Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Raw Materials: What the Utah Jazz have to work with

  A few days ago we began the discussion of building a foundation for the Utah Jazz.  Some of the "keys" that were discussed was the need for a "foundation" or principals and concepts.  We know that Dennis Lindsey has said that he wants a great defensive team, that likely being the number one principal that Lindsey is looking for.  Another principal that I believe that Lindsey is looking for is a "2 big" system.  His quotes as of the last couple games of the season and since, seem to insist on Kanter and Favors playing together.  That brings us to the "Cornerstone" Derrick Favors.  He is the key to the defensive principals and concepts that Lindsey appears to have in mind.  He is also a key figure in what appears to be a 2 big system.

  With those things in mind, lets take a look at the "Raw Materials" the Jazz have to work with in building this foundation for a successful franchise for years to come.  I wanted to look at some of the numbers for the Jazz young core coming in to the league.  I was able to pull players NBA Draft Combine numbers from Draft Express  It is likely that some of these numbers have actually increased for some of the players with all the work they do at P3 in the off season.  This should give us a decent baseline for some of the physical characteristics as well as some of their athleticism numbers.  These numbers should give us an idea of potential for the young core, if they are put in a system that takes advantage of these attributes and allows them to be successful.

  Trey Burke-

Wingspan 6'5"
Agility 11.20
Sprint 3.16

  I was surprised to find that Trey's wingspan was actually an inch longer than thought going in to the combine.  He shows good lateral quickness with the agility drill and his sprint time is good.  For comparison, Mike Conley Jr is often the comparison for Trey.  Conley agility time was 11.63 and his wingspan is equal at 6'5.75".  With the tools Trey has to work with he should be a better defender than he was this season.  Granted he was a rookie and is learning the pro game and the physicality of it, but Trey has all the tools to be an above average defender.  He has considerable length and could learn to play the passing lanes similar to Conley.

Alec Burks-

Wingspan 6'10"
Agility 10.96
Sprint 3.17

  To say I was surprised by Trey's wingspan, I was shocked by Alec's.  Here is a player with the tools to be an elite defender in my opinion.  He has incredible length for his size, has decent lateral quickness and has a burst that not many have at his size.  Alec's weakest point may be that lateral quickness.  It shows in game, as he struggles to get over screens.  Alec is good straight up, but when that screen comes it throws him off his game.  This is where he should be taking advantage of the great length he has and over playing to push away from the screen.  Alec has some of the best numbers but may lack some understanding to the concepts that were taught.  Given the right concept Alec should be able to wreak havoc in the passing lanes, as well as a help side shot blocker.  Not to mention his ability to stay in front of his man straight up.

Gordon Hayward-

Wingspan 6'7.75"
Agility 11.73
Sprint 3.22

  What Gordon lacks in mind-blowing numbers he makes up for with surprisingly high athletic numbers and smarts.  Gordon's no step vertical jump actually comes out at 30.5".  That is an inch less than Gerald Green of the Phoenix Suns, and we all know what type of athlete he is.  Gordon's max vertical jump is 34.5"  For comparison sake, Gordon's lateral quickness is actually better than Jimmy Butler of Chicago, who is widely consider to be a good defender.  Gordon is a good team defender and does a great job fighting over the tops of screens.  I think what really helps Gordon defensively, is he does his "homework" early.  He knows where his opponent wants to get to and fights them early and tries to push them off their spots.

Derrick Favors-

Wingspan 7'4"
Agility 11.74
Sprint 3.25

  We all know that Derrick has incredible length and athleticism.  Little needs to be discussed as far as his "tools" go.  What may be lacking from Derrick is that knowledge of defense, concepts and positioning.  I guess it could be simplified down to basketball IQ.  I believe that time on the court and in the film room will be the keys to his development.  He needs to do that "homework" that was discussed with Gordon.  He needs to understand personnel and put in the work early to push them off their spots.

