Archive for the ‘2013-14 Jazz Season’ Category

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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Pacers at Jazz 12-4-2013

Final Score: Pacers 95, Jazz 86

Run It Back

Player(s) of the Game: Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Seeing essentially their first action together since the 1st-half in Dallas six games ago, Favors and Kanter  showed they can definitely play effectively together. The two combined for 42 points and 23 rebounds on 17-36 shooting and 8-8 from the foul line. In 30 1/2 minutes playing together, the Jazz were +4 over the Pacers. Of course that means in the other 17 1/2 they were -13.

Favors played Hibbert strong and it felt good to see Kanter enjoy success. After battling confidence issues since his demotion, he was back to playing rather than over-thinking. Still has a few little things to clean up, but a major step in the right direction.

Run of the Game: Utah opened the 4th-Qtr with Kanter posting and scoring over Ian Mahinmi to give the Jazz a 69-68 lead. Over the final 11 minutes, the Pacers out-scored the Jazz 27-17 with half-court precision and a stifling defense that led to transition opportunities.

Best Move: 2:51 1st-Qtr – With Roy Hibbert on the ground battling Favors for rebound position, Trey Burke wisely pushed the ball in the open court, using a beautiful hesitation and cross-over to blow past George Hill and finish with a layup with no shot-blocker in the paint. That play sums up the lift Burke gives the Jazz – a point guard who can control the pace but also understands when to attack – and has the ability to be a playmaker in the open-court.

See A Different Game

Trey Burke had another impressive performance with 13 points and a game-high 9 assists (he should’ve had a minimum of 11 with a couple of point-blank looks missed by Favors and Kanter) and just 1 turnover. Burke shot 5-12 from the field and 2-2 from behind the arc.

The interesting thing is that of 4 Burke’s 5 field goals came in transition – 3 layups and a right-wing pull-up three. Burke’s lone half-court basket was a catch&shoot three off a Richard Jefferson penetration&kickout.

The Pacers did a fantastic job taking away the threes and layup attempts Burke was getting via pick&roll the past three games. In high screen-roll last night, Burke shot 0-5 from the floor to go along with 1 turnover and 3 assists. A couple of Burke’s misses were open shots you feel comfortable with him taking while the rest were the types of contested/semi-rushed pull-up jumpers that the Indiana Pacers typically force.

Pacers at Jazz 12-4-2013 Screen-Roll Defense

As you can see, on high screen-roll the Pacers (#3 George Hill) goes over the screen which chases the ball-handler off the 3pt-line. Roy Hibbert (#55) always drops back off the screener into the lane, where he is put into position to address his responsibility of defending the paint. As a result, the Pacers bait you into shooting that pull-up mid-range jumper – one that often comes with an open look at the rim but also can be rushed with a defender challenging from behind.

This is what helps make Indiana so good defensively – they keep their rim-protector in the paint to defend and stay at home on the perimeter so they don’t get caught in many 3-on-4 disadvantages that often a accompany a big showing out hard then trying to recover.

On side screen-roll the Pacers normally tried to force baseline into help where they gave up the pick&pop jumper to the screener. Kanter and Favors were able to take advantage by shooting 5-8 in side pick&roll situations. As a team Utah shot 7-13 in side screen-roll to go along with 2 turnovers for 16 points. Even on their empty possessions, they still got excellent looks (such as a turnover the result of a fumbled pass by Kanter who had a wide-open 6-footer, Favors missing a wide-open 12-foot baseline jumper, and Favors not being able to put down a dunk over Mahinmi).

The Pacers are a terrific defensive team, but given the open shots Favors and Kanter were receiving – next time I think the Jazz would like to run a few more side pick&rolls where they got good looks rather than high screen-roll which plays more into the Pacers’ strategy.

I Don’t Get It!

The biggest surprise to me was following the game when Trey Burke said the Pacers’ pick&roll defensive tactics caught him off guard.

Question: “Anything surprise you about what [Pacers] did in the 1st or 2nd half?”

Yeah I would say the pick&roll coverage, you know they were kinda lulling us into shooting that 5-foot jump shot…there was a couple of times I came off and kinda held it a little bit when I jumped in the air…and I think those are shots that I can definitely hit – they tried to stay in the corners with the shooters so it wasn’t like I could come off and hit Gordon or Alec in the corner cause they stayed…it was just a matter of just executing.” -Burke.

As you can see – that is who the Pacers are defensively (when watching focus on the defender guarding the screener).

When I heard these comments I wanted to shout from the roof-tops:

It’s mind-boggling to me that a professional basketball team can play the Pacers and afterward have a point guard who was unprepared for their screen-roll defense. Considering Burke is a rookie playing just his NBA 8th game and facing Indiana for the first time, you can’t fault him. With an off-day and playing at home (in a game the opponent also chose to play offense in front of their own bench in the 2nd-half), it is entirely on the coaching staff to prepare their team for this.

Even this idiot wrote two days ago that after torching the Rockets’ screen-roll defense, Burke would need to convert from mid-range against Indiana. It’s like playing the Broncos and being surprised afterward that they played 11 personnel (1RB1TE = 3WRs) so often. You might not have success against it – but you shouldn’t be surprised about their tendencies.

(Oh and if any Jazz coaches or players are reading this your next opponent, the 16-3 Portland Trailblazers defend high screen-roll in a similar manner).

Odds and Ends

  • Wednesday’s official attendance of 15,519 marks a season-low and (re)sets the mark as the 2nd-lowest figure in the 23-year history of the Delta Center/Energy Solutions Arena (that the Jazz have set three times this season). The 2013-14 Jazz now hold 3 of the 4 and 5 of the 11 smallest crowds in DC/ESA history.
  • Enes Kanter and Brandon Rush vented frustration at each other (10:16 4th-Qtr) on a play where Burks had a reverse-layup blocked that led to a George dunk in transition. Racing back on defense, Kanter repeatedly motioned for Rush to stop ball while Rush retreated as if he expected Kanter to do so. After the basket Kanter said something to Rush who slammed the ball down in frustration and barked back at Kanter. Heat of the moment play, but not one we’ve seen in live action too often.
  • Favors and Kanter became the first pair of Jazz players to post 20-points/10-rebounds in the same game since Favors and Millsap did it March 4, 2013 in Milwaukee.
  • Favors has shot 56% in the last 13 games and currently sits at 51% for the season.

