EMPTYING THE NOGGIN — Mitchell was special in a close game finsih for Jazz

SUMMARY: In the final pre-season game of the season the Jazz got a close game experience for the first time and were able to pull out a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers 105-99.
• Donovan Mitchell stole the show throughout the night, but most of all in the final moments. Mitchell connected for the final 5 points of the game to put the Jazz ahead to stay. The Jazz closed the game on a 7-0 run. Mitchell hit an incredibly tough shot on a drive to the basket when he wanted to go with his right hand from 7 feet out, but the defender eliminated that option and he switched to his left hand and hit the shot. Then on the next possession, he hit a catch and shoot three to seal the game. Mitchell finished the game with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.

• Jazz trailed by 6 with 5:00 minutes left. They trailed 97-95 with 3:55 left and closed on a 10-2 run. Gobert had a jam follow and then split two free throws. Mitchell followed with the next 5 points and Rubio hit two free throws. In that time the Lakers had 1 field goal.

• After the game in our post-game interview Ricky Rubio seemed very impressed by the rookie. Interestingly, he talked about how he is constantly asking questions and trying to learn.

• Rodney Hood only played 4 minutes due to a sore neck. The Jazz also were without Raul Neto (hamstring) and Dante Exum (shoulder) so it left Mitchell to play a significant role and he rose to the occasion. He was terrific throughout the game. After the game, the Lakers press room was buzzing about the play of Mitchell.

• The Jazz played a fairly normal rotation on the back end of a back to back for their final regular season game. Rudy Gobert played 33 minutes and finished with 29 points. He only had 30 or more once all of last season. The Jazz offense is predicated on the pick and roll with Gobert putting pressure on the rim. For all the talk about Hood and others using all of Hayward possessions, maybe it is going to Gobert that has the increased roll in the offense. It still will have to be predicated off getting the ball off of other people’s actions. Clearly, it is the major focus of the offense.

• Ricky Rubio took 18 shots tonight. The Jazz need Rubio to use possessions. He has never played on a team that needs him to take this large a roll in the offense. It will be interesting to see if that helps his shooting. He was 6 of 18 tonight, but he went to the line 9 times, making 8. The free throws were able to make him an efficient offensive player tonight.

• The Jazz closed the game with Rubio, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Gobert. Johnson is going to be a large part of the Jazz closing offense. He is very calm. He can space the floor and needs attention if he is spotted up or if he has a mismatch he can go into the paint and get that little hood that crucified the Clippers.

• Game was played at a pace of 103 possessions which is about 10 faster than the Jazz a year ago. Pre-Season basketball is usually 4 or 5 possessions faster than a regular season game.

• The Jazz defensive rating tonight was 96.0. That will win a lot of games.

• Jazz defensive rebounding percentage was an incredible 87%. The negative of the night was the Jazz turned the ball over on 19% of his possessions.

• Solid win. Good experience playing a back to back and then having a close game down the stretch.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN Jazz do two things they will need to do all year

SUMMARY: Jazz defense exposed all of Phoenix weaknesses in a 120-102 blowout of the Suns in pre-season game #4
• If the Jazz are going to be good this year they will need to do two things they did tonight. First, they will need to be good defensively when Rudy Gobert is off the floor. Second, they will need to take advantage of inferior teams.

• Last year, when the Jazz went to Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson as the front court the defense was a wreck. The defensive rating was 126, league average is about 106.5 and the worst in the league is 112. Overall the defense was 107.5 when Gobert was off the floor. Tonight, Derrick Favors and Epke Udoh had terrific defensive nights.

• Derrick Favors is able to play the pick and roll much more aggressively than Rudy Gobert. With Gobert’s ability to defend the rim when he is involved in a pick and roll you want him to drop back toward the basket. When Favors is involved he can step up and play even to the screen or even a step above the screen and really impact the ball handler. He did that tonight and it caused Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker a great deal of discomfort. It helps that the Suns don’t have a great roll big or great passers.

• The Jazz dominated this game with their defense, exposing the weaknesses of the Suns. The Suns are not good passers. The Jazz forced 31 turnovers. The Jazz defense was rotating very well and getting into the passing lanes as well as anticipating the next pass. At the same time, Phoenix is not a good passing team and too often start to pass with no idea where it is going.

