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Jazz Year in Review 2013

2014 is upon us but let’s take one last look back at 2013 – and the 5 biggest storylines for the Utah Jazz.

1. 2013 Draft – Jazz Trade for Trey Burke

The Utah Jazz packaged their 14th and 21st picks in a draft night trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves netting them the draft rights to Trey Burke – the 9th-overall pick and collegiate player of the year who was widely considered the top point guard available.

After missing the first 12 games with a broken finger, the early reviews have been terrific. Despite lingering questions after a rough summer league performance, Burke has made a seamless transition adjusting to the NBA 3pt-line where he’s shooting 38% from and playing against NBA length – where just 11 of his 284 shot attempts have been blocked. Burke has posted averages of 14.4 points, 5.5 assists and just 1.9 turnovers since taking over the starting position. His current season average of just 1.8 turnovers per game are the lowest by a fulltime Jazz starting point guard since Ricky Green in 1986-87. That average may not continue but it emphasizes (even with a recent rash of TO’s last week) how remarkably well Burke has been handling the basketball.

Burke’s biggest performance so far was a 3o point, 8 assist, 7 rebound night in Orlando), and has hit numerous clutch shots late in games (against Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, and Charlotte), and is now one of the favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year. The questions about Burke now have become how high is ceiling ultimately is, and that’s a great sign when you’re still talking about a 21-year old rookie.

2. Jazz retain Ty Corbin as head coach/Jeff Hornacek leaves for Phoenix

After failing to qualify for the 2013 postseason during a season in which the playoffs were identified as the ultimate goal – the Jazz opted to retain Ty Corbin after two-and-a-half seasons on the job. As an indirect result, bright and widely respected assistant Jeff Hornacek interviewed for both the Philadelphia and Phoenix openings before taking over as Suns head coach late in May.

Despite a roster possessing comparable talent and experience to Utah’s, Hornacek’s Suns have shocked the NBA by racing out to a 19-11 record playing a highly-entertaining style focusing on tempo, floor-spacing and shot-selection. Of all the attributes used in the glowing reports on Hornacek, the most common one is how he builds confidence in his players. In a season in which the Jazz have seen noticeable struggles from Kanter, Burks and perhaps most disconcerting Hayward – confidence-building appears to be a quality sorely lacking from the Jazz coaching staff. Hornacek also heeded his general manager’s advice, bringing in former Boston defensive assistant Mike Longabardi who has improved the Suns’ 2012-13 23rd ranked defense to 13th as of January 1st.

This blatant oversight can be smoothed over nicely if the Jazz land a potential franchise player in the heralded 2014 Draft while using the offseason to secure a quality long-term coach for the future. In the present, it continues to sting. As Hornacek has allowed young players such as Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Eric Bledsoe among others to flourish, the Jazz continue to marginalize the development and experience of 3rd-year lottery picks Enes Kanter and Alec Burks while relying heavily on veteran pending free agents Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams.

Despite emphasizing improvement on team-defense entering the season, the Jazz’s defense has actually grown substantially worse – dropping from 21st in 2012-13 to 29th in 2013-14. 210 games into his head coaching career, it appears Ty Corbin will coach the final 48 games of the season as a “lame duck” coach in the final season of his contract.

3. Jazz Sign Derrick Favors to 4-year Extension

On October 19, less than two weeks before the window ended, the Jazz and Derrick Favors formally agreed to a 4-year/$47 million extension (plus incentives) to keep Favors in a Jazz uniform through the 2016-17 season. Not only is the longterm stability welcomed, the Jazz did it at a relatively low-risk cost that won’t hamstring their future flexibility (considering DeMarcus Cousins re-signed for $62 million) while allowing Favors to establish himself as a fixture on their frontline.

While Favors may have disappointed Jazz analyst Matt Harpring during the preseason, he has quietly pleased the majority of Jazz fans during much of the regular season. He’s averaging 13.4 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 52% from the field and playing less than 32 minutes per game. In his last 25 games he’s shooting 55% from the floor and since the Jazz have mercifully altered his pick&roll defensive responsibilities, is averaging nearly 2 blocks per game.