The Final Word

The Jazz got out to a quick start and gave good effort overall. Favors and Kanter showed they could play effectively together (like they did last season) and despite a cold-shooting night from Hayward (3-14) and some depleted depth (no Marvin or Evans), Utah still held a 1-point lead early in the 4th-quarter. Richard Jefferson again struggled mightily to the point it may be time for a change at SF with Marvin or Burks (who played another strong game) getting the nod.

The most disconcerting thing was the apparent lack of preparation by the Jazz coaching staff for Indiana’s screen-roll defense. It’s not simply looking at losses and drawing the conclusion that a poor job is being done. It’s little incidents like these that add up over 3 years.

As John Wooden said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. The Jazz have built a little momentum recently and finally appear to be playing near potential. A fundamental key to coaching is putting your players in the best position to succeed. I’m not sure better preparation would have produced any better results against Indiana, but with youth and not a great deal of experience – preparation is the one thing the Jazz can control. It may not have been great last night, but it needs to be in the future. Trey Burke deserves that.

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Rockets at Jazz December-12-2013

Final Score: Jazz 109, Rockets 103

Run It Back

Players of the Game: The Jazz enjoyed standout games from Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Derrick Favors – who each utilized their own unique styles and skillsets in making major contributions to Utah’s 3rd win in 4 games. One of the bigger challenges the Jazz have faced is getting most/all of their primary players playing well at the same time. Over the past two games, they’ve experienced more of that due to some outstanding individual play combined with better coordination and rotations.

Gordon Hayward 

Hayward shook out of a recent shooting slump with 29 points on 12-18 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. In Hayward’s last 9 games, he was averaging 12.2 points on 40% shooting overall and 23% behind the arc. Hayward started last night’s game the way smart players do when they’re struggling – going inside-out on his way to a 17-point 1st-Qtr.

10:52 1st-Qtr – Scored Utah’s first points on 2 FT’s where a Marvin screen through the lane allowed him to catch the ball at 12-feet on the wing drive baseline.
9:52 1st-Qtr – Garcia pressuring him off-ball setting up a Marvin backscreen at the right elbow for a back-cut dunk.
8:58 1st-Qtr – In transition, Hayward turned on the jets to run by Harden where Burke hit him with a rocket one-hand bounce pass for a layup.
6:07 1st-Qtr – Misses pull-up 18-foot jumper in transition.
5:13 1st-Qtr – Basic 1-on-1 drive starting at 20-feet against an embarrassingly weak effort defensively by Harden.
2:26 1st-Qtr – At this point, Hayward was 3-4 for 8 points. Now off a right-elbow dribble handoff with Evans and he knocked down an open 18-footer.
1:54 1st-Qtr – Hayward completely loses Ronnie Brewer on a curl cut through the lane and hits a wide-open 8-footer on the baseline.
1:07 -1st-Qtr – Transition and-1 layup off another Harden ole’ where he drew contact at the rim and still finshed.
0:49 1st-Qtr – Another coast-to-coast transition layup.

Hayward’s Shot Distribution ended up looking like this:

Shot Location FG-Att FT-Att
Paint 6-8 4-4
Mid-Range 6-10 0-0
3pt 0-0 0-0
Total 12-16 5-5

Of Hayward’s 6-10 mid-range performance, he shot 5-7 in actual half-court sets (as he shot 1-2 from mid-range in 1-on-1 iso’s and the missed pull-up jumper in transition). This has been one of my points from the beginning – that if you can create some open catch&shoot looks from 15-18 feet – that’s still very beneficial to your offense and players such as Hayward more than any concept that states you should only shoot layups or three-pointers – especially when you don’t have a roster that’s particularly conducive to playing a “moneyball” style that the jury is still out on regarding championships.

As you can see here, the Jazz ran some well-executed half-court sets that started with some off-ball movement centered around the high-post while running a weakside curl/pindown for an open mid-range jumper that history has shown can succeed within the framework of a top-10 offense.

It’s not a mirror image of the sets Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson once orchestrated, and the Jazz are still missing out on some layup potential with their execution and orchestration – but they have diversified their offense recently to include more sets than basic pick&rolls and that’s a good thing because offensively challenged teams need to manufacture some open looks. A few layups with a couple of open mid-range jumpers can get a young player back into the flow and then the basket gets real big.

Trey Burke 

In scoring 21 points on 9-18 shooting, 3-6 3pt, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers, Trey Burke showcased his near-complete pick&roll package. He encountered different types of screen-roll defense throughout the game, and was able to adjust and make plays against whatever the defense threw at him.

Rockets Go-Under:
0:24 1st-Qtr  – Burke/Evans high screen-roll guarded by Brooks/Casspi. Brooks gets caught going under the screen and Casspi is late showing out so Burke pulls up at the top-of-the-circle and drills the three.

9:03 4th-Qtr – Burke/Kanter high screen-roll vs Brooks/Asik, Brooks goes under and as he lunges out Burke crosses him over to set-up an open 20-footer – similar to the game-clinching three he hit in Phoenix where he comes off left then crosses back right.

Rocket Go-Over:
4:48 1st-Qtr – Burke/Favors side pick&roll where Beverly initially fights over the screen going middle. Burks crosses back and they re-screen baseline (something Burke talked about in preseason), where he loses Beverly on the re-screen resulting on a 1-on-1 blow-by past Dwight Howard’s stabbing help-defense for a layup.

4:15 1st-Qtr – Burke/Favors side pick&roll where Beverly trails going over and Burke drives into the paint, draws Howard’s help and dishes to Favors rolling to the rim for a dunk.

