Analysis: Utah Jazz defense surprisingly sharp in preseason win over Trail Blazers
The Utah Jazz actually put together some moments of good basketball and there were some positives to take away.
The Utah Jazz won a game!
Of course, it was a preseason game and the Portland Trail Blazers are still experimenting with lineups, letting their best guys sit for longer than they would if the game really mattered and Jusuf Nurkic fouled out early in the third quarter because preseason games don’t matter.
BUT — the Jazz actually put together some moments of good basketball and there were some positives to take away.
The Jazz played a lot better defensively on Tuesday compared to what they did on Sunday in Toronto. I’m just not use to the Jazz being able to field multiple switchy quick defenders on the perimeter so it was a little strange to see and actually believe what I was seeing.
With Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Stanley Johnson and Nickel Alexander-Walker causing absolute chaos on the defensive end it sparked other guys to chip in and put forth the same kind of effort. Defensive intensity is infectious and it was really nice to see.
In particular Johnson deserves a lot of credit for not even making it onto the court in the Jazz’s first preseason game and then putting on an absolute defensive clinic against the Blazers. Johnson has made defense his calling card and that’s not said lightly. He is very good at what he does.
Will Hardy decided ahead of time to give Rudy Gay the night off to rest his aging body and give some of the spry young players a bit more time on the floor and Gay ended up being the only available player that didn’t get some playing time on Tuesday (Udoka Azubuike is still on the injured list).
As mentioned above, Johnson got some regular playing time along with Talen Horton-Tucker. With 9:30 left to play Hardy pulled out all the “regulars” and played Jared Butler, Simone Fontecchio, Ochai Agbaji, Cody Zeller and Leandro Bolmaro. Then Hardy went even further, plugging in Saben Lee and two-way player Johnny Juzang for the last three minutes of the game.
Clearly there are some players that are higher in the pecking order, but it’s good to see that Hardy is still experimenting and playing around with things. There were some small lineups deployed as well as some ultra big lineups and there was a bit more rotational movement.
Some good, and some bad
There were some really nice moments on Tuesday. Johnson’s defense, Walker Kessler continuing to look better than a rookie and showing off his passing skills, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson looking very much like their old selves, Butler looking a little more comfortable in his own skin and actually having some decent minutes, Bolmaro looking good in his short stint and Beasley getting hot after a cold shooting night on Sunday.
But then, there were some things that were not so great.
Beasley turned his ankle in the second quarter and even though he started out the game really hot on offense and sharp on defense, he didn’t return to the game. The Jazz’s first injury of the season.
Later after falling over while guarding Nurkic, Kelly Olynyk kicked up at Nurkic’s legs and looked like he was intentionally trying to trip the center. Olynyk was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul and no one got hurt, but it was just not a great moment. It’s preseason … what’s the point of something like that?
While Horton-Tucker showed his strength and athleticism, it felt often like he was trying way to hard to show those things and he came off as ball hog who wasn’t interested in the rest of the team.
As with the first preseason game this was a bit of a mixed bag, but as I was thinking about some of the really rookie moments from the Jazz, it reminded me that this team is mostly going to be really fun to watch.
Fontecchio missed a dunk, Kessler airballed a free throw, a couple guys missed layups or saved the ball after the other team touched it going out of bounds. Those things are honestly funny and harmless and are part of the growing pains that this team is going to experience this season. There are going to be good moments and bad moments and weird moments, but at least most of the time it will be interesting and fun.