The Jazz & Grizz Traditional Bigs

Updated: November 23, 2021
jjj gobert

A one-point nail-biter decided in the final seconds of regulation in Salt Lake City showcased two of the most explosive young guards in basketball. Yet, as impressive as Ja Morant and D-Mitchell have been early in this season, it was the battle of the bigs in Utah that was the most intriguing thing philosophically to watch throughout this matchup.

This offseason the Memphis Grizzlies exchanged their 7-foot bruiser in Jonas Valančiūnas for the comparable sized Aussie, in Steven Adams (from New Orleans). For the perceived difference in value of the two centers, Memphis was gifted a trade up from 17 to 10 and 51 to 40 in the draft, along with a protected first-rounder next year. They clearly had their eyes set on their 10th pick selection in Ziaire Williams, as the exchange was centered around moving up to get him with the thought that he would no longer be available at their own slot at 17. Less than 20 games into his rookie season it’s impossible to know if the juice was worth the squeeze, however, I had assumed, they were moving off Valančiūnas to make way for their recently maxed stretch 5 in Jaren Jackson Jr. to take holds of the starting center position and use Adams as their back up big.

Apparently, Memphis was the last franchise to get the memo that although Steven Adams is only 28, he is all but washed on both ends of the floor. In the first half, both of Utah’s 7 footers attacked him relentlessly in the paint as he put up little to no resistance. However, when he was sidelined and JJJ was slotted into the 5 for their small-ball lineup, it looked as if they had no center or rim protection at all. Rudy Gobert went 9 of 10 from the floor with 23 points and Whiteside scored 12 in only 15 minutes of play. 

Though the score was close throughout the majority of the ball game, the arsenal of outside weapons in Mitchell, Conley, and Bogdanovic just looked like too much for Memphis to handle when combined with the easy buckets their bigs were consuming at the rim. Especially with Gobert and Whiteside combining for 9-12 from the free-throw line, how would Memphis stop Utah’s 7-footers down the stretch?

The odd answer to this question though is…they didn’t have to. In the 4th quarter comeback by Memphis, the bigs they could not stop in the first half combined for 4 points. 1 layup at the rim and 2 free throws for Gobert, plus zero attempts or free throws for Whiteside in the entire 12 minutes of the 4th quarter. Ironically, it was the Grizzlies’ stretch big JJJ who hit the game-winning 3-pointer to ice the game at 119-118 in their favor. 

It is the big philosophical question around the league because as much as Jaren Jackson Jr.’s limitations have put his recent max-extension into question, Rudy Gobert’s 205 million dollars owed over 5 years is a monstrosity. It (the contract) and he (ex-DPOY) are the reasons no one can truly trust Utah as a serious title contender despite them playing like one of the best teams in the league. Close 4th quarter games are microcosms of a 7-game series where timeout-side-out-of-bounced drawn-up plays define the outcomes of a battle. This space where coach + their on-court player’s IQ becomes pivotal in the execution of a play might as well be a different sport than the majority of first quarter sequences we see in the regular season. It is the space where physical limitations are exploited. 

For all the numbers Utah’s bigs racked up, they allowed a struggling Jackson Jr. to go off for 26 points on 9 of 19 shooting from the floor. Can Rudy Gobert be the anchor of a defense on a title team? Maybe the question shouldn’t be centered around Gobert but extended out to a macro-platform for the league. Can a traditional center whose scoring and defensive limitations are so easy to exploit be the glue of a championship franchise? Utah’s drop coverage not only gets exploited in 4th quarters but because they are so heavily dependent on Gobert to wash away their mistakes on the perimeter, they also struggled tremendously in their transition defense and gave up a bucket nearly every time they turned the ball over against the Grizz. 

There is a reason that the narrative around the Utah Jazz is a unanimous one…we have all watched this story unfold a handful of times now. Before Gobert got his extension and he was making under 25 million, he was a tradable asset…especially since many around the league still believed in his upside since we hadn’t watched the Jazz burn out in the playoffs. But at his current annual salary at 35.3 million dollars, there are no deals around the league that would make the Jazz better by moving Gobert. 

Sidenote Sophomore Highlight

 Other than Ja’s 32 he put up, as he continues to be one of the best guards in this league, his new running mate Desmond Bane has the juice. He put up 28 points and was a +15 in their win against the Jazz. It wasn’t just the numbers he racked up but how and when he did it. 12 for 20 from the field and 4 for 8 from distance, the kid has a perfect combination of burst and power. If Morant and Bane can become more consistent 3 point shooters as they develop, they may become the backcourt of the future.

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