Rockets Switch: Twice the Jazz ran a Burke/Favors pick&roll which initially resulted in a Houston switch giving Burke a 1-on-1 against Dwight Howard.
6:35 1st-Qtr – 1-on-1 with Howard, Burke walked him out and then pulled up and drilled a three.
11:31 3rd-Qtr – 1-on-1, this time Burke crosses Dwight over left-to-right and finishes at the rim with a layup.

Playing Off-The-Ball: Burke also showed he could play off-the-ball, similar to the way the Jazz would slide Deron Williams off the ball and let AK or Ronnie Brewer initiate in an effort to take full-advantage of Deron’s shooting ability.

3:11 3rd-Qtr – Throwback Jazz basketball high-post set where Utah runs two wings off a weakside curl. Burks’ man (Brooks) gets lost resulting in open 21-footer for Burke. These types of easy wide-open jump shots are what helped Deron average 19-20 points per game while shooting in the high 40’s instead of scoring 15-16 in the low 40’s.

6:31 4th-Qtr – Here Burke is the weakside shooter on a Burks/Kanter side screen-roll where Burks’ draw&kick results in open catch&shoot left-wing three to put Jazz up 93-89.

With the 16-2 Indiana Pacers coming into ESA on Wednesday, Burke will likely have to get his mid-range game going as the Pacers wisely defend the pick&roll by having George Hill go over the screen (to chase point guards off of the 3pt-line from the backside) and drop their big guys back into the lane. It will be interesting to see what happens as the Jazz go up against the league’s best defense.

Alec Burks

Once again seeing a consistent role and playing time, Burks continued to flourish scoring 21 points on 7-11 shooting, 4-5 FT’s, 3-4 3pt, 4 assists and 0 turnovers.

Alec Burks played his first 8:32 without attempting a single shot or field goal. In the middle of the 2nd-qtr Utah began running more screen-roll with Burks facilitating where he set up Garrett for a corner three (6:23-2nd-Qtr) and Evans for a layup (5:52 2nd-Qtr). After missing a left-hand layup, Burks’ drilled his second shot – a left-corner catch&shoot three off Hayward side pick&roll and followed that up seconds later with a run-out dunk.

4 minutes into the 2nd-half Burks replaced the struggling Richard Jefferson and on his first possession took advantage of an awful close-out by Francisco Garcia to convert an and-1 dunk over Terrance Jones. Burks’ next shot came 3-minutes later on a wide-open right-wing catch&shoot three off a Hayward kickout and he closed out the 3rd-qtr with a high-screen roll contested left-hand layup. By now his confidence appeared as high as it’s been perhaps since the season-opener vs OKC and in the 4th Burks hit a 1-on-1 pull-up three with Casspi in his face as well as a 1-on-1 drive and floater over the shorter Aaron Brooks.

In his last 3 games, Burks is averaging 16.7 points, 3.0 assists on 17-32 (64%) shooting from the floor, 12-15 from the line, 4-5 behind the arc and has turned it over just twice in a little over 29 minutes per game.

Derrick Favors

With 14 points on 6-6 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds, Favors quietly had one of his better games of the season.

Favors’ 14 Field Goals:
9:21 1st-Qtr – Two-hand dunk after picking up a loose ball off an errant Trey Burke pass (2).
4:15 1st-Qtr – Two-hand dunk off pick&roll w/Trey Burke (4).
2:48 2nd-Qtr – High screen-roll with Burke, who drove and missed floater over Howard but freed up Favors for put-back (6).
6:39 3rd-Qtr – Fadeaway over Howard on the right-block where he faked a drop-step then came back and shot fading off his right-shoulder (8).
5:40 3rd-Qtr – 12-foot jumper off side pick&pop with Burks (10).
4:31 4th-Qtr – Fouled on offensive rebound resulting in 2 FT’s (12).
3:15 4th-Qtr – Layup off beautiful cross-over penetration and dish by Burke (14).

Favors had just one 1-on-1 opportunity in the post yet still managed to score 14 points – simply by diving to the rim, crashing the offensive board and playing pick&roll basketball that takes advantage of his size and athletic ability attacking the rim.

Favors also played solid post-defense against Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard Shot-Type Distribution

Shot Breakdown FG-Att
Post 2-5
Pick&Roll 4-5
Drive&Dish 1-1
Tip-in 0-1
Total 7-12

In the low-post, Howard shot just 2-5 and scored 4 points going 1-on-1 against Favors with his back-to-the-basket. In the pick&roll, Howard scored 9 of his 15 points on shooting 4-5 from the floor. None of those scores were Favors fault, as he was once again being asked to show out and recover which made it impossible to keep up with Howard rolling to the rim for a lob-dunk. The only time Utah’s screen-roll defense was (and likely will be) successful is against a screener with limited offensive ability like Omar Asik last night or Boston’s Vitor Faverani who was benched against Utah after an ineffective 1st-qtr.

Jazz Pick&Roll Defense

Against a Houston team missing their starting point guard (Jeremy Lin) and small forward (Chandler Parsons), Utah’s defense in the final 3-quarters was fairly pedestrian – and once again they had all kinds of issues defending the pick&roll. In the final 6 minutes of play however, Houston ran just two Harden/Howard pick&rolls – which resulted in a Howard dunk and a Harden layup. As Matt Harpring noted during the broadcast, it felt like Houston could run a Harden/Howard pick&roll every possession and score on Utah. Utah’s team-defense continues to be worrisome, but with their offense in high-gear last night it wasn’t an issue.

Odds and Ends

  • Last night’s official attendance of 15,801 was the 2nd-smallest regular season crowd in the 23-year history of the Delta Center/Energy Solutions Arena history.
  • Gordon Hayward did not attempt a three-pointer for the first time this season. In 2012-13 he had two games with out a 3pt-Att.
  • While shooting just 30% behind the arc this season, for his career Alec Burks is a 33.9% 3pt-shooter which places him 19th in franchise history among Jazz players with atleast 50 makes.
  • After playing in the first 17 games of the season, John Lucas III has received two consecutive DNP-CD’s.
  • Since losing his starting spot 5 games ago, Enes Kanter has averaged 17.6 minutes per game. In 2012-13 he averaged 15.4 mpg.