Enes Kanter-

Wingspan 7'1.5"
Agility 11.30
Sprint 3.26

  This is where things get very interesting.  Enes has some unreal numbers for a guy his size and position.  The most surprising is the lateral quickness.  Enes has the foot speed that he should be able to defend a hard hedge on the pick and roll and still have the quicks to get back to his man.  As we all know all to well, that does not seem to be the case.  So why is that? The numbers say that he should be able to do that.  I think Enes has the same issue that Derrick does.  Lack of court and film time.  Defensive instincts are natural for some players like Rudy Gobert.  Others, like Enes need to be taught.  Defense is a concept that I feel can be taught to any player.  It is a concept of effort more often than the tools that a player has.  Enes has the "tools" but lacks the knowledge and understanding of the game.  The question is how long do you want to wait for those attributes to develop?

Rudy Gobert-

Wingspan 7'8.5"
Agility 12.85
Sprint 3.57

  Rudy's physical size is amazing!  He is so long and has huge hands.  Rudy does not have the lateral quickness which is a given, but that length is very effective in the pick and roll situation, forcing the guard to have to swing out wider than they would like.  It also makes the pass extremely difficult on the pick and pop.  While the lateral quickness and sprint seem a bit slow to me, I can safely say that I have seen improvement through out the season in Rudy's quickness.  As great as the physical numbers are for Rudy, you can't overstate his natural defensive instincts and his will to be a GREAT defender.  He understands where is his bread is buttered.

  These players are the "raw materials" the Jazz have to work with.  They have other pieces that are currently on the roster that will help build this team.  Guys like Jeremy Evans and Diante Garrett both have great length for their size.  Jeremy has other-worldly athleticism and Diante does a good job laterally and playing the passing lanes.  I look at these players and the numbers therein and find myself optimistic.  Given the right concepts, development and coaching I feel these players could be the core of a top 10 defensive team.

  Going  forward, I will discuss some concepts both offensively and defensively that could be used to make these players successful and continue to build upon the foundation. I will also try to touch on possible coaching candidates and how they might fit with this young group.  Again Jazz fans, there is a lot to be excited about!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Foundation: Utah Jazz

The 2013-2014 NBA season is now over for the Utah Jazz, and if you are completely honest with yourself, its exactly what was expected.  The Jazz went 25-57.  If I remember right that is exactly where Vegas had them.  There were ups and downs, Missing Trey for the first 14 games of the season really put the team in a hole and stunted the growth as a team and for players individually.  But its basketball and those are the breaks.  The Jazz had other significant injuries to the likes of Derrick Favors, Marvin Williams, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans.  Missing any of those players on a team that has very little depth can be costly. The Jazz battled all season and we were able to see some tremendous growth.  I was quite pleased with the offensive strides of both Derrick and Jeremy.  Alec Burks was unbelievable all season and became one of the leagues more valuable 6th men.  Lastly, Trey Burkes progression as team leader and point guard.  The Development was slow and methodical, but it was clear the last 15 games of the season that the game was slowing down for him.  His vision was better, and he saw more opportunities not only for himself but also for his teammates.  Most importantly, he learned how to push the basketball and to be agressive.  This dynamic makes this young team so much better, as they are long and very athletic, giving them a chance to use those talents and make early, easy buckets.

Now on to the offseason....

With so many questions on the horizon, its clear the Jazz need to develop a "foundation"  It was pretty clear when Dennis Lindsay took over the majority of the duties last summer what that foundation would be, Defense.  The words came from the horses mouth. he wants an upper echelon defensive team.  He does not want a middle of the pack, adequate, defensive team.  He sees this as a key to building a contender and let his actions speak that by locking up arugably the Jazz best defender and defensive "corner stone", Derrick Favors, to a 4yr contract extention.
  But no stucture is complete with just a corner stone.  As is the Story with the Utah Jazz.  This summer the Jazz will be tasked with finding and developing those additional materials need to complete the structure that Dennis Lindsay has laid out before them.  I believe that starts with defensive schemes or concepts.  Now whether dennis is going to leave that up to the coaching staff or if he is going to use his powers of persuasion to assert a system is yet to be seen.  I believe that is of the utmost importantance this summer for the Jazz to find that concept.  In doing so, I believe there is a great deal of research that needs to be done to determine what concepts or schemes would be best suited for the players that are currently on this roster and are likely to be here for some time.  I believe the Jazz will go this route as opposed to finding the concept and then bringing in players to fit that concept, simply because at this point the Jazz do not have an identity as a defense and it is much easier to work with the pieces that you have as opposed to trying to secure new pieces for your scheme or concept. 

