The Utah Jazz defense isn’t bad this season, allowing 107.7 points per game heading into Monday night against Toronto, 13th in the NBA. It’s middle of the pack…
Except the Jazz were supposed to be elite on that end. They had the NBA’s best defense last season, allowing 4.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than they have this season, and with the continuity of roster and coaching staff — plus a healthy Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint all season — it was expected they would be a top three defense.
What has gone wrong? Gobert says the league focusing on “freedom of movement” for offensive players, especially off the ball, has been part of it. The league is calling bumps, clutching, and little holds to slow players off the ball, and it’s made life harder for the Jazz, Gobert told Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News.
“A lot. I think it impacts everyone,” Gobert said. “We want to be a physical team and we want to impact the other team’s movement. It’s a big change and it’s hard with all those screens and guards that are using that as an advantage to get fouled. It’s hard, but it’s the same for everyone so we have to adapt.”
You can see the struggles in the numbers. Utah is doing a good job in shutting down transition chances for their opponents (second lowest percentage of offensive plays starting in transition allowed, via Cleaning the Glass). However, in the halfcourt they are doing pretty well but not spectacularly against the pick-and-roll, struggling more if the ball handler maintains possession and takes the shot (0.92 points allowed per possession, which is pretty high compared to the league). They also are struggling with things like containing players on dribble hand-offs, where again they can’t bump the player now.
The Jazz are not alone in their frustration with the way the rule is being enforced. There is a sense among teams that eventually this will level out a little — teams will adjust, the referees will back off — but we’re not there yet. But if the 4-5 Jazz are going to get rolling again this season, they need to adapt sooner rather than later. The West is unforgiving this season.