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Archive for the ‘2013-14 Jazz Season’ Category

Jazz at Heat 12-16-13Final Score: Heat 117, Jazz 94

Run It Back (Jazz Superlatives)

Player of the Game: Alec Burks scored a career-high 31 points on 12-17 shooting from the field, 5-8 from the foul line and 2-4 from behind the arc. He also added 7 assists, 4 steals and just 2 turnovers.

If it wasn’t for #6 in the red jersey, Burks’ level of play offensively would have easily made him the best player on the court. What made his performance so impressive was his efficiency combined with the fact he had to do it on his own rather than benefit from utilizing a system that placed him in advantageous situations.

Of Burks’ 12 field goals – the over-whelming majority came from open-court or 1-on-1 opportunities:
1. Burks intercepts a Mario Chalmers pass and takes it the other way for a layup.
2. Burks drives around Battier, spins by LeBron and hits a floater over the out-stretched arm of Bosh.
3. Burks drive and step-back 20-footer over Ray Allen to close out 1st-qtr.
4. Burks pokes ball away from Norris Cole from behind resulting in 2-on-1 Jazz fastbreak that Burks capped with a hanging layup against Bosh.
5. Baseline drive from right-corner past Wade and by LeBron for soaring reverse layup.
6. Baseline drive past Wade from left wing for hanging reverse-layup.
7. Loose-ball from an errant Garrett pass is tracked down by Marvin who kicks to Burks in corner for open three.
8. Baseline drive past Allen from right corner and hanging layup against Rashard Lewis and Birdman.
9. Steal and emphatic fastbreak dunk against a late Birdman contest.
10. 1-on-1 drive against Chris Bosh originating from top-of-the-key for another smooth extending left-handed layup.

Only two of Burks’ field goals were products of well-executed half-court sets:
1. A Burke/Favors high screen-roll results in a kickout to Burks where he took advantage of a reckless Chalmers close-0ut to drive down the lane and finish with the left-hand over Bosh.
2. Burke/Kanter high screen-roll results in swing pass to Burks on weakside for three.

This discrepancy is largely due to what has become Utah’s offensive identity – which is basically a series of multiple screen-rolls and dribble-handoffs originating from outside the three-point line. That style had success against Sacramento and Denver but played right into Miami’s hands defensively – where the Heat’s ball-hawking speed and athleticism feasted on Utah’s perimeter players in screen-roll with their aggressive traps resulting in turnovers and stalled possessions more often than not. Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke struggled the most at making quick and deft passes before Miami’s length and aggressiveness could sink their teeth into them.

Given the scenario – the Jazz desperately needed Burks to do what he does best which is attack with the basketball and he did so at an all-star caliber level.

_________________________________________

Best Play: 5:51 4th-Qtr – From the top-of-the-key, Alec Burks beats LeBron down the lane where he draws the help-defense of Chris Bosh and dishes to Favors, who absorbs contact with Rashard Lewis with his left-shoulder while converting the layup for a 3-point play opportunity. Considering the opponent and degree-of-difficulty by both Burks and Favors – to me that may have been the most impressive play of the entire Jazz season.

Best Shot: 10:59 2nd-Qtr – In a pick&roll with Burks, Enes Kanter caught a pass at the elbow, put the ball on the floor then pulled up for a 10-foot jumper on his first shot of the night. After clearly struggling since being replaced in the starting lineup, Kanter hit his first shot and was a force in his limited time (17 minutes) scoring 14 points and pulling down 8 rebounds. In 8 minutes in the 2nd-qtr, he had 10 points and 7 rebounds as the Jazz out-scored the Heat 22-10 in that stretch.

Best Pass: 8:51 2nd-Qtr – In one of Utah’s best screen-rolls of the night, Miami trapped a Burks/Evans high pick&roll with Wade and Lewis, but Burks made a crafty side-arm pass to Evans slipping to the basket for a 5-footer.

Of Burks’ 7 assists, 3 came in the first 3-minutes of the 2nd-Qtr where Miami showed out hard on him and he hit the screener going towards the basket. Over the course of the game Miami tightened their defense to take away those automatic would-be assists until late, where Burks picked up his final 2 assists on screen-roll with less than 5 minutes remaining in the 4th-qtr.

Best Block: 10:08 3rd-Qtr – In transition, Derrick Favors did a terrific job against LeBron by what you call “corralling the dribbler” – where you build a corral or barrier while retreating on defense that limits where LeBron can drive . LeBron still tried to split Marvin and Favors and his layup attempt was stuffed by Favors.

