Friday, February 7, 2014
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.
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.
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?
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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.
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 http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-basketball/news/20140203/hoop-thoughts-talent/?eref=sihp
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?
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.