The Utah Jazz win with defense. You know this. I know this. The Jazz know this. Their opponents know this. Ever since Rudy Gobert was elevated into the starting lineup for good a few years ago, the Jazz have become a perennial top-three defense, and this year, they rank second in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Utah has other strong defenders, of course, but everything the team does defensively is based around the fact that Gobert is the league’s best paint protector — a singular shot-altering force who erases large swaths of the floor through his presence alone. No matter who the Jazz have on the floor alongside him, they are almost sure to prevent points at an elite level.
Utah’s offense is a bit different. Quin Snyder runs a system predicated on ball and player movement, one that depends on a series of dribble hand-offs, pick-and-rolls, and flare screens to create space for players to operate. The system, though, is at its best when that space is being created for Donovan Mitchell. He is by far the team’s best off-the-bounce creator, as well as the player to whom they are most likely to turn whenever they need a bucket.
So long as the Jazz have Gobert and Mitchell in the game together, they can maintain their principles on both sides of the floor and, at the same time, experiment with different looks that allow for more diversity of play. Utah, though, typically does not stray from one of two configurations: a two-big frontcourt with Gobert and Derrick Favors, or a small-ball look with Jae Crowder manning the power forward slot next to Gobert.
This means that Mitchell plays off the ball almost all the time, as the Jazz usually have one of Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, or Raul Neto next to him in the backcourt. Of his team-leading 2,383 minutes played, Mitchell has had one of those three players next to him 75 percent of the time. With this in mind, three things are worth mentioning:
- Exum is injured again. He has not played more than 23 consecutive games since his rookie season.
- Rubio will see his contract expire at the end of the season.
- Neto, while a nice player, is more of a caretaker point guard type who brings the ball up the floor, sets up the offense, and largely gets out of the way.