The Triple Team: Jazz’s offense responds slowly to Grizzlies physical D; Royce O’Neale’s rebounding

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 wellMemphis 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 kickout 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 searchThis 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 in tact 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.

Pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert helps Utah Jazz power through late miscues against Grizzlies

For the first two quarters Friday night at Vivint Arena, the Utah Jazz were back to being the team that ran roughshod over the rest of the NBA.Donovan Mitchell was lethally efficient. Bojan Bogdanovic was in rhythm. Rudy Gobert was a finishing machine off of pick-and-rolls. The team defense was a swarming, smothering, rotating beast.And in the latter two quarters? Well … Gobert was still a finishing machine off of pick-and-rolls.Enough so that even as most everything else went wrong, the Jazz still managed to overcome a second-half swoon and fend off the Memphis Grizzlies 117-114.Gobert finished with 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting, to go along with nine rebounds and two blocks.While the Jazz have become known for their 3-point prowess, it was an old-school pick-and-roll that was their most reliable offensive weapon on Friday night.With the Grizzlies selling out to stop the 3, they were practically daring the Jazz to make the PNR work.Mitchell and Gobert … Mike Conley and Gobert … Joe Ingles and Gobert … Jordan Clarkson and Gobert … every combination with Gobert on the receiving end did its job.“Joe, Jordan, Mike, Donovan did really good coming on the pick-and-roll,” said Gobert. “When [opponents are] doing a drop coverage and keeping the guys on the shooters, usually it’s going to be a two-on-one every time. It’s really on me to set a good screen, get them open, and then it’s on them to make the right read and either find me or finish at the rim. For the most part of the game, we did great job.”Though the Frenchman has had his struggles with Memphis’ muscular Jonas Valanciunas in the past, Gobert pretty clearly outclassed him on this occasion, consistently outmaneuvering him to generate open looks at point-blank range.Screen for the ball handler up top, create some separation, dive for the hoop, and either nimbly lay it in or viciously throw it down.Lather, rinse, repeat.Gobert finished the game with seven dunks.Clarkson said the big man’s improvement as a finisher has been noticeable even in just his own time with the team since coming over in December 2019.“When he’s rolling hard to the rim, putting pressure on the on basket, it makes everybody else really good. Teams are trying a bunch of different stuff, and he’s getting put in that position where he’s making a play and has to finish at the basket. And over these past games, he’s been doing a great job of getting to the rim, finishing off one leg, pump-fake and pivoting,” Clarkson said. “In Chicago, he even hit a turnaround kind of jump shot in the middle of the paint — that was my first time seeing that! But that just shows how he’s grown in that area.”Gobert’s efficiency at the rim Friday helped the Jazz shake off a sporadic start to the second quarter, where they missed their first seven shots but still wound up going into halftime up 16.In the fourth quarter, with the Grizzlies having rallied to within single digits with about 10 minutes to go, he screen for Ingles, took the pass, and softly laid the ball in. After Memphis missed a 3 on the other end, Gobert freed Conley, rolled again, got the pass again, and threw down the jam.In the game’s stretch run, it would be a resurgent Mitchell burying timely 3s and dazzling with a stutter-step drive down the lane that kept Utah out in front, and a last-second defensive stand (and Conley improbably prevailing on a jump ball) that preserved the victory.But it was Gobert’s strong play that got them to that point.“We’ve got to keep looking for that,” said Mitchell. “He’s an excellent screener; it’s great to have him out there to be able to set us up and free us up, and then on the back end, you see him reaping the benefits of that as well.”