Best Execution: 7:04 3rd-Qtr – The Jazz finally executed a high-low. With Rush trying to enter the ball to Favors who was being fronted by Bosh on the left-block, Marvin Williams flashed to the top-of-the-key where he had the angle to throw a lob pass to Favors at the rim. Favors caught the pass and finished with a dunk while also picking up a touch foul against Bosh.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I could probably count on one hand how many times the Jazz have executed a high-low in the past season-and-a-half (with most of them coming between Favors&Kanter). Long overdue but good to see.

Quote of the Night: “This is Alec Burks, he’s in the game along with Trey Burke. Could get a little confusing.”
-Heat play-by-play announcer Eric Reid, who has no idea how confusing it’s been for the Jazz’s own TV crew.

Odds and Ends

  • Alec Burks’ 31 points tied John Drew (1983), Thurl Bailey (1987), and Matt Harpring (2007) for the 18th-highest scoring game off-the-bench in franchise history.
  • American Airlines Arena in Miami was also the location of Paul Millsap’s (46 points) and Andrei Kirilenko’s (31 points) career-high scoring performance.
  • Burks joins Gordon Hayward as only two players on the team to have a 30-point game as a Jazz player.
  • Derrick Favors shot 8-12 (67%) to raise his FG% to 53% for the season. The Jazz have not had a starter shoot 53% or better since Paul Millsap in 2010-11.
  • After shooting 13-23 from three in Sacramento and 6-7 from deep in the 1st-Qtr in Denver – the Jazz have shot just 13-52 (25%) from behind the arc in their last 11 quarters. They’re better than that so this is likely a momentary rough patch – but it was also highly unlikely they were going to continue shooting in the mid-40’s.
  • Also, if you’re logged onto twitter and you want some chuckles go do a twitter search for “Harpring” and “LeBron”

The Final Word

With 10-minutes to play in the 4th-quarter, the Jazz were within 7 points of the Miami Heat. At that point, Dwayne Wade had started to overwhelm the Jazz in the post and the rest of the Heat kicked into high-gear and went on a 32-9 spurt to close the game.

For the past two seasons, the Jazz organization constantly told their fans that the “Core-4” wasn’t ready and that in order to develop they needed time to learn by watching and playing behind “veterans” such as Randy Foye, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Now in 2013-14, the struggling Jazz routinely experience 2nd-half meltdowns with the reasoning being that they simply are too inexperienced to do better – which shouldn’t be the case with all of that valuable time they had to learn by watching from the bench.

I don’t fault Utah for losing badly to a defending champion Heat squad clearly on a different level than the Jazz, but the fact that “inexperience” is still being used as reasoning behind much of Utah’s 6-21 start shows the idea that young players must learn from watching veterans for 3 seasons before being fully thrown into the fire was silly then and silly now. The Jazz are young and lack experience in their most-talented players and have benefited little from their watch&learn approach with 2nd and 3rd-year players.

Last night was the type of game that serves as real developmental experience. After the second-unit (led by Alec Burks and Enes Kanter) put the Jazz in prime position with an 8-point 2nd-quarter lead, the Miami Heat began playing defense at their relentless championship-caliber level igniting a series of fastbreak dunks to seemingly regain control. The Jazz countered with a Burke-to-Favors transition layup (where Favors was likely fouled on the play as well) and a gorgeous Burks lefty-layup against a challenging Bosh to help rebuild a 50-45 halftime lead.

Utah’s young players can learn more from those moments competing against the Heat at their absolute best than they can by sitting and watching from the bench as mediocre veterans struggle on the court or from any blowout victory over a short-handed Sacramento team.

Players like Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward can learn how to attack and protect the ball against an aggressive pick&roll defense. Derrick Favors can continue to gain confidence learning how to find the vulnerable spots in Miami’s incredibly quick help-defense. Alec Burks and Enes Kanter can reinforce their confidence by knowing they have the physical tools and skills to score at the highest of levels.

It’s not evident in the final score, but this was a game the future of the team needs to experience first-hand if they hope to one day compete consistently at or near the level the Heat are at. It’s only a shame it took this long for many of them to receive opportunities like that.

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Corbin and GreenFinal Score: Spurs 100, Jazz 84

Following Utah’s 100-84 home loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Jazz head coach Ty Corbin channeled his inner-Dennis Green when asked about the Spurs saying “Well, they are the team that we thought they were.”

Say what you want about both men’s coaching abilities, but neither Corbin nor former NFL head coach Dennis Green are shy about boasting on the accuracy of their pregame scouting assessments.

