How to Fix the Utah Jazz Defense
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
There’s no beating around the bush: the Utah Jazz don’t look right. They’ve stumbled their way,, bumped and bruised, to a 4-5 record...still without a home win.
To make matters worse, the upcoming schedule won’t provide any relief. Many of the league’s elite await the Jazz over the next couple weeks, and there’s no opportunity to catch their breath.
Many of us realized the opening months of the schedule would be brutal and the likelihood of achieving loads of success was fairly small. Most fans aren’t disappointed with a 4-5 record; it’s HOW the Jazz came to be 4-5… and that’s poor defense.
It’s very unlike the Utah Jazz to struggle defensively. The Jazz returned the majority of the roster in the name of “continuity”. In order for the Jazz to keep their head above water in these opening months, the defense must regain what made them special last year.
In fairness, the Jazz are doing a lot of things right. But it clearly isn’t enough. If the Jazz force turnovers, leverage everyone to protect the paint, and are blessed with a little luck, the Jazz will get back to what makes them great.
Force More Turnovers
One of the best ways to hinder an opponent’s offense is to reduce the amount of scoring opportunities available to them. With the increased pace in the league, more teams are earning scoring opportunities and the Jazz need to take away those away.
Last year, The Utah Jazz forced turnovers on 15.4% of possessions, ranking 6th best. This year the Jazz have only forced turnovers on 13.9%, only 18th best in the league. The Jazz can’t always control how often the ball gets in the hoop, but they may be able to control, to a small degree, how often their opponent has the ball.
Saturday night’s loss to Denver was a prime example of forcing turnovers at a high rate. Jazz forced turnovers on 17% of the Nuggets’ possessions, the best tally of the year.
Despite melting down in the fourth quarter, the Jazz had a 93 defensive rating at the start of the fourth quarter, a defensive mark that would have been our best of the year to this point. They had also forced 15 of the total 17 turnovers in the first three quarters of the game. Coincidence? Probably not.
Forcing additional turnovers shouldn’t be confused with unnecessary gambling on possessions or committing unnecessary fouls. The Utah Jazz can play the passing lanes and create situations conducive to turnovers without excessive reaching, pushing, and grabbing.
Forcing turnovers hasn’t typically been at the heart of our defensive strategy. However, so long as the opponent is making shots at a higher rate than normal, the Jazz must do something different. Forcing turnovers may be their best option.
Everyone: Protect the Paint
Thanks to Rudy Gobert, The Utah Jazz have always had the unique ability to prevent shots at the rim and reduce an opponent’s ability to make the few shots they get in the restricted area.
To begin the year, however, we’ve seen opponents draw Rudy away from the hoop and put him in areas where it’s difficult to retreat to the hoop and help contest shots at the rim. The result?
Not only are the Jazz are allowing more shots in the restricted area than last year and more shots than league average, opponents are shooting the third best FG% in the restricted area against Utah.
It’s going to take the whole team to fix this issue. Every Jazz player needs to think like Gobert: protect the paint first. They need to provide help defense to cut off the restricted area, stay in front of their own man, and contest every shot.
Additional focus in this area may not lead to perfect execution instantly. There will continue to be mistakes and lapses in focus as team members figure it out. But something HAS to be done about the restricted area and it all cannot fall on Rudy.
The Utah Jazz have been very unlucky to begin the year. Sure, every fan base uses this excuse when things don’t go well...but in our case, it’s true.
The Utah Jazz have guarded their opponent tightly with the 7th highest frequency in the league. Yet they are hitting shots with the 2nd highest eFG% in these situations. Opponents are hitting shots with the Jazz right in their grill and contesting their shots.
The Jazz are also forcing opponents into the worst shots (paint non-restricted area and the midrange) at the 5th best rate in the league. Yet, someone forgot to tell the teams we’re playing that they are bad shots: they are making the fifth highest percent of field goals in these “bad areas”.
The Jazz are also allowing the 11th fewest corner 3 point attempts. The corner 3 is very valuable in today’s game and the Jazz are doing a good job at limiting opponents’ opportunities. And still, team’s are shooting 7th best from the corner 3 against the Jazz.
How much longer will the Jazz have to play good defense in order to see some results? Who knows. For now, the Jazz need to force turnovers, help out in the restricted area, and pray that good fortune comes their way.
Got to Be Great
The Utah Jazz are a good team. Their offense is much improved last year and their defense is still good; not great, but good. The Jazz have shown that they can win games where the defense stinks and the offense is great. They just can’t win consistently.
In order for the Jazz to win consistently and achieve the win total and national recognition they deserve, they have to be great on defense almost every night.
Every so often the Jazz can sneak out a win thanks to their offense. But for them to win at a consistent pace, they have to believe the idea that they will not win unless they play great defense.
They say it doesn’t matter what you do, just that you become the best at it. The Jazz know they can be the best defensive team in the league. It’s just a matter of doing it.