Sunday Syncopation # 44

This is the first "numeric Fesenko" of Syncopations . . . and hopefully not the last. What? A Fesenko isn’t a real unit of measurement?

Looking out at the previously Locked out Jazz

In the 1996-1997 NBA season the Utah Jazz finally broke through the depredations of the Houston Rockets, Seattle Supersonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, and all other teams in the conference who had previously thwarted us from getting to the NBA Finals. That was the first NBA Finals team the Jazz put together, after a long climb up the mountain. In 1997-1998 the Jazz went there again. The Law of Averages was finally working out for the Utah Jazz who had gone to the Western Conference finals FIVE times in SEVEN YEARS. The lockout happened, and our aging core had to contend with young whippersnappers and a condensed season to get back to the Finals again. The Jazz ended up winning 74% of all their regular season games – which in a 82 game season would have given the Jazz another 60+ win season.

Sadly, the Jazz did not make it out of the second round – losing to the Blazers in six games. Jeff Hornacek would retire after the next season, and John Stockton would a few season after. Our core climbed the top of the mountain, did not reach the apex, and the way back down was much faster than the way up. The Lockout season was the beginning of the end of that Jazz group.

I remember that Portland series vividly, even though it happened more than a decade ago. The Jazz won game 1 at home by 10. But then lost game 2, by 3 points. Arvydas Sabonis was a huge man who devoured the paint. Isaiah Rider scored 27 points in that game, and Rasheed Wallace had three blocks and three steals. Worst of all Brian Grant went to the line more than Karl Malone did – and even finished the game with the same number of points. On the Jazz side of things only two other guys for the team besides Karl scored in double digits: Jeff Hornacek and Shandon Anderson. That’s not to say that it was hopeless, it was a close game as the final difference was the difference in score at the end of the first quarter. Still, the Blazers broke the Jazz’ serve, and then were beat in Game 3 by 10 points. The Blazers went to the line endlessly in that game – 50 times. Utah also turned the ball over 16 times, and shot (as a team) only 38.9 fg%. The Jazz couldn’t slow down Brian Grant or Rasheed Wallace, while Rider, Sabonis and crew more than equaled the support the rest of the Jazz team were giving Karl. Game 4 did not end in a double digit disparity; however, the Blazers (buoyed by 42 FTA to a Jazz 26) went back to Utah up 3-1. In Game 5 the Jazz won, and won by 17 points. But looking at the boxscore it was yet another game where the Jazz’ lack of production from the whole team overshadowed a win. Game 6 ended in a Portland romp, where Karl Malone shot 18.8 fg%. Because the Jazz didn’t have any balance they were sorely defeated if one of their top three guys was having an off-game.

The point of this story isn’t to bum us out, it’s to look at where our current team is during this lockout. This team is at the opposite side of the spectrum – we’re a lotto team looking at the playoffs from the outside. That Jazz team had gone to the NBA Finals twice in a row. Their core was mostly older guys. Ours, only Raja Bell, Mehmet Okur, and Earl Watson are in their 30s. They had experience and confidence – our team is energy and doesn’t know that they aren’t supposed to beat better teams than them.

Out of all the differences, be it age, or experience, or being able to intimidate the refs, or get star calls – the biggest difference between that lockout Jazz team and this one is that our current team doesn’t know how to win. While that’s a significant problem (but how many teams with the majority of guys under the age of 27 do?) – but the shining hope for this Jazz team is the one thing the old, gold, Jazz team did not have. Our team has the benefit of being young enough and filled with so many good players that we can have that floor balance that our old team did not have. This Jazz team is going to be able to win games when one of our top three guys has a bad game. We’re not going to win 74% of the time, but three seasons from now we’re going to be winning a lot. And we’ll be climbing up that mountain again.

And this lockout season will be the start of that ascent, while the last one was the start of our heroes’ descent.

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April 6th, 1999 – Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers

This is but just one of the 37 regular season games the Jazz won that year. It’s a game that shows us a few things – it shows us WHY those Jazz teams won. The Jazz faced off against a team of young Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, and agitators Dennis Rodman and Rick Fox. Clearly that team would go on to win a trio of titles, but back in 1999 our team was superior. Not because of talent, but because they played together. They played within themselves. And they played with the absolute confidence in each other and their system. Our current team doesn’t even know each other or have a defined system yet.

Watching these "old" Jazzmen battle against superior athletes, in their house, and come back to win is a sight for sore eyes. We saw flashes this, distant memories or vapors of this type of team, when we battled back and won in Miami last year. That Jazz team won by playing together, trusting in their zone defense, and honestly, calling in a lot of miracles in a row. This ’99 Jazz team beat the Lakers because they played so smartly off of one another. No one was selfish. And everyone attempted to make the ultimate decision on each play. John Stockton would pass up giving the rock to Karl Malone on a fast break because Shandon Anderson had a better opportunity to score. Malone would get a bouncing deflection off of a broken play, and instead of re-setting the play, knew that he had the best shot the team would get within a 24 second sequence – and without hesitating at all, calmly drained a 19th footer and went back on defense. Watch and enjoy.


Thank you to JazzBasketball1 for uploading this to YouTube.

Statistics:

  • Karl Malone: 30 points (12/12 fg, 6/8 ft), 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal
  • John Stockton: 17 points (4/9 fg, 9/10 ft), 6 assists, 1 steal
  • Jeff Hornacek: 14 points (5/11 fg, 1/4 3pt, 3/4 ft), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal
  • Greg Ostertag: 11 points (4/7 fg, 3/4 ft), 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
  • Shandon Anderson: 12 points (5/11 fg, 2/4 ft), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal

That Jazz team was cooking with Malone so the Lakers focused on him, and he spread the love around. The Jazz also had a solid game from B-Russ as well. When things were working (and they were as they held Kobe and Shaq to a combined 39 points) a team that is imbalanced can win. Especially a vet heavy team that knew exactly what each other was doing on the court at the same time. Stability breeds synchronicity, it would seem. (Which is why I’m not gung-ho to trade Devin Harris / Paul Millsap / Al Jefferson just yet)

As an aside, the post game interview with Karl is amazing. He’s so determined and focused that he doesn’t even bother to make fun of Dennis Rodman’s broken marriage on national TV.

