Final Score: Suns 112, Jazz 101
Last night Jeff Hornacek returned to Utah to host his own pick&roll-athon, raising awareness for the chronic ailment of awful screen-roll defense sponsored by the Corbin-Lowe foundation.
Run It Back
Best Play: 5:18 3rd-Qtr – This play perfectly illustrates the difference between a brilliant offensive mind and one that hasn’t distinguished itself in multiple seasons as a head coach. As you have probably noticed, the Jazz often run early-offense pick&roll where they pass to their big at the top of the key (often Favors) who takes one dribble toward the wing and hands-off to the SG/SF for a quick side pick&roll.
Well the Suns open up with this same motion with Miles Plumlee handing off to Goran Dragic on the right-wing but following the handoff/screen Plumlee rolls to the basket while Markief Morris then comes up to the top of the key to set a second ball-screen for Dragic. After Plumlee rolls down the lane he circulates over to the left-block receiving a cross-screen from P.J. Tucker along the baseline. Morris sets the second ball-screen for Dragic and as he rolls to the rim, P.J. Tucker (after cross-screening for Plumlee) comes up and sets a back-screen for Morris on the second roll. Dragic swings the ball to Bledsoe on the weakside, giving the passing angle to hit Morris for a layup.
Rested and ready with a fully healthy roster and comparable talent – Utah had every reason to play their best game of the season, but Ty Corbin was playing checkers while Jeff Hornacek played chess.
Best Execution: 2:05 2nd-Qtr –The Suns run Dragic/Frye pick&pop up top with Dragic dribbling left – while simultaneously running cross-screen action with P.J. Tucker backscreening Favors to set up Plumlee on the block. With everyone focused on the screen-roll, Plumlee springs wide open and Dragic hits him for an uncontested 5-foot hook.
Matt Harpring’s reaction: “Too many wide open looks for the Phoenix Suns.”
Best JazzBasketball Play: 6:45 2nd-Qtr – Tied at 42-42, the Suns swung the ball to Markieff Morris on the left wing, then ran a baseline cross-screen with Dragic screening for Plumlee coming to the left-block, which gave Dragic an advantage as his man (Burks) had to help front Plumlee on the cross-screen – and allowed Dragic to pop out off a pindown for an open catch&shoot 16-footer. The Jazz ran this for years with Stockton cross-screening for Malone and popping out to the foul line.
I know some people love the “moneyball” concept – but what many fail to understand is “a 16-footer” is not the same as “an open rhythm catch&shoot 16-footer.” Jazzbasketball has produced top-10 offenses by putting players in these positions for layups, threes and open mid-range jumpers.
While Hornacek’s Suns do play heavily into the 3pt/layup shot selection, if you watched last night’s game you would see they ran several set plays to get open 15-foot jumpers (i.e. open foul line jumper for P.J. Tucker in early 3rd-Qtr).
You don’t think Hayward would to come off a screen for an open catch&shoot 15-footer instead of running a bazillion miles to take a contested long two?
On the other hand, you can shoot 20 threes and make 5 like the Jazz did last night. Silly me, silly Jerry Sloan and silly Phil Johnson. How can you not love the
bastardization modernization of “Jazzbasketball?”
“The Jazz just aren’t a three-point shooting team, you gotta know who you are – and the Jazz are dead-last in the NBA in three-point shooting – 30% – they’re not that team. Phoenix is that team they (Suns) shoot the ball well and they only allow 33% shooting from other teams…right now the Jazz are playing Phoenix’s style…everything that Phoenix wants to do – they’re doing. The Jazz have taken nothing away from the Phoenix Suns and credit Jeff Hornacek and the way he coaches.” -Matt Harpring during 3rd-qtr.
Jazz Pick&Roll/Suns Defense – 1st-Half
The Jazz started out with a 33-point 1st-quarter and the Suns opened the game having their bigs show out on the pick&roll:
11:41 1st-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll, Tucker and Frye both jump out on Hayward who hits Favors rolling down the lane for a dunk.
10:03 1st-Qtr – Burke/Marvin side pick&roll – Suns forced baseline and because Marvin has 3pt-range, Phoenix can’t cover the ground in time and Marvin strokes a three to put Utah up 9-0 and force a Suns timeout.
4:39 1st-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll with Favors rolling down lane, drawing the help-defense and kicking out to Marvin for an open corner-three to pull Utah within 22-20.
Jazz Pick&roll/Suns Defense – 2nd-Half
In the 3rd-quarter the Suns’ had some great stretches of screen-roll defense by defending the way alot of great teams do, by pushing the ball-handler away from the screen and funneling him into their length (bigman).
4:20 3rd-Qtr – Hayward/Favors high screen-roll guarded by Tucker/Plumlee. Tucker forces Hayward away from the screen and into a drive funneling him into Plumlee sitting back in the lane. They push Hayward baseline behind the basket and then pick-off his attempted pass out to Marvin for a three – which Markieff Morris turns into a fastbreak layup.