Unfortunately no Utah reporters followed up by asking Coach Corbin why you play the game or if he thought the playoffs were in reach for the 6-20 Jazz.

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Jazz at Nuggets 12-13-2013Final 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).

Jazz at Nuggets Screen-Roll Defense Comparison

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

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Jazz at Kings 12-11-13Final Score: Jazz 122, Kings 101

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky and very good. For all of their struggles this season, everything came together last night as the Jazz enjoyed their biggest victory margin of the season.

Offensively Utah simply couldn’t miss shooting 54% from the field and 13-23 behind the arc to go along with 35 assists. Everyone played well, everyone passed well – and everything they tried or even thought about offensively worked.

Defensively, the return of Derrick Favors (17 pts, 7 rebs, 3 blk) set the tone. Beyond the blocks, Favors made the biggest difference playing solid fundamental low-post defense on DeMarcus Cousins where he maintained position between Cousins and the basket – forcing the Kings’ center to shoot over or through his 6-11 frame. With Favors on the floor, Cousins shot 6-13 and committed 3 turnovers. As a team defensively – Utah continued to play the pick&roll with Favors anchoring the paint similar to how they altered their approach with Kanter – dropping the big back into the lane and going over the way an Indiana or Portland consistently does.

And with all of this coming against a short-handed Sacramento team with an active roster containing considerably less talent than the now-fully healthy (and suddenly fairly deep) Jazz – the game was a total mismatch.

Forgive me for getting too technical and complex, but the offensive explosion was a consequence of three things:
1. The Jazz Were Really Good
2. The Jazz Were Ridiculously Good
3. The Kings Were Really Bad

1. The Jazz Were Really Good

9:13 3rd-Qtr – The Kings run a Isaiah Thomas/DeMarcus Cousins high screen-roll against Trey Burke and Derrick Favors. As the Jazz have finally/mercifully adjusted to – Burke goes over and Favors drops back to cut-off the lane. Thomas dribbles to the FT-line area where he pulls up to shoot and Favors leaps out at him to contest. Caught in the air, Thomas then tries an ill-advised pass cross-court to no one. Off the deflection, Trey Burke leads a 2-on-2 break where he navigates by Thomas, draws McLemore in the air and dishes a behind-the-back feed to Hayward for a two-hand dunk. Great defense leading to fastbreak opportunites capped with a phenomenal pass. That’s really good basketball.

2. The Jazz Were Ridiculously Good

By “Ridiculously Good” – I mean so good in a ridiculous way that most assuredly is not sustainable.

2:55 3rd-Qtr – Richard Jefferson handles the ball for 10-seconds where he starts on the right wing 24-feet from the basket, takes 6 dribbles as he ends up driving toward the rim the left-elbow where he banks in a running 15-footer from the angle-left against Ben McLemore. A great shot – on a night where Jefferson actually made two contested runners – but not one you should count on or expect to go in consistently. RJ shot 4-4 on 8-24 foot two-point field goals – an area where he’s shot 35.7% for the season. As a team, the Jazz shot 14-28 last night on 8-24 foot two-pointers where they have shot 35.5% from that range on the season.

It was a great performance by Jefferson – 20 points, 7-9 FG’s, 3-4 FT’s, 3-4 3pt’s, 3 assists and no turnovers including making jumpers with a hand in his face, contested runners and a contested fade-away on the right block. Duplicate that 60-70 times and you’re talking a franchise-caliber player. Now of course it’s completely unsustainable (and if you think otherwise then you should significantly raise your expectations of RJ and this Jazz team) but it added to a furious offensive onslaught that likely still would have overwhelmed the Kings on their A-game. Speaking of which…

The Kings Were Really Bad

The Kings did have a depleted rotation, but Cousins was back to his typical whiny/inefficient/bad body language mess, and Jason Thompson often appeared like he was trying to out-do DMC with his own bad body language and awful defense. A lot of last night was all Utah – but is was one of those nights where the Kings probably couldn’t have even shaved without cutting themselves.

6:28 4th-Qtr – The Kings force Utah’s side pick&roll with Trey Burke and Jeremy Evans baseline, where Burke gets caught passing out through traffic while airborn behind the backboard. His pass is first deflected by Cousins, then again by Thornton – where Burks comes down with it. The tipped ball drew the Kings’ attention so once Burks came down with it – he kicked it to Brandon Rush (who by the way liked the old 3D version of Rush – shooting 3-4 from behind the arc and 2-2 on corner threes) who drained a right-corner three. On this play, more often than not the result will be a run-out for the opponent off a turnover rather than a tip-drill turned three.

