SALT LAKE CITY — Determining whether racking up assists is more a function of good ball movement or players merely making shots can be tricky, but there’s no denying that the Utah Jazz have had particular success in the helping department over the last week.
For three consecutive games, the Jazz have reached the 30-assist mark, as they got 30 and 35 in wins over the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, then hit 35 again in a one-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
The 30 mark is notable given that the Warriors lead the league in assists per game for the season at just 27.8 (as of Sunday evening, Utah was 10th in the league at exactly 25 per game).
“I think we’ve always made the extra pass,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said before the Thunder game. “It’s infectious at times. I think that’s how we play. Over the long haul, if you’re trying to generate open shots, you’re going to make a couple mistakes, but you’re going to get looks, and eventually you get in a game where you start making them."
Saturday was a good example of Utah not necessarily making a bunch of shots but still getting assists. On the night, the Jazz shot just 45 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the 3-point line, and their comeback bid after falling behind by 12 entering the fourth quarter came up short, thanks in part to the fact that they missed a bunch of wide open 3-point tries down the stretch.
Nevertheless, Utah executed very well once again on Saturday (Snyder had particular praise pregame for the way his team executed the previous night in Portland), especially early on, which led to the high number of assists. The Jazz had 11 in both the first and second quarters, eight in the third and five in the fourth.
Looking at the season overall, 3-pointers and shots at the rim are what teams are searching for most in the age of analytics. According to the website Cleaning The Glass, Utah is eighth in the NBA in shots at the rim on the campaign and 12th in 3-point tries. More particularly, according to Cleaning The Glass, the Jazz are second in corner 3-point attempts, the prime shot from distance they try to work for.
“We’re doing the right thing for who we are and how we want to play,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t always end up with an assist, but if we can get a good look, those open shots are ones that we really want to generate, and hopefully make, and (assists are) what you end up with.”
Ricky Rubio, who was consistently among the NBA’s leaders in assists per game before arriving in Utah last season, has tallied 32 dimes by himself over the last three games, including 14 against the Thunder.Comment on this story
“We’re moving the ball, we’re playing better as a team and that’s our identity,” he said. “I think we kind of lost it in the beginning of the season, but we picked it up and we’re playing better.”
Donovan Mitchell, who has tallied 16 assists in the last three games, echoed those sentiments.
“I think this is who we are,” he said after Saturday’s contest. “This is what we do. For us, to see us get back to this is really good and really promising. I think that’s what we’re really focused on. Obviously we wanted to win this game, but we’re really pushing to get back to where we were last year.”