Probably the most non-playoff exciting moments in Jazz history came on the first day of 2024, as they blew out the Dallas Mavericks 137-90 to get their eighth win in the last 11 games. And if this is the Utah Jazz that we’re going to watch the whole year, there’s a lot of things to be excited about.
This win was also a big payback from the 50-point beating they got in Texas back on December 7. The barrage came in a myriad of ways, displaying the aspects that have popped in this current winning stretch.
To put some perspective, since the 13th of December, the Jazz hold the seventh best rating in the league. After the so-called “hunger games” that the team encountered, it does feel that Coach Hardy and the squad are figuring things out now.
One of the bright spots the team had discovered was the emergence of Simone Fontecchio. With his improved play as of late, the coaching staff has given him more opportunities (16 starts already) and the outside shooting proficiency he has exemplified is trending up as well (40% from 3 on 4.6 attempts)
In this game, the Italian wing tied his season-best 24 points on an efficient 73 true shooting percentage (TS%). What’s impressive in his progression is that scoring not only came from spot-up or catch-and-shoot situations. He’s continuing to show the ability to attack closeouts – pretty much evidenced last night.
Just want to quickly highlight how the Jazz effectively use flare screens to free up their shooters. If you’ve watched the team intently last season or even the time when Coach Hardy was with the Celtics, it’s been a pet action they’ve run a ton with a lot of success. Against the Mavericks, the team was able to punish the lacking off-ball defensive pressure presented, which enabled a better flow on the Jazz’s offense.
It’s still about flares, but here’s an interesting one where the Jazz mixes in a double drag screen first that then flows into a flare screen for the second screener. It has been incorporated in the offense lately, so let’s keep an eye.
We now shift to the defensive part, where the Jazz was just impeccable in multiple facets. Highlighting once more the past 11 games, the team has ranked eighth in defense, only allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions. And versus the Mavs, the Jazz tried various coverages to shut down one of the best offenses in the league.
The main game plan going into this game was primarily how to neutralize the effect of Luka Doncic. Utah started the game by switching every ball screen that Doncic was involved in to make it an one-on-one matchup. But Coach Hardy and his staff went back to the defensive scheme they’ve pushed for the majority of the season.
Per Synergy, the Jazz have logged the most percentage of defensive possessions in a zone across the whole league at 12.9%. Moreover, teams struggle against the team’s zone – scoring a lowly 0.936 points per possession, good for fifth best mark in the NBA.
As the league is continuing to see an offensive surge in the modern style of basketball, it’s guaranteed that elite squads will find ways to break any form of defense. But a wrinkle that has made the Jazz zone work has been their activity, leading the league in contested shots since this winning run.
Let’s take the time to appreciate how Walker Kessler affected the game too. He was a menace at protecting the rim (four blocks) and even guarded Doncic in the perimeter with flying colors (1-5 as the primary defender).We all know that Kessler’s play deserves its own blurb, but for now look at his defensive dominance in this game:
Save the best for last as they say, the man, the myth, the legend, Jordan Clarkson. He finally broke the spell of the Jazz of not having a triple-double since Carlos Boozer in 2008 with a stat line of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. This performance underscored what has been clicking for Clarkson since he came back to the lineup.
Discussed previously in another piece of mine was the importance of paint touches of Clarkson to his efficiency and the overall looks his teammates get. A 20-point outing wouldn’t shock you, snagging 10 rebounds could be a result of a better overall team defense, but how Clarkson managed to have 11 assists is a testament of his growth in facilitating – especially when he puts pressure at the rim.
With this win, the Jazz moved to 15-19 and inched closer to the playoff/play-in picture. As they are about to face the top three teams in the East and the defending champions in a few days, it will be a good test for the squad to see what they’re at relative to higher competition.
Our hope is that the Jazz can keep on building from this dominant dub!