The Final Word

The Jazz are suddenly playing a fun, exciting and high-scoring brand of basketball. Given the fact that they had already hit (what we hope was) rock-bottom, it certainly has come as somewhat of a welcomed surprise. Going back to the preseason, this is closer the level of play I had expected when I predicted here in October that this team could win 35 games. While it’s clear they missed Trey Burke, it’s also they were significantly underachieving earlier in the season where they went entire games without any offensive cohesiveness, any defensive identity and without any energy or competitiveness.

The Jazz are far from running on all cylinders and it should be pointed out that they’ve caught some major breaks facing a Bulls team in complete disarray, a fluky same-team back-to-back with the Suns in addition to a Rockets team down two starters. However, their level of play – particularly on the offensive end – has significantly (and predictably) improved (it couldn’t possibly have gotten worse) to the point the Jazz should at the very least play competitive basketball for 48 minutes. I’m not talking about x-amount of wins yet but I am saying they’ve re-set the bar to where wire-to-wire blowout losses are completely unacceptable – which should have been the case in November.

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Jazz at Suns 11-30-13

Jazz 112, Suns 104

Run It Back

Player of the Game: Trey Burke – 20 points, 4-6 on 3pt’s, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover in 32 minutes.

Late in the 2nd-half, Trey Burke went into “I’m sick of losing and I’m going to make the shots we need to win” mode – which was really fun to see. In the 2nd-half Burke scored 17 points on 5-11 shooting from the field, 4-4 from the foul line and 3-5 from behind the arc.

6:05 3rd-Qtr – On a scramble offensive rebound that Favors kept alive, Phoenix never recovered defensively and left Burke open for a left-corner three.

3:17 3rd-Qtr – Burke stole the ball from Bledsoe in transition then led a 2-on-1 fastbreak that he capped with a gorgeous back-hand drop-off to Jefferson for a layup.

2:52 3rd-Qtr – Phoenix iso’d Morris on Kanter on the left block. Guarding a spotty 3pt-shooter in Bledsoe, Burke cheated down as Morris started to drive middle, forcing him to spin back baseline where he lost the ball out of bounds. Nothing will show in the boxscore besides a Morris TO, but Burke was the catalyst on this defensive stop.

0:33 3rd-Qtr – High screen-roll with Kanter where Bledsoe went under and Burke made him pay with a “pull-up 20-footer from the angle left” as Hot Rod (who was in attendance) would say. A gentle push and a mild arc, the old cowhide globe hits home!

3:55 4th-Qtr – On Burke’s first possession after checking back in, Alec Burks drove baseline and kicked out to Burke for a top-of-the-key three

1:13 4th-Qtr – Burke ran the shotclock down before a high screen-roll with Favors (guarded by Bledsoe/Frye) where Burke went hard left (forcing Frye to show wide) then crossed back right and drained a top-of-the-key three over Bledsoe to seal the deal.

If you didn’t watch Burke at Michigan, he loves to go left off high pick&roll. He’s been extremely well coached in that he comes off hard and wide so if the big shows – he has to show out very wide which spreads the court for Burke and the screener.

How the Jazz Improved Offensively

Short answer: More “Jazzbasketball” – less “Moneyball.”
Rather than predominantly run high screen-roll with the floor spread (a la Houston Rockets without the Rockets’ personnel), the Jazz actually ran a variety of multiple sets throughout the game.

They got Favors and Kanter the ball in the post utilizing cross-screen action. They got Richard Jefferson the ball in the post when he routinely had a 6-inch height advantage on his defender. They crashed the offensive boards.

They also ran a lot more side pick&roll where they cleared out one half of the court entirely – giving them a 20′ x 20′ box to play 2-on-2 where they could see the help coming and pass weakside rather than playing in a 12’x 20′ channel where you have shooters on both sides you have to know the location of. The result was a lot of good things like Alec Burks driving middle off the screen, drawing weakside help and hitting Burke for a catch&shoot three (3:51 2nd-Qtr), Hayward hitting Favors for an and1 layup (2:36 2nd-Qtr), and Richard Jefferson making a wide-open 20-foot rhythm jumper (11:23 3rd-Qtr).

The Jazz also showed how you can create better looks for three on high screen-roll when you don’t obsess about constantly spreading the floor deep.

5:24 4th-Qtr – A Garrett/Favors high screen-roll with RJ in the left corner, Burks on the right-wing and Marvin in the right-corner. As Garrett penetrates, Favors rolls down the lane and Burks crashes in from the right side, leaving Marvin – who drifts from the corner to the wing – wide open for a three. On Friday night Utah would have 3 guys drifting around outside the 3pt-line instead of moving fluidly both outside and inside the arc, stretching and collapsing the Suns’ help defense. Instead of having 1 player to cover two shooters on the weakside, the Suns had zero players covering one shooter. Marvin’s three put Utah ahead 98-91.

The Suns are a free-flowing fast-breaking team – and the Jazz turned it into more grind-it-out game where they’re controlled the tempo – which is what the Jazz should be trying to do on the road.
How can you “grind it out” offensively?
8:58 4th-Qtr
– Jazz run cross-screen to get Kanter to right block, Burks makes solid contact on Morris and Morris grabs Kanter for a foul. That’s how you not only get into the penalty late in quarters, but slow the game down to a walk against a speed team. Next possession they again posted Kanter on Morris via a Garrett screen (Jazzbasketball = guards setting picks for big guys) where Kanter backed him down and converted a jump hook.

The Jazz also realized Channing Frye, the Morris twins and many of the Suns players aren’t strong 1-on-1 low-post defender and got Favors and Kanter the ball on the block. Favors didn’t score a lot in the 2nd-half, but he drew 2 fouls early in the 3rd-quarter – which played an important role as Utah got Phoenix into the penalty with over 4 minutes left in the quarter.

