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GREAT SALT TAKES: Utah Jazz

Jazzed about the Jazz? Veteran sports writers Randy Hollis and John Coon weigh in on what’s going on as Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and the guys seek to be among the NBA’s elite.


RANDY HOLLIS
Longtime Northern Utah sports writer, editor and columnist

Consistency.

It’s the mark of all great athletes, and all great teams — the ability to consistently do those things that are necessary to win.

It’s also something the Utah Jazz are sorely lacking these days.

After the first eight games of the 2020-21 regular season, the Jazz are 4-4. They’ve had some stellar performances — most notably a 120-100 season-opening victory on the road over Portland, and a 130-109 win at San Antonio — but they’ve had some stinkers, too.

Like Tuesday night’s embarrassing 130-96 loss to a Brooklyn Nets team that was without its top player, Kevin Durant.

Or Wednesday night’s 112-100 loss to the New York Knicks, a team which Utah is supposedly far superior to — and it certainly looked that way for a half, at least.

How’s this for consistency — or a lack of the same? The Jazz led the Knicks 56-44 at halftime, then got outscored by a humiliating 68-44 margin in the second half.

As a team, Utah’s performances have been the epitome of inconsistency — more up and down than those critters you try to whack in a game of Whack-A-Mole.

The Jazz shot 45.7% from the field and 38% from 3-point range in their opening win at Portland. Three nights later, those numbers dropped to 38.3 and 29.4 in a home-court loss to Minnesota.

On Dec. 28, Utah shot 50/36.1% in a road win at Oklahoma City. Three nights later, their field goal percentage tumbled to 41.7% at home in a loss to Phoenix.

Then, after shooting a spectacular 55.1/51.2% on Jan. 3 in a 21-point win at San Antonio, the Jazz shooting efficiency fell to 38.8/32.4% in that 34-point loss to the Nets. 

Indeed, the numbers don’t lie.

Individually, Utah forward Bojan Bogdanovic has been the biggest culprit in the inconsistency department. Returning from wrist surgery which sidelined him for all of last summer’s Jazz games in the Orlando bubble, Bogey scored 15 in the season-opening win at Portland, 9 in the loss to Minnesota, and since then has struggled through some huge scoring swings: 23 points at OKC, but just 3 against Phoenix three nights later; 28 points at San Antonio on 10-of-13 shooting, but then only 4 points vs. the Nets and 6 against the Knicks.

Mike Conley has been playing the kind of basketball that the Jazz brain trust envisioned when they acquired him in the summer of 2019. His steady scoring output in Utah’s first 6  games was superb: 18, 20, 20, 16, 33 and 15. 

And reliable Rudy Gobert keeps producing double-doubles on a regular basis.

But perhaps Utah’s most consistent player thus far has been Jordan Clarkson, who continues to be a consistent double-digit scorer off the bench.

Star guard Donovan Mitchell’s shooting has been somewhat suspect at times — he’s had nights of 6 of 23, 8 of 23 twice and a 9 of 23 — but hopefully his shot will come around more consistently as the season wears on.

But until the Jazz can build better consistency individually and as a team from game to game, and even from one half to another, their measure of success will likely remain every bit as up and down as those Whack-A-Moles’ heads.   

JOHN COON
Sports writer and author of newly released, “Alien People”

The Jazz made a major commitment to building around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for the next few years. Utah signed both franchise cornerstones to lucrative contract extensions that ensures they will remain in the Beehive State for the next four to five seasons. Both players are entering their prime, so it means the Jazz will have a team led by bonafide NBA all-stars for the near future.

Utah has done a decent job of building good chemistry in the locker room and establishing a clear identity. You know what you’re getting with the Jazz. Gobert is an elite rim protector. Derrick Favors has given the Jazz a second big man who isn’t afraid to crash the glass and defend the post. Donovan Mitchell is a pure scorer who can take over games almost at will. Jordan Clarkson is instant offense off the bench and a reliable sixth man. Utah is a defensive-minded team who likes to play the pass on offense. The Jazz will generate tons of open looks through extreme passing.

One ongoing problem for the Jazz early in the season is a penchant for slow starts. Utah often lacks urgency in the first quarter or the entire first half and ends up digging itself a hole. This forces the Jazz to play catch up in the second half and it hasn’t worked in their favor. Utah needs to bring the defensive energy for 48 minutes. Too often, perimeter defenders for the Jazz take a lackadaisical approach to sealing off outside looks and just assume Gobert will cover all their defensive mistakes – no matter who they are guarding or where they are guarding that particular player. Inconsistency in outside shooting has been another critical issue. Both Bojan Bogdanovic and Mitchell have endured major shooting slumps during the first couple of weeks of the season. Their struggles have ground the offense to a halt at critical times.

It’s early enough in the season that the Jazz are still in good shape (even after that abomination of a game against the Nets). Still, Utah needs to show progress beyond what we’ve seen so far if the Jazz don’t want to get crowded out in a deep Western Conference once the playoffs roll around.

PHOTO: Utah Jazz Instagram

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