The Perth Wildcats feature in the second game of the NBLxNBA preseason series, with a match against the Utah Jazz on 29 September. The Wildcats will face the Jazz at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City as they prepare for the upcoming NBL season.
Perth will certainly have a challenge on their hands; the Jazz are a strong defensive team and they will have to play hard to score the ball against them. Having said that, Utah isn’t blessed with a deep roster of top offensive talent, so if Perth manages to breach their intimidating defence they may have chance of getting the win.
During free agency, Perth stacked up on talent. Joining their ranks are a number of players who were starters on their previous teams. The Wildcats have put together a team with tremendous depth and as a result there are a number of viable options the ‘Cats could run in their starting lineup, with many versatile pieces on their roster.
With that being said, and assuming the Jazz field their best line-up, here are five key match-ups that may take shape.
Ricky Rubio v Bryce Cotton
After playing 15 games for Utah in the 2014/15 NBA season before being waived, it’s likely Cotton will be looking to make a statement this weekend. However, his opponent is no pushover.
Rubio is a gifted floor general and playmaker, known for his deceptive passing and quick hands. Whilst his role as the team’s main distributor remains the foundation of his game, the Spaniard has improved over the years as a scorer.
Despite his improvement, Cotton should be able to guard Rubio. On the spectrum of point guard archetypes, Rubio is more of a classic pass-first point guard. However, the Jazz guard does have a size advantage and is very dangerous running the pick and roll.
Rubio’s ability to take advantage of space needs to be controlled and cannot be underestimated. Cotton will have to pay attention to the passing lanes and attempt to disrupt Rubio’s talent for dissecting the opposition with pin-point passes.
Cotton will need to be smart with his ball use and keep the ball clear of Rubio’s swiping hands as he is one of the NBA’s best thieves; Perth can’t afford too many turnovers in the backcourt against the Jazz.
Athletically, Cotton has the edge over Rubio and he should exploit his speed and agility advantage.
— NBL (@NBL) September 23, 2018
Of Utah’s starting five, Rubio is perhaps the biggest chink in the armour, so a lot of the scoring burden will fall in Cotton’s lap and he has to be aggressive in keeping the offence in motion and Utah on their heels.
Donovan Mitchell v Damian Martin
If anyone can give NBA phenomenon Donovan Mitchell trouble it is Damian Martin. The six-time NBL Best Defensive Player is a guard stopper.
Despite Mitchell’s youth and short professional experience, he is one of Utah’s most important players. The former Louisville Cardinal was a top contender for last year’s Rookie of the Year Award and has a tremendously high ceiling.
He is the motor that drives the Jazz’s offence and if Martin can give him some trouble and reduce his impact it will be a major step towards getting the win.
Mitchell is extremely athletically gifted. His ability to blow by defenders and finish with either power or finesse is formidable. He also has a strong outside game and is highly adept at creating his own shot off the dribble.
Few have a better motor or more tenacity on defence than Martin. His ability to apply full court pressure and limit the breathing room of his opponents is unparalleled in the NBL – he plays with a brand of physicality and relentlessness that could give Mitchell problems.
Martin is fantastic at confining his opponent and limiting the space in which they can operate. On the other hand, Mitchell is first-class when it comes to taking advantage of even the smallest amount of daylight.
This match-up is potentially where the result of the game could hinge and is definitely one to tune in for.
Joe Ingles v Jesse Wagstaff
Despite averaging 11.5 points per game last NBA season, Joe Ingles is capable of contributing 20 points on any given night. If Joe has a big night, the Utah Jazz are going to be hard to beat.
For Jesse Wagstaff, it will be vital to remain within a few steps of Ingles at all times. Ingles is not known for his ability to create his own shot off the dribble; most often, when the ball is out of his hands, he is waiting for the corner three.
Wagstaff will need to be continuously aware of his movements on the perimeter, as Ingles is constantly working the passing angles to be able to get his shot off as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Ingles is also an underrated ball carrier and can run the pick and roll very well. Wagstaff will have to maintain high defensive pressure when the ball is in Ingles’ hands, even if it appears he is not imminently a threat to score.
Wagstaff has a good inside and outside game and can inflict damage on opposing teams in a number of ways. When guarded by Ingles, he should look to do the majority of his scoring damage in the post. Defensively, Ingles’ strength is guarding the perimeter.
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In order to put the Jazz forward out of his comfort zone, Perth should find ways to get the Wildcats veteran down low, in positions where he can make the most of his strength.
Derrick Favors v Nick Kay
Listed at 208cm and 120kg Favors is big, very big. For the lighter Nick Kay, the contest will be a big physical challenge and given the disparity, Favors is likely to look for ways to exploit his size and bulk advantage.
Despite his large frame, Favors is very mobile and is deceptively quick in transition and in the pick and roll. When the Jazz get out in transition he often looks to get a deep position under the basket to either get the feed into the post or to tidy up the glass with Gobert.
Kay will have to work hard to deny the big Jazz forward his spots under the basket and try to force Utah to resort to lower percentage options by denying entry passes. Kay does have the speed to be able to manage this.
Kay’s average 5.4 rebounds last season won’t be good enough against the Jazz front-court duo of Favors and Gobert. Perth can’t afford to give up huge amounts of second chance points, so Kay will need to be a factor in that area.
Kay has a good pull-up midrange jump shot and great finishing ability around the rim – his offensive variation will need to be on full display in order to keep Favors off balance and guessing. If Kay can find his long-range form, and force Favors to guard him outside, it will help clear out the paint for Perth’s close-range finishers.
Rudy Gobert v Tom Jervis
It is fair to say that much of the Jazz’s formidable defensive reputation stems from their star centre Rudy Gobert. With a wingspan of 236 cm, Gobert practically has the dimensions of a light aircraft. Paired with his 216cm frame, the Frenchman and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year is a shot-blocking machine.
With Angus Brandt confirmed to be missing USA trip due to injury, Tom Jervis will get the lion’s share of the minutes guarding Gobert. This will be a big challenge for Jervis who lacks the level of athleticism and agility that his imposing opponent possesses.
Given the defensive prowess of his direct match-up, it’s unlikely that Jervis will go to work in the post. Perth will need him to use his size and strength to set strong screens for his teammates.
Jervis will need to pounce on his scoring opportunities when they arise; his hustle and hard work will be what generates his points. His ability to execute the pick and roll will be important for Perth’s chances and if he can draw some of Gobert’s attention it will open the game up for the rest of his teammates.
It’s likely that Jervis will be tasked with a lot of the team’s scrappy work. As a result, his impact may not be seen in the box score – rather, it will be his ability to physically impose himself on the game in the less glamorous areas. It will be through his work ethic that will see Jervis have an impact.