor and just knocking down shots.
The Jazz getting a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic might actually be bigger than any offseason move they made this summer. Bogdanovic adds so much scoring depth to the Jazz offense, and makes it really difficult to defend when he shares the floor with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. Bojan’s shooting is so important to the Jazz. If he can stay healthy all year and throughout the playoffs, the Jazz offense will be borderline unstoppable.
The backup center position has been a thorn in the Jazz backside for a while now. They just haven’t been able to get reliable consistent minutes out of several different players at that position over the years, especially on the defensive end. The Jazz signed Hassan Whiteside this offseason with hopes of finding way to change that. Whiteside logged 18 minutes in the opener last night, and had his good moments and bad. He had one sequence where he blocked two shots on the same possession, that was cool.
The @utahjazz are looking a little sloppy in the first quarter of the season, but still lead the @okcthunder 17-11 at the 3:23 mark.— KSL Sports (@kslsports) October 21, 2021
Promising early minutes from Hassan Whiteside.#TakeNote pic.twitter.com/8KlZnA2Fjh
He also had five fouls in 18 minutes, and kinda just seemed disengaged at certain points of his stints on the floor.
After 18 minutes of being on the floor last night, Whiteside actually ended up a +1 in the plus-minus, which is a huge win. Jazz backup centers +/- have been pretty abysmal over the years, so anything positive is a good sign. As of right now it looks like Whiteside has the edge over Udoka Azubuike as far as minutes go, but it will be interesting to see if that changes if Whiteside starts slipping.
One thing that I think everyone was looking forward to last night seeing the rookie Jared Butler in action. We didn’t know exactly how much we would see of him, given the insane depth of the Utah Jazz. Butler confirmed yesterday before the game that he was planning on seeing minutes, but didn’t know how many. Butler’s first NBA action came in the first half. His first NBA shot was a corner three that missed everything by about a foot. Butler ended the game scoreless shooting 0-5 from the field, 0-4 from three in 9 minutes. Butler looked a little shook out there in his first NBA game, and understandably so. It’s got to be so crazy going from college to the NBA level. Even after Butler dropped 20+ points several times in preaseason, the regular season is just a different beast. Nobody should be worried about Butler at all. Once that first shot goes down, the nerves will calm down just a bit, and he will be on his way. It was fun to see him get minutes early on with the first bench rotation, which is a good sign he will get some more run in upcoming games.
Approaching last night’s game, I was curious to see how the rotation would play out with the Jazz’s new off-season acquisitions. With Rudy Gay out for a little bit, we’ll have to wait to see how it is with everyone healthy, but last night we got a good taste of the new rotation. Eric Paschall looks to be filling in the role that Georges Niang was in last season, playing in 14 minutes last night. Paschall looked fine, didn’t really get a lot of opportunity on offense, but it’s probably going to be on the other side of the ball that we see added value over Niang from last season. Hassan Whiteside logged almost 20 minutes, which taking out a few garbage time minutes seems about right. Jordan Clarkson assumed the role of flamethrower again last night, which makes everything right in the world. He played almost as many minutes (26) as most of the starters, and actually played more than Mike Conley did.
It’s so great to have Jazz basketball back again. The Jazz are 1-0 and heading to Sacramento. The cool thing about dissecting one game in the NBA, is that you get another game to look at just a few days later. We’ll see how these takeaways hold through tomorrow night’s game against the Kings.