Always a presence going hard to the rim via the pick&roll, Burke’s playmaking ability has showcase more of Favors’ developing catch&shoot mid-range game on high screen-roll to the point he’s now shooting 46.2% on mid-range shots down the lane (8-16-feet), up from 37.8% (on middle-of-the-floor 8-16 footers) in 2012-13.

In terms of shooting percentage – Favors has increased his accuracy from virtually every floor level this season, up to 58.8% from 0-8FT (from 55.9% in 2012-13), up to 42.5% from 8-16FT (from 31.5%) and 28.1% from 16-24FT (up marginally from 26.2%).

While Utah may still have longterm questions at other positions, it’s clear Trey Burke and Derrick Favors solidify 2/5’s of their starting lineup for the next 4 seasons.

4. Jazz Do Not Re-Sign Paul Millsap

In July Utah allowed 7-year Jazzman Paul Millsap to walk in free agency, where he signed a bargain-basement 2-year/$19 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks. This was done primarily under the pretense that the Jazz were serious about allowing both Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to develop and grow on the court together.

Instead the Jazz coaching staff concluded that their nightmare start (that was heavily affected by the absence of Trey Burke as well as the lack of an effective offensive system and bizarre defensive strategies) verified that Favors and Kanter simply could not play together. As a result, the Jazz are now starting 8-year veteran Marvin Williams at power forward. As a starter in the final year of his contract, Marvin is having a career year from behind the arc shooting 41% while averaging nearly 30-minutes per game. Conversely, Enes Kanter’s playing time has declined to 22.6 mpg when coming off the bench.

In Atlanta, Paul Millsap is playing at a near All-Star level averaging 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while averaging 2.6 three-point attempts per game on 43% 3pt-shooting despite attempting just 39 threes all of last season in Utah. In his last 5 games, Sap has been spectacular posting averages of 25.8 points per game to go along with 11.2 rebounds on 50% shooting.

There are valid reasons for starting Marvin at PF, but if any of those reasons meshed with Utah’s offseason goals just 6 months ago, then the Jazz made a clear mistake not re-signing Millsap – who would fit their “stretch-4” role better than Marvin in virtually every facet. Not only are they currently starting the lesser option of the two, it comes at the price of marginalizing both the development and trade-value of the #3-overall pick in the 2011 draft while not providing any tangible short-term benefits such as a surprise playoff berth.

5. Jazz Fail to Qualify for 2012-13 Playoffs

A 3-12 stretch last March sabotaged the Jazz’s playoff hopes, as the Lakers narrowly limped by them for the 8th-seed on Kobe Bryant’s tired and eventually wornout legs. Following the 2011-12 season in which the Jazz secured the #8-seed before being swept by the Spurs, that step back along with the gradual assimilation of Dennis Lindsey into his general manager role sparked an apparent shift in Utah’s philosophy.

After looking to upgrade the PG position by acquiring veteran Mo Williams and opting to keep pending free agents Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson through the trade deadline, Kevin O’Connor’s 2012 win-now approach struck out which Dennis Lindsey has since hinted at as early as exit interviews last April saying, “We’re not collectively afraid if, that the best alternative is to go young, and be very patient with the flexibility that we built in. I’m not afraid of that. You know, so to speak, take a step back. If we need to do that, then we’ll do that.”

Lindsey’s preseason comments echoed the team’s approach the following summer, where he identified “3 D’s” as his goals for the Jazz – being establishing a defensive culture, development of young players and a disciplined level of play.

The Jazz currently have the 2nd-worst record in the league and appeared poised for a high draft choice. Had the Jazz secured the 8-seed and won a game or two, perhaps the franchise would have been more inclined to bring back Al Jefferson, Millsap, and Mo Williams which would have relegated them to middle-of-the-pack status and further stifled the development of their young core.

