The New-Look Jazz and the Flex Offence


(Payton, "You guys gonna run the pick and roll again?")
 Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport/Getty Images

The Flex offense has been around since the 1970's and is a patterned (meaning 'set movements') offense featuring passing, screening, ball-reversal, options and counters. The Flex offense is most effective against man-to-man defenses. Most scoring opportunities come off the "flex cut" inside, or a jump-shot from the elbows, but you can run various options, counters, and post plays from the Flex patterns. Size mis-matches often occur due to the screening and defensive switching. Advantages of running the Flex offense are that it is a "continuity" or patterned offense, it is somewhat flexible, and it is relatively easy to teach. Disadvantages are it's predictability, and that it can be defended to some extent by switching the screens. To effectively run the Flex offense most coaches will not exclusively run Flex sets, which then discount the predictability factor. And if the defense switches screens you can actually exploit this and take advantage of big-little defensive mis-matches.

Most casual NBA fans (and even some so-called expert ones) are stuck on the thought that the Jazz rely on the Pick and Roll; nothing could be further from the truth. The Jazz team of the DWill era actually run less Pick and Rolls than 90% of the NBA, but we are still thought of as a P&R team. Why? Stockton-to-Malone.  But even in those days we didn't JUST run the P&R. We ran the Flex, with a Pick and Roll as an option play, for the reasons above; less predictability for the defence. Yet we also had perhaps the 2 best exponents of the P&R in NBA history but we still ran the Flex, again because of the reasons listed above. However if you cast your mind back you can remember plays other than the P&R:

Remember the left side clear-out; that play started with Stock passing the ball to Karl on the low left block, John running a hard cut past Karl and looping past 2 screens all the way around to the top of the key. Meanwhile Horny starts on the opposite 45 and cuts off a BRuss screen on the right elbow and cuts hard down the lane, while Tag moves up to the high post in the right block and sets a screen for BRuss, who then goes to the low right side and sets a second pick for Stock while he runs his curl and then BRuss flares to the right 45 extended. That all took about 5 seconds, and it all happened only if Karl didn't pass to Stock on the give and go on Stock's first cut past him in the post. Karl would start to back his man down, but because everyone else was in motion the defence couldn't gamble and double team Karl. If they did we moved the ball and found Horny streaking down the lane, or Stock at the top of the circle, or BRuss on the elbow, or Tag open on the right block... or several combinations of open players on the one play. You all remember that set. Heck, I taught my rec league team that set about 4 years ago, and whenever we get man defence on us we run it and rack up about 10 open shots before the D switches back to zone. And that's the essence of the Flex; passing, movement off screens, open jumpers or mismatches. 

We still run the Flex today as the core of our offensive structure. 2 classic Flex sets are the plays that result in the DWill jumper from the 45, and the Power Forward 'option' play where if they don't get it in the low block for a jumper then they roll backdoor, set a pick for a downcutting guard who goes to the corner and get open at the free-throw line for the J. Why haven't we been running the 'classic' Jazz postup offence recently, I hear you ask? Well, technically we have... but just with different options. We haven't had the assets required to run some of those 'classic Jazz' Flex options in recent seasons: to run the 2 man clearout option you need a big man who can not only pass and hit a jumper but has a post game too. Booz, for all that was said and done about the big fella, didn't have a classic back to the basket game that demanded a defending team think about a double team when he got the ball.

 Al Jefferson, on the other hand, does have that back to the basket game. The current question is can he pass well enough out of single/double coverage to find the player making the Flex cuts or allow a guard to hit the open option on a swing pass? Perhaps not straight away, as he hasn't been in an offence like this, and he hasn't had the calibre of player around him that he now has. However I'm confident that in perhaps six months or so, maybe just before the Playoffs, we may see a lot more of DWill and Al on a left side clearout once the team has had a chance to gel and get used to the changes.

We will certainly see Big Al get the ball on the low block and be given room to operate in the Flex; and with the rest of the Jazz running Flex options, setting screens and making hard cuts it will leave the defence in a real pickle: double Al and the Jazz cut you up with passes to the open man (and somehow they always seem to have one) or leave Al in single coverage and risk him going berzerk and dropping 40 on you. We haven't been able to force defences to react to us like that since the S2M days... and we may be just only around the corner from doing it again on a nightly basis.

