Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 117-114 win over the Memphis Grizzlies from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.1. Getting your shots, even when the defense is playing well Memphis has always been known for the physical, gritty style of defense that they play. So they’re a tough matchup for Utah, because they are very good at staying attached on the perimeter, forcing you inside, and then not letting you get all the way to the rim. But that’s when you have to stay disciplined by taking the kinds of shots that you want to take, not the kinds of shots your opponent wants you to take. Take this possession from Mike Conley. It’s early in the shot clock, and he sets up pick and roll with Rudy Gobert.
Jonas Valanciunas mostly stays with the roll man. So here, Conley has two choices: the floater he takes, or a kick-out pass to Joe Ingles in the corner for three. Conley is even very good at that shot. He wasn’t tonight (he shot just 2-12 for the game), but he’s made 51% of his paint twos outside of the restricted area. It’s certainly a shot he can make. But there’s just a huge difference in that shot: and assassin Ingles in the corner for his signature shot that is worth 3 points. We’ll fast forward all the way to the end of the game. The Grizzlies have come back, but a Jazz bucket would seal it. They take the step of double-teaming Mitchell up top — when Mitchell sees it, he starts to drive. But he forces a terrible look from eight feet away instead of passing to, well, it seems nearly everyone else on the floor is open. The Grizzlies are excited that Mitchell is taking that shot.
You don’t want that! Lob it up to Gobert for the jam, or pass it out to the variety of open shooters. The Jazz were 11-37 from mid-range tonight. That’s a way to lose a game, to be honest: too many low-percentage attempts. In the end, tough, physical defenses are the ones that the Jazz are going to see in the playoffs. And if the Jazz bail them out by taking midrange floater after floater, their vaunted offense isn’t going to be very effective. Worse, we saw the Grizzlies then have success in pushing the ball in transition after those missed shots, undermining the defense a little too. 2. Royce O’Neale’s rebounding Who led the Jazz in rebounding tonight? Royce O’Neale, with 10. That’s not unusual — O’Neale is the Jazz’s second-leading rebounder this year, behind only Gobert, with 6.6 rebounds per game. O’Neale’s been the rebounding force the Jazz have needed, with bigger guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Georges Niang relatively ground-bound.
O’Neale just tries so hard: he’ll get in the mix, just shove his hip into much taller players, force them under the basket, and get rebounds that way.He also can use his athleticism to get rebounds the opposition doesn’t expect. This is a great example — my favorite part is the little bit of leg kick he does at the end to get that extra inch on the jump to be able to tip it out. The league’s video cuts it off, but I also like how he gets up quickly to get back in position to get a corner three. It’s just an impressive motor.
How good is O’Neale’s rebounding? Well, he has the third-highest rebounding per game numbers for a 6-4 or below player in the league. Only Washington’s Russell Westbrook and San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray have him beat. How about in Jazz history? Well, it’s the best rebounding season for a 6-4 Jazz player of all time. 6-5 Adrian Dantley got more in only one season, and the next highest rebounding season from a Jazzman as short as O’Neale is actually Donovan Mitchell’s current season, followed by Ricky Rubio’s 2017-18 season.3.
On Utah’s coaching search this isn’t exactly my beat: Josh Newman is our Utes reporter, and he does a terrific job. But when two Jazz assistant coaches, Alex Jensen and Johnnie Bryant, were named as significant candidates for the Utes’ head coaching job, well, there’s some overlap there. I know those guys well. Now, all reports indicate that neither of those guys will become Utah’s next head coach. From a Utes perspective, that’s a shame. Alex Jensen has been the G-League Coach of the Year — just as Nick Nurse and Quin Snyder were — and has been the Jazz’s lead assistant coach.
By all accounts, he’s a terrific Xs and Os guy, he’s played a huge role in Gobert’s development, and works very hard to make it happen. He hasn’t been picked as an NBA head coach yet, but he’s had several interviews. Johnnie Bryant has a very different but equally impressive resume. As a college coach, he could walk into any home across America and say “Look at Donovan Mitchell.
Look at Gordon Hayward. Look at Paul Millsap. Those are three vastly different NBA All-Stars for whom I played the most important role in their development, and I could do the same for you.” From a recruiting perspective, he’d be incredible, but he’s no slouch in Xs and Os either. He’s never been in the top chair, but I’d make the bet he’d be great at it. Jensen reportedly declined the job. It’s not clear if Bryant didn’t get it because the Utes didn’t offer it, or if he declined it too. I understand both passing on the role — being a college head coach is mostly not about being a coach, but about being a recruiter, politically successful with boosters, and the like. If you just love the game of basketball, NBA lead assistant is probably the better job. I do not understand if the Utes passed on Bryant… that would be insanity, I think.
The level of talent the Utes would get — well, I think it’d greatly raise the Utes’ ceiling.But from the Jazz’s point of view, they keep their coaching staff intact as they go into the stretch run, so do the Knicks. And these two young Utah coaches in Quin Snyder’s coaching tree have promising coaching careers ahead of them in the NBA; this won’t be their last chance.