• The Jazz are going to need to beat bad teams this year. Moreover, they are going to have to dominate them defensively. The Jazz roster is deep, but it doesn’t have anyone who can carry the load for a night while the other guys get a break. Instead, the Jazz will have to bring high level effort each night and most of all when playing inferior teams.

• Ricky Rubio stole a pass on the opening possession of the game and took it for a layup. It ignited the Jazz defense and Rubio’s offense. Rubio scored 9 straight points to open the game and 20 in the first half of 8 of 10 shooting.

• Epke Udoh is really good defensively. He had a steal out on the floor where he reached in a stole a ball from Bledsoe and he is regularly blocking shots that no one anticipates. He is not tall, but he is long and it is as though offensive player don’t expect him to get to some of the shot he is able to alter or block.

• Raul Neto played the majority of the back up point guard moments. Quin Snyder said on the pre-game show he doesn’t want to burden Mitchell with the point guard responsibilities. Donovan Mitchell joined our post game show and said playing the point changes his mentality entirely from playing the shooting guard.

• Alex Burks got the back up three minutes in the first half

• Tony Bradley has learned a nice floater around the rim. He has a very good quick release on the shot.

The impact of Dante Exum’s injury

Multiple reports have Dante Exum with a separated left shoulder.  This is not a surprise if you saw his reaction when he fell or heard the reaction of his teammates after the game last night.    This is terrible news for Exum who was coming off his first basketball off-season and looked significantly improved.  It is also tough on the Utah Jazz who despite great depth will miss Exum a great deal.

As of this writing, how long Exum is out is not defined.  If he needs surgery it would likely be season-ending, if the shoulder can regain strength without surgery it would likely be 6 to 8 weeks.

IMPACT ON DANTE EXUM ON THE FLOOR

Exum’s career has been in perpetual rehabilitation mode since he tore his ACL after his rookie year.  For the first time as a professional, the former #5 pick was able to simply play basketball this season.   He played a ton.  Under the guidance of Baron Davis, Exum spent most of the off-season in Los Angeles and played games at UCLA.

Exum’s 2nd season, which was really his third after the lost year from the ACL, showed signs of improvement masked in inconsistency.    His FG% went from 35% to 43%.  He went to the free throw line 73 times in contrast to the minuscule 32 times as a rookie.  The weakness in his game was his corner 3 shooting (19 of 77 25%) and signs were that had improved.

Most importantly, Exum was playing with a confidence and assertiveness to his game.  His first step is elite.   How he dealt with circumstances after beating his man was where he needed to develop and things were trending in the correct direction.

The uniqueness of Exum’s career is how little basketball he played in Australia before being drafted.  Then when you added the ACL to the mix he was behind in court hours and the experience that comes with those reps.

Now Exum has to overcome another injury and lose more court time.

The good news is it his left shoulder, not his shooting arm.   It shouldn’t impact his speed and burst that makes him an elite athlete.   The crushing part is it will keep him off the floor for a player who desperately needs hours of basketball.

IMPACT ON THE UTAH JAZZ ON THE FLOOR

The Utah Jazz have great depth, but this injury is particularly hard for them to overcome.   Exum was building a roll coming off the bench,  adding an offensive and defensive juice to the game.  Coupled with rookie Donovan Mitchell the Jazz had created a 2nd unit based on speed and wreaking havoc defensively.

Now without Exum, the Jazz have to either thrust rookie Donovan Mitchell into a ball-handling roll or play more traditional point guard Raul Neto.   Neither scenario gives the Jazz anything similar to what Exum was able to deliver off the bench.

If the Jazz opt to give Mitchell the backup point guard minutes it could have a ripple effect on how Quin Snyder forms the rotations.   Mitchell and Burks in the backcourt could be helped with a Joe Ingles ball handler at the wing rather than Thabo Sefolosha.

Mitchell, who is loaded with skills, is still learning the NBA game.   He has yet to adjust to the speed and length of NBA players.  The first time burden of 82 games is intensified if he has ball handling duties night in and night out.

