Final Score: Jazz 103, Nuggets 93
Derrick Favors – Unleashed
Derrick Favors scored 19 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, blocked 4 shots and affected numerous others as he anchored the paint for the Utah Jazz. He’s now shooting 58% in his last 16 games, and 65% in his last 7. Even though Ty Lawson definitely appeared rusty and hampered in his return from a hamstring injury – Utah’s defense was arguably the most impressive aspect of last night’s win as they held the league’s 9th-best offense nearly 10 points below their season average.
Play of the Game: 8:02 4th-Qtr – With Denver leading 81-77, Nate Robinson drove to the basket where Derrick Favors smothered his layup at the rim – starting a 2-on-1 Utah fastbreak resulting in a Hayward-to-Burke layup. The play sparked a 10-2 Jazz run as Utah would go on to outscore the Nuggets 26-12 to close.
Favors’ 4 blocks were a season-high, giving him 7 in the last two games. The primary reason is the Jazz are finally putting him in a position to succeed – by allowing him to consistently play defense in the paint. I mention this constantly but last night provided the most crystal clear examples illustrating why Ty Corbin and Sydney Lowe have been stifling Utah’s potential with their pick&roll defensive strategy.
Watch and take note of Favors’ positioning (proximity to the basket) while also observing how little/much strain is being placed on Utah’s help defense:
Prior to Favors’ back injury, the Jazz asked their centers to show out hard on the ball-handler – and then recover to their man. The Heat often do this with their tremendous speed rotations utilizing the abilities of Wade, LeBron, Battier, Haslem, Bosh, Birdman, ect. That’s not Utah’s personnel.
Now, the Jazz are allowing their 5 to sit back in the lane – a la Roy Hibbert. By having their guard go over the screen – Utah’s defense is essentially funneling the ball-handler into the mid-range area while staying at home with shooters on the perimeter. Best of all, they’re keeping their primary shotblocker in the lane where they can utilize their size to their advantage rather than their lack of footspeed (not that Favors is slow, but he’s not faster than crisp passing).
It doesn’t take a genius to determine you would rather have an athletic 6-11 shotblocker within 15-feet of the rim instead of 24′. Among the many teams who defend in this manner – it’s what Frank Vogel has been doing with Roy Hibbert, what the Spurs have often switched to while relying on Tim Duncan’s presence, the style Blazers are now adopting to limit opponents’ open 3pt-attempts, and what the Charlotte Bobcats are now doing to cover for Al Jefferson. Fool Ty Corbin once, shame on you. Fool him 200 times and he’ll make an adjustment.
Some media members are obsessed over Favors’ lack of a go-to move, but he is plenty good right now. He’s an incredibly efficient player scoring on pick&rolls, offensive-rebounds and dives to the rim – and defensively he can do things that maybe 10 big guys can do in the entire NBA. If he adds a bigtime consistent low-post move fine – but right now the Jazz are just letting him go out and play (at both ends) and it’s fun to see. 4 years/$47 million is looking better each night.
Offensive Stat Mining
After shooting 13-23 (57%) from behind the arc in Sacramento, you knew that mark was something the Jazz couldn’t sustain. It didn’t appear to be the case early on last night, as Utah shot 6-7 (86%) in the 1st-Qtr. In the 2nd-half they finally came back down to earth – shooting 1-7 in the 2nd-Qtr and 1-7 in the 2nd-Half to finish the game 8-21 (38%) from deep.
As I wrote during the preseason – Richard Jefferson had quietly become a good spot-up three-point shooter over the last several seasons. After shooting 19% from deep in the first 8 games, he’s now up to a respectable 39% for the season that helps offset his subpar defensive play. His 5-6 mid-range and 6-7 3pt-shooting in the past 2 games assuredly will not continue – but it’s still likely he will continue to hover around 40% on threes for the season.
Marvin Williams’ 3pt-shooting is something more interesting to keep an eye on. At 42% in 2013-14, Williams entered the season as a career 33% shooter from behind the arc, never shooting above 39% and shooting above 36% in a season just once. Perhaps it’s from receiving more open looks playing PF, perhaps he’s having one of those hot 3pt seasons (like Matt Harpring in 2002-03), perhaps he is indeed a much-improved shooter or perhaps he’s due for some regression in the final 57 games of the season.
It also raises the interesting question, why are the Jazz so willing to play a veteran stretch-4 next to Favors this season that stifles Kanter’s development while ignoring the tremendous potential of a Paul Millsap/Favors pairing? While the Marvin/Favors frontcourt duo entered last night’s game with a +3.5 Net-Rating, last season Millsap/Favors produced a +4.6 Net-Rating that was up to a whopping +10.3 in 2011-12.
Regardless, with Marvin in the lineup the Jazz offense has kicked into high-gear – averaging nearly 9 more FG attempts per game, 1.2 more FT attempts, 2.6 fewer turnovers and 3.5 more 3pt-attempts in his 7 starts. Conversely, their offensive rebound rate is down 2.4% – or about 2 offensive rebounds per game.