3:54 3rd-Qtr – Burke/Favors high screen-roll guarded by Bledsoe/Plumlee. Again they force Burke to drive away from the screen into Plumlee where they push him underneath the basket. Burke passes out to Marvin for a corner-three but Bledsoe races out to contest. Marvin misses, Dragic rebounds. Because the Jazz are trying so hard to space the floor by playing 4 3pt-shooters, only Favors is positioned beneath the basket to get an offensive rebound.
3:18 3rd-Qtr – Hayward/Favors side pick&roll guarded by Tucker/Plumlee. The Suns force baseline, with Tucker funneling Hayward into Plumlee, and Bledsoe on the weakside drops down to take away Favors diving down the lane. Hayward tries to dribble through Tucker and Plumlee who strip him and force a jumpball.
On all three of these possessions, Suns assistant Mike Longabardi (defensive coordinator and former Boston assistant under Rivers/Thibadeau) was up on his feet shouting instructions.
The Jazz then enjoyed some success clearing out the left side of the floor and running side pick&roll, where Burke was able to use his speed to get wide around Plumlee and drive to the baseline for either a pull-up jumper (1:54 3rd-Qtr) or get to the rim for a layup (1:07 3rd-Qtr).
The Suns and Longabardi adjusted:
0:51 3rd-Qtr – On Phoenix’s next possession following the Burke layup, Markieff Morris went to the line. Between FT’s, Bledsoe walked up and whispered something to him.
0:38 3rd-Qtr – On the next possession Utah runs a Burke/Kanter side pick&roll guarded by Bledsoe/Morris. The Suns “blitz,” aggressively trapping Burke – actually pushing him all the way back to about 40-feet from the basket, where he tries a pass to Kanter who himself is 23-feet from the basket that was deflected out-of-bounds.
0:07 3rd-Qtr – On Utah’s final possession of the quarter, they ran a Burke/Kanter high screen-roll guarded by Goodwin/Morris. On the Root Sports broadcast, you can hear Mike Longabardi on the sideline shouting “Switch it! Switch it!” – which makes sense because with less than 7-seconds left – there’s not enough time to get burned with a guard stuck on a big in the post. Sound concept but in this case, Morris was late switching out and Burke pulled up and stuck a three as a bewildered Longabardi turned his back to the court following the basket.
Nevertheless, the Suns’ coaching staff adjusted, communicated, made sound tactical decsions and continued to adjust.
During the 4th-quarter the Phoenix bench was fun to watch as the Suns lost some aggression. Hornacek and Longabardi looked like they were living and dying on many defensive possessions. After quick shots, Hornacek was urging his players to pass and move the ball while Longabardi was shouting instructions defensively. When they got stops Longabardi was applauding, when they allowed an easy basket both Hornacek and Longabardi would swing their fist in frustration. It reminded me of how Jerry Sloan in the 90’s and early 2000’s would slide up and down the sideline trying to urge his team to D-up and where to help from, then tell his team to push-it in transition with a sideways circular motion (not always to fastbreak but to set the tempo by getting into their offense early).
Jazz Pick&Roll Defense – 1st-Half
The Jazz again started the game having their bigs show out on the pick&roll. On the first pass they had some success but the Suns would re-screen which completely annihilated Utah’s defense, and before long it was business as usual on the initial screen.
8:10 1st-Qtr – Dragic/Frye high screen-roll, Marvin steps out and Burke goes under, but Phoenix re-screens the opposite direction so Marvin (stepping out) and Burke (going under) are both caught top-side and Frye pins both of them for Dragic to drive to the basket for a layup and a foul.
5:37 2nd-Qtr – The Suns came out of a timeout leading 44-43 and cleared the right-side of the court for a Bledsoe/Plumlee pick&roll. Bledsoe drove the lane, forcing Favors to help before lofting a pass to Plumlee rolling in on the right side for a layup.
4:41 2nd-Qtr – Richard Jefferson missed a contested corner-three and Phoenix pushed it hard in transition, resulting in several mismatches including Jeremy Evans guarding Eric Bledsoe. With a big guy on him, the Suns ran high screen-roll where Evans got caught up on the screen and Bledsoe pulled up for a wide-open three to put Phoenix ahead 51-43.
3:25 2nd-Qtr – Suns ran a Dragic/Plumlee screen-roll with Favors showing out hard, forcing Evans to rotate to Plumlee which left Channing Frye wide open for a three to put Phoenix up 54-45.
Jazz Pick&Roll Defense – 2nd-Half
At halftime, Sidney Lowe was asked how the Jazz are supposed to defend the high pick&roll:
“Well if it’s a shooter, supposed-we’re supposed to uh-jump out, one-out – the guard goes over and then under and then get in front of him so he can’t get into the paint, and then the uh-the big guy that’s on the screener’s supposed to get back to his man quickly so they don’t get a chance to swing it and get a shot.”
“We just have to fire through quicker, uh, our aggression and our speed – I think their speed is bothering us a lot right now.”
Here’s how Utah’s screen-roll defense started the second-half:
11:37 3rd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll guarded by Burke/Favors. Burke goes over, Favors shows out, Dragic immediately fires a bounce pass to Plumlee rolling to the basket where he catches and finishes a 6-foot jump hook over Richard Jefferson. 64-51 Suns.