  Over the next couple of weeks I am going to try to "walk Through it" as a front office might.  The next segment in this small series will consist of some of that research in to the pieces that the Jazz currently have, some of their strengths, and unfortunately, their glaring weaknesses. 

  So stay tuned Jazz fans. this is going to be one of the most entertaining offseasons in Jazz History!

(P.S. The top 3 sounds really nice!)

Need good Karma, GO Jazz!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Just some thoughts....

As a Jazz Fan....

  Over the last couple of weeks I have been asking myself a number of questions as a Jazz fan.  Somethings that left me a bit perplexed and others that down right frustrated me.  It left me wondering if I am the only one seeing and feeling these things.  So I am going to put it out there, what are your thoughts?

  Offensive concepts....the Jazz run the FLEX as much if not more than the pick and roll.  They seem to run the FLEX to exhaustion.  They don't seem to take advantage of the first good shot available.  We know how the Jazz suffer with pace of play and this could help alleviate some of that.  Versus the Warriors, there were a number of opportunities for Kanter, Favors and Evans to shoot that 17 footer, the Warriors just packed it in.  The Jazz never eve looked at the shot as an option.  You have to take it to make it and even if you don't make it the team has to honor that shot as an option and will then open up the floor.

  I think the casual fan could tell that Alec Burks is ELITE with the ball in his hands attacking the basket. Really has been since he has come in to the league. Granted there has been some development in that process, but why has it taken 2 1/2 years for this staff to put him in position to succeed or be a force?

  I think the same can be said with all of our bigs. Favors and Kanter demand double teams simply because of their size, but the Jazz are content to let guys CHUCK JUMPERS! It is the staffs responsibility to teach these young players and make the game easier for them. If you want to chuck jumpers fine, but at least make it easier for those shooting the jumpers. That starts inside out. Make teams double the bigs, teach the bigs to kick it out for the OPEN jumper.  While all of this sounds nice, I am not so sure the Jazz have the shot makers to make this happen?

  I have been watching Trey really closely in the P & R not sure why his first instinct isn't to attack the basket! WHY? If Trey attacks it puts pressure on the D, rotations need to be made, players are caught out of position and our offense gets easier. I have been so obsessed with this that I have been trying to chase down Trey's college shot chart to see where the majority of his offense came from in college. I was surprised to find out that Trey's 2pt attempts to 3 pt attempts was better than 2/1. I also found that on average Trey went to the free-throw line 4.3 times a game. If you look at these #'s (and they are an inexact science) Trey has regressed in this offense. He shoots primarily 3's (what the offense seems to give him) and he never, and I mean NEVER goes to the line! This is disconcerting.

If the Jazz continue on this path for the next X amount of time, they will be the Atlanta hawks, "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" mired in mediocrity for years to come and playoff fodder.....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coming to grips with change, Utah Jazz Edition....

  Wow, its been far too long!  The Utah Jazz have 5 games left in this "season of discovery" and to be honest I don't think those last 5 games can come soon enough!  As the season comes to a close, I am not going to look back at what is or what could have been but want to look forward to the future.  In doing so, Jazz fans (myself included) are going to have to accept change.

  Change is never easy and can be down right painful at times.  With that said, change is a necessity that must occur for this team fulfill its lofty expectations.  Change must occur for this franchise to reclaim its position as a model franchise in the NBA.  Change must happen and I am coming to grips with that.

  As the season has progressed I have watched every single game.  I have endured beat downs, like the one Golden State gave them yesterday.  I have enjoyed seeing this team pull off wins that they weren't supposed to get.  I have watched them pull out close games at the end that they tried to give away.  But at the end of the day, its just not good enough.  This team is not good enough.  This coaching staff is not good enough.

