Posts Tagged ‘ utah jazz ’

Last Night’s Lessons: The Portland Win

Last night felt like a big deal. It was just another regular season game about a third into the season, but it felt like the Jazz needed this win. Ten minutes before the game, I was frantically searching for reasons why we would win the game:

Hayward lit it up against the Kings, maybe this means his confidence is back.

Maybe our offense actually works better when Big Al isn’t playing.

Maybe Lamarcus Aldridge is sick of being the poster child for the Hipster All-Stars (The Hipster All-stars are guys who aren’t actually All-stars, should be, and thus have a cult following of internet bloggers who are constantly decrying the injustice of the All-Star voting system. And yes, Paul Millsap is a Hipster All-star), and he’ll take the game off.

Two hours later, the Jazz had escaped with a victory. Initially too overcome with relief to draw any conclusions from the game, I’ve since regained enough of my mental faculties to know that this game taught us a few things. So here they are, the 3 things we learned last night:

1. Gordon Hayward took one giant leap forward last night. Granted, we at sloan v. sheed search every, passed-over obscurity of every Jazz game to find ways to compliment the G-man, but we didn’t have to look far last night. In the past, whenever Gordon has had a noticeably good game, it’s been because he’s either A) feeling it and shooting really well AND filling up the box score with non-scoring plays or B) filling up the box score with non-scoring plays. Last night, for the first time, we got an option C) he was shooting poorly, but he still provided offensive production when we needed it AND he filled up the box score with non-scoring plays. The understated play of the game was his block that set up Millsap’s score in the last minute, but Hayward gave the Jazz exactly what we needed down the stretch. On a night when we were going to live and die with how well he played (see: the difference between the first and the second half), he stepped up. He nailed free throws when they mattered, made a game-changing block, and forced shots down on an off-night. Great players have the confidence to knock down shots even after dreadful slumps, and last night, Hayward took one more step toward becoming that kind of great player.

2. In a condensed season, depth means way more than it should. In your typical NBA season, depth is a little overrated. There are enough days off between games for stars to recover, and there are enough games in the season for your team to make the playoffs and make a deep run even if your star is injured for a large chunk of the regular season. Not this season. This season, teams like the Jazz have an extra advantage. Last night’s victory, without Al Jefferson and without Raja Bell, was a prime example of this phenomenon.

3. We still need Big Al. As much as I love to hate on Big Al, our half-court offense is a disaster without him. Ever since he has learned to pass, the double-teams that he commands are invaluable. He opens up shots for Millsap, and he carries a scoring load that the combination of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors cannot match. The Jazz won last night because Hayward stepped up, Millsap reached down deep and pulled out one of the gutsiest rebounding performances I’ve witnessed, a combination of Jeremy Evans’ energy and the ESA crowd lifted the team up for one final 4th quarter run, and Enes Kanter played lockdown defense on Aldridge in the 4th quarter. Those kinds of things can’t happen every game. The Jazz need the methodical consistency that Big Al brings the offense.

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Risk-less Management: Why Won’t Corbin Start Burks?

When I first heard the news that Sloan was leaving and Tyrone Corbin was in as head coach, my initial reaction was sadness, then concern, then intrigue, until finally I reached a vague optimism: Maybe Sloan had lost his touch. Maybe the players need fresh blood. Maybe a shake-up in the status quo is exactly what this team needs to make a leap. Maybe Tyrone Corbin is a better fit for these players. Maybe this is a good thing.

Now the jury’s still out on Corbin. Sure, his expressions are usually a pleasant combination of veiled terror, unbridled rage, and dogged hopelessness, and sure he continues to dole out consistently big minutes to C.J. Miles (who shoots a glorious 34% from the field; seriously, how close are we to dubbing a well-guarded, 20-foot, fadeaway jump shot that clangs off the rim a “C.J.”?). Those things are forgivable. He’s a new coach. He’s been given an inexperienced and underachieving team. But there is at least one unforgivable about Tyrone Corbin’s recent coaching.

