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Today is Jazz media day – which of course means fascinating reports like “Richard Jefferson looks to be in terrific shape,” Andris Biedrins says he’s excited for a new opportunity” and of course my favorite “Andrei Kirilenko has added 20 pounds of muscle.” (Can we please still do the “AK weight” report one even though he’s no longer with the Jazz?)

Beyond the dynamic quotes, what has become my new favorite part of Jazz Media Day is the player photo shoot – which each year seem to have a new wrinkle added to it.

Here are a few of my favorite Jazz Media Day Photo Shoot Collections:

The “Even though we’re professional basketball players, we’re going to pose with multi-sport props and pretend like we’re really enjoying ourselves” photo shoot.

Jazz Media Day Multi Sport

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The “Don’t mind me while I stand here and smile at a basketball that’s on fire” photo shoot.

Post #1

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The “Watch me pretend like I’m doing skillful things with the basketball that we all know I’m nowhere near capable of doing” photo shoot.

Jazz Media Day Ball Handling Skills

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The “I should probably enjoy this as much as I can because we all know I won’t be with the Jazz for much longer” photo shoot.

Jazz Media Day Training Camp Invites

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The “Pretend you’re an airplane flying away from the team you just lied to in order to get out of your contract” photo shoot.

Derek Fisher Lied

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What do you want to see from this year’s photo shoot? Jeremy Evans with a painting of himself sitting on the bench waiting for Corbin to never put him in the game? Enes Kanter with duck tape over his mouth? Gordon Hayward in a Paul George jersey? Rudy Gobert cleaning leaves out of Trey Burke’s rain gutter?

Here are a few suggestions:

The “Sidney Lowe: No, I’m not taking any questions about my rescheduled court date” photo collection.

Lowe

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The “Andris Biedrins: Guess which one of these two things I love the most” photo collection.

Biedrins

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The “I’d much rather be posing for pictures like this than trying to dunk a football” Enes Kanter collection (which required no photo-shopping whatsoever).

Kanter #4

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The 2013-14 Utah Jazz season is soon upon us!
It’s going to be a fun time!

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Jazz Future is Now - 2013-14

If patience is truly a virtue, a large contingent of the Jazz fan base are eligible for sainthood any day now.

For the past two-and-a-half seasons, I, along with countless others have incessantly clamored for a changing of the guard – as it became crystal clear that (without Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan) a team centered around Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and a cast of mediocre vets was simply not good enough to come anywhere close to contending.

When Utah decided it had spent enough time in NBA purgatory (consecutive seasons finishing 8th and 9th in the West) and opted to let all of its free agents walk and turned $28 million worth of cap room into future draft picks and the poo-poo platter of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush – it signified the Jazz front office had finally turned the future of the team over to their Core-4. (Or Core-5 if you include Trey Burke – whom Utah traded up to get in the 2013 NBA Draft).

After all the mind-numbing “Why isn’t Hayward staring” and “Why isn’t Favors in the game for this last possession?” and “Alec Burks DNP-CD’s” and “12 minutes for Enes Kanter” and “Did we re-sign Evans to a 3-year deal just so he can be in the dunk contest” questioning – the 2013-14 Utah Jazz can take the most critical step in rebuilding which is embracing the young talent and potential they already possess.

Next week we’ll take a more in-depth look into Utah’s 2013-14 roster, analyzing the new faces and what they do (or don’t) provide as well as the individual improvements Utah’s returning players need to make to take their games to the next level.

For now, as a broad overview to the 2013-14 Jazz there’s one aspect which excites me the most about this team’s potential. That attribute is based off the ability and talent they possess, this year’s Jazz team has the capability to bring back several elements of Jazzbasketball that have been lacking in recent seasons.

Those elements are:

1. Crisp and unselfish ball and player movement

Utah no longer has a volume 18-20-point scorer who they can dump the ball down into every possession. While Favors and Kanter have shown strides in their low-post games, this team isn’t good enough to revolve the offense around a single player (I would also say we weren’t good enough the past two seasons either in which that was much of the philosophy). To score efficiently, Utah will need to manufacture some baskets in the halfcourt setting with crisp ball and player movement. Perhaps the biggest stride the Core-4 made last season was demonstrating they all have the ability to run both high and side screen-roll when given the opportunity to do so. That, combined with the fact that Favors and Kanter were also Utah’s best screening bigmen – and hopefully the Jazz will return to using the pick&roll as a primary set on offense rather than only a fallback plan when working against the shotclock. And if by chance Favors and Kanter breakout with a dominant low-post game, Utah will still be all the better blending that with a well-rounded and balanced offensive attack.