  Moving in to the off-season, there will be a number of "rip the band-aid off" moments.  Ty Corbin, a great guy, a good player development guy, may not be back with this ball club, and I am okay with that. There are a number of Jazz fans that feel Ty should be back and can be anchor or stabilizing force going forward.  If that is the decision that the front office makes, I am okay with that also.

 The hardest thing for me to swallow will be the loss of players that I feel will be good NBA player or valuable pieces to this squad, but will likely not be back.  This goes from top to bottom, vets like Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams.  Two guys who's value to this team can not be overstated.  They have been the consummate professionals and have taught young players like Gordon and Alec what it takes to be successful.  Both players at seasons end are unrestricted free-agents and have every right to look for "greener pastures"  I wish them the best.

  This also includes players that were considered to be the "young core" or the core going forward.  Gordon Hayward will be a restricted free-agent and will likely see plenty of money thrown his way.  Alec Burks and Enes Kanter will both be up for extensions to their rookie deals.  Neither guaranteed to get an extension.  Guys like Ian Clark, Malcom Thomas, Diante Garrett, some of whom never seemed to get a shot to show what they could do, all with a team option that may not be picked up.

  All of these possible changes and really only one guarantee, Derrick Favors.  The lone center piece and building block that this team likely will not see changed.  I have been pleased with Favors progress on the offensive side of the ball.  He has put in a lot of work there and still has a considerable amount of room to grow.  I would like to have seen more intensity and better rebounding numbers from Derrick but I think those will increase with time and understanding of the game.

  Lastly,  I would also like to have seen Derrick and Enes develop more together as a pair.  I have been a strong believer that these two could play together and could be a force in the front court for years to come.  Now I am starting to wonder if that will ever happen.  I also am wondering if in fact, it should happen.  Maybe this team would be better with someone else paired along side Derrick.  Maybe this team would be better with Favors and Gobert as the young front court of the future, I don't know....

  What I do know is changes are sure to come this off-season.  Players and coaches will come and go.  This team may actually be worse next year than they have been this year.  All these possibilities will be hard to swallow, but they are all a necessary step in restoring one of the NBA's model franchises.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Impose your will....or not....

  Okay Jazz fans, I want you to scan your memory banks.  Look hard.  You may need to take a look in the way back machine, but here is the question, when was the last time a Jazz team imposed their will on an opponent? I am not talking about for a game or a stretch, but where a team knows that they are going to be in for a fight.  Figure it out yet?  Exactly....its been a long time, a really long time.  Dare I say back to the Jerry Sloan days?  Think about that, if I am being kind, I would say maybe the year that Jazz made a Western Conference Finals run with Deron and Booz.  But that is being generous.

  The last time the Jazz had a team that imposed their will upon an opponent would be the days of Stockton and Malone.  Those teams did what they wanted night in and night out.  You knew they were going to run the pick and roll with John and Karl.  You knew they were going to run the FLEX with Hornacek coming of a pick to hit that elbow jumper.  You knew that if you took the ball to the hoop Malone or Ostertag were going to foul you hard.  You were going to earn those points.

Fast Forward....

  For the past 5 years this Jazz team has been imposed upon.  5 years!  In a "season of discovery" and an opportunity to discover what assets, if any, the Jazz continue to play to their opponent.  We can look at this a number of ways.  From match-ups, to offensive and defensive game plans.  The Jazz never say this is who we are, or this is what we are going to do, now stop it.  Granted the Jazz can beat themselves at this with poor execution, bad personnel match-ups etc.  But this team has not said, this is who we are and we are going to battle with this win or lose.

  This can also be said of the players.  For example, both Gordon and Trey are slumping.  Their offense is lackluster and does not exhibit any confidence.  Advantage defense.  There is all this talk of "getting in the gym" or "getting shots up before and after practice".  But I think the fast way out of a so-called slump is to be the aggressor.  To IMPOSE YOUR WILL!  It would serve both these players well to come into the game and make sure that their first shots are going to the basket, being aggressive and putting the oh-nus on the officials.  Yeah its going to get you some bumps and bruises and you are not going to get calls at times, but it says to your opponent, this is what I am going to do STOP ME!