Their current blueprint hasn’t been perfect, and obviously retaining Corbin (which elimintated the possibility of considering Hornacek) appears to be a huge mistake, but this path still allows Utah to right that wrong in the 2014 offseason while perhaps also making a franchise-altering draft pick.

A new coach and the addition of a potential all-star (whether it be Jabari, Wiggins, Randle or Embid or a late-riser), would put some serious shine on the bright Jazz future that may have dimmed over the past couple seasons as internal growth was impeded. Nevertheless, I’m convinced this youth movement remains the best path for the franchise as long as all parties (ownership, management, and coaches ) are fully committed to it. Five years from now, I hope we look back at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season as impetus for a franchise course-correction, under Dennis Lindsey’s guidance.

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For the Jazz, 2013 was a year of change, a year of frustration and a year of promise. Let’s hope it will ultimately be remembered as the first of several baby-steps in the right direction for the Jazz, as they look to once again build a potential title-contender.

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Final Score: Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94

‘Twas two nights before Christmas and all through Jazzland
Utah lost in Memphis as they still can’t defend.
The announcers were giddy as they came on the air
With hopes a 9th win soon would be theirs.

The team was ready to start a win streak
As Memphis without Marc Gasol looked weak.
With Sidney on probation and assisting his boss
The coaches settled in for another big loss.

When out on the court there arose such a call
Ty sprang from his chair to see if Favors fouled at all
From off the bench he jumped and leaped in the air
Before straightening his jacket and fixing his pocket square

The officials reviewed and gave Randolph 2 shots
A terrible call but Favors gets those alot
After halftime the Jazz never could adjust
And in an NBA game those little things are a must

In the 4th-quarter the Grizzlies never stopped scoring
Scoring so easily that the game would grow boring
Bayless and Miller both shot from outside
They were always wide open and never did hide

With a failing defense and an offense run dry
I knew in a moment they were both coached by Ty
4 years as coach and he still was the same
But he clapped, and shouted, and called players by name

“Sit Enes! Sit Alec! Sit Derrick and Trey!
In Richard! In Lucas! Teach the young guys how to play!
Leave their shooters wide open! Give up the three-ball!
Botch a breakaway! Breakaway! Breakaway all!”

“Miss it off-glass! Miss it off the rim!
And if Alec does it I’ll go yell at him!
He’s young and skilled but still doesn’t know
Neither do I, but I love my veterans so”

And then, in a twinkling their hole was at ten
With another road loss facing them again.
The Jazz didn’t quit and Trey Burke played well
Favors did too as you obviously could tell

But Randolph was better and Memphis shot great
The Jazz didn’t close-out and when they did they were late
Elsewhere in Miami their former draftee
Paul Millsap, now a Hawk, would make 7 threes

Had the Jazz kept Paul he could’ve been their stretch-four
A viable option since we don’t start Kanter anymore
Instead we start Marvin who still wears a mask
Is more than 3 rebounds too much to ask?

The Jazz future shines bright with their promising young core
They could’ve used some veterans but not anymore
The future is key with the playoffs out of sight
We need to play guys and develop them right.

Go ahead, argue and point out RJ’s big game
I’ve heard all the reasons and to me they sound lame
It’s possible to love and root for this team
While disagreeing with decisions and defensive scheme

We all hope to compete for a title one day
So in closing this is all I have to say
Merry Christmas and happy new year to all
May 2014 be a great year of Jazzbasketball

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And if you’re not already in the Christmas spirit, this heart-warming rendition of Jingle Bells performed by Sheed should do the trick:

(from youtube user: knasty80)

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Jazz at Magic 12-18-13Final Score: Jazz 86, Magic 82

Player of the Game: Trey Burke scored a career-high 30 points go along with 8 assists and 7 rebounds in 40 minutes of play. He shot an impressive 12-20 from the field, 2-2 from the FT line and 4-8 from behind the arc while only turning the basketball over twice. The Jazz were +21 in Burke’s 40:28 minutes and -17 in the 7:32 he was on the bench.