Of course you can also point at the Kings’ newly acquired absences but not only have nearly all of Utah’s wins come against a team that was missing a key player – a large majority of Utah’s ugly losses came when they were also missing a starter. Injuries are part of the game and you play with who you have and hope that’s enough to give yourself a chance to win. The Jazz beat their opponent handedly – and that’s all that they could control.

Odds and Ends

  • The Jazz recorded their highest point (122) and 3pt-FG (13) totals since 12/7/12 against Toronto (131 pts & 13 3pt-FGs); the Jazz made 14 3pt-FG’s at Toronto 11/12/12 although that came in a 3OT game; the last time Utah made over 13 threes in a regulation game was at Washington on 1/17/11 where they shot 14-27 from behind the arc.
  • Utah’s 35 assists were the most since they had 37 in the 2010-11 season-finale against Denver (that included a 34-point performance by rookie Gordon Hayward that still marks his career-high)
  • How rare are 35-assist games? In the Ty Corbin era extremely rare with only two – both of which came in the latter part of his initial 2010-11 season. Under Jerry Sloan they were more common – with six games of 35 assists or more in 2009-10, two in 2008-09 and six more in 2007-08.
  • In Derrick Favors’ last 15 games he has shot 56.6% from the floor raising his average to 51.8% on the season. In his last 11 games he has shot 77.8% from the foul line – upping his season average to 66.3%.
  • In Alec Burks’ last 8 games, he is averaging 16.6 pts, 3.6 reb, 2.8 ast, 1.6 to’s on 52% FG’s, 82% FT’s and 69% 3pt in just 29 minutes per game. Per-36 that equates to 21-points per game.

The Final Word

At 4-19 and just entering the meat of their schedule, this was precisely the type of win the Jazz needed to re-energize and rebuild their confidence. You could see in the postgame interviews the relief and enjoyment the players felt following a rare victory. While their sheer production and efficiency is unlikely to be reached on a consistent bases (if ever again this season), the game did contain several positives that continue to build on recent trends.

Favors again played very efficiently on offense to compliment his interior defense that now allows him to anchor the paint rather than chase players out on the perimeter. Alec Burks is shooting extremely well (“red hot” as Boler says every game) and scoring at a terrific rate as he’s now seeing a more consistent role off the bench. Trey Burke continues to play point guard beyond his years making nearly all the right reads in the pick&roll and in transition situations. Enes Kanter (who unfortunately is back in the “playing time = 48 – Favors’ PT” situation) has regained confidence in his ability to score the ball both in the post and on the mid-range pick&pop. Marvin Williams has extended his career year shooting the basketball from the perimeter. Brandon Rush is looking healthier to the point he might now be a must-play because of his shooting ability.

It’s far too early to hang your hat on the Jazz’s 4-1 record with Marvin Williams in the starting lineup (especially when you consider Utah’s opponents) but it’s definitely clear the Jazz are now a lot closer to resembling a competitive NBA team with Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors, Marvin and Kanter all playing well in spurts. Against the Kings they (along with the rest of the team) all played well in unison. Last night was a time to enjoy the Jazz’s success – and in the next 7 games before Christmas we’ll learn how much of that was sustainable.

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Trailblazers at Jazz 12-9-302Final Score: Trailblazers 105, Jazz 94

The Jazz did so many things well last night – much of the focus belongs on them:

  • Utah’s pick&roll defense was impressive – at times looking as good as it has all season.
  • Alec Burks played perhaps the best 24-minutes of his NBA career.
  • Trey Burke did an impressive job taking what the defense gave him on the pick&roll.
  • Enes Kanter showcased his offensive arsenal – scoring on the pick&roll, pick&pop as well as on 1-on-1 face-up drives against Robin Lopez.

Ty Corbin even made some smart moves, such as with 3:03 remaining in the 2nd-Qtr. After two three-point plays where Wes Matthews over-powered Burks inside, Corbin wisely switched Hayward onto Matthews and put Burks on Batum – who doesn’t enjoy the same strength advantage over Burks.

Alas by game’s end Ty couldn’t seem to get out of his own way and at the conclusion the discussion once again settled around his decision-making – notably playing the struggling Andris Biedrins and Mike Harris ahead of 7-2 shotblocking rookie Rudy Gobert and then sitting Alec Burks for the final 8 minutes of the 4th-quarter. The more things change…

Utah’s Screen-Roll Defense

With Kanter starting at center, the Jazz went over the screen while keeping Kanter back in the lane to defend the pick&roll. This minimized the number of times Portland could take advantage of Kanter’s footspeed while also keeping their 6-11 center in position to clog the lane.

