How The Jazz Defended Without Rudy Gobert

In our first round predictions piece, I forecasted that Rudy Gobert would jump out as a post-season star. Recalling how the physicality of the playoffs intensifies, and coaching staffs are given significantly more time to prepare and adjust their blueprint to win a series, I felt like these were the makings of a Gobert kingdom. I saw Gobert thriving in an environment where whistles were swallowed, and Quin Snyder had nailed down every last detail of the Jazz’s defensive scheme. As long as he didn’t have to guard Marreese Speights, he wasn’t going to have much of a reason to leave the paint. His role was going to boil down to stopping the ball screen, helping on Blake Griffin post ups, and cleaning the glass against DeAndre Jordan. As much as the Clippers’ 3-headed monster pick-and-roll compares to the all-time great attacks of that variety, the Stifle Tower was made to defend it. He can step out to the free throw line to blind visions of the basket, then slide back into the restricted area to obstruct the Lob City moniker. Spiking the jump hooks of opposing forwards’ post ups as a help defender is another one of his specialties. If you want to point out that Gobert block attempts can leave the rim exposed, and that DeAndre Jordan averaged almost 4 offensive rebounds per contest in the regular season against Gobert that’s fine; but you have to follow up that stat with a couple more: Jordan averaged a mere 9 points per game, and Derrick Favors only played in 2 of those 4 games.

Then, on the first Jazz offensive possession of the playoffs, the entire possibility for my prediction was removed when Rudy Gobert suffered a knee injury setting a screen for Gordon Hayward. In the makeshift Game 1, Snyder opted to go smaller with Favors at the 5 and gave more run to Joe Johnson at the 4. Griffin having to guard Johnson, and the spread out shooting of the Jazz, discombobulated a Los Angeles squad prepared for a different ball game. Utah eked out a victory on the road from a Johnson game-winner, but the result was overshadowed by the gloomy status of their Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Originally diagnosed as a bone bruise and hyperextension, the timetable remains shaky for Gobert’s return. So, in his absence, what have the Jazz tried to do in the meantime to avoid getting dunked on like a Nerf Hoop?

Ball Screen Defense

Switching 1-4 is consistent to Snyder’s regular season ball screen schemes against the Clippers; screens set by DeAndre were the exception, as he opted to keep Gobert sunk into the paint. After being able to dwell on the first outing, Snyder didn’t concoct anything different for Game 2 with Favors starting at center. Favors could probably fare decently in this role against many of the league’s 1 and 5 combos, but Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan’s timing is simply beyond Favor’s capabilities.

It’s no secret that Paul’s elite midrange shooting keeps helping bigs off balance. After Ingles loses Redick setting a screen on Paul, it’s an uphill battle for Ingles to recover and properly chase Paul around the screen set by Jordan; Ingles doesn’t do himself any favors with some inefficient footwork. Favors quickly finds himself in no man’s land trying to help Ingles as Jordan flies right by him. Gobert has both better instincts and more length to deal with an action like this, but Favors needed better execution from Ingles anyway. Hayward seems to await Paul crossing the center of the lane, while Diaw is stuck boxing out Griffin.

Snyder took a timeout and firmly planted Favors in the paint, allowing Paul to take the pull up if he wanted it.

 

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Transition Defense

Gobert or not, Los Angeles was going to throttle their league-average pace when they could to force the tortoise of the league out of their element. Reinforced by Blake’s rebounding, and the lack of crashing threat from the Jazz, the Clippers could afford DeAndre taking off anytime Favors wasn’t directly under the basket. Redick forced a turnover here, and then Jordan found a cross-match after running the floor for unstoppable post-positioning.

On this post up in transition Blake bulldozed Johnson under the rim for an easy basket. Favors is concerned about Speights’ range on the weakside and arrives late for help. It’s a tradeoff from the Griffin-Johnson matchup that the Jazz can live with, but if Favors is Gobert, Felton and Blake would have had the presence of Gobert to consider.

The miscommunication from Diaw and Ingles deserves most of the finger-pointing here, but watch how Griffin doesn’t even hesitate rising up over a foul-beset Favors, doing his best to step out of a poster frame.

That’s a warm up dunk for Blake.

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Help Defense

A sauntering underhand flip from Speights like this is slapped into the 5th row if he has the audacity to try laying it on Gobert’s backboard.

Hood overplays the 2 man game between Griffin and Redick, opening up a lane for Redick straight through the paint. Favors does his best to box out Jordan and prevent a lob, but J.J. makes it look way too easy with an uncontested 2 foot lay up.

Here, the Jazz hedge the 1-4 PNP and Hood helps one pass away off Redick to stop Griffin from driving to the rack. Hood extends remarkable effort to run J.J. off the 3 point line. Having the last Redick basket in the front of his mind, Favors reluctantly steps towards Redick a bit off balance. The runner clanks off the rim, but the rest of the Jazz don’t rotate down to help the helper and DeAndre smashes home the rebound.

This is another bucket I can’t help thinking Gobert would’ve let Blake know he had no business trying in his house.

Hayward’s defense lacked focus in Game 2. His jump on the Mbah a Moute pump fake is inexcusable and trafficked another 2 on 1 in Derrick Favors’ direction.

Again, the idea that Griffin could spin across the lane and not have his shot at the rim rejected, or at least affected by Gobert’s interior influence just doesn’t sit well with me.

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This study wasn’t meant to tarnish Derrick Favors, and I don’t even think there is the evidence to do so. Favors is in the midst of finding his rhythm in yet another season unfortunately set back by injuries. All of a sudden he’s asked to do what the best defensive center in the league does against an elite rim-bending offense. Even though he finished a -11, there were things you could say he did overly well, like prevent DJ from grabbing more than 3 offensive rebounds. The bottom line on Derrick Favors is he’s an above average defender at his position, and asking him to be Rudy Gobert, against DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, goes beyond his peak capabilities. That being said, some of the ways in which the Clippers compromised Utah’s defense underscored how much Gobert really is the foundation of his teams’ effectiveness on that end. I had the tendency to believe that the defense of the Jazz was a little more sound as a whole, but plenty of these plays felt like Gobert would have been both erasing some bad mistakes committed by the perimeter, or defending the paint like so very few bigs can, if any. 

Gobert will not play in Game 3. Even if the Jazz extend their post-season long enough that Gobert is able to return, it’s the type of injury that will most like curtail his effectiveness, no matter how tough he is. Many of the Jazz players lack athleticism and aren’t what you’d call good help defenders. Their roster features individual players, like Ingles or Diaw, that can overcome their limitations to offer resistance on a single assignment, but when those assignments are manipulated through switching, and then they can’t properly help one another, the Clippers offense finds reliable exploits. Even in a circumstance where Utah’s effort exceeds Los Angeles’, the ceiling for this Jazz team is determined by Rudy Gobert. Unless he can return and truly is sensational, and not just pretty good, I no longer expect Utah to win this series.


Tommy Driscoll

@drizmasterflash

tommy@dimetheoryhoops.com

 

All stats from NBA.com

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