Clark just posted a great piece analyzing our team's frustrating beginning. I wanted to just go a little bit further ... Clark showed that AK's shooting much worse in the paint than previously, but why? Deron has the same problem? Why? Deron, AK, Raja, and Millsap are coughing up turnovers at absurdly high rates (all are currently career highs). Why? And what's with the rebounding situation? 20 offensive rebounds to freaking Golden State? Why?
Well, let's go back to that Golden State debacle, because I think it shows exactly why the team is struggling, but it also shows exactly why this isn't time to panic.
Jazz gave up 20 offensive rebounds to Golden State. As Locke retweeted (from Hollinger), GS had the worst rebounding differential in NBA history last year.
The truth is that stat from Locke and Hollinger is the single most stupid and misused stat I've seen so far in this young season.
This year's GS team is completely different from last year's. Biedrins is starting and playing 27 minutes per game (12 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career). David Lee was signed as a free agent and is a very good rebounder (11.5 per 36 minutes for his career). Dorell Wright (another FA) is a very good rebounding small forward. Gadzuric (their backup C and another FA pickup) averages 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. This Warriors team happens to be 4th in the league in rebounding right now, and looking at their players they will outrebound just about everybody they play.
So while giving up so many rebounds was a big reason the Jazz lost, and while their rebounding can improve (Jazz are currently 12th in the league), the situation was not nearly as bad as it seemed.
When 4 guys are suddenly coughing up career highs in turnovers, something is going on. And it's not just slight increases: Deron's up 80%, AK's giving up 63% more than he has the previous 5 years, Raja's up 72%.
Turnovers alone kept the Jazz from winning against Golden State (despite giving up the 20 offensive rebounds)
So what's going on?
Well, the answer was put on display in the GS game. AK, as he is wont to do, made a brilliant clutch play — a great drive to the hole and spectacular pass to Al for a wide open dunk. Except Al dropped the pass out of bounds. Seriously, I believe that the Jazz would have won the game had Al caught the ball. But enough with the whatifs.
The point is that the new guys (particularly Al and Elson) aren't used to the snappy interior passes the Jazz use. So there are two options — pass crisply anyway and watch the ball bop off their hands or pass more slowly and let the other team deflect the ball.
And that's what is happening. I've been stunned with how many Jazz passes have been deflected this year. For 5 games I've been going crazy, trying to figure out why the passes are suddenly so lazyish — all until our club-handed new centers have put their talents on display.
Lousy interior FG%
Millsap's shooting 70% in the paint. Al has slightly more refined moves and is taller. He's shooting 51%.
Well, this is an area where Al's trying to overcome 6 years of bad habits. Watch him. Usually he makes a quick move to his preferred shot. If it's not available (usually because of a double-team), then he suddenly pulls out his post moves to try to get some shot, any shot, up. He doesn't look to pass, unless it's just a lame "back to the PG" pass to Deron to reset the offense.
Compare Al's post moves to Millsap's. Millsap uses his moves to get the shot he wants — not as a secondary plan when the preferred shot isn't there. Instead, if the preferred shot isn't there Millsap makes a nice interior pass (often to Big Al). That's why Millsap is suddenly giving out nearly 4 assists per game. He uses post moves to get a good shot, and he makes an interior pass to the open guy when the defense takes his shot away.
But Al's getting better. Watch the 2nd half against the Clippers again. Al was suddenly using his moves to get a preferred shot.
Paint FG% of the Guards and Wings
Two problems. First, have you noticed how crowded the paint is whenever a Jazzman drives in? Have you noticed how many defenders are there?
We all know Al's post game is different than Boozer's. Boozer did the high post on the elbow. Al's used to the low block.
Well, the spacing on the offense is kind of screwy because of it, and points in the paint are harder to come by because there's a ton of defenders there. It's particularly noticeable with Deron (who uses drives to the paint as a major part of his offense) and AK (who thrives on finding weakside holes for easy dunks).
But that's only part of the problem.
The second is transition and fast break points. There are no stats to back me up, so I'm just relying on what I see. But the Jazz aren't getting awesome shots early in the offense — not like they did last year. I've been watching for it, and it's really noticeable. The Jazz don't get dunks from 2-on-2 or 2-on-3 breaks. They're not getting easy dunks before the defense sets up. Over and over, Deron rushes up court, tries to make something happen ... but then backs out to start the half-court set because nothing was there.
Again, blame goes to the new guys. The Jazz run breaks differently from other teams. Their spacing is different, the lanes filled are different, and the end result (go hard to the basket and then clear out for the next guy) is different. The new guys are not doing it correctly, and it stops the transition and fast break points from happening.
And whose stats get hurt the most? Well, who are the team's best open court and fast break guys? Deron, CJ, Millsap, and AK.
So is it shocking that these are the guys' whose close range FG% is down?
Al and Raja, we're looking at you
Raja, you have to remember you're not on the Suns anymore. On the Jazz quick, not-so-good shots gives the other team easy transition buckets (I believe this is why the Jazz are less effective defensively with Raja on the floor — it has nothing to do with his actual defense, but it's a result of a half-court offense not quite working right).
But a lot comes back to poor Big Al. His game needs more work than I expected. He needs to react to defenses, spot open guys, catch passes, use post moves more effectively, box out better, etc., etc., etc. His passing is particularly worthless right now.
The bad news
These things won't magically go away. The Jazz will give up a lot of turnovers for a while. The new guys won't magically start spacing things correctly — so don't expect interior scoring to suddenly become more effective.
Just expect it. There will be good days and bad, but expect some of these issues to continue coming up.
The good news
They will get better eventually. The spacing will improve, bit by bit, as the season goes on (it already has), and that alone will change everything.
The new guys will get used to the kind of passes Sloan's offense demands, and the turnovers will go down.
The team will run breaks and transition better as the players continue practicing what they're supposed to do, and the interior FG% will go up.
As the team gets more fast break points and as Al makes interior passes more, Millsap's stats and effectiveness could actually increase. Crazy to imagine, but it's true.
And I expect the rebounding to improve as well. Al will box out better, because Sloan will hammer it on him (remember Al has never had a decent coach or team — ever).
The improvements won't happen immediately, but they will happen.
And if they don't, well January is about the time to start freaking out if there isn't noticeable improvement.
So the Jazz are a .500 team right now. Well, they were worse at this point last year. They had a worse record, worse chemistry, and no noticeable improvement.
Even with the GS debacle, the Jazz had a much better week 2 than week 1. There are already signs that they are moving fairly quickly in the right direction (there's no way last year's Jazz team — at this point in the season — could beat a playoff team on the road by 20. No way at all).
And the team's ceiling still hasn't changed. They are ridiculously talented. They just have to put it together.
Like I wrote last week, they're like a brilliant student of mine who will accomplish anything once he gets his head on straight consistently.
So instead of watching these early games to see perfection, I'm watching to see if progress is being made.
And so far, it has.