#Professionalism

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Video of the Week:

Sports, and more specifically the 24 hour news cycle sports exist within, has become a mockery of itself. Now the crazy thing is that some people (very professional sports writers) have theorized that Re-Tweeting something one of their buddies wrote is confirmation of a rumor; or even worse, confirmation of a story. Technology has really aided sports, and our lives. However, things move so quickly now that sometimes we fail to see how ridiculous things are getting. Thankfully the genius satirists at The Onion have us covered. Here they attempt to explain the NBA lockout, and how poorly the fans were treated by the players and owners. (There are some swear words in the video.)

There is some Football and Baseball talk in there too, but over all . . . the NBA Lockout is over. And ultimately, we can now move forward as a society and try to laugh about it.

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Stats Class

If you’ve been following John Hollinger you may have noticed that he recently discovered that Fesenko is a beast on defense. Other media members are commenting on the same point now. It’s all very funny to me because if you ask some Jazz fans Fesenko is worse than Barrack Osama Hussein Hitler. Which I always was offended by, not just because BOHH is an imaginary person. It’s no secret that I’ve seen positives in Fesenko’s on court production. After all, if you search for something long and hard enough you are bound to unearth some type of confirmation bias. But "Productive" Fesenko isn’t just a figment of my imagination or an outlier on a spread sheet. If you actually watch him play you recognize two things early: he gets zero love from the refs because of perception that he’s a scrub because he never gets playing time; and secondly, ‘that albino yeti is freaking huge’.

Even Kareem would have trouble scoring (on occasion) on a dude who has Greg Oden’s standing reach, Eddie Curries weight, and Homer Simpson’s immunity to head games. I have a lot of things on my writing docket for today so I’ll save most of this for when I do the player reviews . . . but Fesenko was, for better or worse, a walking zone of no scoring. He didn’t score. And by golly, his opponents had a hard time doing the same when he was on the floor. His PER was 5.9, which is not something you write home about. Even with the current American Dollar to Ukrainian Ruble exchange ratio. The issue is that his opponents only had a 10.4 PER in return. Take a look at how that compares, apples-to-apples with the rest of the guys who played (and defended) the center spot last year:

Again, if you don’t like PER you can look at +/- stats instead. Yes, the Jazz score more when he’s on the bench (duh!), but when he’s on the floor the opponent (over a full game) would score -10.1 points per game. Even with his abysmal scoring that’s still a +3.2 points for the Jazz. I probably don’t need to remind you that the Jazz average game ended with the Jazz scoring -1.9 points more than the other team. Of course, Fesenko can’t play a whole game (because he would pick up too many fouls, or get bored and wander off for a smoke break) . . . he probably can’t even count to 48 let alone play a full 48. But that’s not to say he should be playing 0 minutes either. It’s not like all of a sudden Fesenko became an ‘okay’ defender. Last season his Opponents PER was 12.9. As a rookie it was only 13.6. There’s a bump in his second year, but there was also a ridiculous bump in his own PER in his 2nd year, which was greater than 14 PER. And 15 is average. Take a look:

You don’t have to be a verified twitter account to know that Fesenko is IMPROVING at defense. There’s also evidence to suggest that he’s improving on offense as well. I really wish we had a frame of reference to see other guys like Ostertag – but compared to the guys on the team right now, Fesenko was one of the only guys getting stops. Re-watch the Miami Miracle game again, he’s defending the rim against guys posting up inside and people like D-Wade driving to the basket.

Fesenko does some good things out there, and the statistics show it. If you don’t care about how he faces off against his opponent, and don’t care about PER, and don’t care about +/- . . . out of all the guys who played 450+ minutes for the Jazz last year, he was 4th best on the entire team in Block %, 2nd best in defensive rebounding % (btw, remember all the offensive boards we gave up last year?), and 2nd best in total rebounding %.

Still too abstract? Well, if he played 36 mpg his last year averages would have been 8.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and 1.3 bpg. What was Greg Ostertag’s stats per 36 mpg, in his 4th year in the league? Oh, it was 7.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 3.5 bpg. Greg got way more blocks, but Fes can’t be pushed around on the low block like he can. (If you have the footage, re-watch Fes defending Shaq when Shaq was on the Phoenix Suns.)

It’s only a surprise that Fesenko is worthwhile if you don’t follow the Jazz, or have a personal vendetta against him like some radio guys do.

Cheesy Line Alert: I guess this means that stats class (puts on sunglasses) is dismissed.

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Hope you didn’t miss . . . .

@DavidJSmith1232 ‘s two part interview with ESPN’s Chad Ford Utah Jazz 360:Part 1, Part 2 You need to read them both!

Salt Lake City Hoops’ Spencer Hall and Jeff Lind (among the rest of the ESPN 5-on-5 regulars) discuss the Jazz at ESPN.com.

Ten things Jamaal Tinsley can hopefully help teach to Alec Burks . . .

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Did you know . . . ?:

… Shandon Anderson has scored 20 or more points in the regular season 32 different times: once with the Miami Heat, three times with the Jazz, seven times as a member of the New York Knicks, and the rest as a member of the Houston Rockettes. Career long over now, we look back and notice that out of all 30 teams he has played against his highest career scoring average vs. a specific team is against . . . you guessed it . . . the Utah Jazz (10.4 ppg).

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