For the past few years, the rationale behind the Utah Jazz evolving into a contender in the Western Conference was based upon their disruptive length on defense.
With Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle as an elite rim protector — if not the league's top center, as some assert — the Jazz have become a top five defense, capable of making high percentage shots hard to come by and using their length to switch and disrupt ball movement. Despite the Jazz’ struggle to stay relevant in the playoff race the past couple of seasons, their defensive ability has helped them pose about as big a challenge as anyone to the Golden State Warriors.
However, with their length being a defining aspect of their potential entering the season, the more interesting development of Utah’s performance this season has been their improved 3-point shooting. Adding this improved shooting on top of a third-ranked defense and the league's slowest pace has made the Jazz even more dangerous. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune detailed the Jazz’ improvement in an article yesterday.
“The Jazz currently take 26.4 shots from 3-point range, which ranks them 11th in the NBA. That's a significant jump from last season, when they took 23.9 3-pointers a night. More encouraging to Snyder and the Jazz: They are making 36.8 percent of their threes, which is seventh in the league. Last season, they made 35.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“With Derrick Favors hurt for much of the season, the Jazz have had to play differently than they have in the past. And without Favors, the Jazz have gone much of the season with three-wing alignments and a point guard on the floor around Gobert.”
In theory, a half court game revolving around a dominant center would be part of the answer to beating the Warriors, especially if that slow half court attack includes three-point shooting. With the Warriors having lost Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli in the offseason, the Jazz are exactly the type of opponent people thought would give the Warriors fits this season.
In practice? Best of luck to them.
With their own lineup of elite “switchy” defenders, the Warriors are currently tops in the league in three-point defense — holding opponents to just 32.2 percent shooting. As the defense continues to gel and rotate with more discipline (Is it just me or have they fouled while closing out just a bit too often?), they'll shut down any team that tries to outshoot them for 48 minutes.
As for their interior defense “issue,” it was overstated entering the season and it has been less of a problem than even the most optimistic of us imagined. The difficulty of the hunt for weaknesses itself seemed to magnify what people conjured up.
Zaza Pachulia and David West play better position defense than credited for entering the season; West in particular has really seemed to get more comfortable over the last few games as he is starting to impose his will on the defensive glass.
JaVale McGee has finally found a home in the Warriors’ system and is showing off some of that shot blocking potential people have always wanted from him.
Kevin Durant is a better rim protector than Harrison Barnes, but you already knew that.
The Warriors will continue to struggle against teams that aim to muscle them inside, but we have to remember that we still haven't even seen this team reach their full potential — it's December and they're still growing.
The Jazz hope to be the prototype for conquering the Warriors with their pieces on both ends of the court. And it would be surprising if they missed the playoffs again, assuming good health. But the Warriors, at this point, are just too dynamic for any of the challengers that currently purport to be their undoing.