At the same time, it’s still premature to automatically assume those numbers dictate that simply replacing Kanter with Marvin results in a better Jazz team. While the offensive boost does reflect favorably for Marvin – it also coincides with the return of Trey Burke, who since replacing John Lucas at PG has made a world of difference for Utah on the offensive end. Marvin definitely gives the Jazz spacing for more 4-out-1-in sets, but does figure to cause Utah matchup problems against bigger teams.
In the games Trey Burke starts – the Jazz shoot better from virtually everywhere. They average 2.2 more FG attempts per game (shooting 3% higher), shoot 1.3 fewer FT’s, actually attempt 1.9 fewer threes (but shoot 10% better) and most importantly turn the ball over 4.2 fewer times. The discrepancy between Burke and Marvin’s offensive boost lies in the 4 more games Marvin missed last week. Although Kanter played very well individually – as a team Utah’s offensive output and efficiency declined although much of that could also be attributed to playing the league’s top-2 teams in 3 of the 4 games, as well as a weaker supporting cast that included big minutes for a less impressive RJ, Mike Harris and of course Andris Biedrins.
If you look at how Kanter played against Indiana and Portland – it’s clear he still has the same potential and ability to be a good player in this league that he did to start the season. How that’s able to happen with Marvin starting is unclear – but in order to meet Dennis Lindsey’s 3-D’s – this is something that must be sorted out.
The Final Word
The Jazz have played good basketball in a large portion of their last 8 games – showing some encouraging improvement at both ends of the court. Offensively much of that improvement is due to the return of Trey Burke – who now gives Utah a playmaker at point guard that makes the game easier for all of his teammates.
Defensively, the adjustment in defending the pick&roll is a welcomed change but before we go give Ty Corbin a medal – let’s remember coaching isn’t simply figuring out one defensive tactic and then calling it a day. It’s about constant adjustments.
Look at how Greg Popovich has altered the Spurs’ identity from a post-up/kick-out to 3pt-shooters team in his 1998-99 championship team that had virtually no perimeter playmakers – to a more versatile inside-outside team in the mid-2000’s to today’s masterpiece that is a hallmark for the modern-day perimeter-oriented motion/screen-roll/floor-spacing/3pt-shooting ensemble many teams are trying to perfect.
Furthermore, look at Utah’s franchise where Jerry Sloan altered his system from the Stockton&Malone offense to fit the talents of the 2003-04 talent-devoid team and then back to more of the Stockton&Malone system with many tweaks to better suit the Deron/Boozer teams.
Each year coaches have a different team with players possessing different strengths and weaknesses. Taking 20 games (which is generous given you could argue it’s closer to 1-2 seasons) too long to adjust something obvious like pick&roll defense (that also includes flawed initial thinking) is certainly less than ideal for a professional basketball coach. Where 1 game can determine homecourt advantage, 5 games playoff potential and 10 games between meaningful basketball in March/April – perhaps the only thing saving Corbin now is Utah’s horrid start put them in such an embarrassing hole that low expectations have since plummeted to absurd levels where a single win regardless of opponent is now being hailed as a phenomenal coaching achievement.
To his credit, Corbin has adjusted Utah’s offense from the predominant low-post (Al-fense) centered around Al Jefferson to more of a versatile screen-roll system (which also magnifies the lack of diversity in last year’s strategy and foresight). He’s doing a better job utilizing timeouts to stop the flow and break offensive/defensive lulls and is being a little more creative with is lineups and rotations. Last night I thought he was smart to leave Jeremy Evans in until about the 4-min mark of the 4th-Qtr which gave Utah a nice lift on the boards.
If you thought Ty was a good coach from the beginning then you’re probably overjoyed (or stumbling around blindly – just kidding but not really) after the past couple games. If you thought he’s been a poor coach for much of his first 2 1/2 seasons then the start to this season probably has cemented that belief. If you were on the fence, it’s unlikely a 2-game win streak or the recent 4-game slide set amidst the backdrop of a 6-19 season is enough to sway you either way. As of today, Ty Corbin is still a lame duck coach without a contract extending past this season – and I think that fact speaks loudest of all.
With the 18-4 San Antonio Spurs coming to town, the Jazz have a great opportunity to show they can repeat their recent hot-streak against a high-caliber opponent. With San Antonio playing on the second night of a back-to-back (after Duncan played 36 and Parker 35 minutes), the Jazz have a good chance to jump on the Spurs early – similar to their last meeting where strong performances by Favors and Burks allowed them to play from ahead much of the night before a 4th-Qtr meltdown gave San Antonio a 91-82 victory.
This time around, the Jazz have Trey Burke back playing terrific basketball in getting his teammates quality looks, they have Gordon Hayward (who probably had the best game of his career last night and I should have mentioned more), Alec Burks and Derrick Favors all rolling to go along with the hot-shooting of veteran journeyman Jefferson and Williams.
Pop is still the best – and it will be interesting to see how he defends Burke in the pick&roll tonight, how he attacks Marvin at PF, and if he tries to go big with Duncan&Splitter. The Jazz are still only 6-19, but their recent play provides not only more hope for the future but also plenty of intrigue in a game that on paper looks like a mismatch.