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Jazz’s Achilles heel strikes again, as they can’t defend goalkeepers who score. What can they do about it?

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz 109-103 loss to the Washington Wizards to Salt Lake Tribune Jazz writer Andy Larsen.

1. I’m sorry, Royce O’Neale can’t keep the little scorekeepers

Royce O’Neale is a very valuable addition to his squad: he’s bouncing as well as any fin in the league, moving the ball, attacking the rim better than ever this season, and rightfully making an effort on the defensive end. He’s definitely playing bigger than his height, with a relatively short 6-4.

But hey, playing bigger than your height isn’t always positive. And in particular, O’Neale struggles to protect the league’s quick goaltenders, a trend we’ve seen time and time again, including in critical playoff games. It is simply not enough for the Jazz to have a realistic chance of winning a title against the other contending teams in the league who have scoring guards.

It is a straight line. Line. To drive. There is simply no excuse for it.

But usually it’s not that simple: sometimes he’s just simply unable to navigate the screens and stay attached at an acceptable level. Here he tries to trick the screen – and gets beaten with a three wide open wedge.

Here is the same game, but in the second half. This time, O’Neale isn’t cheating, but Beal still has the option for a three. He doesn’t choose to take it and O’Neale somehow recovers, but ultimately poor communication between him and Gobert leaves a Beal wide open for another time.

Finally, here he just gets beat up on the backdoor game.

Look, Beal is tough – although a lot less tough than last year, it’s been a bad season for him. But I don’t think O’Neale has the quick-twitch agility to stay with these guards. In his defense, it’s hard to find players who do. Conley’s guard defense is good (remember how he defended Darius Garland in the last possession against Cleveland?), But with him the job fell on O’Neale, and he just wasn’t strong enough.

Jazz desperately needs another option here. More on that later.

2. The execution of the fast-scoring game is not good enough

It’s been a trend this season: When the Jazz need a bucket fast, they go to Donovan Mitchell – who barely gets a prayer all of a sudden. Here is the lousy piece from last night.

And here is the one for tonight.

So what do we notice? First of all, these are very different pieces. The first has Rudy Gobert putting screens there, while the second, Jazz has just put Gobert on the bench, in favor of Rudy Gay. That probably makes sense – realistically the Jazz needed a three tonight, whereas against Spurs a 2-point withdrawal from Gobert would have done well.

But having Gobert in the game means her man can help Mitchell onscreen, which makes life even more difficult. I wonder if Mitchell had a chance to pass that pass to Ingles in the corner for the first three, but it should have been a quick catch-and-shoot from Ingles.

Tonight it was much simpler: Mitchell opened on his own. On paper, I like the Mitchell vs. Deni Avdija game, but the latter did a tremendous job challenging that shot, and he’s very tall and long. But Mitchell’s pullback probably would have provided a better look.

Overall, this is an issue Snyder probably needs to resolve. The team has the second best out of bounds efficiency in the entire NBA, so their play calls work at other points in the game. I think it’s a combination of execution and creativity here, as acknowledged. Snyder.

“The way to maximize what might be a low percentage (chance) is to be very precise in your execution,” Snyder said. “You just need more precision and more attention to detail in these situations. You still might not get a good shot, but you want to get a better shot than the ones we have.

In particular, Mitchell doesn’t have to be the guy every time. I actually thought the Clarkson look when the Jazz was down six moments later was fine, but by then it was too little, too late anyway.

3. So … what to do about the defensive guard problem?

It’s been reported by almost everyone now: The Jazz are looking for some kind of defensive wing in the trading market this year. I think they need a defensive guard more than a defensive wing, but if you could get a defensive wing that can protect the guards that would work too.

I ask Jazz once again to try the inexpensive option: Kris Dunn. The dude is 15 months away from nearly winning an All-Defense slot playing for the gruesome Chicago Bulls. He led the league in steals per minute, and it wasn’t just an interception hunter case – he played a really, really good man-to-man defense.

He is now a free agent – and would be considerably more useful to this team than Miye Oni or Elijah Hughes. I understand he’s a bad offensive player, but I don’t think he’s catastrophically bad; I would probably take it over Trent Forrest on that side. Even if it is, it’s worth having it as an option. Again, the alternative is Oni or Hughes. Go get him yesterday.

If it turns out that it isn’t working (and it just might not work!), Then you need a defensive player in the trading market. Who could make sense?

Dan Clayton wrote this excellent article for this website this week as an introduction to the rules of the trade – although I generally like smaller players than the larger options Dan mentioned. Would an exchange between Joe Ingles and Danny Green make sense? At this point Ingles is a 3-and-D player who favors 3, Green is a 3-and-D player who favors D. I like Kenrich Williams of OKC, actually.

Boston’s Marcus Smart fits the defensive bill, but he’s been catastrophic offensively this year – can he bounce back? Would Danny Ainge trade for his old man? If the Wizards fall apart, could you get Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for them by including a pick? Probably. (Damn, I always want Raul Neto to come back – he’s great with that onscreen navigation thing.) If Wolves fall apart, could you take Patrick Beverley away from them by including a pick? Probably. I wonder if you could have Josh Hart from the Pelicans.

Some of the trade adjustments are troublesome from a monetary point of view. And there’s just the fact that most of the good defensemen in the league are from good teams, who probably won’t want to trade their good player for another good team that they are competing with. If so, you’re really going to have to sell them on Joe Ingles or Jordan Clarkson.

So Andy’s plan would be: sign Dunn yesterday, see if it works for a month, and if it doesn’t, attack the trading market with flying colors in February. Fortunately, “Trader Danny” Ainge is known to do just that – well, the last part, anyway.


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