SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 114-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz space the floor around Favors to good results
Rudy Gobert sat out of Saturday night's game because of the right knee contusion that he suffered Friday, so the Jazz started Derrick Favors at the center position and spaced the floor around him, with Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Thabo Sefolosha starting alongside of him.
It worked out great for everyone involved. The Jazz scored 114 points on 98 possessions. Favors, the new center, scored 24 points on 9-15 shooting, and even added 12 rebounds, as many as he's had in the last four games combined. The Jazz got lots of good looks at the rim from other players too, including Mitchell's game-high 26 points.
I'm a little bit reluctant to credit all of the Jazz's offensive success to the spacing, because they also just simply made more of the same shots than they did Friday night. But man, there is a lot of evidence pointing in the direction that spacing makes a huge difference. Sefolosha's game-high plus-minus of +17, despite going just 2-7 from the field is one data point.
Rubio's best game in a week is another. Rubio, with the space to roam, could find Favors on the roll or other players open in the corner. He only had one turnover all night, his first game in a Jazz uniform with either one or zero giveaways. He didn't score, but he did everything else. You know, the kind of player that we thought Rubio would be.
Another hint: Timofey Mozgov's plus-minus. He spent only 10:53 on the floor despite being a starter, and the Jazz outscored the Nets by 20 points when he was on the floor. That includes a 14-6 start, a 14-4 second quarter stint, and a very quick 4-2 stint in the third quarter. Mozgov didn't play again. With the Jazz spaced like they were, and with Favors being much more mobile than last season, there was just no room for a player of Mozgov's caliber in tonight's game.
OK, one more. The Jazz nearly lost a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter on the back of a super small lineup from the Nets that had neither a power forward or a center.
"They're a very difficult team to guard when they're small and they have a chance to space the floor," Quin Snyder said after the game.
That the Jazz might have the worst starting lineup in the NBA when it comes to spacing might be the biggest factor as to why the offense is chugging along so slowly. Joe Johnson allows the Jazz to space the floor more easily, but without him, the Jazz still need to get it done. Sefolosha at the four is at the answer.
2. Favors playing the five
This is outright lifted from user GobertReport on the RealGM forums, but I thought he brought up a really good point. Look at these four players:
Player A: 6-10 without shoes, 7-3.5 wingspan, 9-2 standing reach
Player B: 6-9 without shoes, 7-4.5 wingspan, 9-3.5 standing reach
Player C: 6-8 ¾ without shoes, 7-4 wingspan, 9-2 standing reach
Player D: 6-8.75 without shoes, 7-1 wingspan, 8-11 standing reach
Player A is Nerlens Noel, Player B is Dwight Howard, Player C is Derrick Favors, and Player D is Al Horford. All of the other three are no-doubt-about-it centers.
We're now at the point where Favors, who absolutely would have been a natural power forward in years past, probably finds his most natural position at the center. Favors' elite skill, which we saw repeatedly tonight, is rolling to the rim and finishing. He's not as good at picking and popping, he's not a natural floor spacer, and he's not a perimeter playmaker. He's not a 3-point threat. In today's NBA, he should probably be played most frequently at the five. If anything, Horford probably has more power forward skills than Favors, but he's been played primarily as a center for every year of his 11-year career.
Playing center simplifies things for Favors. Rather than deciding when he can crash the glass and when he can't, when he should roll and when he should pop, and when he should switch and when he shouldn't, he just does the same thing aggressively every time. It allows him to take advantage of his natural skills and become a dependable player.
And yeah, he'd be one of the NBA's shorter centers, which can present challenges when he faces bigger lineups than Brooklyn's. But it's better than having three non-shooters on the floor at once, which makes the Jazz's offense just grind to a halt.
The problem, of course, is that the Jazz just gave $100 million to a center who is even better and definitely the future of the position for the Jazz. Favors knows this and can see the writing on the wall; it probably makes sense that he's not playing in a Jazz uniform next season after he becomes a free agent. For Favors' sake, it probably makes sense to find him in a new situation, and a night like tonight's really helps his trade value.
3. Donovan Mitchell leads Jazz in scoring again
I've written a lot about Donovan Mitchell this season, more than any other player, but I think it's understandable given his production.
First, he's now led the Jazz in scoring five times this season (after the 26 point performance tonight), tied for the lead on the team with Rodney Hood. That he's done that, and earned a starting spot as a result, is incredible for a rookie on a team that's trying to win games, not just develop players.
Some of that scoring is because he's taking a lot of shots. An insane amount of shots, in fact. This stat from The Ringer blew me away: "Mitchell is on pace to attempt more field goals per 100 possessions than any rookie of the past 29 years." He's shooting more than anyone in the last 29 years!
Here's the good news: that list of rookie chuckers in the last 29 years is incredibly talented. Right below Mitchell: Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson and Kevin Durant. Insert wide-eyed emoji here.
And he's just getting better. Saturday was his best shooting performance night, and admittedly it came against a Nets team that doesn't have any defensive juice whatsoever.
I've noticed a few different things. First, he attacked inside more frequently, getting 13 shots inside the arc. When he is at the rim, he's being a little bit smarter about using angles to get there: rather than trying to finish over taller players, he's usually taking a more acute angle and finishing using the backboard. That's smart.
He's also making far fewer defensive mistakes, where his over-enthusiasm hurts him. He's switching more cohesively, and staying with his man rather than anticipating and overplaying actions.
Again, I love that he's already visibly developing after 13 games. Snyder talked about that a little bit before the game: "We've put a lot on him and he's capable of handling it," he said. "The thing I'm most excited about with Donovan is his work ethic and his thirst to learn."
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