Utah Jazz vs Philadelphia 76ers: Three takeaways from the Aussie square off
The Utah Jazz visited the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, as the game featured three Australian stars in Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum.
Simmons started at point guard, coming into the game to help continue his team's unbeaten home run this season. On the other end, Ingles and Exum were looking to right the ship after a disappointing 110-130 blow out loss to the Toronto Raptors on Monday. Despite a fourth quarter Jazz run, it was Philadelphia’s dominant first half that proved to be the difference, ultimately winning 103-94.
Here are some key takeaways.
Can Simmons be a consistent scorer?
After three clutch steals in Philly’s latest win against the Indiana Pacers, Ben Simmons picked up right where he left off in this one. Simmons’ defensive pressure led the break on many occasions. Simmons’ four steals in this game were a game high by any player on the court, firmly positioning himself in second position on the league leaders for steals per game, marginally behind former teammate Jimmy Butler. His defence has been spectacular in more ways than one - whether it’s reading the passing lanes, locking down the opposing team’s best scorer or defending an array of positions - Simmons will be a lock for All-NBA Defensive Team honours if he keeps this up.
His nine assists were also a game-high - excellent passing was particularly notable in his partnership with Al Horford, which Simmons touched on after the game.
Simmons is averaging a career-high in assists at 8.4, yet there is one facet of his game that is causing some concern. While he put up an efficient 14 points today, this season has seen a decrease in scoring production. The 6'10 point guard is averaging career-lows in field goal attempts, free throw attempts and points per game. It’s still only a fifth of the season, and his numbers might very well be the product of him working out the kinks and fits with some of the team’s new players. Yet, if Philadelphia are serious about contending, Simmons will need to be scoring more than 13 points a game.
Joe Ingles is back?
In Joe Ingles' first 20 games of the season, he hasn’t quite looked his usual self. After being moved to the bench --due to the arrival of Bojan Bogdanovic and emergence of Royce O’Neal-- Ingles has been averaging 7 points per game, a regression from his 12 and 11.5 points in two seasons prior.
Against Philadelphia though, Ingles show us once again why he is considered such a valuable piece to the Jazz’s championship hopes. With Mike Conley unable to return to the game after suffering a minor hamstring injury, Ingles took over ball-handling duties and rallied his squad, who were down 19 heading into the final period. The 6'7 forward was particularly crafty as a pick and roll ball handler, leading the charge via his connection with big man Rudy Gobert, as well as a scorer in these scenarios. In 30 minutes of action, Ingles finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while shooting an efficient 5/10 from the field, including 2/4 from three. Ingles’ eight dimes was a season-high, and despite his personal struggles, his team still sit comfortably in the top six of the Western conference standings.
To fully reach the ceiling of what Quin Snyder envisions for his side, Ingles will need to fulfil his role as a marksman and as a distributor on a more consistent basis. The minor injury to Conley might have been a blessing in disguise for the Jazz, as Ingles' extended time could lead to renewed confidence.
Patience is Exum
After only eight minutes had passed in the first quarter, Exum checked into the game. Exum, who has only really seen a handful of minutes so far this season, didn’t impact the game much, assisting a single bucket and committing a lone turnover.
He closed out the first quarter, and didn’t return for the whole game. It is important to note that the 2014 NBA draft's top five pick was only playing his eighth game back returning from a major leg injury, but minutes have been limited so far this season. Against Toronto, he showed flashes, scoring nine points in 11 minutes of action. The Jazz were blown out when these points were scored though, as he hasn’t really had a chance to prove himself in any meaningful court time.
It’s in the best interest for the Jazz to play Exum more. If he proves himself as an adequate offensive player, Quin Snyder will be able to rely on him more, especially in the playoffs, considering his value as a defensive stopper. Otherwise, the Jazz could potentially move him as a trade piece to find someone that addresses their needs more.
For now, the Jazz return to Salt Lake City for a home stand, where they will face the Grizzlies, the Warriors and the Thunder.
*Jonah Bolden did not play in this game - he was assigned to the Delaware Blue Coats last week, Philadelphia’s G League affiliate team.