9:11 3rd-Qtr – The Jazz tried to post the 6-7 Jefferson on the left-block on the 6-1 Bledsoe. Bledsoe fronted, so they swung the ball from the wing to the elbow where Marvin made a perfect high-low pass to Jefferson for a layup. That’s the pass that Millsap and Al could never connect on last season. Ironically the only 2 players who could were Kanter and Favors – although they haven’t been able to connect this season.

5:13 1st-Qtr – P.J. Tucker goes on for a dunk and is rejected by Derrick Favors – who is called for a foul on a terrible call by Scott Twardoski as officials continue to treat him as a 4th-year rookie (not surprising considering the Jazz had treated him as a 3-year rookie). What I liked is on the next possession, Favors posted up Plumlee on the left block – establishing position off a Jazzbasketball UCLA set with a shuffle-cut by Garrett then leading to Garrett coming up to the elbow and backscreening for Favors. Hayward threw the ball in and cut through clearing the entire left side of the floor. Favors made a strong move to draw contact but missed the layup, got his own rebound and powered back up against Frye who appeared to also foul him. Favors said something to the official before heading up court. I liked seeing that relentless attitude, because Favors’ has a huge advantage on 2nd and 3rd efforts on his athletic ability alone.

The Jazz controlled the pace of play and still scored 112 points primarily by getting to the line (29 times), owning the paint (46 to 38) and then running on Phoenix miscues (20 pts).

How the Jazz Improved Defensively

Played Smarter, Played Harder:

In the first-half, Utah defended the pick&roll more aggressively. Rather than have their big show out then recover, Utah had Favors or Evans blitz the ball-handler. The results were mixed as Phoenix scored 53 1st-half points, but they did create some transition opportunities for the Jazz.

 11:37 2nd-Qtr – On a Bledsoe/Plumlee high pick&roll – Garrett/Evans force Bledsoe away from the screen and trapped him along the sideline leading to a steal and a 2-on-1 alley-oop from Garrett to Burks.

The Jazz also did a good job in help-defense packing it in the paint. Moneyball fanatics always point to 3pt-FG’s allowed – but the Suns shot 12-27 and lost after shooting 8-25 on Friday night in their win. What was the big difference? Friday night Phoenix scored 52 points in the paint, and only 38 Saturday.

10:05 2nd-Qtr – Dragic/Plumlee high screen-roll vs Garrett/Kanter – the Jazz have Kanter not only show out but slide laterally the entire way on Dragic’s drive which sends him on a dribble-probe baseline behind the basket, where Utah’s defense collapses in the paint. Dragic passes out to Morris 20-feet away who tries to fire it back inside to Plumlee – but because the paint is so congested the Jazz deflect the pass.

5:28 1st-Qtr – On a 2-on-1 Suns break Trey Burke deflected a Bledsoe pass intended for Dragic out-of-bounds, preventing a sure-fire layup. Doesn’t show up in the box score, but that was a 2-point deflection.

Not Playing Bad Defensive Players:
Tonight the Jazz didn’t play bad defensive players who consistently struggle. There was no John Lucas getting posted up by Markieff Morris or Gerald Green on switches, no Brandon Rush struggling in both individual and help situation (and Rush is a pretty good defender at 100% but hasn’t shown he’s close to that point yet).

Good Fortune:
On the Suns’ opening possession Phoenix took advantage of Utah’s pick&roll defense with a smart off-ball cut by P.J. Tucker leading to a wide-open corner three for Gerald Green that missed, and that’s how a lot of things went for the Suns.

10:50 2nd-Qtr – Dragic/Morris high screen-roll where they re-screen and Dragic drives the lane for a 10-foot floater where he misses and then Morris (rolling free down the lane) misses an easy tip. Marvin showed out and recovered (impeding the path of Garrett trying to catch up)which gave Dragic the lane. Nothing really happening here besides the Suns missing a gimme.

2:07 4th-Qtr –The Jazz switch a Dragic/Frye pick&roll resulting in the 6-11 Frye posting the 6-6 Burks up on the right block, and caught a huge break when Dragic makes a horrible entry pass out of bounds. The Jazz did this in Dallas and the Mavs torched Utah with Nowitzki and Blair punished Utah’s guards inside. Of course if you can rely on your opponent making an unforced turnover every time you switch – this is a sound strategy moving forward.

The Jazz also had some good fortune, such as on their first possession of the 4th-Qtr where Burke lobbed an ill-advised alley-oop to Evans that was broken up but deflected right to Kanter for a layup.

Those sort of breaks happen every game both ways, but even though the Suns misfired on the types of opportunities previous Jazz opponents have capitalized on – this season the Jazz will gladly take every one of those breaks they can get.

Alec Burks

Alec Burks quietly played another fantastic game for the Jazz, with 13 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds on 5-9 shooting and just 1 turnover. After being yanked around, benched and then unbenched for the past couple weeks – Burks was able to get on top of the basket in the open-court early and his confidence only rose from that point on.

  1. Nearing end of 1st-Qtr, went 1-on-1 in open court and convered one of his spectacular driving/hanging/contorting layups where he also drew the foul.
  2. Alley-oop dunk from Garrett in transiton.
  3. Side pick&roll, Suns go under – Burks pulls up and drills a three.
  4. Burks drives baseline and is credited with driving/hanging layup on a goaltending violation.
  5. High screen-roll where the Suns drop their big back into the lane, so Burks pulls up for a 15-foot floater that catches rim and drops.

Burks can play out of control and inefficiently at times, but he has a unique skillset that the Jazz need to find ways to take advantage of. Don’t forget on opening night he was the 2nd-best player on the court behind Kevin Durant.