9:07 3rd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll guarded by Burke/Favors. Burke goes over, Favors shows out – Plumlee rolls and Marvin drops down to pick him up – leaving Frye wide-open for a top-of-the-key three. Splash.
7:07 3rd-Qtr – A double high-screen roll that the I detailed the Pelicans used to torch Utah 11/20/13, starting with Dragic handling, Plumlee rolling and Frye popping. Favors has to show out to the left-wing and then race back 18-feet to Frye at the top-of-the-circle for a catch&shoot three that puts Phoenix up 76-62.
6:30 3rd-Qtr – Suns run same exact play – this time Favors shows out and Marvin follows Fry to 3pt-line – so Dragic hits Plumlee rolling open to the rim where Hayward fouls him on a layup attempt at the rim.
3:34 3rd-Qtr – Bledsoe/Morris high screen-roll guarded by Hayward and Marvin. The Jazz instantly switch – so Hayward is left guarding the 6-10 245-pound Morris, who goes down and punishes him on the left-block – shooting a turn-around over Hayward for a 84-69 Suns lead.
David Locke is funny. The irrelevant Andris Biedrins absurdly saw playing time over Rudy Gobert, so Locke tweets out: “First defensive possession and Andris Biedrins may have had the best big man rotation of the night. It was noticeable.”
Now in the real world we all live in, here were Biedrins’ first three possessions:
3:46 4th-Qtr – Biedrins, guarding Frye on the perimeter, is called for a kicked-ball violation with Frye trying to hit Dragic on a backcut. No rotation involved whatsoever.
3:35 4th-Qtr – Dragic/Frye screen-roll guarded by Burks/Biedrins. Biedrins steps out on Dragic impeding his dribble while Frye rolls down the lane – which forces Jeremy Evans’ defensive rotation. As a result, Bledsoe was left open for a wide-open catch&shoot three that he missed.
3:01 4th-Qtr –Dragic/Frye high screen-roll again guarded by Burks/Biedrins. Biedrins shows out leaving Frye open on the right wing for a wide-open pick&pop three – that again missed.
Biedrins did nothing better than Favors or Marvin had the entire night – the only difference is the Suns happened to miss open-threes while he was on the court. Either Locke isn’t aware that the bigs’ responsibility is to show and recover (very possible but also inexcusable considering he was the one who interviewed Sidney Lowe at halftime) or he’s just embellishing the play in an effort to support the credibility of Tyrone Corbin’s decision-making. Either scenario is plausible, but both are wrong. Don’t believe me go back and watch – the tape doesn’t lie.
Also important to note – Biedrins (or Favors and Marvin) aren’t doing anything blatantly wrong – it just speaks to the big-picture problems with Utah’s screen-roll strategy that Sidney Lowe outlined. They truly expect their bigs to show out hard 20-feet from the basket and then race back and recover on the screener before he has a chance to score or pass. Unless you have a frontcourt of a Scottie Pippen, LeBron James and Dennis Rodman, you’re going to encounter problems doing this consistently.
As a result, the Jazz are still ending up in a ton of 4-on-3 disadvantages where not only are they scrambling in confusion to find the open man, but their bigman is now no longer protecting the rim but rather trying to get back into the play 20-feet from the basket. The Heat might have the most success defending this way, but last I checked the Jazz didn’t have a defensive personnel crew matching LeBron, Wade, Battier, Haslem and Birdman.
The Final Word
The Jazz should have beaten the Suns last night, after 3 days off, fully healthy, with a decent-sized crowd (even though the “GreenOut” fizzled) and a Suns team with comparable 1-12 talent and depth. The difference is the Suns have a style and system that they are using to maximize their ability with a bunch of players now filling it up who (with the exception of Bledsoe) nobody else really wanted.
You can argue Utah’s problems rest entirely on the inability of their young players to make plays, but consider this: Utah again started Marvin Williams in place of Enes Kanter – who has been much-maligned for his defensive ineffectiveness. Against Phoenix, Marvin had a D-Rating of 132, while Kanter and Favors both posted D-Ratings of 133. Logically, shouldn’t Marvin Williams’ mobility and athleticism advantage over Kanter result in better rotations and “jump-outs” defending the pick&roll.
Utah may not have many stalwarts defensively, but their problems all start with the coaching staff. And when you consider that, how can you properly evaluate anyone’s performance this season? How can you judge Favors’ 1.4 blocks per game when he’s jumping out on point guards then racing 20-feet back to find his own man? Conversely, the Suns start both Goran Dragic and Channing Frye – yet are 12th in the NBA in Defensive Rating. You don’t think coaching plays a role in that?
The Jazz have some things working in their favor. Burke played one of his better games offensively, Marvin Williams continues to produce in a leading role, Burks had a productive game, Evans continues to play well and Utah still possesses more frontcourt talent than Phoenix. In a rematch 24 hours later, the Jazz should be able to compete with the Suns. Unfortunately, “should” doesn’t mean much this season. After all Jeff Hornacek should be coaching the Jazz, but he’s not.