At this point in the season, the Utah Jazz find themselves with four games in the win column and three games in the loss column.
What is getting lost is a simple fact that they are a Jonas Jerebko tip-in, Shelvin Mack revenge game and Derrick Rose 50-piece from being 7-0. What is even more impressive is how much better the Jazz have looked offensively.
Last year, they had one of, if not the, league’s best defense. This year, loaded behind their newly found offensive arsenal, they look to make an even bigger impact on this edition of the regular season.
So what are the Jazz doing differently on the offensive side of the floor this year to put up more points?
There are quite a few things we can point to, but Quin Snyder’s offensive scheme has always been designed to put other teams in a blender, and it continues to put a bigger emphasis on this. Essentially speaking, the game plan features a mixture of screens, cuts and misdirections to get people open lanes to the basket. This will either result in open layups or help defense coming over, which in turn leads to open players under the basket or behind the three-point line.
One of the key cogs of the “blender” offense is the high screen, and who better to set them than two of the best screen-setters in the NBA, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. As strong as Gobert’s game is defensively, he’s really developed something on the other end of the floor. His ability to set strong screens – coupled with his inherent roll-gravity – allows his teammates to find open lanes to either score at the rim or give him easy lobs for dunks. Favors isn’t far behind with a similar skillset, mainly lacking in length and athleticism.
Who better to feed the big men than Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles or Donovan Mitchell? You can tell by simply watching them, but all three players have developed impressive abilities to put the ball in the right position for a lob or settle for a layup at the rim or a floater to avoid the shot getting blocked.
Funny enough, the Jazz are dead last in the league shooting from five to nine feet at 19.4 percent, and in the bottom seven at 10 to 14 feet shooting 31.3 percent. Once they begin finishing these makeable shots at a much more efficient clip, their scoring averages will skyrocket. They currently sit at fifth in the league within five feet at 65.8 percent, so the lobs are obviously there. The Utah guards simply need to find a better rhythm with their proximal midrange game.
Another piece the Jazz have really seemed to focus on is their transition offense. Historically, at least in the last five or so years, the Jazz seem to hover around dead last in pace. Currently, they sit at 12th in the league. As far as their transition offense, they sit at fourth in the league in points per possession at 1.26. They are also doing a phenomenal job at taking care of the ball in transition, as they land third in the league in turnover frequency at just 5.7 percent.
With players like Dante Exum, Alec Burks and Mitchell – players with elite athleticism – they are able to get out ahead of the defense on rebounds and really push the pace to get to the rim. As you watch the Jazz, you can tell they’ve really been working on propelling the ball down the floor quickly and taking advantage of opponents getting back on defense slowly.
The final piece to Utah’s offensive puzzle – the piece that many games league-wide are typically won or lost on – is the three-point shot. Not only do the Jazz have the league-leading three-point shooter since the beginning of the 2016-17 season in Ingles, but they’ve added another deadly shooter off the bench in Georges Niang. In 2017-18, Niang was First-Team All G-League and shot the three at a 45.9 percent clip. Through the season, the Jazz are shooting 37.6 percent from beyond-the-arc. This is good for 11th in the league, currently.
In wins, they shoot 38.1 percent from three, so that shot isn’t necessarily moving the needle for the Jazz. The big difference is field goals in general. In wins, the Jazz are shooting 50.2 percent from the field. In losses, that number jumps down to 43.4 percent.
When you dive deeper into the numbers, you see that, in wins, they only attempt 28.3 threes per game, and in losses that number rockets up to 36. So, although the efficiency of that shot doesn’t change too much, it almost seems as if they settle for too many threes in losses rather than working the “blender” offense and getting someone an open look at the rim.
The season is still young, and sample sizes remain incredibly small, but the Jazz win games when Mitchell and Gobert are the two main scorers. In all wins, the duo leads the rest of the team in points per game by a sizeable margin. In losses, both of them drop off considerably. Again, small sample size, but still – the numbers are intriguing. Those two players are far-and-large the superstars on the roster, so when they shine, the team follows.
With how wild the start of the season has been for the Jazz, with as many close games as they’ve had and their somewhat-of-a-let-down defense, they still rank 11th in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating.
There are still many games to be played, but the team appears to be as healthy as it has been in years, and things definitely seem to be clicking in areas that they have struggled with in the past. As the season goes on, look to see the Jazz continue to improve on offense, and make a midseason push to have the lowest defensive rating in the league.
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