Odds and Ends:

  • In the final 3-minutes of crunchtime (from 4:09 to 1:13), Ty Corbin played Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors together (along with Marvin). Burke had played over 111 minutes, but only 8 came playing with Burks, Hayward and Favors. In last night’s stretch Burke hit two three-pointers and the Jazz held Phoenix to just 3 points.
  • Burke became the first Jazz point guard to score 20 points in a game since Mo Williams at Golden State – 22 games ago.
  • The Jazz currently have 7 players averaging double-figures scoring – which has only been done twice in franchise history and not since 1982-83. The Jazz posted 26 and 30 wins the two other times it’s happened – so it’s not exactly an accomplishment as much as an inclination that you’re playing a lot of different guys on a team not having much success. Right now the double-digit boat holds: Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Burks, Burke, Williams and Jefferson – so we’ll see who falls off first.

The Final Word

The Jazz played a good game on both ends of the court. Equally surprising, Ty Corbin coached a good game (and yes – that felt strange to type). Ty made many smart (to some “common sense” but hey it’s welcomed progress) decisions, rotations and timeouts to manage the flow of the game. I kept expecting to see a Lucas substitution or a bizarre 10-minute stretch where he sits the hot-hand to kill momentum but it never happened.

It’s like when you’re house-training a dog and he goes an entire day without pooping on the carpet. You have the paper towels, Lysol and Febreze on hand and ready but he wags his tail and you let him go outside. Last night, Ty Corbin didn’t poop on the carpet. Now that doesn’t mean he’s fully housetrained or he’s a more expansive dog than the neighbor’s Rottweiler (whom you raised yourself from a newborn puppy but then allowed to go live next door), but for once you could enjoy your night without seeing a mess in your living room.

What the Jazz did is once again show they’re capable of being far better than a 2-14 team with a -10 point-differential and that they are massively underachieving during their numerous wire-to-wire blowout losses. I don’t know if consistent improvement is on the way, but I do know that after three years a dog better be house-trained. Last night was a really fun reprieve that hopefully will be a sign of good things to come, but keep the Lysol and Febreeze nearby. Stink normally won’t disappear forever after just one night.

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Jeff Hornacek vs Tyrone Corbin November 29 2013

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.

Andris Biedrins
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.

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Jeremy Evans 2013-14 Utah Jazz Highlights

“Evans is very athletic, but he’s a 190-pound power forward. He’s the second draft pick who didn’t make our Top 100. As we can see, late second-round picks can be pretty random.” -ESPN’s Chad Ford, June 25, 2010.

The above account is all ESPN’s top draft expert could come up with on Utah’s 55th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.. Three years later, Jeremy Evans is still a “very athletic,” and still pretty close to “a 190-pound power forward” – listed at 197 (up from 194 last season). He’s since become a Sprite Slam Dunk champion and a runner-up, but even entering this year was still viewed by many as more athlete than basketball player.

That’s clearly changed this season. In his first 4 regular season games, Evans is averaging 8.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1 block in 17 minutes per game (equivalent to 17.0/7.7/2.1 Per-36). He’s done it while shooting a remarkable 16-20 (80%) from the floor and he’s done it in a variety of ways all over the court.

While Evans’ screen-roll ability and confidence in his mid-range jumper has certainly improved by leaps and bounds, it’s debatable how much his accuracy actually has. Going back to his rookie season, Evans has always shot a good percentage away from the basket on extremely limited attempts.

Jeremy Evans Shooting Accuracy Distribution

0-8 Feet   8-16 Feet   16-24 Feet
Season FG Att FG%   FG Att FG%   FG Att FG%
2010-11 67 92 73% 4 14 29% 5 8 63%
2011-12 27 34 79% 0 4 0% 0 3 0%
2012-13 21 32 66% 2 2 100% 4 9 44%
2013-14 11 12 92% 2 3 67% 3 5 60%

When it comes to lower profile prospects, I’ve always felt you learn a lot more about them from the fans who watched them play for 3-4 seasons than from the draft “experts” who watch maybe 15% of their games (or in David Locke’s case 1 game of their career) and then come to conclusions about a player’s ability and potential. Following the 2010 draft, there were several Western Kentucky fans who offered their insights on Evans on Jazzfanz.com.
Here are some samplings:

adamleroi22: I’m a student from WKU that has been watching Evan’s game for the last 3 years…Jeremy can knock down the 3, in fact he knocked down a couple last season.*  That really isn’t his game, but if he can shake his nervousness behind the 3 point line then he will be a good asset from deep.  But I wouldn’t rely on it”

*Note: Evans shot 9-21 (43%) behind the arc in 3 seasons at Western Kentucky.

“...he has MAJOR hops, blocking ability, and he can dunk a basketball down a players throat. lol The only foreseeable problem is what most people has already stated, and that is his weight. One thing he has done is improve his reflexes, you even saw it in summer league.  He gets pushed back defending but his lightning quick reflexes were able to regain composure and jump and block the shot.”

hilltopper06: I’d say his ceiling at SF is a taller, more athletic, better shooting, better teammate version of Trevor Ariza.  Even that is a stretch.  I think he is better suited to add some bulk (if at all possible, I think it is) and play PF.  At PF his best case scenario is Tyrus Thomas with a better head on his shoulders.  I think that is totally reachable.”

pstradio: I host an ESPN Radio Show in Bowling Green, KY and have watched Jeremy Evans the last 4 years.  For starters should he make the squad you are getting an unreal kid in terms of character.  Extremely humble, polite, and hard worker!  I really can’t say enough good things about Jeremy.”

WeakSauce: I am a from WKU and actually a friend of his…Jeremy’s stats are misleading…Jeremy could have easily averaged 13,10, and 3 in a different system…His biggest presence for us was on the defensive end and his shot blocking ability….
He can shoot from the outside but rarely ever did. I have seen him in practice and pre-game warm ups stroking college range 3’s. He does have kind of a slow release on his long range jump shots though. His athleticism always made up the difference in that area, but I know it will need a little tweaking for the NBA. But he has a quick release closer to the basket.

