We’ve had to drive the ball and kick the ball and pass it and probably have been more aggressive shooting threes. —Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — There has been a noticeable shift from Quin Snyder this week.
In an era when pace and space reign in the NBA, the Utah Jazz’s head coach has been asked umpteen times over the past few years whether or not big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors can play well together. Snyder has long been a defender of the pairing, noting its unique ability to stop the opposition in the paint.
But this week as Gobert returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for 11 games, Snyder has made a clear departure from that stance. While Gobert and Favors played an average of 19 minutes together during the first 12 contests of the season before Gobert went down, they’ve only appeared on the floor together for 18 minutes in three games since the Frenchman came back.
Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale comprise the only two-man lineup other than Favors and Gobert that has appeared in all three games but played fewer minutes together, per lineup data on NBA.com.
In each of the three games, Snyder has started Gobert and Favors in each half only to replace Favors with Jonas Jerebko after about three minutes to give the Jazz another perimeter shooter on the floor. Then when Gobert needs a rest a few minutes later, he replaces him with Favors, and the pair switches off at the center position throughout the remainder of the half from there.
The move essentially makes Favors the backup center, but the Georgia Tech product has thrived at the “five” since Gobert got hurt after getting off to a slow start at power forward before Gobert’s injury.
As a team, Utah has the second-best offensive rating in the league in the 14 games since Snyder has all but staggered his two best big men, behind just the Houston Rockets, who beat the Jazz on Thursday night at Vivint Arena thanks in large part thanks to their ability to space the floor with shooters.
At shootaround before the game, Snyder was asked how he has gone about getting the best out of his players this year despite offseason departures of Gordon Hayward and George Hill and the myriad injuries the team has already endured, and he pointed primarily to good teamwork on offense.
“We’ve had to drive the ball and kick the ball and pass it and probably have been more aggressive shooting threes,” he said. “I think philosophically it’s the direction we want to go anyway.”
After the game, Snyder was asked if it was possible in general to keep the offense humming with Favors and Gobert playing together. Unlike in the past when he readily defended employing them at the same time, he was less directive in his answer, saying, “there’s not a lot to analyze” given that the duo has only been playing together a few minutes per game as of late.
The numbers do show, however, that in the last three games, the Favors-Gobert two-man lineup has the worst offensive rating (88.1) of any of the 33 two-man lineups for Utah in that span except for the Mitchell-O’Neale combo (which, for the record, has played just 10 minutes, the fewest of any two-man combo to appear in all three contests).
Additionally, over the course of the 15 games they have played together, Favors and Gobert have the worst offensive rating of any of the two-man pairings Snyder has played in at least 15 games (there are 40) at 93.1.
Defensively, the pairing hasn’t been elite, as it is in a tie for 21st in defensive rating (101.9) with Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh among those 40 combinations.
Incidentally, the Jazz’s next contest Saturday on the road comes against a Milwaukee Bucks team Utah set a new franchise record against for most 3-pointers made in a game with 18 just two weeks ago.
Entering Friday, the Bucks had won four of their last five games since falling to the Jazz 121-108. The contest will mark the second leg of a back-to-back for Milwaukee after a Friday contest at home against the Dallas Mavericks.