Utah Jazz: Three takeaways from the undefeated week

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Utah is becoming a one-trick pony

One of the main flaws of last year’s squad was their over-reliance on Donovan Mitchell for offensive production. Mitchell did really well the last 40 games of that season, putting up MVP caliber numbers. He’s been good this year, averaging 25 points per game on 45 percent shooting. He’s one of the league leaders in clutch points scored, and has been the closer Utah lacked during the Gordon Hayward era.


That’s okay to heavily rely on one player as long as games are being won and your go-to guy is staying efficient. But it’s hard to sustain such greatness in the playoffs. Your opponent has more time to scout your team, and therefore they can focus more on shutting down your star players. That’s exactly what happened to the Utah Jazz last year.

Donovan Mitchell didn’t score as many points as the number of shots he took, resulting in a putrid 32 percent field goal percentage over the five game series. This wasn’t Mitchell being selfish or a ball hog in any way; he had earned the right to get that many touches based on his incredible regular season play, and it’s not like the Jazz had any better alternatives.

That’s what made the Golden State Warriors a dynasty, was their ability to rely on more than one guy for 25+ points on any given night. Meanwhile the Rockets and James Harden have never made it to the NBA Finals, and Damian Lillard has only carried the Portland Trail-Blazers past the second round of the playoffs just once in his career.

It wasn’t solely star power that made the Golden State Warriors unstoppable. We’ve seen other NBA teams in the past load up on star players, but blending star power with a heavy ball movement offense helped the Warriors get contributions from guys deep on their bench.

If all Steve Kerr ran offensively was Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry isolation plays, the Warriors still would have gone pretty far, maybe even won a championship. But their unselfishness allowed every player on their roster to play with confidence, where you could get six or seven players scoring in double figures on any given night. That was what made them a juggernaut with three titles and five straight finals appearances.

They could still rely on Durant to get them a bucket through isolation when they needed it in tight games and in the playoffs; but during the long regular season against lottery teams, it wasn’t necessary to rely so heavily on Curry and Durant.

The Jazz are halfway there as they’ve acquired two great scorers with Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic. They have both proven they can explode for 30 points and takeover a game with their scoring. The problem with this is it is becoming so predictable. Utah needs to be able to rely on their bench enough to save their star players for tougher opponents. The more they rely on heroics of Mitchell and Bogey to beat lottery teams, the more they expose them for scouting reports other teams will prepare in the future.

The Jazz have discovered a six-man group that can play with anyone. The four most used lineups of this year have featured Mitchell, Bogey, and Rudy Gobert surrounded by any two of Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale. Of those four lineups, three of them outscore their opponents by 10 or more points per 100 possessions.

With the exception of the Minnesota Timberwolves win which started this five game win streak, the Utah Jazz have followed the same blueprint in their last four victories.

They always put their starters in at the 9 minute mark in the fourth quarter and count on them to bring home the victory. In the case of the Orlando Magic game, they had to dig themselves out of a hole those last nine minutes.

I compared the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz’s victories on Saturday. Both teams were facing inferior Eastern Conference squads. Both teams are missing their starting point guards at the moment; Eric Bledsoe is out with leg fracture and Conley is out with a hamstring strain.

The Bucks played Giannis Antetokounmpo for only 26 minutes and still got the blowout victory. Meanwhile the Jazz had to play Gobert 37 minutes and barely scraped by with the win. The Jazz can’t rely on their starters to bail out their bench forever, and one of these days their opponent will figure out that all they have to do is shut down Mitchell and Bogdanovic to take down the Jazz.

I don’t want to be too critical here because Quin Snyder has tried almost everything and his options are limited with Conley being out. But the Jazz are in a dangerous spot until they can get more contributions from their bench and become harder to scout.