I wouldnt count on him putting on too much weight. He might be able to push to get up to 220. But that is gonna take a lot of work. He has the fastest metabolism ever. The coaches and trainers here tried to get weight on him ever since he was a freshman. He put on about 10 lbs during his for years here. That is with the coaches making him eat everything in sight too lol….He has the same athletic build as Durant ( no i am not comparing him to Durant other then the body type). But I also think if he can get up to 220-225 lbs then he could be a decent PF. He is alot stronger then he looks, and his athleticism can make up for the lack of bulk against other PF…You really got a great player and a great guy. Hope you all come to love him as much as all of us at WKU have.”

Obviously when you have a vested interest in someone you tend to be more optimistic, but these evaluations appear to be fairly accurate with Evans now in the midst of his fourth NBA season. As a rookie, Evans played short stints as a backup PF where Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson designed what became known as “The Early-Oop” – in which Utah would start Evans at the high-post like they normally would in their flex, have him fake like he was coming up to set a ball-screen then spin back toward the rim for an alley-oop pass (almost always from backup PG Earl Watson).

Evans playing time actually declined over the next two seasons, although in the few opportunities he received in 2012-13, he produced while demonstrating that had a reliable mid-range jumper but needed to be perhaps coaxed into letting it fly. After another offseason of work – Evans showed up at the 2013 Orlando Summer League showing no hesitation in pulling the trigger.

Evans is far from a infallible player. He’ll always struggle to battle stronger NBA post players in the paint and on the boards, has committed a few too many turnovers this season and long-term you wonder about his durability – but the positives clearly stand out when watching him play. There’s maybe a dozen players in the world who are 6-9 and can do some of the things Evans does above the rim, but most importantly – he’s now incorporated a skillset into his athleticism to the point he can do a lot of good things in the pick&roll or pick&pop in addition to all the freaky athletic plays.

In July of 2012, Evans re-signed with the Jazz on a 3 year deal worth approximately $5.3 million. With a salary of $1.7 million this season and $1.8 million next, he could turn into a major bargain if he can continue to find (and receive) a consistent role off-the-bench.

Beginning with Scott Layden and Jerry Sloan and continuing under Kevin O’Connor, the Jazz had enjoyed a terrific stretch of finding and developing 2nd-round draft picks (Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson, Mo Williams, Jarron Collins, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap). Utah’s good fortune in the 2nd-round began run dry over the past 5-6 years, but the 190-pound power forward from the Sun Belt conference has turned into a bona fide draft night steal.

Evans may not have been on Chad Ford’s Top-100 draft list, but if he stays healthy and continues to knockdown 20-footers – in a year and a half his name will definitely show up on some free agent ones.

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Bulls at Jazz November 25, 2013

Final Score: Jazz 89, Bulls 83 (OT)

Run It Back

Play of the Game:  3:11 OT – Off side pick&roll with Marvin Williams, Trey Burke pulled up and hit a top-of-the-key three over the outstretched arm of Taj Gibson to put Utah ahead 83-78 in OT – in what ultimately proved to be the decisive basket to put the offensively challenged and road-weary Bulls away.

Key Moment: 4:43 4th-Qtr – On high screen-roll, Gordon Hayward drove left and hit Marvin Williams camped in the left-corner for a three to tie the game at 71-71. The shot ended a 13-0 Bulls’ run in which they had gained complete control over the Jazz who looked tired and confused.
Most importantly, it re-energized the ESA crowd that had gone silent for much of the game. For the next 10 minutes of basketball, the Jazz appeared revitalized and fed off the energy from the crowd. Conversely, massive fatigue began to show for a Bulls team playing the second of a back-to-back in the middle of a 6-game road trip and still reeling from the devastating season-ending injury to Derrick Rose.

Player of the Game: Carlos Boozer was clearly the best player on the court last night. With 26 points and 16 rebounds on 12-23 shooting – Boozer scored on the pick&roll, the pick&pop, over powering Marvin Williams and finessing Derrick Favors in the post. He remains the most talented bigman to ever wear a Jazz uniform since Karl Malone.

Best Shot: 7:24 3rd-Qtr – Off a Chicago turnover, Trey Burke pushed the ball, veered in front of Hinrich and converted a hanging layup in which he used his body to shield 6-7 Tony Snell and create space to finish on the double-clutch. At 6-0, those are the types of ways Burke can learn to score at the rim against length that other diminutive guards have mastered.

Best Pass: 2:00 2nd-Qtr – In transition, Burke dished an over-the-shoulder no-look pass to a trailing Favors for a two-hand dunk. The break was started by Utah forcing the Bulls’ side screen-roll baseline, where Favors used his long arms to deflect the pocket bounce pass by Mike James intended for Carlos Boozer.

Best Move: 1:45 4th Qtr – On high pick&roll, Trey Burke penetrated and pulled up for a floater with Hinrich on his hip and Boozer between him and the rim to put Utah ahead 75-74. Another way for “little guards” to score near the basket.

Best Reaction: 4:51 2nd-Qtr – Joakim Noah was called for his 3rd foul which bailed out an out-of-control Hayward who was in the process of committing a turnover passing in mid-air. It was a questionable call at best – and Noah’s reaction was to clap his hands emphatically and yell “Wake the *bleep* up” three times to referee J.T. Orr, also earning him a technical foul.

Stat of the Game:  Hayward’s 12 assists give him 3 double-digit assist games for the season and his career. Other double-digit assist games by Jazz non-point guards since Stockton&Malone left in 2003: Andrei Kirilenko (8), Ronnie Brewer (1), Carlos Boozer (1).