2. Solid team defense

Everyone is aware of the incredible defensive potential ability (he’s already that good) of Derrick Favors. He has all-NBA potential at that end of the floor – the key will be learning to stay out of foul trouble playing 30+ minutes (something he struggled with when starting the 2011-12 season ahead of Paul Millsap). Last year I felt Enes Kanter’s defensive ability was underrated. In today’s NBA, a big’s defensive ability is primarily dependant not on low-post defense but on how well they can defend screen-roll. Last year Kanter had a lot of good moments. While he won’t wow you with his lateral quickness, he looked quite solid in terms of effort and ability to step out and cut off driving lanes and then still recover to the screener. The pick&roll defense he and Favors played during the first-half of Utah’s big win over the Miami Heat last season was some of the best they played all year. Both bigs have great size and rebounding ability. What Utah needs to do is employ a defensive gameplan similar to that of an Memphis or Indiana where they funnel dribblers into their length rather than their baffing screen-roll defense from last year that Grandland’s Zach Lowe picked apart.

3. Pushing the ball in transition

If the Jazz are able to make significant strides defensively, they can really reap the rewards by pushing the ball in transition. Although they’ve always been known for their half-court execution, all the great Jazz teams loved to run at home and with their young legs and athleticism it would be ideal for Utah to regain their tremendous homecourt advantage by running on teams. Not only do they have the initial altitude factor (which opposing players have said does have an effect), but the energy of the Delta Center/Energy Solutions Arena crowd can turn routine 4-0 runs into momentum shifting 8-0 runs.

Trey Burke was a dynamic playmaker at Michigan. I think Burks and Hayward thrive in an open-court game and Favors has the athleticism (and now the mentor) to make running the floor a primary objective as well.

The effectiveness of pushing the ball can’t be measured solely in fastbreak points because often high-percentage opportunities arise not only in delayed breaks but in the ability to get into a halfcourt set early, before a defense has the chance to set up and calibrate where they want to help from.

Utah doesn’t have the advantage of having a go-to scorer to bail them out with the shotclock winding down. Looking for early offense should be a primary focus in training camp.

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With a less than stellar bench and starters who possess little experience leading, these improvements may not translate directly into the win-column – but hopefully will create a winning formula that can be aesthetically pleasing to watch while serving as a foundation for Utah’s long-term growth and development.

With crisp ball/player movement, active interior defense and oodles of athleticism – in comparison to the past few seasons I expect this year’s team to look like they they’re playing at the speed of sound.

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Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently published an extensive piece on Chris Webber’s basketball career – in which he later argued that Webber deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, his article include several blatant inaccuracies in regards to Sacramento’s 1999 playoff series against the Utah Jazz.

Zach Lowe inaccuracies on Chris Webber

1. Webber did not get into a “shoving match with Malone” in Game 5. The confrontation took place between Karl Malone and Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson on the Kings’ third possession of the game. Williamson thought Malone threw his left elbow at him on the rebound when the two locked arms (more on this later) and words were exchanged as Williamson refused to let go and Karl tried to break free. Both players received technicals and Greg Ostertag and Vlade Divac even got into a slap-fight as players rushed in to “separate everyone else.” A few possessions later Webber picked up a technical as he was still arguing about Malone’s “elbow.” Utah capitalized on Webber and the Kings’ emotion and roared out to a 16-5 start.

2. Costas and Collins did have that actual exchange about Webber, but it took place in the 2nd-qtr after Webber hit a mid-range jumper over reserve Jazz center Todd Fuller and proceeded to jaw at Fuller as he ran back down the court (can view here at 3:00-mark). Webber never got involved with Malone.

CWebb and Williamson

Perhaps Zach Lowe simply made an honest mistake here (although neither player bears a striking resemblance to the other), but to those unfamiliar with the actual events of the game – those two “mistakes” would inflate one’s opinion and admiration of Chris Webber and add more intrigue to Lowe’s piece much more than the reality of what transpired.

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Personally, I do not feel like Chris Webber should be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame. His “peak” years contained numerous injury issues (in which the Kings actually posted winning percentage’s that were nearly equal to when he played), lacked a signature individual postseason performance and climaxed in just one conference finals appearance.

I believe the attraction to send Webber to Springfield stems from the attraction many had to Webber during his playing career: The guy was one of the most physically gifted bigs to ever play the game. At 6-10 he had unbelievable hands and could pass, handle, shoot, post-up and run like very few others. He may not have met everyone’s lofty expectations, but he turned that skillset into a very successful professional career. He had a very good NBA career, just not a Hall-of-Fame one.