Trey Burke 12 Field Goals:
6:46 1st-Qtr – Left-wing catch&shoot transition three.
5:09 1st-Qtr – Pull-up 18-foot banker from off high screen-roll with Favors.
0:03 1st-Qtr – Pull-up 17-footer on high screen-roll with Kanter.
3:58 2nd-Qtr – Left-corner catch&shoot three off ball rotation.
3:29 2nd-Qtr – Uncontested run-out layup (from Hayward).
2:19 2nd-Qtr – Transition catch&shoot right-wing three (from Hayward).
10:07 3rd-Qtr – Top-of-the-circle catch&shoot three (from Hayward).
8:16 3rd-Qtr – 20-footer off side pick&roll with Favors.
1:53 3rd-Qtr –  14-foot floater off glass on high screen-roll with Favors.
0:01 3rd-Qtr – 2-on-1 fastbreak that Burke kept himself by faking a behind-the-back pass then converting a hanging up&under reverse layup maneuvering around E-Twaun Moore. The proper play was to pass the ball to Burks on the left-wing for a layup but Burke finished with spectacular ball-fake/layup so I could only stay mad at him for about 5-tenths of a second.
6:34 4th-Qtr – Side pick&roll with Favors (screening baseline) for 15-foot floater.
3:45 4th-Qtr – Pump-fake dribble-in 16-footer from Hayward running a side pick&roll.

As you can see of Burke’s 12 baskets – 5 came via pick&roll, 4 came in transition and 3 came playing off-the-ball. The Magic defend screen-roll as I’ve diagrammed in great detail here, by going over on the screen and dropping the big back into the lane – where you’re funneling the ball-handler and/or screener into taking the mid-range jumper.

Trey Burke assists:
11:47 1st-Qtr – Hayward 22-foot pindown jumper.
10:48 1st-Qtr – Ball-rotation and swing pass to Jefferson for right-corner 3.
6:18 1st-Qtr – Transition pass ahead to Hayward for catch&shoot 18-footer.
0:53 1st-Qtr – Side pick&pop to Jeremy Evans for 18-foot baseline jumper.
5:26 3rd-Qtr – One-hand off-the-bounce bullet pass to Marvin for layup.
1:23 3rd-Qtr – Fastbreak pass to Hayward for layup.
7:45 4th-Qtr – Hayward 16-foot baseline jumper.
1:14 4th-Qtr – Hayward right-wing 19-footer off curl/pindown.

Of Burke’s 8 assists, 3 came in transition (in a low-scoring game the Jazz finished with 17 fastbreak points) and 5 of the 8 went to Gordon Hayward. Also only one of Burke’s assists came via the pick&roll although 5 of his baskets did – which again reflects what an Indiana/Portland-style screen-roll (which Corbin has finally begun consistently using) tries to do – which is take away the screener rolling to the basket and take away deep penetration that leads to direct layups or drive&kick threes. Favors had a couple pick&pop jumpers he missed and Evans made the one, but the Magic wanted to force Trey Burke to beat them with his mid-range game and last night Burke made them pay.

See A Different Game

The Jazz were able to create open looks thanks to Gordon Hayward’s hard and smart utilization of off-ball screens.

1. Here the Jazz run a little stagger-screen action for Hayward. Hayward’s man (#5 Victor Oladipo) trails, giving Hayward the green-light to curl the entire way around.

Jazz at Magic 12-18-13 #10

2. Hayward curls hard off the screens with Oladipo still trailing from behind – which forces Orlando to sag down to cut off his driving lane. The result is a simple kickout back to Burke at the top of the key for a three which he made (or a swingpass to the weakside if RJ’s man rotates). If they don’t drop down from the top but the big still shows out (like #9 Nikola Vucevic does) then Hayward can look for the big diving to the rim.

