The Whiteboard: Something is wrong with the Utah Jazz offense

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images /

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The Utah Jazz are in trouble.

They’ve split the first two games of their series with the Dallas Mavericks but Luka Doncic didn’t play for the Mavs in either game as he recovers from an ankle injury and his return is looming. Across the two games, Utah managed just 112.8 points per 100 possessions, down significantly from their league-leading mark of 116.2 in the regular season. And it’s not just the results, they’re offensive structure appears to have been fundamentally warped in these first two games, in troubling ways.

The Utah Jazz offense has looked very different in the NBA playoffs

Through their first two games, the Jazz have averaged just 235 passes and 28.5 potential assists per game, both of which are enormous drops from the regular season marks and would have ranked last in the league during the regular season by enormous margins. Nearly a quarter of their shot attempts against Dallas have been pull-up jumpers inside the arc and if they hadn’t been making those at an absurdly unsustainable rate (53.9 percent) their offensive performance would look even worse.

It’s easy to chalk some of this up to the crumbling dynamic between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell has already attempted 22 shots after seven or more dribbles (he’s only made six) with Jalen Brunson as the only player attempting more thus far in the postseason. There have also been several noticeable examples of the Jazz ignoring Rudy Gobert with deep position in the paint and a much smaller player switched onto him — in this case, Brunson who is literally a foot shorter.

But it’s not just Mitchell and Gobert. The whole offense looks fundamentally out of sync and pretty different from how the Jazz approached the business of scoring during the regular season. The graph below looks at the Jazz by offensive style, comparing their pace (average possession length), ball movement (average touch time), player movement (average distance traveled per minute of possession) and shot selection (Moreyball percentage), comparing last season, this season and the first two games of the playoffs.

Team offenses change from season to season and the shifts between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 regular seasons were large but didn’t have a correspondingly large change in their overall efficiency. But they went from the green line to the blue line in the span of two weeks and clearly has had a much bigger effect. The difference in the shot-selection play And to put those marks into context — the Jazz are possessing the ball for roughly the same amount of time per game but their average possession has lasted about a full second longer while their average touch is lasting about a half-second longer and their players are running roughly a half-mile less per game.

It’s been just two games and we’re comparing those games to season-long trends — there are bound to be some variations and outliers. But when those variations are so representative of simple observations about how the Jazz are struggling, and overlay so cleanly around ongoing concerns about chemistry between Mitchell and Gobert and their relative long-term investments in this iteration of the Jazz.

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