Fortunately for Lowe and Webber, in today’s society that awards trophies for participation and sparks HOF debates for virtually everyone in an effort to drum up ratings (see Jeff Van Gundy’s impassioned plea during the NBA Finals that Tracy McGrady is a HOFer), it won’t surprise me one bit to see C-Webb in Springfield one day.

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Back to the ’99 Kings/Jazz series. The Kings had a strategy that was as clear as Jon Barry’s nose. It was their plan to “lock” Malone up with non-basketball plays in hopes that something beneficial/violent would occur as Malone tried to break free. It occurred earlier in the regular season during a Rockets/Jazz game when Houston reserve forward Othella Harrington grabbed Malone from behind as he was running down-court. Malone’s response was to turn around and hit Harrington in the face – a move which earned him a flagrant foul and a suspension for the subsequent game.

In Game 3, Webber tried to bear-hug Karl as Malone went up for a rebound. With his superior strength, Malone threw Webber to the floor like a rag doll and Webber landed with a thud. The raucous Kings fans booed in outrage as if Malone were the guilty party – and the referees agreed and awarded Malone with a critical 3rd-foul that sent him to the bench for the remainder of the half. This was a key moment in an eventual Kings’ overtime win.

That alone was not an isolated incident. In the 4th-qtr of Game 4, Vlade Divac latched onto Malone’s arm on a rebound – and again Karl threw Vlade to the ground. This time it backfired on Sacramento as the referees (thankfully) didn’t take the bait and Utah scored the go-ahead basket in transition with Vlade still on the floor [Can watch here at the 22:02-minute mark). The Malone/Williamson incident to open Game 5 was actually the third time the Kings tried that tactic and did not involve Webber.

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Additionally, it needs to be said more often that Chris Webber’s “hard foul” on Stockton to open Game 2 rivals any Karl Malone elbow in terms of cheapness and maliciousness. Although it says a lot about the success of Sacramento’s franchise that this has somehow become a seminal moment in their team’s history (conversely as big a Malone-homer as I am, I feel Malone’s elbow on David Robinson in ’98 was one of the most shameful plays of his career) – not only was it premeditated by Webber but it played a significant role in Stockton&Malone never winning a championship in the season that was thought to be their best chance. After the hit Stockton was never the same player for the rest of the postseason and in the offseason required what was called “undisclosed” surgery. Normally Stock would bounce right up after a fall, but this time Stockton stayed down, and stayed down for awhile. Slowly he got to his knees and stayed there momentarily before gingerly getting to his feet. Dennis Rodman was suspended for a ’94 playoff game for a leg-whip on Stockton (as well as under-cutting Tom Chambers) and Webber’s blow was as bush-league as that.

Not only did Jerry Sloan want to fight Chris Webber immediately after the cheapshot, but later when asked why he thought Webber wanted to hit Stockton, Sloan’s response was because he wasn’t man enough to hit Karl Malone.

The other noteworthy Chris Webber footnote that Lowe failed to bring up from that ’99 series was the disappearing act Webber made late in those games. The play of Utah’s centers was atrocious, and in the 4th-quarters of their victories in Games 4&5, Jerry Sloan opted to play Malone at center and Bryon Russell at power forward. Although Russell did play PF in college at Long Beach State, he should have been no match for Webber yet he defended Webber to a standstill – fronting Webber in the post and slapping the ball away as he went up to take a shot. On the few times Webber did get inside, Russell sent him to the line where Webber shot a horrendous percentage (45% in the regular season and 40% in the playoffs). That the Kings remained in those games at all was largely due to the play of Vlade Divac (who in ’99 was their go-to post-up option in crunchtime over Webber) and Vernon Maxwell and Jon Barry.

The ’99 Kings/Jazz matchup was one of the best first-round series in NBA history, featuring dramatic finishes and physical play taking place inside the two loudest buildings (Arco Arena vs Delta Center) in the NBA. If you’re a Jazz fan or merely an NBA fan who appreciates the history of the league, it’s definitely a series you should be aware of – just make sure the facts you know are the correct ones.

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Gary Payton vs John Stockton - 2000 NBA Playoffs - Game 5

On Sunday when Gary Payton is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he will be presented by his childhood hero George Gervin and longtime rival John Stockton. Payton chose Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, because he greatly admired and respected him. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Payton called Stockton “the hardest person I ever had to guard” because of both his demeanor and skillset. Payton gushed about Stockton’s refusal to engage in trash talk, calling it the reason he “really respected him because you never could get in his head…I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech.” He viewed Stockton’s no-nonsense approach as “a complete game. That’s just the way he was and I idolized him.”