Putting this weight on Mitchell in his opening months of the NBA is not ideal.   There is a thought he may one day be a hybrid guard, but the plan wasn’t to have it happen out of the chute.

On the other hand, if you decide to play Neto at the point guard you lose the length that is the signature of the Jazz defense and it is hard to find minutes for Alec Burks, who is having a great pre-season.

Neto is a great luxury as a third point guard on your roster.  He is mature, he can run the team and he will battle every minute he is on the floor.  He can knock down shots if left open.

Another scenario to keep an eye on is the new two-way contract system.  The Jazz have Nate Wolters, a point guard, on a two-way contract.  The two way limits him to 45 days with the NBA.  How a day is defined is not entirely clear in the new system.    The Jazz could use those 45 days as a backup point guard safety net.

The impact of this injury trickles down to the last roster spot as well.  The Jazz have 15 spots and 15 guaranteed contracts.   Raul Neto’s importance may have just increased.   The loss of Exum for an undefined period of time also puts a burden on the Jazz wing depth.  Royce O’Neale has had a very good training camp and is wing security.

BIG PICTURE

Away from all the minute details, the big picture is crushing.  A 22-year-old Exum who came into the league with high hopes and immense pressure was finally going to find his where his game stood in the NBA realm.  The Utah Jazz who invested a 5th pick and high hopes on the elite length of athleticism of Exum were eagerly waiting to see his growth.

If the injury is season ending the Jazz and Exum will be 4 years into the journey with many of the same questions they had the night they drafted him in 2014.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Exum injured, toughness and a running game

SUMMARY: In their first pre-season game against an NBA team the Jazz showed their new approach and ran away from the Phoenix Suns 112-101
• Dante Exum was injured in the opening portion of the game. He got caught in the air around the basket and went down hard on his shoulder. He banged his feet in pain and then popped up grabbing his left shoulder and ran to the locker-room. At this moment the official word is left shoulder injury. This is a serious bummer considering the work Dante put in during the off-season and his effort to break through this season. Quin Snyder said he is heading for imaging but if you saw his shoulder it didn’t look good.

• The biggest thing that jumped out to me tonight is the Jazz are tougher than they have been in the past. Ricky Rubio battles for loose balls and is always in the mix. Donovan Mitchell, Thabo Sefolosha, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and more are always scrapping. This team has a toughness to it.

• The Jazz lead 28-25 after the first quarter and then ran away with the game in the 2nd quarter. They lead by as many as 22 in the 2nd quarter 65-43.

• Phoenix was not a good transition defensive team last year and that seemed to be the case again tonight. The Jazz are really focusing on running off of the opponents misses and they were able to do that tonight

• The Jazz dominated the offensive glass. They had 19 offensive rebounds on 54 chances for 35% offensive rebounding rate. Moreover, they scored 26 2nd chance points. This might be a bit of the model on how the Jazz are able to be successful offensive team this year. They dominate the glass and then hit some threes and that makes for at least an average offense.

• I had the game at 98 possessions and the Jazz allowed 101 points so the defense was solid but not great tonight.

• Rodney Hood started slowly, but managed to fit his grove and lead the Jazz with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting and took 4 free throws as well.

• Alec Burks continues his strong pre-season with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assist. With Dante Exum out Burks may find himself with a roll in the rotation and with some serious playing time.

• Ekpe Udoh and Joel Bolomboy had really strong 4th quarters to close out the win. Earlier in the day, Udoh said he was one of the best defenders in the world and tonight he showed that to be true. His really long. His length impacted a lot of shots that I don’t think guys thought he could impact. He plays good position basketball and he plays really smart basketball.

• Joel Bolomboy continues to play well. He has shown a variety of parts to his game. He hit another three. He played off the bounce. He showed his rebounding.

• Rudy Gobert had 3 assists to lead the team.

• Donovan Mitchell was forced into playing the point guard with Exum and Neto out of the game and it impacted his shooting. He went 3 for 16 from the field. Nothing to worry about it. He was generally in control and the shots weren’t forced or selfish.

• Overall a good night. The Jazz are trying to run and they were able to do it against Phoenix. If they couldn’t run v. Phoenix then it would be a problem.

• Devin Booker really doesn’t like playing Joe Ingles.