So, we may see more 'patterns' that we remember from the '90's Jazz this season because we have a premier passer/low block combo again. However, you have to also remember that one of Coach Sloan's strengths is being able to adapt the system he runs for the skillsets and abilities of the players that he has, and that DWill and Big Al can't play 48x82. So let's quickly look at the other new players we now have and where they could fit into the Flex this year:

  • Raja Bell: one of the reasons I was almost as excited as Moni about Raja coming back is that he knows the system already and plays well within it. I'm certain that Jazz players learn the whole Flex package but only use the sets that match their on-court skillsets (like football teams learning the whole playbook but only running 45% of their plays) so Raja will know his role already in the system no matter what changes Coach Sloan makes. The other reason that I love Raja's return is that he's got that nasty streak we all know and love... but in a Flex that translates to a guard that loves to set the backscreens and hard picks that make freeing up other players so much easier. I'm hoping that Raja's toughness rubs off onto all the guards (CJ especially) so we get back to the Stock and Horny days of our guards being known for setting tough picks on anyone regardless of size to free up the bigger guys. 
  • Gordon Hayward: this kid will thrive and flourish under Coach Sloan's system. He's both intelligent and has a good Basketball IQ, moves well off the ball, and can shoot/pass/play a role. Add to that the fact that the team he has around him means that he can grow into the role and the NBA and I think you'll all find we drafted a real keeper. Where will he fit into the Flex? Well, I see him in the AK/Horny roles: the 2/3 that Flex cuts across/down the lane and gets hit for the floater/finish at the tin/extra pass to an open screener down low AND to some extent the shooter off the screen-and-slash-to-the-45, a la Korver. If he develops in the way I think that the Jazz want him to I imagine him becoming a 'mini-AK' with a dash of Korver's shooting added in, with the added bonus that if he comes along really well this year he could find himself with a big part to play in the second unit off the bench as a rookie.

So that's the 3 new guys. But what about the rest of the team? Will their roles change? Well, yes and no. Once we are all healthy you'll see groups on the floor that were the same as the previous few seasons, so the plays that are run won't change (think DWill-CJ-AK-Sap-Memo.)

However with the new additions we have you can see both some new lineups that mean we can run 'old' sets like the clearout I describe above (DWill-Raja-AK-Al-Memo with Al and DWill playing as Stock and Malone) and even some new look lineups that are faster and move better off the ball, allowing for even more cutting and opportunities for extra passes for open looks (Dwill-CJ-Gordo-AK-Al.)

The thing to remember is that Coach Sloan will always adapt the options he runs from the Flex depending on the players he has, and that this Jazz team of 2010-2011 will sport a very different look from the '09-'10 team, and I'm not just talking about the sweet new Uniforms. For those of us that have been watching the action since the glory days of the '90's I dare say you will see some patterns in our offence that look spookily familiar (if my hunch is right I reckon we could even see some 80's sets come out!)  Allow me to finish by painting you a picture of about 10 seconds of game action from our near future:

DWill comes over halfcourt dribbling the ball through his legs as Coach Sloan calls the play for the 'classic 2 man clear out' set. Al drops to the low left block and starts posting up his man, as DWill moves toward him to make the entry pass. Just as Deron lofts the ball over his defender toward Al's outstretched hand a flurry of activity starts on the weak side: Memo moves to the top of the circle from the low left block and sets himself, and Gordo streaks in from the high 45 and brushes past his shoulder as he cuts down the lane. As soon as Gordo is past Memo the big fella moves to the top of the circle and gets ready to catch and shoot, as his defender is still tangled up in Howard's man. Meanwhile DWill has faked moving high after passing the ball, then pushed off and flashed HARD past Big Al, leaving his defender confused and a few steps behind as he cuts to the basket along the baseline just past Al's shoulder. Mansap, who was flat on the weakside baseline toward the corner has now moved to set weakside screens for both Deron's cut and curl to the high 45 and, a split second later, Gordo's cut and flare back to the corner. While all that was happening Al caught the ball, and looked over his shoulder at the dance of movement behind and around him, saw that Deron, Gordo, Sap, himself AND Memo all would have several good looks on this option and very much realised he wasn't in Minnesota anymore.

(elements of this post are adapted from "Flex Offence"

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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