Jazz Screen-Roll Defense vs Trailblazers 12-6-2013

The results were impressive. Portland entered the game averaging 23.1 three-point attempts and 18.9 two-point attempts between 16-24 feet. Last night, the Blazers attempted 19 three-pointers and 27 two-point field goals between 16-24 feet.

With less than 90 seconds remaining, the Jazz held the NBA’s #1 offense that averaged 106.2 points per game to just 97 points, before a Batum 25-foot heave resulted in a mini 8-2 spurt to close.

Here are examples of Utah’s success and failure defending Portland’s pick&roll. When watching, focus you attention primarily on the Jazz player guarding the screener (Kanter/Evans/Harris).

The only consistent success Portland saw against Utah’s sinking bigs were on LaMarcus Aldridge pick&pops, where Utah gave up open 20-footers that Evans and Kanter were out of position to contest due to the depth of their positioning. (Even on Batum’s layup – Kanter had Lillard cut-off and no place to go but RJ was caught ball-watching on the backdoor layup) Conversely, Portland’s most significant pick&roll success came when Utah’s bigs did show out hard – often when Evans was matched up against Aldridge. The difference between the two styles of coverage was giving up 20-foot jump shots and giving up layups.

To illustrate why having your bigs show out hard is ultimately flawed – understand Jeremy Evans is one of the better run&jump athletes in all of the NBA and even he could not effectively show out on a guard 22-feet from the basket and then recover in time to prevent Aldridge from rolling down the lane. Some encouraging progress has been made in Utah’s screen-roll defensive strategy, and hopefully more is on the way.

Alec Burks

In 24 minutes of play, Alec Burks scored 20 points on 8-11 shooting and 4-4 from the FT line, continuing his recent stretch of outstanding play. In the last 6 games, Burks is averaging 16.0 pts, 3.8 rebs, 3.3 ast, and just 1.7 turnovers on 47% FG shooting, 83% FT’s and 45% 3pt. He also has a +/- of -8 in those games – impressive considering the Jazz as a team are -49 in those games.

His pull-up game was there as was his drive game where he was able to convert his hang-and-contort finishes that have become his trademark. In the 4th-Qtr, Burks sat on the bench from the 8:44-mark until just 0:22 remained. While this seemed odd and illogical, to me it wasn’t any more bizarre than opening night when Burks was inexplicably subbed out after having a hand in every Utah point in a 20-8 Jazz run that forced OKC to call for time.

When Derrick Favors scored 23 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in three quarters and then never saw the floor again in a loss last March in Milwaukee – it seemed strange and frustrated me to no end. Tonight, the substitution patterns almost felt normal in a strange, sad way. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Burks playing so well – regardless of how many minutes he gets.

Trey Burke

Following last week’s loss to Indiana, Trey said afterward he was surprised by the Pacers’ pick&roll defense – which to me spoke volumes about Utah’s coaching staff. Last night – against a team that defends high screen-roll utilizing similar coverage – Burke looked prepared and terrific.

9:20 1st-Qtr – Burke drove right and got great depth in the lane before lofting a little 8-10 foot floater over the big (dropping back into the lane).
6:29 1st-Qtr – Burke comes off the pick showing a pull-up mid-range jumper but at the last instant dished to Kanter rolling down the lane for the layup. Forcing Portland to play him for the shot resulted in Portland’s big lunging out at the last second to contest – opening up the lane for Kanter.
4:46 1st-Qtr – Pull-up 18-footer with the big dropping off.
0:14 2nd-Qtr – Another floater with the guard trailing and the big sinking back.
9:22 3rd-Qtr – Side pick&roll with Jefferson where Batum dropped back (as the big normally would) but Burke was able to get around him and into the lane where he collapsed the defense and kicked-out to Kanter for an open jumper.
3:52 4th-Qtr – Pull-up 18-footer with Lillard contesting from behind.

Against the Pacers 4 of Burke’s 5 baskets came in transition. Last night 4 of Burke’s 5 baskets came via the pick&roll. The transition baskets will be there for Burke when the Jazz can/try to run, but seeing him read and react to NBA pick&roll defenses as a young player has been impressive. He saw a lot of different pick&roll defenses in college, but adjusting to NBA defenses is a big step, yet one he’s making quite well.