Smart basketball is about reading and reacting and when the Magic tried to defend this set differently – Hayward still made them pay.

1. Here Hayward’s man (#22 Tobias Harris) tries to shoot the gap.

Jazz at Magic 12-18-13 #11

2. Hayward reads this and rather continue his curl – the on-sight adjustment is to fade. Harris is caught going under and Hayward drains the 18-foot jumper to put Utah up 4 ultimately seal the win. These are the types of mid-range shots you don’t mind because they’re wide-open, in rhythm, and give the offense a positional advantage while putting pressure on the defense.

Film Room

Here are the sorted plays I mentioned above – beginning with:
1. Trey Burke’s pick&roll mid-range scores (watch how Orlando’s bigs dare him to shoot).
2. Hayward’s hard/smart movement utilizing off-ball screens (watch how the curl sets up scenarios where a simple kickout pass leads to a three/ball-rotation).
3. Burke/Hayward Transition Opportunities

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Odds and Ends

  • Trey Burke recorded the first 30-point game by a Jazz point guard since Deron Williams scored 39 points against the Spurs on January 26, 2011.
  • Utah’s 86 points are the fewest they’ve scored in a win since February 1, 2013 in an 86-77 victory over Portland.
  • Utah’s lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter played 4:30 together and were +5 over Orlando during that time.

Alec Burks – Forever Young

During last night’s game Peter Novak began tweeting out classic lovesong lyrics with Trey Burke’s name in them. (Sidenote: Peter’s is one of my favorite twitter follows, follow him for a nice dose of Jazz-related intelligent humor, snark, sarcasm, common-sense, and salary cap expertise).

In the spirit of Jazz lyrics, I thought I’d share my own – set to Forever Young by Rod Stewart.

Alec Burks – Forever Young
May Ty Corbin be your coach every day you wake
May your substitute check in after every drive you make
And may you grow to be a starter, vet-er-an and old
Who’s kept in the lineup no matter if he’s hot or cold
But if you score and play the same
In Ty’s heart you will remain
Forever young, forever young, forever young, forever young

May poor fortune be with you, may Ty’s job security be strong
May you always be blamed no matter if it’s right or wrong
And may you never start a game
And in Ty’s mind you will remain
Forever young, forever young, forever young, forever young
For-ever young

For-ever young

And when you finally leave the Jazz we’ll be doubting that we served you well
Why you never started here no one can even tell
But whatever team you choose
Dennis Lindsey wants Ty to help him lose
Forever young, forever young, forever young, forever young
For-ever young

The official music video is a bit dull, but in the Jazz re-make I see Jeff Hornacek singing this to Alec as they both ride in the back of the pickup immediately after he accepted the Phoenix Suns’ head coaching position, with Boler, Harpring, and Sidney Lowe making cameos in the motorcycle gang.

(And yes I know Ty has played Burks a lot more in the past few games while giving Jefferson fewer minutes and the lyrics I wrote are only like 10% serious. Well, maybe 25%.)

The Final Word

In his first 15 games Trey Burke had alot of great plays and multiple very good games – but last night it all came together as he turned in one of the best performances not only for the Jazz but in all of the NBA. Coming into the game he was shooting just 39% on two-point FG’s but he made 8-12 last night, to go along with 4-8 from behind the arc. He showcased his complete offensive repertoire, his passing ability, a beyond-his-years understanding of the pick&roll and he again took care of the basketball (only 2 turnovers and averaging just 1.4 for the season).

Burke is receiving major playing time as a rookie and he has made the most of it, continuing to develop and improve right before our eyes. I don’t think anyone is still recommending that Burke shouldn’t start simply because John Stockton didn’t start immediately nearly 30 years ago.

It’s also important to understand that the Jazz are still a team with a 7-21 record. If you claim the Jazz’s 1-14 start is irrelevant because of their early-season injuries, then you also have to say 4 of Utah’s 7 wins that came against opponents missing key players – Chicago (without Derrick Rose), Houston (without Chandler Parsons), Sacramento (without Rudy Gay) and now Orlando (without Aaron Affalo) – also deserve an asterisk.

