The Inbounds is a look into what's going on with various teams around the NBA, including quotes, plays, stats, and more. We're still early, so everything here should be taken with a huge sample size warning in big, bold, red letters.
One of the best arguments for Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert's value last season came from how great Utah was its big man on the floor. This was also meant to indicate the best reason to believe this season's Jazz team could survive offensively. If Gobert's at-rim gravity was good enough, with a great distributor in Ricky Rubio, then the offense could still maintain spacing and function.
That has not been the case, and glaringly so:
That's a catastrophic drop-off.
So clearly, Gobert has just gotten off to a rough start, right?
Nope. His field-goal percentage (68.5 percent) is up from last season. He's averaging more finishes out of the pick and roll per game (3) than last year (2.5) and with a greater efficiency (shooting 76.5 percent). Gobert isn't the issue.
Their problems are basically two-fold with Gobert on the floor. First off, Utah's turnover issues are substantial. One issue is that because of Rubio's limitation as a scorer with the ball, teams are sniping the pick and roll with Gobert a lot of the time. Watch how the Mavericks approach guarding their pick and roll here:
That movement off Ingles is happening a lot ... which is odd. Ingles is shooting a blistering 52.9 percent on spot-up shots (76.5 percent eFG) and 48.7 percent from 3-point range overall. He's shooting a career-high number of 3's per game, and yet Jazz opponents are still crashing off of him. It's something to watch going forward as teams seem to be content to gamble off the Jazz's best shooter.
The other problem is the degree to which they grind the ball into dirt. Utah has the lowest pace in the league, and are second in shots in the last four seconds of the shot clock. Only Memphis takes more shots with less than seven seconds left before the buzzer. This means the Jazz have less time to run secondary mechanisms in their offense. It helps them to play the game where they want it, but it also means, with rookie Donovan Mitchell handling the ball as much as he is, you get possessions like this:
Utah's going to have to find some answers on offense.
Nikola Vucevic has helped the Magic get off to their best start since 2010. Much of that can be attributed to the five-out play design they've taken, with Vucevic gunning from the perimeter. But you really have to see the year-over-year changes to where Vucevic has shot from to realize how stark the change has been.
That's a 27 percent increase in Vucevic's shots above the break, and he did so without sacrificing his shots at the rim, which might be just as impressive. His number of paint-non-restricted area shots has dropped and his mid-range distribution has been nearly halved. Plus, he's making everything:
It is not an exaggeration to say that offensively, Vucevic has kept all the good stuff, and added even better materials for his offensive game, leading to a career-year start.
I want good things for Jeff Green. The guy had open heart surgery, and worked his way back to being an NBA player. That's incredible. However, he has been poison, basketball-wise, on every team he's been on since his early years in Oklahoma City. With the Cavs, for the first 10 days or so, he was only doing things in his wheelhouse, and it was effective. But stuff like this just drives you crazy.
Green is shooting 25 percent from 3-point range this season, 33 percent for his career. So when he gets this ball off an offensive rebound, decision making is really important. Please note the following:
- The Pelicans recoil from guarding him like he's radioactive. Jrue Holiday walks up like "Oh, I should guard ... wait, that's Jeff Green. Wait, he's shooting?"
- Kyle Korver, a career 43 percent 3-point shooter, helplessly asking for the ball like a drowning man reaching his hand out of the water.
There's a lot wrong with the Cavs, and Green isn't really behind any of it. But stuff like this doesn't help.
Dribble hand-off sets have risen astronomically in their use over the last 10 years as bigs get more mobile and guards become better at shooting behind screens. Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis aren't Mike Conley and Marc Gasol yet, but they're getting there.
If LeBron James goes over this screen from Sabonis to contest Oladipo, and if Love doesn't contain, Oladipo's going to the rim. If Love steps up around it to contest Oladipo and James goes to cover Sabonis, Oladipo is driving past Love on a pump-fake. If they blitz Oladipo, he passes to Sabonis rolling to the rim, and if help comes he can pass on the roll. It's a nightmare.
What's worse, Oladipo has added these double-moves to his cuts like he's hitting the "L" button in Madden, and when he fakes with it coming to the DHO and reverses back to the rim ...
Sabonis' passing ability is a big key in this. He's on target if the ball handler doesn't take the hand-off and that makes it even tougher to defend.
I asked Paul Millsap, who's had trouble finding his footing in the Denver offense early, on Wednesday morning if a star player has to adjust his role depending on who he's on the court with.
"I think I get caught up into that, instead of just playing my game and being me," Millsap said. "Standing and watching, not being involved, spacing the floor, playing basketball the right way.
"I need to start shooting the ball a little bit more, especially when I'm open. I think that will help our offense out, instead of putting it on the ground and getting in no-man's land."
This was Millsap Wednesday night on his way to 20 points and four rebounds in a blowout win over the Raptors:
Denver had issues early on this season with everyone waiting for someone else to make a play, expecting the ball movement to solve all its issues, but eventually, someone has to try and score. The Nuggets started doing that the last few games and their improvement is evident. They have a tough weekend coming up, though, with a back-to-back vs. the Heat and Warriors.
Just watch 27-year-old Mike James rip the excellent on-ball creator Rubio to shreds here with defense:
I've started referring to players who you can count on every game, that don't get up or down, but just play the right way game after game as metronomes, keeping time for the orchestra. Some notable metronomes this week:
Harris hasn't scored in single-digits this season, and has only shot below 50 percent three times. He's consistent scoring for a team that needs it. Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond can wax and wane, but Harris is there, finding cuts and open 3-pointers to knock down.
Harris has scored more than 14 points in all but one game this season, but it's his consistency in his approach to both sides of the floor that helps Denver. He's always battling defensively, always getting out in transition to help the break, and shooting 47 percent from 3-point range. The Nuggets need someone they can count on every game from the perimeter, and Harris has become that guy.
The Knicks need a guy who can provide a stabilizing sense on the floor, and Lee is terrific in that. His box score numbers aren't great, but he's one of the few plus defenders they have, and if you need a big 3-pointer to turn back a run or start one, he's their best weapon from deep.