• Sam Gillies

3 Reasons the Jazz Defense has Struggled

"We can't sit here and say we have time. We've got to go out there and do it."

It’s no breaking news that the Utah Jazz have been struggling of late. Donovan himself admitted it.

"We've shown that we can do it," said Mitchell. "If we go out there and don't do it, it

makes it even worse, because we know we can. We've seen it. We've seen what it looks like."

After being one of the hottest units in the NBA earlier this year, the Jazz find themselves currently seen as pretenders in the loaded Western Conference, leaving many Jazz fans scratching their heads, confused and frustrated about their potential.

Over the span of a couple weeks, Utah slid from second place to fifth in the Western Conference standings. Now, instead of controlling their own destiny, they are in a dog fight for a chance at home court advantage with the playoffs starting next month.

After losing four of their last six games, the big question Jazz Nation is asking themselves is "what exactly is going on with the Jazz?"

The identity of the Jazz in the Quin Snyder era has been one that hangs its hat on defense. For years they have lived and died on that side of the ball.

However, a roster overhaul during the past 8 months that saw Rubio, Favors, Crowder, and Exum flipped for Conley, Bogdanovic, Mudiay, and Clarkson was destined to take a step back.

And it has.

Here are three reasons the defense hasn’t been what it once was.

#1 - Commitment

The Jazz went from #2 team in defensive efficiency last season to #13 this season. The defensive regression has been weighing on the players and coaches.

Head Coach Quin Snyder said: “It’s more than a lack of execution, but a lack of commitment to the things you need to do to win. We’re going to keep getting the same result if we don’t focus and execute on the defensive end.”

Joe Ingles added, “When you play the way we’ve been playing, there’s a lot more bad than good right now. It’s draining. ... It’s just embarrassing.”

#2 - Perimeter D

A big part of the defensive struggles have come on the perimeter.

Time and time again you see the perimeter defenders of the Jazz getting beat and leaving reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert to make multiple plays alone.

The Jazz felt they had hit their ceiling with Ricky Rubio this offseason, but there is no questioning the impact that he made: getting his hands in the passing lanes and being in the right spot.

Just last month Ricky racked up 7 steals against his former team. The starting guard line for the Jazz (Conley and Mitchell) average just 1.6 steals per game...together.

In that contest, it was obvious that Conley was at a disadvantage in length and size. Ricky got Mike in foul trouble and ended the game with 22 points while dishing 11 assists.

The trade for Conley was a calculated risk. The Jazz made the conscious decision to sign offensive-minded players, trusting them to get the job done on the other end. So far it hasn't worked out like they hoped.

#2 - Playing Catch-up

Another element contributing to this rough patch is the Jazz having to constantly play catch up.

Donovan has repeatedly mentioned how the team are able put together one or two excellent quarters of basketball that put them behind the eight-ball. The Jazz struggle to string together four quarters of focused play on defense.

Over the recent 4-game losing streak the Jazz averaged 24.7 points in the third quarter and allowed opposing teams to score 34.3 points in the same period.

The Jazz had to constantly use the fourth quarter to play catch up, and has often been too little too late. On the year, the Jazz losses came at an average of 11 points per game. Over their last four losses that deficit has increased to a 18.3 points.

These deficits are causing the team to grow frustrated and forcing them to play the kind of urgency and effort towards the end of the games that was need two quarters prior.

There have been a lot of twists and turns to this season.

This sort of defensive struggle isn’t what many expected, but with just over 20 games remaining in the season the Jazz are an average defensive team in the NBA.

The areas of improvement come down to commitment, perimeter defense, and falling behind early.

The coaches and players know the problem and it seems that they know the solution as well. Now it is just about going out and executing. "It's go time now," Mitchell says.

"We can't sit here and say we have time. We've got to go out there and do it."

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