With Burke back the Jazz are clearly playing better offensively (although even with Burke’s brilliance they struggled with a 37-point 2nd-half), played well defensively last night – and have started to resemble the fun, exciting and competitive team most hoped they would be entering the season. That doesn’t erase the trainwreck start Utah had to the season, but that reprieve seems to be a growing sentiment from those inside the organization that is reflective of the past several Jazz seasons. The problem is once you start making excuses – you lower the surrounding expectations, accountability and standards.

I feel fortunate the Jazz have a high-profile rookie like Trey Burke who not only has the talent and confidence in his ability – but most importantly is someone who’s been a winner on every level and is used to being on the right side of the scoreboard. I don’t expect the Jazz to win 3 out of 5 for the remainder of the season, but with Burke leading the way I do feel confident losing won’t be something the players will come to accept or excuse. Jazz fans have big goals in mind for this team down the road, but most importantly – so does Trey Burke.

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

Run It Back (Jazz Superlatives)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

The Final Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Corbin and GreenFinal Score: Spurs 100, Jazz 84

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

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

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

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Jazz at Nuggets 12-13-2013Final Score: Jazz 103, Nuggets 93

Derrick Favors – Unleashed

Derrick Favors scored 19 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, blocked 4 shots and affected numerous others as he anchored the paint for the Utah Jazz. He’s now shooting 58% in his last 16 games, and 65% in his last 7. Even though Ty Lawson definitely appeared rusty and hampered in his return from a hamstring injury – Utah’s defense was arguably the most impressive aspect of last night’s win as they held the league’s 9th-best offense nearly 10 points below their season average.

Play of the Game: 8:02 4th-Qtr – With Denver leading 81-77, Nate Robinson drove to the basket where Derrick Favors smothered his layup at the rim – starting a 2-on-1 Utah fastbreak resulting in a Hayward-to-Burke layup. The play sparked a 10-2 Jazz run as Utah would go on to outscore the Nuggets 26-12 to close.

Favors’ 4 blocks were a season-high, giving him 7 in the last two games. The primary reason is the Jazz are finally putting him in a position to succeed – by allowing him to consistently play defense in the paint. I mention this constantly but last night provided the most crystal clear examples illustrating why Ty Corbin and Sydney Lowe have been stifling Utah’s potential with their pick&roll defensive strategy.

Watch and take note of Favors’ positioning (proximity to the basket) while also observing how little/much strain is being placed on Utah’s help defense:

Prior to Favors’ back injury, the Jazz asked their centers to show out hard on the ball-handler – and then recover to their man. The Heat often do this with their tremendous speed rotations utilizing the abilities of Wade, LeBron, Battier, Haslem, Bosh, Birdman, ect. That’s not Utah’s personnel.

Now, the Jazz are allowing their 5 to sit back in the lane – a la Roy Hibbert. By having their guard go over the screen – Utah’s defense is essentially funneling the ball-handler into the mid-range area while staying at home with shooters on the perimeter. Best of all, they’re keeping their primary shotblocker in the lane where they can utilize their size to their advantage rather than their lack of footspeed (not that Favors is slow, but he’s not faster than crisp passing).

Jazz at Nuggets Screen-Roll Defense Comparison

It doesn’t take a genius to determine you would rather have an athletic 6-11 shotblocker within 15-feet of the rim instead of 24′. Among the many teams who defend in this manner – it’s what Frank Vogel has been doing with Roy Hibbert, what the Spurs have often switched to while relying on Tim Duncan’s presence, the style  Blazers are now adopting to limit opponents’ open 3pt-attempts, and what the Charlotte Bobcats are now doing to cover for Al Jefferson. Fool Ty Corbin once, shame on you. Fool him 200 times and he’ll make an adjustment.