Jerry Sloan was old. He was stuck in his ways. When the Jazz drafted an exciting young player, I knew that player was only going to get garbage minutes for his first few seasons, and I was all right with that. Sloan had experience and he had a methodical system that would not be interrupted by unnecessary risks on unproven players. So when I reached that vague optimism in the post-Sloan retirement, it was because I thought the Jazz finally had a coach that would take those risks. I believed Hemingway when he told me that the younger you are, the more gambles you’ll make. And thank goodness, I thought, because this is a team if there’s ever been one that needs to gamble on some young players.

Alec Burks needs more minutes. This is obvious to everyone. I have searched the web, and there is no response movement to #freeAlecBurks. No one is clamoring to defend Raja Bell. There is no popular or even unpopular support for Raja’s 20 MPG. The general consensus is that the 35 year-old Bell’s only purpose on the Jazz roster is to steal Alec Burks from his minutes. Even Corbin himself has yet to offer a reasonable defense for Bell’s continued use.

So what’s the hold-up? Why does Raja continue to start and Burks continue to grow restless on the bench? Because so far, Corbin has not been the fresh, untainted, risk-taking coach the Jazz needed. What I overlooked was that Corbin is a Sloan man, and Sloan men believe in veterans. Whether he realizes it or not,  Corbin was deeply indoctrinated by Sloan, and not just in their affinity for half-court, pick-and-roll offensive sets. Corbin won’t start Burks, or even give Burks consistent minutes, because Corbin takes no risks. He doesn’t overhaul the offense even though the personnel is built to run. He doesn’t ride the second team even when they’re playing better. He doesn’t get in anyone’s face for taking bad shots (yeah, I’m talking about you Al Jefferson), and he certainly, isn’t going to play Alec Burks until he is absolutely sure Burks won’t make him look bad.

At 2-3, the Jazz are mimicking the style of their coach: low risk, low reward. The Jazz will continue to beat bad teams at home and lose on the road unless Coach Corbin starts gambling on the team’s young talent. Sure Utah won last night, and the Jazz can keep beating the New Orleanses and Philadelphias of this league with this line-up. But the playoffs are a pipe dream without some shake-up, and that requires risk. Corbin can hesitate, brood, mull it over, and eventually have enough statistical and visual evidence to justify starting Burks, and then enjoy the benefits of an athletic wing who scores; or he can start him now and at least have a chance at something special.

Roll the dice, Corbin. You’re not Jerry Sloan, and until these last five games, I was grateful for that.

 

The Nightmare After Christmas

This morning I woke up, and gradually the memory of last night’s dreadful 96-71 loss to the Lakers drifted to the forefront of my mind. Initially, I reacted by asking myself if it was a dream. Or in this case, a nightmare. As I came to terms with the fact that it had actually happened, its reality did not shake from me the conviction that it was a nightmare. Because in a way, it was.

The Jazz have always been kind of boring. Small-market teams can get national coverage when they’re interesting. That’s why Ricky Rubio was such a great pick-up for Minnesota. At least they’re bad and interesting now (and I don’t mean Michael Beasley kind of interesting), and not just bad (see: Minnesota Wolves, 2010 season). Perhaps its because the Jazz have been so uncool, as Jackson noted in his first post, or because for over two decades, the Jazz have won with a methodical offensive system that thrived on the pick-and-roll. For whatever reason, the Jazz have been boring. This wasn’t really a problem, as long as the team was good. But this year, Jazz fans face the most nightmarish of possibilities: boring and bad.

Besides the madman Jeremy Evans’s momentary flash of athleticism, last night was boring. It was boring. It was hopeless. It was like watching your cousin’s middle school girls basketball game. 31 points at the end of the first half. 2-16 shooting for the player widely regarded to be the team’s best. Brick after clanging brick from C.J. Miles (what’s the over/under on ill-advised threes for CJ this season? 50? 70?). No one, not even Detroit fans, wants to watch their team fail to reach the 75 point mark. That’s boring. But to fail to reach that 75 point mark because your point guard walked the ball up the court every, single possession, only to set up your slow-footed, undersized center for an off-balance hook shot that badly missed? That’s painful, and last night I was pained.

