Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets 12/26: What’s going wrong?

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26: Trey Lyles #7 of the Denver Nuggets dribbles the ball during the game against the Utah Jazz on December 26, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26: Trey Lyles #7 of the Denver Nuggets dribbles the ball during the game against the Utah Jazz on December 26, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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After a 107-83 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz have now lost nine of their last 11 games.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has played in roughly half of his team’s games this season. Given Utah’s recent downturn, which was punctuated on Tuesday by a 24-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, it’s obvious that his defensive impact around the rim, shot-blocking and finishing are all sorely missed right now.

However, my theory is that there’s something else missing with Gobert out (and Gordon Hayward in Boston) — leadership.

Every head coach needs an “inside man.” Someone who can be his voice on the court and lead by example, executing the coach’s vision to excellence. He’ll also stick up for his teammates, make big plays and set a tone for intensity.

By the end of last season, Gobert had become a vocal leader who was also setting a tone for intensity and making huge defensive plays. Meanwhile, Hayward was always more of a “lead by example” type. He had completely bought into Coach Quin Snyder’s system by this point and was leading by doing.

Without these elements, the team lacks identity, focus and execution. You end up with games like this game against the Nuggets.

Our own Ryan Aston touched on some of these struggles, as well —

Andy Larsen, of KSL, put together a thread full of some of the mental lapses and lack of focus moments from the game —

If only the Jazz could be this in-sync on the court…

Sidenote: There really is a phenomenon with this sort of thing and it’s amazing. I won’t bother with it here, but go search for it in Twitter or Google and have a laugh.

Shooting woes or something else?

Sure, the Jazz shot poorly: 27-of-84 from the field and 10-of-35 from 3-point range. But this doesn’t paint the full picture. The Jazz came out sluggish (which is now officially a trend, not just a concern).

10-of-35 three-point shooting, while not excellent, is not ridiculously bad. The mid-range shooting is where the Jazz lost the game. But, the fact that we talk about mid-range shooting losing us the game is a problem by itself. There were too many mid-range shots.

There are cases where long two-point shots are not bad shots, but with this team it’s what we call “settling.” And it’s unsettling to watch. Look below at all the misses outside the paint.

They also have a lot of misses in the paint, which isn’t good, particularly against a Denver team that is arguably the worst defensive team in the league and one of the worst at defending the paint.

Again, the shooting was bad, but I think the Jazz are simply lacking focus and intensity, which comes down to a lack of leadership.

Who is to blame?

This is where it’s tough. If you need an on-court leader, there’s not an easy answer. Rudy Gobert is the leader. You have to hope that he’ll bring that with him when he returns. In his absence, you’d expect Rodney “first offensive option” Hood or Ricky “starting point guard” Rubio to do it.

Instead, you have Donovan “still a rookie” Mitchell being a leader. The trouble is, a rookie can’t become too demanding or overbearing on teammates without alienating them to a degree, so his effectiveness is lost.

Hood has already proven he’s not quite a powerful leader or playmaker. He’s still just a shooter, and Rubio is all over the map.

I’ll finish with this — we knew this month was going to be tough.. We knew this season would be tough without the player that the team was built around. It’s not the end, though. This is a transition year to figure out who can work on the floor with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

Losses are piling up along the way, but at least Mitchell gives us highlights —

And despite the current lack of a true leader, the rookie is well on his way with comments like this —

The Jazz will attempt to pick up the pieces against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.