Enes Kanter

After appearing to lose all confidence in his abilities when he was benched for 4 games, Kanter had one of his more impressive offensive performances of the season.
8:44 1st-Qtr – Shot-fake from right-elbow and hard drive past Lopez for a dunk.
6:25 1st-Qtr – Pick&roll layup from Burke
4:10 1st-Qtr – Right-elbow jumper off side screen-roll (forced baseline) with RJ.
4:57 2nd-Qtr – Faced-up Lopez on right-baseline and drove to the basket for a pump-fake layup.
3:53 2nd-Qtr – Facing up Lopez from 20-feet, Kanter put the ball on the deck twice before hitting an impressive fadeaway in the lane.
9:19  3rd-Qtr – Catch&shoot 20-footer from Burke.
7:07  3rd-Qtr – Jab-step face-up jumper from 20-feet over Lopez.
6:07 3rd-Qtr – Tip-in.
8:17 4th-Qtr – Hard drive on Freeland down the lane where he used a pump-fake to draw contact and finish for a 3-point play.

Yes Kanter still needs to rebound much better and yes it would be nice if he could get to the line more – but he played some of his best team defense of the season (being utilized in a scheme that better suits his abilities) and is showing the offensive repertoire he did in the preseason. Considering where he was 10 days ago, 20&10 against the Pacers and now 19 points versus Portland is definitely more cause for optimism.

Odds and Ends

  • With Favors missing the past two games, the only Jazz players to play in all 23 games are Burks, Hayward and Jefferson.
  • Quote of the Night: “Thin front line tonight – with Favors being out of the lineup, Kanter’s really gotta step up. We’ll see some Gobert tonight too.” -Matt Harpring, pregame.

The Final Word

Without Derrick Favors the Jazz gave good effort and were able to stay within striking distance of Portland for much of the game. There’s no shame in a hard-fought loss to the Western Conference’s best team when you’re down 2-rotation players – and the Jazz showed did a lot of things well.

With that said, missing Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams shouldn’t result in overrating the ability of Andris Biedrins to positively affect a game. It shouldn’t result in their best and most consistent scorer sitting for most of the 4th-Qtr. This is the problem the Jazz face after keeping Ty Corbin for arguably one season too long. Even when he makes some positive adjustments and even when his team gives a solid effort while shorthanded, the postgame discussion still reverts back to his questionable decisions and substitutions (partially because he still makes questionable decisions and substitutions, and partially because with his track record he seldom receives the benefit of the doubt).

Considering Corbin has been questioned by former players and national media experts – I’m not sure any critical tweets from various sources last night should come as a surprise – but at the same time losing breeds dissatisfaction and the Jazz are doing more losing than anyone in the league. At some point, the little things you do right don’t matter if you can’t ever seem to get the big ones correct. After two and a half seasons and now over one-fourth into the current season, that time could quickly be approaching for many with vested interests in the Jazz.

It may not seem entirely fair to Ty Corbin, but he is 199 games into his head coaching career. By comparison look at the man on Portland’s bench. Terry Stotts – a front-runner for coach of the year – coached just 137 games with the Hawks and 146 as head coach of the Bucks (where he made the playoffs in his first season) before being let go/fired. Professional coaches are ultimately judged by results, and when you fail to produce enough of them you open yourself up to criticism – no matter how many little things you may have done right.

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Kings at Jazz Dec-7-2013

Final Score: Kings 112, Jazz 102 (Overtime)
The Jazz saw this one slip through their grasp, relinquishing a 7-point lead with 2:44 left in the 4th-qtr, a 5-point lead with 1:51 left and a 3-point lead with 11.9 remaining. In overtime they grabbed a 102-101 lead on a Trey Burke three before the Kings outscored them 11-0 in the final 3:17 to fall to 4-18 on the season.

Despite playing without Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams, the Jazz (although playing very sloppy and carelessly at times) played hard and gave an admirable effort. After perplexingly receiving just 16:21 of playing time on Friday night, Trey Burke led all players in playing time with 44:08. Gordon Hayward played 43:37 and Alec Burks played a career-high 37:17.

In their extended minutes, all three produced.
-Trey Burke: 19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.
-Gordon Hayward: 22 points (2-9 1st-half and 4-8 2nd-half)
-Alec Burks: 19 points on 6-12 shooting and 6-7 FT’s.

Sacramento’s Game-Tying Three

Score: Jazz 95-94.
Situation: With 11.9 seconds left, Trey Burke goes to the free throw line with a 1-point lead. He calmly hits both to extend Utah’s lead to 3-points at 97-94. The Kings – with no timeouts left – must push the ball 94-feet.

1. In transition the Kings run a double-drag screen for Isiah Thomas, with #15 Demarcus Cousins (guarded by Kanter) and #9 Patrick Patterson (guarded by Jefferson) the screeners. Patterson screens then quickly slips to the corner to set a down-screen for Ben McLemore camped in the deep right corner.

