The Denver game was bad. The Phoenix game was a little better (the Jazz were only down by 6 at one point in the 2nd half). This game looks to be a litmus test for how far along these last few practices have gone. The Jazz last played on Thursday, and have had two days off (with travel taking up part of one day). Game preparation is more than just having Jerry Sloan yell at you in practice as you run your sets. You have to read scouting reports, watch film, and familiarize yourself with team doctrines. You can be a rookie and make mistakes. You can also be the team captain and make mistakes too.
Tonight the Jazz go on the road and face another West Playoff team in the
Seattle Supersonics Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant and crew are scoring 105.5 points per game and been putting in work on the glass, gathering 45.5 boards a game. The new darlings of the NBA last played on Friday and are also rested for this game. Without harping on this game too much, this is the ONLY time out of 4 this season that the Jazz will face Oklahoma City when it's not the 3rd game in 4 nights. Invariably, the schedule appears to conspire to have us have a poor head to head record with this team. Their cohesion is years ahead of ours, at this point in time. Let's take a look at some key points...
The Jazz have been getting in foul trouble, while on the flip side, no one on Oklahoma City even averages over 3.0 fouls per game. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are stellar offensive players who get to the foul line (both way above 10 free throw attempts per game). The Jazz commit 11.5 more fouls per game than the Thunder. (The Jazz are 'called' for 11.5 more fouls per game than the Thunder?) Deron Williams leads the team with 4.5 a game. Westbrook is an athletic guard who he seems to have some manner of trouble with. Our legion of swingmen (4 people) foul a total of 12 times a game. If half of those are shooting fouls Durant will get to the line quite a bit. I can see the brilliant tactician Scottie Brooks (he's a Coach of the Year, don't cha know!) suggesting to his guys to keep doing what they're doing.
The continuing saga of the Al Jefferson Solar System
What did we see in the pre-season? When Al gets the ball in the left block no one moves / rotates around the central point (being Al). What have we seen in the first two games? If Al gets the ball in the left block, even when triple teamed (as C.J. Miles' girlfriend tweeted), he is going to shoot the ball. The star in this solar system reverts into a black hole at times. This is clearly not Jazz basketball. Sure, he's (on paper) better than a Red Dwarf (anyone remembering our 'bigman' last playoffs getting blocked 6 times in one game), but his play has to step up. We traded for him (and didn't sign him to his current contract as a free agent) so we fans may not know how much he's making this year: $13 million. (The most we ever paid Carlos Boozer was $13.5 million - but he did pass the ball and shoot better than 41.7 fg% in the regular season). [No, I'm not saying Boozer is better, just putting a frame of reference here, that contextualizes these figures I'm throwing out -- I'm not David "Orphan Numbers" Locke] The Jazz need to move better in the halfcourt, and Al Jeff needs to have better shot discretion. It's not 'Sota anymore dude, you're on a team that averages 5 playoff wins a season now (without you).
The Long Ball
Do you remember the good old days, of Wesley Matthews (38.2 3pt%) setting up for corner threes; Kyle Korver (53.6 3pt%) getting red hot and knocking down catch-and-shoot threes; and the glory days of Mehmet Okur (38.5 3pt%) trailing a play to be fed the rock 23' out to knock down one of his money balls? These were the three best three point shooters on the team last season, by percentage. Two of them signed contracts to play elsewhere and the third hasn't played a game since the time when people still felt like BP was a responsible company. Last season, as a team, the Jazz shot 36.4 3pt% in the regular season. Despite actually having a low post threat this time around, right now the Jazz are shooting 23.1 3pt%. Our opponents have taken 20 more three point shots than we have so far. Our opponents are also out making the Jazz, by shooting a combined 34.8 3pt%. That's down from last season, but not necessarily good at all when it's more than 10% better than the Jazz are accomplishing right now. Raja Bell, C.J. Miles, and Gordon Hayward (bad last season in NCAA, but cumulative shooting from deep was very respectable) are a combined 2-16 right now from deep. A major part of this is the feed-back loop that exists between three point shooting and floor spacing. With better floor spacing you allow for better advantages for people driving, cutting, or posting up. (Sound like the Flex offense yet?) This causes the defense to overplay parts of the floor which is countered by the offense by swinging the ball around. Usually a guy is open. Open shots are easier to make than contested ones. Often, these may result in open three point shooters. Made threes stretch the defense and allows for better floor spacing. Right now there's no need for the defense to leave the paint as our guys are David Benoit-ing it from deep.
Deron Williams looks sloppy right now. I'll say it. His passes aren't crisp, and his pass attempts in the half court are getting deflected way more frequently than I can ever remember. It also hurts that he doesn't seem to have that sense of comfort with some of the guys around him that he had in previous seasons. That said, it's impossible to have that level of comfort with these new guys compared to what you got with guys you played 3+ seasons with. The only pass he made all season long that had any mustard on it was his heat seeker to Gordon Hayward in the Phoenix game.
Everyone seems to agree that Offense is the problem here. (What else do you call it when you are averaging 91 points per game, after playing defensive juggernauts Denver and Phoenix?) Let's not forget defense. This club is supposed to be a better defensive team, at the expense of overt offensive firepower - at least until Battleship Okur gets out of drydock. So far this season we're +4 on blocks vs. getting blocked, but aside from that, we're losing the over all head to head in steals, rebounds, shots attempted, and shooting percentage. Defense needs to be tightened up, especially if the offense isn't "there" quite yet.
Nenad Krstic only plays 18 minutes per game. The rest of their rotation this season has been five guards and Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Serge Ibaka. Unless Sloan recognizes that he shouldn't be inducing cryptorchidism upon himself, which is highly unlikely, the Jazz will go small this game. Green and Durant will be playing the '4' for some of this game. In a game like that, you really can't expect a Millsap/Jefferson lineup to work. (Also say goodbye to the 20 mpg that Fesenko and Elson were getting so far this season) Instead of forcing the issue with the Thunder's lack of size inside we're going to see the Jazz adjust their lineup to the other team - and get beaten by their own game. This is, of course, overcompensation for that time Don Nelson swept the Jazz out of the playoffs years ago with a lineup of three guards and two forwards. I have mixed feelings about this. I know there will be mismatches in this game. Why not have them to be our advantage for once, though?