Some media members are obsessed over Favors’ lack of a go-to move, but he is plenty good right now. He’s an incredibly efficient player scoring on pick&rolls, offensive-rebounds and dives to the rim – and defensively he can do things that maybe 10 big guys can do in the entire NBA. If he adds a bigtime consistent low-post move fine – but right now the Jazz are just letting him go out and play (at both ends) and it’s fun to see. 4 years/$47 million is looking better each night.

Offensive Stat Mining

After shooting 13-23 (57%) from behind the arc in Sacramento, you knew that mark was something the Jazz couldn’t sustain. It didn’t appear to be the case early on last night, as Utah shot 6-7 (86%) in the 1st-Qtr. In the 2nd-half they finally came back down to earth – shooting 1-7 in the 2nd-Qtr and 1-7 in the 2nd-Half to finish the game 8-21 (38%) from deep.

As I wrote during the preseason – Richard Jefferson had quietly become a good spot-up three-point shooter over the last several seasons. After shooting 19% from deep in the first 8 games, he’s now up to a respectable 39% for the season that helps offset his subpar defensive play. His 5-6 mid-range and 6-7 3pt-shooting in the past 2 games assuredly will not continue – but it’s still likely he will continue to hover around 40% on threes for the season.

Marvin Williams’ 3pt-shooting is something more interesting to keep an eye on. At 42% in 2013-14, Williams entered the season as a career 33% shooter from behind the arc, never shooting above 39% and shooting above 36% in a season just once. Perhaps it’s from receiving more open looks playing PF, perhaps he’s having one of those hot 3pt seasons (like Matt Harpring in 2002-03), perhaps he is indeed a much-improved shooter or perhaps he’s due for some regression in the final 57 games of the season.

It also raises the interesting question, why are the Jazz so willing to play a veteran stretch-4 next to Favors this season that stifles Kanter’s development while ignoring the tremendous potential of a Paul Millsap/Favors pairing? While the Marvin/Favors frontcourt duo entered last night’s game with a +3.5 Net-Rating, last season Millsap/Favors produced a +4.6 Net-Rating that was up to a whopping +10.3 in 2011-12.

Regardless, with Marvin in the lineup the Jazz offense has kicked into high-gear – averaging nearly 9 more FG attempts per game, 1.2 more FT attempts, 2.6 fewer turnovers and 3.5 more 3pt-attempts in his 7 starts. Conversely, their offensive rebound rate is down 2.4% – or about 2 offensive rebounds per game.

At the same time, it’s still premature to automatically assume those numbers dictate that simply replacing Kanter with Marvin results in a better Jazz team. While the offensive boost does reflect favorably for Marvin – it also coincides with the return of Trey Burke, who since replacing John Lucas at PG has made a world of difference for Utah on the offensive end. Marvin definitely gives the Jazz spacing for more 4-out-1-in sets, but does figure to cause Utah matchup problems against bigger teams.

In the games Trey Burke starts – the Jazz shoot better from virtually everywhere. They average 2.2 more FG attempts per game (shooting 3% higher), shoot 1.3 fewer FT’s, actually attempt 1.9 fewer threes (but shoot 10% better) and most importantly turn the ball over 4.2 fewer times. The discrepancy between Burke and Marvin’s offensive boost lies in the 4 more games Marvin missed last week. Although Kanter played very well individually – as a team Utah’s offensive output and efficiency declined although much of that could also be attributed to playing the league’s top-2 teams in 3 of the 4 games, as well as a weaker supporting cast that included big minutes for a less impressive RJ, Mike Harris and of course Andris Biedrins.

If you look at how Kanter played against Indiana and Portland – it’s clear he still has the same potential and ability to be a good player in this league that he did to start the season. How that’s able to happen with Marvin starting is unclear – but in order to meet Dennis Lindsey’s 3-D’s – this is something that must be sorted out.