Payton entered the NBA in 1990 and would face Stockton in 70 regular season and postseason games prior to Stockton’s retirement in 2003.

Head-to-Head Regular Season Statistics

Regular Season Pts Ast Reb Stl FG% FT% 3pt% Wins
John Stockton 14.0 10.1 2.8 2.1 51% 82% 36% 27
Gary Payton 17.0 6.8 3.8 2.3 49% 77% 33% 22

In their head-to-head matchups, Stockton owns the edge in assists, shooting efficiency, and wins while Payton has the edge in scoring and rebounding.

Head-to-Head Postseason Statistics

Postseason Pts Ast Reb Stl FG% FT% 3pt% Wins
John Stockton 12.0 10.6 2.8 2.1 45% 73% 36% 11
Gary Payton 16.9 5.3 5.0 1.5 47% 70% 40% 10

The Jazz faced the Supersonics four times in the postseason, with both teams winning two series each.
1992 Conference Semifinals: Utah 4-1
1993 First Round: Seattle 3-1
1996 Conference Finals: Seattle 4-3
2000 First Round: Utah 3-2

In their first two playoff series matchups Stockton was clearly the superior player -although Seattle had superior talent in ’93. In ’96, the teams were fairly equal which was indicative in their 7-game series. Payton consistently outplayed Stockton throughout, although Stock played much of the ’96 playoffs with elbow, hamstring and groin injuries that severely hindered his effectiveness.

Their 2000 playoff series featured Gary Payton coming off arguably his best season as a pro (24.2/8.9/6.5) while Stockton was still ticking along (12.1/8.6 – 50%/36%/86%) although clearly past his prime at age 37. Nevertheless, the series still treated basketball fans to an epic point guard dual as the 7th-seeded Sonics pushed the 2nd-seeded Jazz to 5 games (in a best-of-5 series).

Payton opened the series with a 24/11/6 line that was overshadowed (along with Stockton’s 10&10) by Karl Malone’s 50-point eruption. In Game 2, Stockton put up 21 points and 11 assists on a ridiculous 9-11 shooting while playing just 30 minutes. Back in Seattle the Sonics evened up the series behind Payton’s 23/10/7 in Game 3 and then a masterful 35/11/10 in Game 4 that featured plenty of emotional fireworks as well as a heated war of words with Karl Malone.

Back in Utah for the fifth and deciding game, both players rose to the occasion with physical defense and vintage offensive performances. Stockton racked up 17 points, 15 assists, and 7 rebounds on 6-9 shooting while Payton went off for 27 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds on 12-25 shooting. The series ended when an ice-cold Chuck Person (who spent the entire series on the bench) was inserted into the game by Paul Westphal in the final seconds and missed a potential game-tying three off a pick&pop with Payton.

It was difficult to find two point guards who had a bigger contrast in styles to their games. Stockton was a methodical, fundamental pass-first point guard who was an incredibly efficient shooter and the best screen-roll point guard in the league has ever seen. Payton was an in-your-face on-ball defender who could score from all over the court, developed himself into a potent 3pt-shooter, was a sneaky-good rebounder and one of the better post-up point guards in the game. While Stockton never engaged in a war of words, Payton was known for his brash trash-talk.

Despite their differences, the two point guards who own a combined 19 all-star appearances had one simple thing in common: both were fierce competitors who came to win every single night. Even in the twilight of Stockton’s career, the two future hall-of-famers went after it, refusing to take a possession off.

Beyond their incredible talent, perhaps most impressive was both players’ durability. From 1990-2003 Payton and Stockton’s teams would meet 73 times – and in only 3 of those games did either Payton or Stockton sit out due to injury (Payton missed 2, Stock missed 1).

To this day, both players remain two of the most durable players to ever play their position. In his 17 year NBA career, Payton missed just 27 games – with 14 of those coming in 2005-06 (his final season). “The Glove” would notch 10 regular seasons in which he played in every game. Similarly, in his 19 year NBA career Stockton would miss just 22 games (with 18 of those coming in the 1997-98 season) and would play an incredible 17 regular seasons without missing a single game.

What made Gary Payton and John Stockton’s 13-year rivalry so special was the way they competed at both ends of the court. It was competitive, physical, emotional – and best of all it was pure with winning as the only objective. There have been a lot of talented point guards to enter the league since, but there hasn’t been a point guard duel that has exceeded the battles those two had. On Sunday they’ll no longer be competing, but it’ll be refreshing to see them both on center stage again.

John Stockton vs Gary Payton

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