  The same can be said about the Jazz lineup decisions and rotations.  We have 3 very talented bigs, that need time and development together, not substituting for each other.  This is where we need to say, Kanter and Favors, Gobert and Favors, Gobert and Kanter, this is who and what we are going to run, STOP US!  This season is unlike any other, where the option to run these kinds of lineups and the ramifications of running them do not hurt the over all numbers.  They give the staff opportunities to teach and develop, to make these players the kind of players the front office believes they can be, for the future.

  Lastly, its the kind of mentality that needs to be developed on this young team.  That they know that the staff believes that they CAN succeed.  That they CAN impose their will on their opponent.  That the opponent has to game plan for the Utah Jazz, not the Utah Jazz game planing for the rest of the league.

Utah Jazz Time Machine....lets take a look.....

   February 6 2013, the Utah Jazz were coming of a win 100-86 versus the Milwaukee Bucks, giving the Jazz a record of 28-22, 6 games above .500.  The Jazz started a line up of Paul Milsap, Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye and Jamal Tinsley.  Milsap and Jefferson both had 19 pts a piece.  Jefferson had 11 rebs and Milsap had 6.  Of the bench, Enes Kanter had 17 pts and 9 rebs, Derrick Favors had 9 pts and 11 rebs.

  Here is where is gets interesting, last season there was a lot of clamoring to play the young guys.  To let them develop, that they were the better players.  People wanted to see Kanter and Favors.  I can't deny that I was among those that wanted to see the young guys play more.

  Fast forward to February 6, 2014, the Utah Jazz are coming of a 79-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, giving the Jazz a record of 16-32, 16 games below .500.  Now I am not going to say that I am disappointed with this Jazz team.  That is far from the truth.  Actually I am thrilled with this Jazz team.  I have seen development from all the young players at one time or another throughout the season.  I also realize with a young team, the most difficulty thing for them is going to be consistency.  But I am pleased with the direction of the team.

  But the time machine had me thinking, what if we had decided to hold on to Paul and Al?  While I can not prognosticate where this team would be with wins and losses, I thought I would be interesting to think about.  Changes would have been needed.  But what?  What personnel moves would have been made?  Would there be a philosophy change offensively/defensively?

  I think we can safely say that the defensive philosophy would be completely changed.  The defense last year was terrible.  I would guess that the Jazz would run something similar to what they are this year in regards to the pick and roll.  Allowing Al Jefferson to sag back into the lane and attempt to protect the rim.

  As for personnel, I don't want to pretend to be Dennis Lindsey, but I think we could expect to see something similar to the way Charlotte has handled Big Al.  I would expect the team to attempt to sign more floor spacers, spot up shooters.  If I remember right, the Jazz tried to sign current Bobcat and floor spreader Anthony Toliver.  There was also the strong rumor of Kyle Korver coming back to Utah.  I don't think its much of a coincidence that Milsap signed with Atlanta and Korver chose to resign with the Hawks.

  Again there is no way to know how much, if at all, these moves would have improved the Jazz.  I also believe that there would have had to be a fundamental change in the offensive philosophy and Ty's reluctance to allow bigs to shoot the 3.  Milsap has shown he can be effective from the 3.  Think about that, had Paul been given the green light, the kind of space that Big Al would be afforded down low.  The double teams, that Al would have seen, giving wide open looks to Korver, Milsap and other spot up shooters.  Granted Al was a bit of a "black hole" so those shots may never have come.

  With that said, it would have been interesting to see how Dennis Lindsey and the front office would have gone about shaking up this roster.  What changes would have have made in order to improve the team with a goal of being better than .500 and being competitive in the playoffs?

  Glad I have a Flux Capacitor.....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

So many questions....Not a lot of answers.

  The last 2 weeks have had their ups and downs for the Utah Jazz.  There have been wins, there have been losses.  Good games by Enes Kanter, Alec Burks.  Struggles for Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke, and injuries to the cornerstone Derrick Favors as well as Jeremy Evans.  The vets Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams continue to battle through their own nicks and dings.  But one question remains, who are the Utah Jazz?

