Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’ 114-99 victory over the Orlando Magic in Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Defend the big shooters
The Magic are no good – they made so many bad mistakes tonight, especially in the first half. Their offense is a slog. Their defense is also relatively exploitable. And yet, they present some challenges for the Jazz that have been among their weaknesses in recent years: guards scoring first playing with big men shooting.
There were times when the Jazz defended that extremely well, and times when they didn’t. And I think it is worth studying the difference between the two.
So here is a successful choice of Orlando. Hassan Whiteside needs to be in the paint to prevent Cole Anthony’s easy basket, at least as long as the strategy is to get over the screens. But with that, Mo Bamba has to be left alone, and there’s just plenty of height and distance for Jordan Clarkson or Whiteside to close.
And here’s a room where Donovan Mitchell stole.
Review this first if necessary. The first key, the most important: Udoka Azubuike gets involved in the game much more quickly. Rather than inviting the ballhandler to come to him, ‘Dok is standing, predicting the direction of the screen. That means there’s just a lot less time for Anthony to make the pass in the second video than in the first – and, crucially, less angle. Mitchell is going to be in that passing lane unless it’s a looping pass, then there’s more time to recover.
Second, Mitchell anticipates the pass, while Clarkson does his best to get back to his man, even though Whiteside has already covered it. Clearly, Mitchell has tools and jumping ability that Clarkson doesn’t either.
I’ve been incredibly impressed with Mitchell’s defensive effort the last two games – he really tries to lead by example on the defensive end. There are still times when he dies on screen, but he’s really a lot more on the ball and physical at the attacking point initially, and he’s also been very accurate in reading passing lanes. That stuff is what the Jazz will need in the playoffs, even against tougher opposition.
2. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez only get bad weather
Both business acquisitions were on track for DNP-CDs until the Jazz pulled away late enough to get just over a minute of downtime. Trent Forrest played 24 minutes, as did Jordan Clarkson. Eric Paschall played 12. Jared Butler even got a short 2-minute pass in the first half, giving Conley a bit more breathing space. Alexander-Walker, however, did not.
I don’t have a feeling Quin is going to be that excited about playing NAW – in particular, that little first-half stint of Butler, with a double-digit lead, really could have gone to the new acquisition just to get your ears wet.
Honestly, watching the video of Alexander-Walker in New Orleans, I get it. I’ll get to that in a more detailed article later, but he’s a very, very poor decision-maker right now, really on both ends of the spectrum. Maybe that changes overnight, but in a match today I’m probably picking Butler too. That’s not to say Alexander-Walker doesn’t have potential, but I think it does make his road to playing and contributing to the Jazz in this year’s playoffs that much tougher.
According to Justin Zanik this morning, the team has been trying to find a guy who could contribute this year. In particular, the Jazz asked, “Can this make us better? Can it definitely make us better? It’s a high bar with this group because we’re really good,” he said. “…There was just nothing definitive that hit a bar, whether using a future premiere or not.” Even if they used one first!
Still, that’s the group: It looks like they’re going to have one of Forrest or Paschall in the playoff rotation, except for something like 36 minutes a night for Rudy Gay.
3. Jazz fans are lucky to have the coverage they have
Alright, I understand that’s a bit of a pat on the back. But it’s really true, I promise: Jazz fans, there’s an abundance of media coverage of this team — it’s a lot easier to be a Jazz fan than a Magic fan. Heck, it’s easier to be a Jazz fan than one of almost any other NBA team.
Orlando is the 17th largest media market in the United States. Yet only one member of the media traveled to the game from Orlando: an OrlandoMagic.com editor, paid by the team. The Orlando Sentinel has a writer or two on Zoom chats, but they no longer travel with anyone for road games, and haven’t for years. Athletic no longer have an Orlando Magic beater.
This might not surprise you, given that Magic sucks. But even surprisingly good teams have tiny independent beat bodies. Most league teams have only one freelance writer covering the away team. Phoenix and Denver have often had zero in recent years. The Clippers, as well as Chicago and Dallas only see one or two, although they are big markets with relevant teams.
Meanwhile, at the Tribune, we cover every Jazz game on the road from the road. The Deseret News too. We have two full-time Jazz beat writers and they have one (neener neener neener), but already we’ve outgrown the vast majority of the NBA. Then you add that The Athletic and KSL.com frequently travel to games on the road to cover them in person…it’s a competitive media market that genuinely translates into better coverage for fans – and maybe unexpected for #30. media market.
Plus, the Jazz are generally better with access than most other NBA teams. Many teams violate NBA rules and do not release their players when requested by reporters; the Knicks were fined last month for not playing Julius Randle seven in a row. There was a recent row with the club over whether or not media access would be in person during the Jazz’s coronavirus scare, but that’s been resolved now – we’re back in person and getting better and longer interviews. It was great to be able to talk to Justin Zanik, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Juancho Hernangomez and Rudy Gobert during today’s shoot, and we were able to get and give much, much more information as a result.
Of course, this is only possible because the interest justifies it: the Jazz have the second best local ratings in the NBA. On the Tribune side, our subscription and pageview figures are solid. Jazz fans are rightfully hungry for information and we provide it to the best of our abilities.