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Utah Jazz mailbag: What happened to the blender? Have the Jazz lost their identity?

Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley (10) drives into Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
AP

KISSIMMEE Fla., — The NBA returned to action last Thursday with the Utah Jazz kicking things off in a down-to-the-wire victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. On Saturday, the Jazz played their second game and showed a lot less resilience in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With real basketball back in our lives, I sent the call out to Jazz fans asking what the most and least concerning things are after two games in the NBA bubble.

Spoiler alert: there are a lot things to be concerned about.

There is certainly some solace to be taken knowing that every team was separated for months and that every team will have to go through its own growing pains in getting back to playing fully in rhythm. There’s less solace in the fact that there have already been teams in the first few games who look like they haven’t skipped a beat and are on track to being ready for the playoffs while the Jazz are lagging behind.

Plenty of teams have mentioned a certain level of fatigue, or players needing to get their legs under them so that after playing hard on defense, they’re able to still shoot effectively and efficiently on the other end. Lakers coach Frank Vogel pointed to exactly those things on Saturday night after the Lakers loss to the Raptors.

Good luck getting any teams to admit to any of those things being a valid excuse for losing. It would be even harder for the Jazz to try to point any type of fatigue being the reason for their recent poor play.

I’m not going to pretend that I know whether or not the Jazz are going to be able to turn a corner while they’re in the bubble, but the concern that they aren’t able to do so until it’s too late is very legitimate. There are only six games remaining before the playoffs start and none of them will be cakewalks for the Jazz.

I think that what these two readers, Gus and Justin, point out are intrinsically connected.

The Jazz’s offense has absolutely been stagnant, not just from the outsider’s perspective, but also admittedly from the players themselves. There are a lot of things that cause this, including frustration and fear when the opposing team is making a run. It’s sort of human nature for a competitor to want to take over and stop the bleeding as soon as possible.

There’s also the correct and natural desire to drive in, collapse some of the defense so that the ‘blender’ ball-movement can be initiated by a kick-out pass, but when the defense is quicker to close out than anticipated, or defensive rotations are clean and decisive, that kick-out pass and every other pass after that doesn’t really do much.

Hesitation and slow decision making are the real killers here, and there were a lot of those two things from the Jazz in Saturday’s loss to the Thunder.

A hesitation to shoot or pass, even for a second, causes the team to lose out on early shot-clock opportunities and for the defense to set and adjust with relative ease. After that, a couple of errant dribbles or a late drive into the paint can result in fruitless plays. But, if the ball handler is able to drive in and kick out and the ball swings around and lands in the corner, as it did a couple of times on Saturday, that corner shooter needs to have made the decision to shoot before the ball even gets to their hands.

Too many times there was a slight hesitation in any and all of those situations and the Jazz were left with late shot clock isolation drives.

Yes, Jordan Clarkson is guilty of this, but so was every other guard/wing on the team, and Clarkson is a player that seems to play as the rest of the team is. If Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, George Niang, and Emmanuel Mudiay are all resorting to playing iso ball, Clarkson is going to also, and it’s doubtful that if he’d passed the ball more on Saturday that the recipient would have done anything other than just isolate and drive.

This is a problem and I’d be shocked if it wasn’t something Quin Snyder and the coaching staff talked a lot about on Sunday.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

The Jazz have prided themselves on being a defense-first team for so long that it’s a little bit jarring to see where they are right now. They finished off the 2018-19 season with the second best defensive rating in the league at 105.3. After a first-round exit from the playoffs, the Jazz still had the 7th best defense among playoff teams.

This season has been a lot different.

Before the All-Star break the Jazz had a defensive rating of 107.6, good for 8th in the league. In games since the All-Star break the Jazz have dropped down to 20th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114. Not great.

I understand that Snyder is a defense-first coach and that he expects for his team to let the defense dictate the game, especially with two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert on the roster, but it might be time to accept that this team, the 2019-20 squad, just doesn’t have the same juice that others before it have had. A middling defense is concerning, especially when the offense doesn’t look that great either.

This ties right into the previous comment. If the Jazz aren’t a defensive team, then who are they?

I guess they could be considered a fast-paced 3-point shooting team, but without Bojan Bogdanovic on the floor and with hesitation to shoot from some of the other players, along with streaky outings across the board, it’s hard for that to be their identity.

This really is something that I think the team, as a whole as well as each individual on their own, needs to address. Who are the Jazz? Because it’s not as if they can play the way they have been and rely on the identity and catchphrases from the past few seasons to carry them forward.

If you would like to have your question answered, you can send it to me at stodd@deseretnews.com with “mailbag” in the subject line, or you can send it to me via Twitter @NBASarah with the hashtag #SundayJazzMailBag.

Every week a mailbag article will be published at Deseret.com answering many of the submitted questions, and I save some special ones specifically for the newsletter readers.