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Utah Jazz analysis: Bad transition defense, the next step for Collin Sexton and giving Jordan Clarkson some credit

SHARE Utah Jazz analysis: Bad transition defense, the next step for Collin Sexton and giving Jordan Clarkson some credit
Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) reacts to the score in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. The Nets won 117-106.

Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) reacts to the score in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. The Nets won 117-106.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz didn’t play horribly against the Brooklyn Nets. They didn’t play incredibly either, and when you are kind of somewhere in the middle against Kyrie Irving on a night when he drops 48 points to go with 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals, it’s hard to win the game.

That’s what happened on Friday night at Vivint Arena, and the Jazz fell 117-106 as Irving led the Nets to victory.

As we dissect a few things, let’s start by discussing the one thing that the Jazz really didn’t do well on Friday.

Transition defense collapse

It’s really starting to sound like a broken record at this point to talk about the Jazz lacking discipline when it comes to transition defense. And, unfortunately for Jazz head coach Will Hardy, he actually praised his team’s recent focus in that area before Friday’s game, only to then get a slap in the face when he looked at the second-half stats.

After allowing Brooklyn to score just three points in transition in the first half, the Jazz finished the night having allowed 22.

“We gave up 19 transition points in the second half,” Hardy said. “So, while Kyrie played a great game, hit some tough shots — he’s a special player — us giving up 19 transition points in the second half is my biggest concern as it relates to our focus defensively.

‘I just think we were not sharp offensively, let their physicality bother us and then that bled into our mentality getting back on defense.”

I think that we might be getting to the point with this team that players are so concerned with fixing the problems in transition that they’re overcorrecting a bit.

Early on in the season they were getting caught cross-matching and trying to find their man rather than just a man in transition. Then they were doing a better job of locating people but they weren’t getting in front of the ball.

Now it’s like they’re all calling out and trying to get in front of the ball but they’re losing guys slipping behind them anyway and not protecting the basket.

At one point on Friday, they completely missed Nic Claxton at the baseline in transition and then another time Irving slipped through for a lob off a fast break.

“We’ve been talking about taking the layups away and I think we tried to do our best, I think we just need to communicate a little better,” Lauri Markkanen said.

“Everybody was trying to pick up a man and then we don’t see Claxton on the baseline and he gets a wide open dunk. Simple stuff like that. Maybe nobody saw him or whatever happened but we just got to communicate that better and take those easy ones away.”

A two-pronged look at Collin Sexton

Collin Sexton is really special off the dribble. He’s so fast and so dynamic with the ball that Hardy calls it Sexton’s superpower.

The next evolution for Sexton is to figure out how to balance his super power so that it’s always an advantage, not just sometimes and not inconsistently. That sounds like it’s easy but there’s a lot of nuance to it.

“Collin’s superpower is that it’s really hard to guard him one-on-one off the dribble and he’s done a very good job this year of putting pressure on the rim,” Hardy said.

I mean, look at him in transition. Sure, he should have made this, and believe me he’s going to beat himself up about not making it. But look at how powerful and fast he is.

And here, he’s got two defenders on him and he still is able to get the ball to go in because he’s just really smart and has good touch and finds the perfect moment to move up.

Those kinds of plays really can pay off because the Nets are then so worried about Sexton driving that they gave him a ton of space on the perimeter and he knocked down two wide open catch-and-shoot 3s in the second half.

They can also really pay off if Sexton is using the attention he gets off the dribble in order to create open looks for his teammates. That’s something he’s still working toward though.

“I’m a huge fan of when Collin attacks and doesn’t settle,” Hardy said. “I think it’s really good for our team for the most part, but...it’s always a good opportunity for him to understand the fine line of when you’re his height and you’re playing that fast, those decision windows are half a second max and so you can miss the moment when you’re going full speed to the rim.”

Take another look at the video above. Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley try to position themselves for a kick-out pass but Sexton is not tall enough to see over the defense and isn’t able to make those passes.

Should he have dribbled into two taller defenders without a legit way out? Probably not, but that time he was able to convert, and you’ll live with a couple of those, but sometimes he doesn’t give himself time to make another decision.

In this one, you can tell that Sexton has already decided what he’s going to do before he gets the ball. He’s practically already running toward the basket when the ball touches his hand as it swings around to him.

But Nic Claxton was waiting for the much smaller player and had no problem swatting away his shot.

There is literally one second between when Sexton gets the ball and when he puts up his shot. That’s how long he has to make his decision, so he needs to understand the Jazz’s spacing and know what his exit strategies are a little better than just deciding to go against bigger, stronger players all the time.

Jordan Clarkson deserves some flowers

It seems like just yesterday that we were talking about Clarkson revamping his game and cleaning up his shot selection to be able to play within Quin Snyder’s system, and he’s changed his game once again for Hardy.

Clarkson has had a lot of really well-rounded games this season and deserves his flowers for how he’s transformed. He’s averaging a career-best 4.4 assists per game and a career-high tying 4 rebounds per game and he’s been really smart about how he approaches both areas.

He finished the night against Brooklyn with 29 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal. Look at these two passes that ended up being two of his five assists for the night.

Those are just simply incredible passes.

Now look at this rebound (bonus: Another look at Sexton making a bit of a bad decision on a drive).

Clarkson again tries to make himself an outlet for Sexton, who has driven into three Nets defenders, but as soon as Sexton pivots away and looks at the rim, Clarkson sprints to the basket and snags the offensive board.

That’s just smart basketball, and Clarkson has been doing stuff like the with consistency all season long.