The Final Word

The Jazz have played good basketball in a large portion of their last 8 games – showing some encouraging improvement at both ends of the court. Offensively much of that improvement is due to the return of Trey Burke – who now gives Utah a playmaker at point guard that makes the game easier for all of his teammates.

Defensively, the adjustment in defending the pick&roll is a welcomed change but before we go give Ty Corbin a medal – let’s remember coaching isn’t simply figuring out one defensive tactic and then calling it a day. It’s about constant adjustments.

Look at how Greg Popovich has altered the Spurs’ identity from a post-up/kick-out to 3pt-shooters team in his 1998-99 championship team that had virtually no perimeter playmakers – to a more versatile inside-outside team in the mid-2000’s to today’s masterpiece that is a hallmark for the modern-day perimeter-oriented motion/screen-roll/floor-spacing/3pt-shooting ensemble many teams are trying to perfect.

Furthermore, look at Utah’s franchise where Jerry Sloan altered his system from the Stockton&Malone offense to fit the talents of the 2003-04 talent-devoid team and then back to more of the Stockton&Malone system with many tweaks to better suit the Deron/Boozer teams.

Each year coaches have a different team with players possessing different strengths and weaknesses. Taking 20 games (which is generous given you could argue it’s closer to 1-2 seasons) too long to adjust something obvious like pick&roll defense (that also includes flawed initial thinking) is certainly less than ideal for a professional basketball coach. Where 1 game can determine homecourt advantage, 5 games playoff potential and 10 games between meaningful basketball in March/April – perhaps the only thing saving Corbin now is Utah’s horrid start put them in such an embarrassing hole that low expectations have since plummeted to absurd levels where a single win regardless of opponent is now being hailed as a phenomenal coaching achievement.

To his credit, Corbin has adjusted Utah’s offense from the predominant low-post (Al-fense) centered around Al Jefferson to more of a versatile screen-roll system (which also magnifies the lack of diversity in last year’s strategy and foresight). He’s doing a better job utilizing timeouts to stop the flow and break offensive/defensive lulls and is being a little more creative with is lineups and rotations. Last night I thought he was smart to leave Jeremy Evans in until about the 4-min mark of the 4th-Qtr which gave Utah a nice lift on the boards.

If you thought Ty was a good coach from the beginning then you’re probably overjoyed (or stumbling around blindly – just kidding but not really) after the past couple games. If you thought he’s been a poor coach for much of his first 2 1/2 seasons then the start to this season probably has cemented that belief. If you were on the fence, it’s unlikely a 2-game win streak or the recent 4-game slide set amidst the backdrop of a 6-19 season is enough to sway you either way. As of today, Ty Corbin is still a lame duck coach without a contract extending past this season – and I think that fact speaks loudest of all.

Looking Ahead

With the 18-4 San Antonio Spurs coming to town, the Jazz have a great opportunity to show they can repeat their recent hot-streak against a high-caliber opponent. With San Antonio playing on the second night of a back-to-back (after Duncan played 36 and Parker 35 minutes), the Jazz have a good chance to jump on the Spurs early  – similar to their last meeting where strong performances by Favors and Burks allowed them to play from ahead much of the night before a 4th-Qtr meltdown gave San Antonio a 91-82 victory.

This time around, the Jazz have Trey Burke back playing terrific basketball in getting his teammates quality looks, they have Gordon Hayward (who probably had the best game of his career last night and I should have mentioned more), Alec Burks and Derrick Favors all rolling to go along with the hot-shooting of veteran journeyman Jefferson and Williams.

Pop is still the best – and it will be interesting to see how he defends Burke in the pick&roll tonight, how he attacks Marvin at PF, and if he tries to go big with Duncan&Splitter. The Jazz are still only 6-19, but their recent play provides not only more hope for the future but also plenty of intrigue in a game that on paper looks like a mismatch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Jazz Were Really Good

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

2. The Jazz Were Ridiculously Good

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

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

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

The Kings Were Really Bad

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

The Final Word

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

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

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

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