SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by the Utah Jazz’ 121-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
Maybe we should stop being shocked that the Jazz built a 20 point lead, defended like the dickens, hit a 3 bushel, racked up a bunch of assists on their field goals made and finished the game with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Maybe that’s just who Jazz is right now.
Of course, all of this can change. This is your daily warning that anything can come crashing down at any time. But, the Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks are the only two teams in the league with six wins. The Jazz are an offensive machine, scoring more than 117 points per night. The Jazz have been one of the most versatile teams in basketball.
Maybe that’s who they are.
That doesn’t mean they won’t hit the hard spots. And that doesn’t mean the sample size isn’t tiny yet. But it’s been eight games and the Jazz have played almost sublime basketball in at least five of them. For eight games, more often than not, they play a nice hoop mark.
Here are some thoughts on Monday night’s win, a win in which they put six players in double digits.
Markkanen’s effective attack
The beauty of Lauri Markkanen this season is that he doesn’t focus on Utah’s offense in order to provide his own individual offense. The forward scored a team-high 31 points on Monday night. It took 15 hits to get there. He made 11 of those 15 shots. He went 4 of 5 from a 3-point range. He made all of his free throws.
He didn’t commandeer the attack to get this done. The ball never stopped moving. Spacing has never been compromised. We’ve said it over and over in this space, but Markkanen has been a revelation for the Jazz this season. Chicago Bulls fans must be sick watching Markkanen transform into this. Cleveland Cavaliers fans sleep much easier because Markkanen was the play that got them Donovan Mitchell, and Mitchell is currently playing at the MVP level.
But jazz fans have to jump over the moon. We knew Markkanen was a solid pro, just 25 years old after a great season in Cleveland. We saw how well he played at EuroBasket this summer, and we thought Markkanen could make a good leap if some of the things he did abroad were able to translate.
This? Nobody expected it. Not even the Jazz, who made the Mitchell contract with the Cavaliers in part because Markkanen was included. So here are some of the things he does that no one has really seen.
He defends at a very high level. He causes mismatch after mismatch offensively. He plays all three frontcourt spots, depending on where his biggest advantage is right now. He rebounds at high level. His points are impactful. He scores in every way. He shoots at all three levels. He goes out in transition. He comes to the free throw line. If he plays at this level all season, Markkanen will have put together the best small forward season the Jazz have had since Gordon Hayward in 2016-17, when Hayward was an All-Star and one of the best players. two-way league. Markkanen goes in this direction.
More importantly, Markkanen is a fundamental piece. In what is a survey season for the Jazz, they now know they want Markkanen long term. As hard as the front office thought of him when they traded him, the Jazz may have unwittingly stumbled upon a star who is still a year or two away from entering his prime. No matter how the season goes from a win-loss perspective, Markkanen’s emergence could turn out to be Utah’s biggest victory.
On Monday night, the Jazz passed a test they failed multiple times last season.
Midway through the third quarter, Memphis striker and resident mixer Dillon Brooks fouled Mike Conley through the center sideline. Brooks then stood up, stood over Conley, growled and spoke loudly. He then stepped over Conley, earning himself a technical foul and the wrath of the crowd at Vivint Arena.
Then, Memphis appeared from an energy point of view. They have become more physical and resolute defensively. They have become more resistant at both ends of the ground. As questionable as Brooks’ game was, there was no doubt the Grizzlies were feeding off of it. Soon, a nearly 20-point lead dwindled to 10. The crowd, having seen this so many times from Jazz’s most previous team, groaned in anticipation of a rally in Memphis.
Utah coach Will Hardy called time. He looked all his team members in the eye. And then he told them to calm down, stay in the game and not forget what got them to the point of having a huge lead.
“Everyone is going to talk, it’s part of the game,” Hardy said. “But we didn’t want to forget what was most important at the time. We didn’t want it to get away from us. »
Brooks clearly tried to punk the Jazz on Monday night. As ugly as the incident with Conley looked, it was an act. Conley was Brooks’ vet in Memphis, the one who showed him the ropes. The two remain close friends to this day. Indeed, Conley laughed off the incident in the locker room after the game. He knew the incident was not going to get completely out of control. That’s what Brooks does. He will do everything he can to get his team back in a game. You almost have to respect that kind of effort.
That night, the Jazz showed tenacity, when so many nights a year ago they fell back when a team tried to manhandle them. That night, the Jazz showed confidence. They came back. They ran their offense. They defended and generated saves defensively. Before they knew it, they had rebuilt a 21-point lead. For all intents and purposes, that third-quarter run ended the game. When the Jazz stood up to the bullying, the Grizzlies that night lacked tactical responses. It was not easy. It took a wait time. But, the Jazz was able to accomplish it.
The thing that everyone didn’t know
In the era of superstars, so many teams have built top teams with great players up the line. The flip side is that reaching the fifth and sixth players on a roster usually means a big drop in the game.
The Jazz is a team right now without a star player. But, their depth right now is substantial like any team in the league. Malik Beasley is probably Utah’s seventh-best player. If you put him on the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow, he would arguably be the third-best player. Collin Sexton leaves the bench. He averaged 24 points per game two seasons ago.
Utah is deep and talented. The Jazz currently have 11 legitimate rotation players. Even rookie Ochai Agbaji acquitted himself very well in the minutes given to him.
When you combine that with the coaching that happened at the start of the season – the coaching was just wonderful – you can see why the Jazz are 6-2 early on.
It’s hard to believe that this is sustainable. We keep repeating how brutal Utah’s schedule is, but it’s absolutely brutal throughout the new year. We keep insisting on the lack of a star player, but there is no star player on the list.
What if Markkanen was actually a star player? And if the victories against Memphis, Minnesota, Denver and New Orleans were not a fluke. What if… what if Jazz was actually… good?
No. It is still too early for that. We are only eight games away.
In a regular season format, depth and great practice can win you a lot of games. The Jazz is currently rolling out 48-minute lineups that don’t have much of a drop. Because of the coaching, they space the teams to death. They have so many good shooters it’s hard to count them all. They have so many guys who can handle the ball and get into the lane after the dribble, it’s hard for opponents to compete against them.
They are very difficult to play against them. That’s why they’re 6-2 so far.
(Photo by Lauri Markkanen: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
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