Kings at Jazz - Game-Tying 3pt - 12-7-2013 #1

2. The Burke and Jefferson both get hung up briefly on the double drag-screen, resulting in Kanter sliding over to meet Isiah Thomas at the top-of-the-circle. As a result, the Jazz end up committing 3-defenders to the Thomas/Cousins duo as Patterson is left free, where he runs down to set a sorta screen for McLemore who rolls up on the weakside along the 3pt-line.

3. Patterson has legitimate 3pt-range so Burks switches onto him rather than leave a career 34% 3pt-shooter open in the corner. As a result, McLemore is left free on the right wing.

Kings at Jazz - Game-Tying 3pt - 12-7-2013 #2

4. Rather than settle into an open area to stretch the defense, McLemore (a rookie) circles all the way up to the top nearly on top of all the action and where 3 Jazz defenders are. Nevertheless, Thomas pulls up and finds him, giving Jefferson a choice between closing out on 1-Cousins (a 15.5% career 3pt-shooter) or 2-McLemore.

5. RJ closes out on Cousins – leaving McElmore open. Enes Kanter can’t cover 20-feet instantaneously to challenge the shot in time and McElmore ties the game.

Kings at Jazz - Game-Tying 3pt - 12-7-2013 #3

6. Ty Corbin and Sidney Lowe both put their arms up in disbelief and bewilderment.

The Final Word

A game the Jazz should have won but didn’t, or a game the Jazz lost because they were short-handed. Whatever your view point, the Jazz did show effort and resiliency as they rallied in the 4th-quarter from down 9 with 7:28 left to up 7 with 2:59 remaining. The couldn’t close out the 4th or overtime, but that’s something we’ve become used to with the interesting ensemble of players and coaches assembled over the past few years.

Last night Burke, Burks, Hayward and Evans all received substantial playing time and all were able to contribute. Although the play was borderline unwatchable at times, ultimately the Jazz also were able to experience 53-minutes of a competitive basketball game which is also a plus. Hayward and Burke got to experience a final-second, win-or-go-to-overtime scenario which is a good pressure-packed moment for young NBA players to taste. The breakdowns on Sacramento’s game-tying three late in regulation also provide a great teaching moment  – for players and coaches alike.

A close overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings at home may not seem like much, but after Friday night’s massacre in Portland it was a relatively positive bounce-back. Furthermore, with home dates involving Portland and San Antonio sandwiched around road games in Denver and Sacramento – that precede their 5-game pre-Christmas road trip, this may be as good as it gets for awhile.

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Final Score: Trailblazers 130, Jazz 98

My game reviews can often get too wordy and long-winded so I’ll keep it simple today. The Blazers made 10 three-pointers in the 1st-half (on 13 attempts). As you can see, the majority were uncontested.

Jazz at Trailblazers 12-7-2013 #3

But things did get better™. In the 2nd-half, Portland “only” made 7 threes on 10 attempts – although two of them were by a rookie named Allen Crabbe who had never before even attempted a 3-pointer in an NBA game.

Jazz at Trailblazers 12-7-2013 #4

Portland began the 1st-quarter taking advantage of Utah’s poor individual defense – with Damian Lillard’s first three coming after Trey Burke was in good position after fighting over a screen but then completely lost contact on Damien’s step-back. Portland hit two more 1st-qtr threes on Robin Lopez offensive-rebounds (over Kanter) and kickouts – as Utah’s team-defense began to crumble.

Portland did a great job cross-screening and back-screening to get Wes Matthews the ball on the block, LaMarcus Aldridge got it going in the post (often in a mismatch against Jeremy Evans), Portland pushed the ball for layups and transition threes off every Jazz mistake and Utah’s scramble screen-roll defense left Portland’s bigs uncovered on the glass to the tune of 17 offensive rebounds – an incredible total considering they shot so well (45.9 OReb%).

Why Trey Burke Got Benched

The Jazz trailed by 11 at halftime and then opened the 3rd-Qtr by being outscored 10-0 in the first 2:12. Following the timeout, Ty Corbin removed Trey Burke and Enes Kanter from the game. Burke would not play again.