I know this was only one game. And I know I shouldn’t judge a new coach with a young roster on such a small sample size. But that was boring, and that was bad, and I do not want to watch another game like that in my life. For the love of all that’s good about the NBA, can’t we watch a team that runs? That pushes the ball up the court at every opportunity? That throws outlet passes and pressures in transition? If this Jazz team has anything going for it, it is young legs. So run. Give up 110 points a game. Miss the playoffs by 5 games. I don’t care. The team is young. It needs to develop. It’s okay for a few playoff-less seasons. But please, don’t be bad and boring.

Maybe I’m rushing to conclusions. Or maybe, Jazz fans everywhere are about to live a nightmare.

The Pros and Cons of the Josh Howard Signing

Remember when Josh Howard was an All-Star? Yeah, me neither. But he was. And it really wasn’t that long ago. In fact, it was only five years ago. In that season, Josh Howard averaged 19 points and 7 boards, then 20 points and 7 rebounds the next season. Then, in his last full season with Dallas, he averaged 18 and 5. Those are legitimate numbers, and if that last season with Dallas was last season, then this post wouldn’t be entitled “Pros and Cons,” but “How the Jazz Finally Signed a Coveted Player out of Free Agency.” Then again, if Howard had produced last season like his glory days in Dallas, the Jazz wouldn’t have been able to sign him.

So what happened? He got injured. Which isn’t anything new. Injuries have plagued him since that All-Star season. He hasn’t played 55 games in a season since the 07-08 season, and he only played in four games last year since he tore his ACL. Admittedly, the Jazz are taking a flier on a  player who had a PER of less than 10 last season, but the truth is, no one even knows if Howard is good anymore. He could regain some of his former game and bring 15 points and 5 boards to the table every night, or he could re-injure his knee and ride the pine for the rest of his one-year contract. Either way, there are some knowns about Howard’s game, and these are what I will address: the “basketball reasons” for signing Howard.

Pro: His position. The Jazz needed help from the small forward. With AK still in Russia, the Jazz had a gaping hole at the position. Hayward could/probably will play a large portion of his minutes at the three, but beyond him, Jeremy Evans was the only other SF option (and I know I’m assuming C.J. will not play the 3, but I like to live in a pretend-world where C.J. Miles does not get considerable minutes on an NBA team).

Pro: Experience. Howard has been to the Finals. Howard has played in the league for longer than half the roster combined, especially the other options for small forward: Evans, Hayward and Miles are all very young.

Pro: Rebounding from the 3. Howard has been a perennially good rebounder for his position. In fact, Howard’s career rebounding per 40 minute stats are better than LeBron James’s who is largely considered the best rebounder from the 3 in the league.

Pro: He takes care of the ball. In the 06-07 and 07-08 seasons, Howard led the league in turnover percentage–the same seasons in which he played the most minutes of his career.

Unfortunately, there are also a number of cons:

Con: He’s injury-prone, but we covered this earlier.

Con: He can’t shoot the three-ball. This is possibly the most aggravating aspect of the Jazz’s offseason acquisitions was the failure to pick up an elite shooter. Besides Gordon Hayward (who had a limited number of attempts), the Jazz did not have a single rotation player shoot over 40% from three last season. Not a single one. To put this in perspective, the Denver Nuggets who were barely a playoff team had three players with over 50 attempts. So what did the Jazz do in the offseason? They picked up a career 34% three-point shooter. Problem solved.

Con: He may have character issues.

In the end, taking a flier on a player always has the same dangers. Fortunately, this one is a one-year, low-risk (worst case scenario: he blows out his other ACL, gets busted for weed possession and then gets waived before season’s end, ending his career and opening up more minutes for the electrifying Evans), potentially high-reward flier (best case scenario: consistent rebounding, decent perimeter defense, bench scoring, a contract extension and general career redemption). If nothing else, I’m excited because I used to love watching the old Josh Howard play, and maybe, in the slim chance he can regain that form, I’ll get to watch it again–and that’s the greatest pro.