The Utah Jazz will host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the home opener at Vivint Arena on Saturday and the forecast calls for heavy 3-point showers.
Through the 2019-20 regular season the Jazz averaged 35.2 3-point attempts per game, good for 10th in the league. In the Jazz’s 2020-21 season-opening win over the Portland Trail Blazers, they put up 50 3-point attempts, making good on the team’s preseason promise of an emphasis on the long ball.
For context, the Houston Rockets led the league in 3-point attempts the past two seasons with 45.4 attempts per game in 2018-19 and 45.3 per game last season.
With the Jazz looking to fire off from deep early in the shot clock, in transition and as often as possible, it stands to reason that there could be some concern about where that leaves Rudy Gobert. What’s his role in the offense if the Jazz are letting a barrage of 3s fly every night?
Not to worry, Gobert is going to be just fine and will still have plenty of opportunity to offensively feast, as evidenced in Portland when he and Donovan Mitchell combined for 40 points to lead the team to victory.
“When we move the ball that way it doesn’t really matter who gets the shot,” Gobert said. “I’m able to get my teammates open by just setting the screen or running the floor, or by catching the ball and then swinging to the open shooter. It’s fun. It’s fun to be a part of. As long as we get good shots, it’s great offense.”
The point is to have a two-pronged offensive attack that is constantly pressuring the defense from either the inside or outside and then adapting when the defense adjusts.
“Whether it’s Rudy running, rolling in pick-and-roll or guys driving the ball, pressure on the rim is what opens up opens up the 3-point line and opens up jump shots.” — Jazz coach Quin Snyder
“Whether it’s Rudy running, rolling in pick-and-roll or guys driving the ball, pressure on the rim is what opens up opens up the 3-point line and opens up jump shots,” head coach Quin Snyder said.
The Jazz are rich with weapons that put pressure on the rim. Not only is Gobert one of most effective lob threats in the league and an adept pick-and-roll player, but so is Derrick Favors. Additionally the Jazz can post up Bojan Bogdanovic or have any one of the many ball-handlers work in the paint.
Opponents can’t just let Mitchell, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson go to work inside. They’re too dynamic and crafty.
From that point, it’s just about swinging the ball back out to the perimeter for the open look.
“We’ve got guys who can shoot the ball really well so being able to trust that,” Mitchell said. “Then on top of that when teams do clamp down on the 3-point line going back to our roots.”
That’s the second prong. As the Jazz start raining treys in bulk the defense won’t have a choice but to try to blitz the 3-point line and run the shooters off, and the relentless cycle continues because as the defense rushes to the arc the paint opens up.
“If you’re making shots and teams have to pull out and guard you there’s more space to attack the rim, and certainly for Rudy to run,” Snyder said. “That’s what spacing and shooting can do and that’s also what Rudy and Fave running to the rim and putting pressure on the rim can do for shooters.”
Of course, the shots aren’t always going to fall, and that leads to what might be Gobert’s most important and impactful role — that of a rebounder.
Mitchell recounted how crucial Gobert’s rebounding was in the playoff series against the Nuggets last season and in particular in Game 7 of that series. Then, on Wednesday against the Trail Blazers, Gobert finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds and two assists, despite the majority of the offense coming from the perimeter.
“That was all from him and doing things on the boards,” Mitchell said after the game. “We didn’t run one play for him and he still had 20 and (17) so he’s doing a great job...and there’s going to be times where we’re going to hit him in the post and he’s going to go out there and make a move and do what he does. But the biggest thing with him tonight — and like I said in Game 7, which I think stood out to a lot of us — was just the way he was impacting on the boards.”
The bottom line is that in order for the Jazz to get open looks from the 3-point line and to be successful at that run and gun style offense, they need Gobert and the threat of what he’s able to do from the inside.