What did Burke do wrong in the 3rd-Qtr?
1. Aldridge post-up on left-block. Batum beats Jefferson on baseline-cut (like Jazz used to run with Malone/Boozer) for layup on hand-off.
2. Left-block post-up for Favors who gets stripped by Aldridge.
3. Burke and Hayward both retreat in transition as Lillard pushes the ball on them and then kicks it to Matthews on the wing for an open three that Hayward couldn’t close out on in time
4. Hayward/Favors side pick&roll creates little so Hayward feeds Favors on left-block against Aldridge where he misses a left-shoulder jump hook.
5. In transition Favors ties up Matthews to force a jump-ball which the Jazz control.
6. Kanter misses 10-foot jumpshot off side screen-roll with Hayward.
7. Portland runs an unconventional Lillard/Batum pick&pop where Batum pops off a little flare-screen from Aldridge. Jefferson shows out and then gets caught on the screen and Batum hits the open three from the top-of-the-key.
8. Jazz run UCLA set with Burke running through half-speed before popping out on the weakside and feeding Kanter on the left-block against Lopez. Kanter crab-dribbles before kicking it out to Burke who misses a catch&shoot three with the shotclock under 5.
9. Lopez posts-up Kanter and hits a left-hand jump hook over him.

Corbin calls timeout and Burke is never seen again. Only thing I could pick at Burke on is the half-speed possession he ran but considering the collective speed at which the Jazz were playing at in their half-court sets, I’m not sure that alone is enough to single him out above everyone else.

So why did Trey Burke get singled out and bench? I still don’t know, but at least he’ll be fresh for tonight.

Jazz Pick&Roll Defense – Freeze-Frame

1. Portland runs a Earl Watson/Myers Leonard high screen-roll against John Lucas/Rudy Gobert. Obviously, Rudy Gobert is a 7-2 shotblocking center whom the Jazz announcers still rave about his “length” every game.

Jazz Screen-Roll Defense vs Trailblazers 12-6-13 #1

2. Because the Jazz ask their bigs to show-out on high screen-roll, Gobert steps out on Earl Watson 23-feet from the basket even though he theoretically should be Utah’s rim-protector and even though Earl Watson is not an offensive threat to score off-the-dribble or pulling up from three.

Jazz Screen-Roll Defense vs Trailblazers 12-6-13 #2

3. As a result, Earl Watson is allowed to play to his offensive strength which is pass – and he finds Myers Leonard at the top of the circle. Since Gobert was asked to show out, this creates a 4-on-3 advantage for Portland on a 50′ x 20′ court.

Jazz Screen-Roll Defense vs Trailblazers 12-6-13 #3

4. Myers finds the free man – 6-10 Thomas Robinson – cutting to the rim and he is fouled by 6-7 Brandon Rush trying to fly in from the backside for a 2-shot foul. As Robinson is fouled at the rim, Rudy Gobert (who in case I didn’t mention is a 7-2 shotblocker) is still above the foul line still trying to get back into the play. Ingenious.

(And this is not Rudy’s fault. It is entirely what his being asked of him on defense).

Odds and Ends

  • The 42-point margin Portland opened up in the 4th-quarter was the largest deficit the Jazz have faced all season (surpassing their 38-point deficit in Toronto).
  • The Jazz have played in 9 different games where they have faced deficits of 26, 25, 29, 38, 20, 28, 28, 37 and now 41 points, respectively. Hopefully they are so used to it by now that down the road they will learn never to panic when they get behind (or something like that, I’m sure there could be a positive in there somewhere).
  • Last night also illustrates the difference between offensive rebound totals and offensive rebound rate. Utah finished with 18 offensive rebs compared to Portland’s 17. However when you factor in the Jazz missed 54 shots while the Blazers only missed 37, the Jazz ended up rebounding 33% of their misses (a very good number) while the Trailblazers rebounded 45.9% of their missed shots (a ridiculously high number).

The Final Word

The players need to play better, and the coaches need to coach better. Last night there were major breakdowns in both areas. You could say last night was a case where the players didn’t hold up their end of the bargain – but if 8-10 guys don’t come ready to play, is that solely on those 8-10 individuals and not the coaches who are paid to oversee them?

Like I said several of Portland’s early baskets came from breakdowns that were on the Jazz players’ themselves, but that wasn’t a 32-point margin worth of poor play. Portland has a system (like Indiana their screen-roll defense is orchestrated to bait you into taking mid-range 2-pointers which Utah did) that suits their roster well. I don’t know what Utah’s system or identity currently is (other than trying to defend the pick&roll by having your big guys chase guys around 23-feet from the basket).

The good news is since Corbin waived the flag and sent in his garbage time lineup so early (late 3rd/early 4th), the Jazz should have more than enough energy tonight against a Kings team that lost a tough one in L.A. Playing at home with plenty of motivation to put last night past them, I expect a Jazz win tonight against a Kings team that certainly has the ability to out-dysfunction the Jazz.

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