Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Utah Jazz
Previous meeting: Spurs won 110-100 in San Antonio
OffRtg: Spurs 107.1 (5th), Jazz 106 (6th)
DefRtg: Spurs 98.7 (6th), Jazz 103.8 (20th)
The San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz have been amongst the steadiest, most dependable clubs in NBA history.
In this it’s an interesting side note that Gregg Popovich built the Spurs current modus operandi using the Utah Jazz as a constant reference, and in hiring Dennis Lindsay away from San Antonio, Utah is doing the same.
Lindsay’s challenge is the Utah Jazz remain a team both on the rise and shackled in mediocrity.
The Jazz are 12-10 on the strength of an always daunting home court advantage (8-1) and are right on pace to compete for a low playoff seed and, should they succeed, a likely first round playoff exit. Looking through various statistical markers, it also appears that as constructed this likely remains a ceiling for teams built around the talents of frontcourt tandem Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Lindsay made several underrated moves in the offseason, picking up 3-point shooters Randy Foye (43.3%), Marvin Williams (37.7%), and Mo Williams (37.3%). Finally putting adequate spacing around Al Jefferson’s considerable post game, the Jazz offense has blossomed to sixth in league in efficiency with a 106 rating.
But even that appears to be stretching its upper limits and certainly has defensive limitations.
Jefferson is able to generate tons of post shots with limited turnovers, but on the whole he shoots under 50% and doesn’t draw the amount of free throws one would expect from a low post anchor (three a game).
While the shooters space the floor, on most nights the lacking elite efficiency in Jefferson’s post game is just a tolerable enough poison for disciplined defenses to refrain from sending a true double team, thus opening up space for shooters and driving lanes.
Though the Jazz shoot a healthy 37.4% from 3 (good for 8th in the league, just .002 percent points behind the San Antonio Spurs), they are in the bottom ten in the NBA in attempting 3-point shots.
Defensively the Jazz defend a level one would expect with Millsap and Jefferson as the backline of defense, struggling to defend the rim when forced to show and recover against the pick and roll or dribbling penetration.
In their first game this season Parker got to the rim at will, though in his early season struggles he only finished 3-10 from point-blank range. Expect the Spurs to exploit that advantage a little better this go around with Parker at or near the height of his powers entering tonight’s game.
Another glaring defensive hole, albeit one the Spurs are less likely to exploit, is their defensive rebounding. Only Charlotte and Detroit are struggling more on the glass.
For the purposes of this game, Utah remains a tough team to beat at home. And without either of their small forwards, the Spurs remain vulnerable to the Jazz potent offensive rebounding—especially if they opt to go big with Derrick Favors, Jefferson, and Millsap.
Favors is questionable and his absence would be a shame. He represents the Jazz best hope at a stylistic change and improvement.
If the Jazz truly wish to evolve like the Spurs, eventually they must castoff one or more of their quality frontline rotation in the name of roster balance.
Favors and Gordon Hayward potentially form the foundations for a defensive-minded club capable of pushing the pace and excelling in the pick and roll. Mo Williams is a solid point guard, good even for this setup, but the Jazz could use a dynamic ball handler and creator and this should be their goal.
As is, the Jazz are a solid team, one capable of winning a game or two against the Spurs. But not one ultimately to be feared.