SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 112-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Without Gobert, Jazz defense breaks down
Rudy Gobert was a late scratch in tonight's game because of right leg soreness. Derrick Favors was also out because of his longer-term knee issues, leaving Jeff Withey as the Jazz starter at the center position.
It did not go well. Withey was thoroughly outclassed on both ends by Steven Adams, and didn't even really provide his usual level of rim protection. He didn't screen well, either, which hurt the Jazz on the offensive end.
The Jazz's defensive rebounding also was a problem against the league's fourth-best offensive rebounding team. Withey just doesn't attack the glass like Gobert does, nor does he have the length to tip it to himself or teammates like Gobert does. As a result, Oklahoma City had 12 rebounds which led to 18 second-chance points.
And then the bench big pairing of Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles just doesn't work together at all. Here's this handy video that Dan Clayton made during the game, which shows some of the issues:
I get why the Jazz want Lyles to trap pick and roll (because he's a non-factor when defending the rim), but he's struggling at that too, generally being too aggressive and not responsible enough. And Diaw just isn't active enough in a lot of possessions: he either gets blown by or stays out of the play. He's not a very effective helper.
Again, the Thunder shot the ball well. But tonight's performance definitely shows how many mistakes Gobert covers up for the Jazz, and it probably actually really helps Gobert's case for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
2. Dante Exum gets career high, Bolomboy sees the court
Dante Exum scored a game-high and career-high 22 points Saturday, and really was the biggest factor in the Jazz's comeback from 23 points down to close the game to seven late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
I was really impressed with how he scored: he breezed by defenders in transition and when given an advantage, got to the rim, and actually finished there. When he wasn't finishing, he was being fouled. Exum shot nine free throws, making seven. Overall, 22 points on eight shots is a really efficient scoring performance, easily the best of Exum's career.
Exum ended up with only one assist, but I thought he had chances for more that his teammates didn't finish. And that Exum didn't foul is a huge deal. After committing four in just nine minutes of play on Wednesday, Exum didn't pick up his first personal foul until the 2:29 mark of the fourth quarter.
"That's been a big issue for me, trying not to foul," Exum said. "I had a couple of plays where usually I would foul, but I was able to keep my hands out and play good defense."
Snyder had an interesting analogy about Exum's development postgame. "I think as he's gotten more physically capable, it's like having a really, really fast car, and learning how to drive," Snyder said. Exum's speed leads him to make mistakes and turnovers on offense and maybe be more aggressive than most on defense. Sometimes, that backfires, and sometimes, it makes him really effective. If he can continue to learn how to harness it, it will really help. Saturday was a great first step.
Rookie Joel Bolomboy received by far the most playing time of his young career Saturday, playing 15 minutes at the end of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter.
And he was good! Despite an embarrassing rim-stuff and an airballed 3-pointer, Bolomboy finished with eight points, two rebounds, an assist, and a +7 plus-minus in his time in the game. He finished around the rim, and helped well on defense when necessary. He probably wasn't great at screen-setting, and lacked some polish, but he played well.
My favorite thing was that he kept his eyes up when receiving the ball down low. So many times, players who get minimal minutes are so focused on keeping their point tally high that they'll force shots when they have any excuse for taking one. But Bolomboy, when double-teamed here, passes out of it for a wide-open corner three.
Bolomboy's assist to Alec Burks. Probably could have had a layup here but I like how he noticed his teammate was open. pic.twitter.com/ZAdOCg7tNp — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 11, 2017
I'm torn on whether or not to give Bolomboy the minutes that usually have been played by Lyles. On one hand, Bolomboy probably can't play worse than Lyles has recently. On the other hand, maybe you hope Lyles can play himself out of his funk by playoff time.
3. "The Dunkster" needs to go
I'll preface this rant by saying this: I love Craig Bolerjack. The man was born to say words, and he is really, really good at it. I love his day-to-day enthusiasm, I love the tenor of his voice, and he has a fantastic sense of the moment, one of the most important traits for any broadcaster. He is also very nice in person. One time, he said something nice about something I wrote, and I'm sure I had a stupid grin on my face for weeks.
But we need to stage an intervention. His latest nickname for Gordon Hayward, "The Dunkster," is an abomination of the highest order. It is the single corniest nickname I have ever heard. If I worked on the Jazz's broadcast team, I would have resigned from my job rather than make a graphic like this.
On the other hand, maybe using this particular Hayward picture is its own form of protest, with Hayward aghast at the terrible words coming out of Boler's mouth.
First of all, labeling Hayward as a dunker isn't really right. He averages one per game. Sure, he's had a few impressive ones recently, but it's like his eighth-best trait as a basketball player. This is also Hayward's biggest problem with the nickname.
But really, the issue is that it's not clever, or well-thought out, or fun to say, or fitting, or anything. It's just face-palm worthy.
There are good Gordon Hayward nicknames! Hair Gordon is great! H20 works! Even G-Time is fine! Anything is better than this. Please, make it go away.