SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 121-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
Flashback to 298 days ago, Feb. 1, 2017. That's the last time the Bucks played the Jazz at Vivint Arena, and the Bucks allowed the Jazz to shoot an absurd number of corner threes: 20 in all. The Jazz made eight of them, propelling them to a win.
So tonight, I asked Bucks head coach Jason Kidd before the game if he was going to try to change that.
"We're going to try to execute our game plan and hopefully we can only give up 19," he said. "We can only get better."
The good news for Kidd: the Jazz only got 14 corner three attempts tonight! The bad news for Kidd: that's still preposterously high — 98th percentile among all NBA games this year. Also, the Jazz made 18 of their total 32 threes, a franchise high.
Here's how this worked, both last year and this year: the Bucks play a hyper-aggressive style of defense where they try to "trap" the ball-handler to try to force turnovers. The idea, Kidd says, is to try to use their length from the wings in the best way, and hide the fact that they're very weak on the glass by ending possessions before the opponent gets a shot up. The Bucks are the second-worst team in the league when it comes to rebounding the ball, so that makes some sense.
But the strategy is like the Bucks cutting off their nose to spite their face. Because they trap, unselfish teams with good passers can just pass around or over the double team, finding the open man and getting good shots. The Bucks are the ninth-worst defensive team in the league because of this, and it's sent them to a .500 record despite having one of the league's true superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Like, here's the Bucks trapping Joe Ingles in the corner. Cool! Except a pretty open Raul Neto is an easy pass away, and then Neto can dish to a wide-open Donovan Mitchell for an open three when the defense overreacts to that pass.
Today's Triple Team videos: some nice passing by the Jazz. Here's the Bucks trapping Ingles to the corner, so he makes a pretty easy pass to Neto, who makes a pretty easy pass to Mitchell for 3: pic.twitter.com/QVZZ7xwD7H— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) November 26, 2017
This is an especially bad strategy against the Utah Jazz. Other teams have found success against the Jazz's offense by playing fundamental defense, staying in front of their men, and giving the Jazz's bad shooters (like Ricky Rubio) air space. Instead, Kidd stubbornly played into the Jazz's best offensive skill (unselfishness), and lost the game as a result.
That being said, the Jazz still had to make the plays, and we should give them credit for that. They ended up with 31 assists tonight, which ties for the team high in the four years Quin Snyder has been head coach of the team.
Some of them were very nice assists! Donovan Mitchell had two of the best ones, one a no-look to a cutting Derrick Favors in semi-transition and one touch pass to Thabo Sefolosha inside.
Here's a nice Mitchell touch pass to a wide-open Sefolosha: pic.twitter.com/DQc58cYpY1— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) November 26, 2017
Here's a nice Mitchell no-look to Derrick Favors: pic.twitter.com/0UVmxTJqKR— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) November 26, 2017
Ingles had nine assists, the most frequent advantage-taker of the Bucks' strategy. Ricky Rubio added seven; the Bucks ended up laying off of him a little bit with their traps later in the game.
Ingles also wanted to give credit to the Jazz's bigs, Ekpe Udoh and Derrick Favors. "They were great in getting that half-roll and making the right play out of it. They executed it well."
Here's a fun stat for you: when the Jazz get more points off of turnovers than the other team, they're 7-3.
Tonight is one of those games: the Jazz got 27 points from Milwaukee's 17 turnovers, while the Bucks managed an impressive 21 points from the Jazz's 10 turnovers.
Those easy scoring baskets are important to the Jazz, because usually (against non-hyper teams, anyway), their offense bogs down in the half court. Getting out in transition is important! Another way to get to approximately the same conclusion: the Jazz are 6-2 when they get more than 21 points on opponent's turnovers.
The funny thing is, the Jazz aren't especially good at scoring in transition, at least when compared to other teams. They're 26th in the league (1.14 points per possession) at points per shot after a turnover, and 20th after a defensive rebound (1.03 points per possession). But at least that's usually better than a half-court opportunity (0.97 points per possession, good for 27th in the league).
Can they improve on those efficiency figures? Maybe some, but to be honest, the Jazz have a dearth of fast-break finishers.
"The good thing is we're forcing the turnovers, and the next step is to finish them," said Snyder, who pointed out that the Jazz's history of fast break efficiency is really high. "Hold the ball one more dribble, so we don't throw it to a big who has someone in front of him. Make a little better pass. Finish. Get fouled, as opposed to taking a tougher shot. We can show them those things."
"Nobody doesn't want to score after a turnover, but clearly we have to take advantage of our defense, especially if we're challenged in making shots on a given night," he said.
Snyder said it's a tough thing to coach, though. "If someone comes up with a way to simulate a turnover and a transition basket ... we all do the 3-on-2 and the 2-on-1 drill." Those reads are just difficult, especially given the speed of the NBA game played at transition. There's also just the lack of practice time the Jazz have had to consider: only three practices in the last two weeks.