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The Utah Jazz haven’t been great defending the 3-point line so far, but does anything need to change?

Oklahoma City Thunder center Al Horford (42) shoots next to Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.
Sue Ogrocki. Associated Press

It’s no secret at this point that the Utah Jazz want to shoot a lot of 3-pointers this season. Head coach Quin Snyder and players have said as much, and that desire has been shown on the court, as the Jazz are averaging exactly 40 attempts from distance per game, tied for third in the NBA.

The thing is, it appears a lot of other teams want to do the same. Yes, the season is still very young so sample size is an important caveat, but so far, more teams are shooting more 3s than last season. Four squads are averaging at least 40 attempts per contest (two finished last season at that mark) and 16 are averaging at least 35 (11 finished last season in that category).

A problem for Utah so far is that it hasn’t been very good at defending the 3-point line, as it is just 25th in the league in the early going in opponent 3-point percentage at exactly 40% (the Jazz have made exactly 35% of their 3-point tries, which is 18th in the NBA).

Some of that percentage could be a matter of chance (the NBA isn’t commonly called a “miss or make league” for nothing), but the way Snyder’s team has at times defended the 3 so far has left much to be desired.

Take Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder for example. In the Thunder’s two other games so far besides that one, they’ve made just 21 of 70 3-point attempts, or 30%. Against Utah, however, Oklahoma City made 15 of 38 3s, or almost 40%.

Luguentz Dort was especially lethal, making 5 of 7 despite shooting less than 30% from distance as a rookie last season and 33% in the Thunder’s other two games this season. The thing is, the Jazz regularly left Dort completely open, as if they decided they were going to take their chances focusing elsewhere on defense and live with it if he beat them.

Sometimes that’s going to happen, when the scouting report gives way to a player or team who has a better night than expected. But is there a way Utah can commit to a game plan while still doing a better job of closing out when an opposing player has an open look, even if said player might not be a very good shooter?

On Wednesday after the Jazz practiced in preparation for their home game Thursday against the Phoenix Suns, guard Jordan Clarkson said defense was a big focus of the day, although commitment to protecting the paint was emphasized rather than perimeter defense.

That said, Clarkson noted, “For us, we’ve just got to stay aggressive, period. Even guys that are non-shooters, we’ve got to contest, we’ve still got to rotate, make them still have a contested shot and a tough shot. I think that’s the biggest thing for us.

“Guys are going to make shots. It’s the NBA, but having a hand up, contesting, not leaving somebody just wide open out there just banging 3s, but getting a hand up and contesting and rotating is a big thing. We’re just trying to stay aggressive, even with the non-shooters. We’ve got to stay aggressive in getting to the ball, not only pack the paint but impact the ball.”

Added Joe Ingles: “We’ve got a pretty — minus myself — athletic group that can make those plays ... just load up and then close out under control depending on who it is.”

The Suns should provide a tough challenge for Utah as far as defending on the perimeter is concerned. Most obvious is that Devin Booker is generally one of the NBA’s best shooters and will be looking to get going after a slow start to the season that includes just an 8-point effort on Tuesday against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Beyond Booker, Cam Johnson is a sniper, Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul are good shooters and guys such as Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky and even former Jazzman Jae Crowder can get going.