This is kind of late, but hopefully it will finish strong - not unlike our tardy Jazz . . .
- So, this season has been filled with good news and bad news after 38 games (46% of the season). I think the main concern for Jazz fans (and players and coaches alike) is that problems seen early in October and November have persisted to this late date.
- No doubt, a team that's 1st in their division and on pace for 54 wins (It used to be on pace for 55, btw, last time I checked) isn't a bad team. I don't think any of us are calling the Jazz a bad team, rather, our current team isn't a great team. It appears more and more like our team is going to be stuck in the 4-6 seed range again this year.
- No team is perfect for 82 games, but the best teams improve in their problems during the season. Because we've struggled with poor starts, rebounding, and bench play all season long (with only glimmers of improvement here and there) we can put to bed the concept that we're one of the 'best' teams this year. (of course, until further notice of improvement)
- While so far this syncopation seems to be focused primarily upon this season, I will have to talk a bit more about our expectations as fans. We have them. If we didn't, this post would only be singing the praises of this team. I think many of us (myself included) were less than worried at the early struggles and persisting problems -- because we had our ace in the hole, we had the return of Okur to look forward to. Memo's has played in four games this season, and he's not been healthy enough to suit up in more.
- If you look at the game logs, he's only had one "Memo" like game, the game against the Clippers. I think that it's prudent to temper expectations for what we can expect for him going forward. Sure, we hold out hope that he's going to get better as the season goes on (it's hard to get worse) - but I don't think we can rely on him to be the Memo of old this season. Even a diminished Okur would greatly improve our bench. Clearly, it would. It's also clear that a healthy Memo (or whatever Memo we have right now) doesn't immediately solve all of our problems (bench, poor starts, rebounding, etc).
- I do have to tip my hat to Kevin O'Connor for the free agent signings of Francisco Elson (UFA) and Kyrylo Fesenko (RFA). We'd be in even worse shape this season if we didn't have both of them. What's also special is that those two guys seem to play pretty okay with one another. (Elson effectively being the jedi master to the young padawan Fesenko)
- The flip side is even MORE bad news -- I don't think that Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are working out together as well as we'd have hoped. Part of it is unfamiliarity - for sure. Another part of it is that the venn diagram of where they play has a lot of overlap. Sure, Memo could post up (and should have done this more) and Carlos Boozer could make midrange jumpers . . . but they were effectively out of each others' way on offense. Not only that, but I think we are under-estimating how good BOTH of those players were at passing / screening / cutting with each other. Only rarely do we see some sort of offensive off-the-ball action between Sap and Jefferson.
- Millsap has expanded his game and is significantly more versatile. He has saved our butts countless times this season, check out the great video made by Spencer at the Utah Jazz Blog that features some of his clutch moves vs. the rockets! [did not want to embed so that he gets the traffic]
- Jefferson (and the Al Jefferson Solar System concept that I mentioned back on Oct) is still a work in progress.In seven seasons, including this one, Al Jefferson has shot over 50 fg% three times, and two of those were within his first three seasons in the league. Despite playing in the best offense in his career, with the best point guard of his career, and the best coach and team mates of his career -- Al Jefferson is shooting a career low 47.7 fg%. I'm really not happy with that mark. It's not like in this new offense that Jefferson is being asked to shoot from farther out than he has previously -- nor is he facing tougher defense now. Frankly, in some set plays all he has to do is catch the ball and finish. That should be automatic as the season progresses. I think, and I have no greater access to him right now, that part of it is that Jefferson is having to deal with removing prior learning. He had to just do so much before, that he's been conditioned to think and plan too much for his points. Now, when it should just be instinctual, he's slowing the process down and that's getting him in trouble. A lot of the sets are timing based - where a specific window of opportunity for the 'best shot' exists, and can close if one hesitates. We love the 'wheezie' when it's going down, but sometimes a dunk gets the job done better than a side spin half push shot while spinning away from the defender. Just my two cents.
- I don't want to harp on Jefferson as the reason why we're not playing better - but I think we all expected that he could avg better numbers in this system. It's a bit too soon to be looking at 'next year' for him, we're already getting ready for 'next year' on Memo.
- What do you Jazz fans think about how we're playing right now? Write a Haiku about it in the comments section! The best ones will be e-mailed to Jerry Sloan. He'll never check them, as he thinks e-mail is a typing error for the word female.
- Speaking of stubborn Jerry and all of our woes . . . if this Raja Bell starting thing doesn't work out there's always . . .
Have a great week, and expect more posting from me now that my self-imposed isolation is over (and I think we can move on from all these losses).