Gordon Hayward – Playmaker

Hayward has become a bonafide playmaker as he so often has the ball in his hands with the opportunity to create.
Here are how he racked up 12 assists:
1. Side screen-roll forced baseline, Hayward hits Favors rolling to rim and Favors powers over Hinrich (who was a half-step late in his weakside rotation) for the layup and the foul.
2. Off a high-post dribble hand-off, Hayward drove into the lane and kicked to Marvin for a 18-footer on the baseline.
3. Off a nother high screen-roll with Favors – Favors’ roll down the lane collapsed the defense and Hayward swung the ball to Jefferson for a left-wing 3pt.
4. Off high screen-roll – Hayward found Burks in left corner who took one dribble then drilled a quick 19-foot baseline jumper.
5. Side pick&roll – Hayward hits Evans rolling to the rim for an and1 layup.
6. & 7. To penetrate and kickouts to Marvin Williams for three.
8. Hayward runs hard in transition, Burke hit him in stride leading to a draw and kick to Jefferson for a right-corner three.
9. Hayward throws ahead to Lucas on a run-out for a layup.
10. Hayward feeds Evans off a side pick&roll who rolled down the lane and hit a floater
11. High screen-roll, Hayward drives left away from screen and kicked out to Marvin for left corner three over Noah.
12. Side screen-roll forced baseline – hits Evans alley-oop to rim and no weakside rotation from Bulls.

Hayward was clearly at his best as a playmaker off screen-roll. Where Utah struggled most was late in the 4th-qtr when Hayward went 1-on-1 either by his own volition (vs Deng) or when Chicago switched a mobile big (Gibson or Noah) onto him. He did get some good looks driving to the rim but was unable to finish. Nevertheless, he made plays when he had to and after totaling 11 turnovers in the last 2 games, Hayward only committed 1 against the Bulls. Another terrific all-around game by Gordon.

Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans saw his FG% drop from 92% to 80% with a 4-7 shooting performance – but it was impressive how he scored his 4 field goals.

1. Side pick&roll – roll to rim and converted a hanging layup while drawing the foul.
2. Right elbow 17-foot face-up jab-step jumper over Dunleavy.
3. Side pick&roll – 6-foot floater diving down lane and pulling up over weakside helper Taj Gibson.
4. Side pick&roll – another dive to rim and an alley-oop from Hayward.

Evans has improved his skillset and now finally receiving meaningful minutes under Ty Corbin – it’s nice to see him utilizing his athleticism in screen-roll situations. It’s also telling that all three of his screen-roll baskets came off of Gordon Hayward assists.

Epic Duel

In the ’97 and ’98 NBA Finals, John Stockton and Karl Malone went down to the wire against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. In February 2011, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose dueled for the title of best PG in the league that ended with Rose picking DWill’s pocket in the final minute to seal a Chicago win.

Last night, John Lucas and Mike Dunleavy engaged in a battle for the worst player on the court.

Lucas started the game missing his first two jumpers. Next, he made a shot-fake at the 3pt-line, drove and shot an off-balance floater that missed badly – causing Craig Bolerjack to remark: “Another player for the Jazz that has been struggling, Lucas 36% from the floor.” As Moni pointed out, that’s not really much of a struggle for him.

After Lucas then missed another pull-up jumper in lane, Matt Harpring said “I just feel when John Lucas comes into the game he needs to start looking for his own teammates.” Lucas’ 5th miss was a long catch&shoot two-pointer in transition. Harpring’s reaction: “Not a great shot selection from Lucas.” That didn’t stop Lucas from ending the 3rd-quarter missing another floater in the lane, and then an 18-foot fall-away from the baseline.

Lucas finished out his night early in the 4th-quarter with an out-of-control drive where he stumbled into Noah then fired a pass to Evans as the shotclock expired. Harpring’s reaction: “John Lucas is just struggling out there. Just-just…lost-lost the time…and dribbling around. Coach Corbin says ‘John what are you doing (Harpring laughing) pass pass pass.’”

Dunleavy was just as bad, seeing Lucas’ 1-8 and raising him 2 turnovers (including one with 14-seconds left in OT and the Bulls down just 5). It was basically the Bird vs Dominique shootout in ’88 – only the exact opposite.

Odds and Ends

  • Utah’s victory ended a 6-game losing streak to Chicago. The last time the Jazz beat the Bulls was March 9, 2010 in a game the Jazz scored 132 points and shot 12-20 behind the arc in Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson’s old outdated system.
  • Marvin Williams played 43:55 – 3 seconds more than he played in the 2012 Hawks/Jazz 4OT game and the most he’s played in a game since March 21, 2010.
  • Gordon Hayward played a season-high 46:59 – including 26:50 of 29 2nd-half/OT minutes.
  • With a 15 point, 12 assist and 6 rebound performance, Hayward’s season averages through 16 games now stands at 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

The Final Word

Riding a 6-game losing streak that included 4 losses by double-digits, the Jazz desperately needed last night’s victory to boost morale and rebuild as much confidence as possible. For at least 3 more days, they can maintain some belief that they’re still improving, learning and developing.

Was last night’s loss more Utah winning or Chicago losing? Well the Bulls’ schedule and depleted roster certainly played a factor. With Rose out, it’s clear they really miss Nate Robinson’s ability to score off-the-dribble as Hinrich and Mike James were terrible last night.

With Enes Kanter out the Jazz again resorted to a 4-out 1-in screen-roll half-court offense. They looked sharper early on but overall their offense against the Bulls wasn’t any more efficient or productive than it was on their recent road trip.

In regulation the Utah Jazz:
-shot 38% from the field (42% for the season),
-eFG% of 42.3% (45.2% for the season)
-Shot just 15 FT’s (average 23 for the season)
-Committed 16 turnovers (average 17.2 for the season)
-Scored 78 points (average 88.5 for the season)

There were encouraging signs, but as a whole there was virtually no offensive improvement. The Jazz won because they defended with energy and intensity and capitalized on Chicago’s lack of guard-play and inability to burn Utah in pick&roll the way most teams have.

It was fun watching Trey Burke assume more of the playmaking and ball-handling duties. It was fun seeing Gordon Hayward look to set up teammates in the screen-roll. It was fun seeing Jeremy Evans is find a niche. Favors had an outstanding first-half before being saddled with foul problems. Jefferson played tough defense down the stretch and Marvin is really shooting the basketball well in a contract year. I’m not sure how often the Jazz will face a team with worse point guard play than they have – but even with the lack of overall progress came a lot of fun plays and moments to take away from last night’s game. Most importantly – Utah’s embattled coaching staff will take the win.

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