  We are better than half way through the season and I rack my brain game after game, trying to identify what this Jazz team hangs their hat on.  General Manager Dennis Lindsey stated at the first of the season and he wanted to see this young team develop, see what pieces he had to build with.  He also mentioned the need to build a top caliber defense.  At this point, can Dennis Lindsey say that the Jazz have accomplished either of these goals?  Only he can answer that question....

  As I watch the Jazz, I can't put my finger on one thing that this team is.  Are they a post team?  A transition team?  A 3pt shooting team?  A defensive team?  Night in and night out the Jazz have been any of these, but they are never consistently one.  And there in lies the problem....

  This is a young team that needs direction, guidelines and roles.  Just saying that we are going to compete every night is great, but young players need something to focus on, a role, something that the are going to focus on and execute.

  So what are those roles?  Do the players have them?  Do they know and understand what they are?  How were those roles chosen and do they put the player or players in the best position to be successful?  While I am not at practice and don't know what Coach Corbin and the staff go over with the players, watching the games leaves me wondering if the players know their roles.

  David Locke, radio voice for the Utah Jazz, made mention on his Tipoff podcast the fact that Alec Burks has an elite skill as an attacker/penatrator and score and the fact that that is a building block for a player and an offense.  This has lead me to think about the young core and their skills or things that are valuable or valued on this team.  What are they?  How can the Jazz build off of them?  Lets take a look....

  Derrick Favors, in my opinion, his elite skill would be a defender or rim protector.  Enes Kanter, would have to be an offensive rebounder.  Rudy Gobert, very similar to Favors as a defender and rim protector.  Trey Burke, his elite skill would have to be the mid-range game, a lost art in the NBA game.  Four players that have elite skills or talents.

  Are they being put in a position to use those skills and be successful?  I am not so sure.  For all the talk of Kanter and Favors can or can't play together (depends on which side of the fence you are on) I believe they can.  Both players have elite skills that offset each other.  While Kanter struggles on defense and his rotations he is a much better offensive rebounder than Favors.  Because the Jazz have change their philosophy on defense and the fact that they want to stop transition, they are missing out on second chance points and thus negating Kanters skill.  So why not play Favors and Kanter together?  Make Kanters role that of an offensive rebounder and hitting the offensive glass hard.  Make Derrick Favors the rim protector and defender.  He has the responsibility to get back in transition and protect the basket.  The same philosophy could be used with Gobert instead of Favors.  Or if you are going to play Favors and Gobert together, have Derrick crash the boards.  The options are there and they should be looked at a lot more than they are,

  So that leaves us with Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans.  What are their elite skills or talents?  While Jeremy Evans will never be a starter in the league and likely not a 6th man in the league, he can be a valuable contributor off the bench.  If you were to ask me what Jeremy's elite skill COULD be, I would tell you that I believe he could be an elite weak-side/help defender.  Jeremy is long and extremely athletic.  The prefect combination for a help defender.  I hate to say it but I don't think this skill has been developed very well for Jeremy.  One other aspect Jeremy's game that is over-looked is his energy/motor.  He plays hard all the time.  Sports Illustrated Seth Davis wrote a fantastic piece about talent in college basket ball and the need for a new definition for players other than just measurables.  If you haven't read it I would strongly suggest it, here is the link

  So what is Gordon Hayward's elite skill?  He is a good passer, a good defender, a good shooter, good from 3pt range, an average rebounder.  What is Gordon's elite skill?  While Gordon is good in a lot of areas and valuable because of this, I am not sure he has an elite skill.  He is not a great 3pt shooter.  He is good in the pick and roll but his handle tends to be loose from time to time and can be turnover prone.  The skill that I would say would be closest to elite would be defense.  He has good lateral quickness, sneaky athletic and is long.  He has the ability to defend multiple positions as well as being a good help defender.  With that being said, is Gordon focusing too much on his offense?  Has he been put in a position to enhance that skill?

You decide...

  For the Jazz, the All-star break is just around the corner.  I would hope the Jazz get some good rest, come back healthy, refreshed and focused.  I hope they have a renewed interest and effort in finding out their elite skills and identity as a team.