The Utah Jazz — especially this year’s iteration that’s trying to establish an identity after the departures of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert — are defined by more than just one man.
It’s been showing by how they’ve been running their offense: an emphasis on 5-out spacing that aims to maximize shooting, with bigs that can play multiple roles — whether as screeners, spacers, or connective passing hubs.
They’re the second-best offense in the league when eliminating end-of-quarter heaves and garbage time, with half-court (eighth) and transition (fifth) efficiency marks that are among the best in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. They possess the fifth-highest three-point-attempt rate and are 10th in accuracy — including a corner-three success rate that’s only bested by the Denver Nuggets.
It’s been a team-wide effort, but there have been noteworthy standouts. Lauri Markkanen is having the best season of his career. Thirty-five-year-old Mike Conley is drinking from the fountain of youth. Jordan Clarkson is relishing in his role as a ball-handling scoring guard.
But the one Jazzman who’s arguably the most dangerous of them all — due to the possibility of him igniting and exploding at any moment — is Malik Beasley.
Beasley is a shooter’s shooter. Once he touches the ball, it’s more than likely he will immediately let it fly. His role on the Jazz is to be a potent benefactor of their emphasis on spacing.
The Jazz won’t mind Beasley shooting every time he touches the ball, considering that he’s a career 38.9% shooter from beyond the arc. More importantly, he was making his threes at a blistering 42.5% rate — on eight attempts per game — going into the Jazz’s game against the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors were well aware of that fact. They know that the Jazz have relatively more marquee names they should worry about, but none provide the kind of powder-keg potency Beasley brings.
Leaving Beasley for even a split second — or botching switches and falling behind on off-ball screens — can be punished instantaneously.
Miscommunication on switches such as the one above between Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson isn’t ideal. Poole initially has Beasley, with Thompson taking on Nickeil Alexander-Walker. On the handoff between Alexander-Walker and Beasley, both defenders are thinking of different coverages — Poole is thinking “switch,” while Thompson is thinking “stay home and fight over.”
That leaves Beasley with plenty of room around the flare screen from Walker Kessler. Thompson — realizing too late that he should’ve switched onto Beasley — tries to fight over the screen, but to no avail.
The possession above was more the exception than the rule, considering the Warriors keyed in on the Beasley minutes and made life difficult for him. Virtually zero space was given; every screen on and off the ball was switched, if the switch was there for the taking. If there was no switch to be made, the emphasis shifted toward tenaciously fighting over screens.
Even while the Warriors made boo-boos like the one above, they made sure to recalibrate their approach and correct their mistakes the second time around.
Thompson (guarding Beasley) and Poole (guarding Alexander-Walker) flip matchups. With the Jazz running the same exact play, Thompson and Poole switch the handoff seamlessly, with Poole now guarding Beasley. He fights over the flare screen and also successfully gets over the “Ricky” screen (an off-ball re-screen).
Poole’s lock-and-trail on Beasley achieves its goal of running Beasley off the line and making him settle for a floater. While Beasley has a respectable 44% success rate in floater range, he doesn’t take many of them — only 11% of his total shots have come within that area, per Cleaning the Glass.
More importantly, the Warriors — whose shot profile suggests they would much rather give up non-rim twos instead of quality looks at the rim — will take that shot, even if it did go in.
As proof of how seriously the Warriors were taking Beasley, they placed their best perimeter defender on him for a couple of possessions. Andrew Wiggins — with his length and ability to swallow smaller assignments whole — had no trouble navigating over screens, making hard but controlled close outs, forcing Beasley off the line and making him settle for tough twos, and staying home on him in the corner.
Something that became a byproduct of their focus on Beasley was easy offense in the form of leak outs and outlet passes. The Warriors realized that Beasley was a highly vulnerable target in transition — if he didn’t touch the ball, he would fall asleep going back on defense.
The same goes for whenever he shoots against a controlled close-out and misses; he instead admires his make (or rues his miss) and forgets about the defender who just contested his shot. Before he knows it, Beasley’s man is already on the other end making himself available for a cherry pick.
The Warriors’ focus on Beasley paid off — he scored 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field, including a 2-of-8 clip from beyond the arc.
To add insult to injury, the Warriors intentionally targeted Beasley on a couple of possessions, including on a set play that saw him matched up against Wiggins deep in the paint.
Draymond calls out "Head Tap" but the cross-screen isn't necessary since Wiggins already has a favorable matchup on Malik Beasley. Posts him up and drills the turnaorund hook. pic.twitter.com/H6N933nzds— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 26, 2022
The Warriors defense has seen its share of ups and downs during the first 20 games of the season. But they’re beginning to see an uptick in efficiency, even if there’s plenty of room for improvement. They’re 23rd in defensive rating — currently not a championship-level defense.
However, over the last 10 games of rattling off a 7-3 record, the Warriors have been 14th in defensive rating — a marked improvement. Even if it’s still middle-of-the-pack relative to the rest of the league, it’s a bullish indicator that they’re starting to find their footing on the defensive end.
They’re identifying correct matchups, finding a workable blend of defensive personnel, and keying in on the opponents they need to focus on. Beasley isn’t a star, but he has the potential to explode like one on any given night.
The Warriors made sure that one of those nights did not come against them.