Sarah Todd covers the NBA and Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.
I never put too much stock in preseason games. It’s more or less amped up practice and the players all know that it doesn’t count. Even so, it’s really nice when you can see flashes of what could be possible in the future and I think we got a nice glimpse of that with the Utah Jazz’s 111-92 win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.
We’ll get to the first-half offense in the next section, but in the third quarter the Jazz started trying this thing where they play loose, free and fast and it was great. The first few minutes of the second half included beautiful transition offense, early shot clock 3s, a ton of space, movement on and off the ball and just an all-around tempo that made the Jazz look well oiled.
Mike Conley returned to play on Monday and went 3-of-5 from 3-point range, two of which came off Donovan Mitchell assists. I like that dynamic when the two are in the game together. Let Mitchell have the ball in his hands so that he can create for himself or be the playmaker, and Conley is great at playing off the ball even if that’s not what he’s known for.
Georges Niang and Miye Oni have continued to show that they’ve made huge leaps on the defensive side of the ball, and for guys that are likely candidates for the 9th spot in the rotation, that’s got to make the Jazz really happy.
Speaking of defense, the Jazz’s first-half effort on the defensive end was really terrific considering that this is the preseason.
Everyone could take a page out of Chris Paul’s defensive communication book. This was brought up a lot over the summer due to the lack of fans in the building and I noticed it on Monday night. He’s louder than everyone else on the court, is barking orders, calling out screens and constantly directing traffic. It’s really impressive and when it’s coming from a veteran like Paul it has to make an impression on the younger players.
And speaking of young players, here’s one of my favorite things that basketball players do — especially the Utah Jazz: The starters and regular rotation players are over the top hype men when there’s a full lineup of low-usage guys on the floor.
Royce O’Neale and Mitchell are completely committed to celebrating any tiny high moment for the rookies and fringe players. While this is fun to watch and heartwarming it’s also a really important piece to the psyche of those low-minute players who need more confidence boosting than anyone else on the team. Good on the Jazz for being cheerleaders for one another.
The Jazz’s offense in the first half was … what’s a nice word to use here? Off?
It did not look great. There were wild passes, confusion on positioning, sloppy finishes and quite a few missed shots. Like I said, I don’t put a ton of stock in the preseason so I’ll just say this; taking two quarters to settle into the offense is not going to work when the games count.
Lineups with Derrick Favors and the Jazz guys that aren’t familiar with him (Jordan Clarkson, MIke Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic) are going to take some time before they look cohesive. That’s not bad, it’s to be expected, but it could look a little wonky for a while. That’s not to say that Favors isn’t good, on the contrary in just two preseason games he’s already proven why bringing him back was a good idea. But it’s going to take a little while for everyone to get used to him.
Late in the fourth quarter rookie Udoka Azubuike had a really hard foul on Abdel Nader that ended with Nader’s head hitting the court so hard that it could be heard up in the press box. Azubuike was issued a flagrant-2 foul and ejected from the game and Nader did not return. There was no malice on the play, it was just a mistake and hopefully Azubuike can learn from it and Nader doesn’t have a serious injury.
The Jazz were scoreless for the first four minutes of the game and flat is just the perfect way to describe how they came out on Monday.
Joe Ingles was 1-of-5 from deep with just one assist and four fouls, two of which came just to stop a fast break. I can’t completely put my finger on what was going on with him but if nothing else he seemed a little flat. Is it age? Is it the preseason? Is it something else? We’ll see.