Retrospective Diagnosis of Game 1: Jazz 71, Lakers 96

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 5: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court in the game with the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Jazz won 86-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Let’s get something clear, and out of the way from the beginning – I had always felt like we were going to lose this game. The LA Lakers were a better team than we were last season, and we got much worse over the off-season. We had youth, but most of the guys were in different parts of the library, let alone reading in the same room, let alone reading the same book, and let alone being on the same page. The Lakers, for all their faults, are still formidable; even without their young 7’1 center Andrew Bynum. Things like being on the third game in as many nights were not going to stop LA. Not when they were playing at home in a TV game, while their best player was banged up, and they were coming off of 4 losses in a row to be swept out of the playoffs last year, two losses in a row during the preseason, and two losses to start the regular season. The universe does not allow for the Lakers to go 0-3, felled by a team shooting 32.2 fg%. They embarrassed us, it was a really bad game. And Jazz fans shouldn’t be too quick to move on to the next game and forget this even happened. It did. And we’re going to investigate why.

Retrospective Diagnosis?

I’m trying to add more to SLCDUNK.com before I have to leave it. I was sloppy and late with my assignments, and felt like I could be doing more than just my non-scheduled 7000 word "magazine style" posts. I joined this great team so I wouldn’t have to go over previews and recaps, and follow all the breaking news. The least I could do was talk about the games we play, after we play them. Right? I’m sorry this isn’t music based, like my previous sections: the Sunday Syncopation and the Jazz Jam Sessions. This is, after all, more close to my field of work. So let’s get to it.

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Game Result: Blowout Loss

A loss can happen for any number of reasons, but a blowout loss has a few early indicators. The biggest ones are a) if your team is vastly underprepared, or b) if the other team really wants it more than your team. I think it is fair to say that our team was underprepared; and I am basing this upon the high turnover of players; new members to the coaching staff; almost zero training camp; and only two preseason games. The Lakers have a new coaching staff, rotation players, offense, and all those other disadvantages too – but they are still running things with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, and Metta World Peace. They have all been core guys for championship teams and know how to play this game. And they’ve all been together for a while and held it down when their new guys didn’t know what they were doing. The guys on our team who kind of know what we are doing on the court at Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles – and they played 24 and 18 minutes total last game. Gasol, Kobe, Fish, and Ron Artest World Peace played 37, 31, 26, and 27 minutes last night. Mike Brown leaned on his vets last night, but he leaned on the right vets – the ones who had some level of understanding among them. They got them the lead, and they got them a bigger lead when the Jazz almost got it down to under 20 points.

The Lakers also wanted it more, and I mentioned why earlier on before the jump. But those are not the only reasons why the blowout happened, of course not. We gotta go into the stats . . .

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The Lab results came back . . .

. . . and they are not good. Even if you are playing the expansion season Vancouver Grizzlies without half of their starters you are not going to be in for an easy night when you shoot 32.2 fg%, and 7.7 3pt% for the entire game. It’s easy to say bad things about the refs (Lakers went to the line 37 times, and the Jazz went to the line 17 times – most of those came in the late 3rd and 4th quarter when the game was out of reach), but it’s the Jazz who lost this game. And they lost it with their play.

There were only two Jazz players who shot the ball over 50 fg%: Derrick Favors (4/7, 57.1%) and Jeremy Evans (2/2, 100.0%). If you remove those two guys this is what you are left with – the rest of the team shooting 28.4 fg%. It would have been nice to have gotten Favors and Evans more shots – but they just don’t shoot that frequently. Favors, whom we all wish becomes some sort of new version of Karl Malone / Terry Cummings / Otis Thorpe . . . shot the ball once every 2.7 mins on the floor (that’s 2:42 of game time for people who don’t understand fractions). He did not even play 20 minutes last game (partly due to early foul trouble – but what are you worried about, fouling out of the first game of the season in a year where we’re not going to make the playoffs? Let the kid make mistakes out there. This isn’t the NBA Effin Finals, Tyrone). Evans shoots even less frequently, usually, but last night he shot the ball twice in 5 minutes of action. I can’t help it if his point guard (Earl Watson) sets him up to score when they are in together. This is part of that rotational short hand that Mike Brown leaned on last night by playing guys like Kobe and Gasol together, or Gasol and Artest together. (Er, I mean World Peace) The two guys with the most on court co-operation played only garbage time minutes together. It’s sad when Mike Brown out coaches you.

I like the points per shot statistic. (But I’m not saying it’s the only one that matters, there are plenty of others we need to look at…) It factors in getting to the line in the over-all, unified theory of point making. Karl Malone, for his career, delivered 1.41 points per shot attempted; which is much higher than league average of about 1.22 (over the last 22 years now). As a team the Jazz scored 71 points off of 90 shots. That is a pps value of 0.79; while the Lakers enjoyed a 1.35 pps advantage. Everyone on the Jazz (save for Evans who was at 2.00 pps) was below that 1.22 pps average. The guys we want (we being the fans) to take the shots were Paul Millsap (1.20), Derrick Favors (1.14), Gordon Hayward (0.88), Devin Harris (0.83), C.J. Miles (0.50), and Al Jefferson (0.25). What made Karl so great was the efficiency with which he scored with. On the flip side, last night Al Jefferson needed four shots to make one point. And you get two points for making 1 shot, remember. Abstractions aside he went 2/16, and shot 12.5 fg%. Not every shot was a set up, back to the basket isolation shot. Of course not, a vast majority of our shots near the basket were patty-cake tip in attempts. I was vehemently upset about our play last night. When we should have gone straight back up on an offensive rebound we gathered, and allowed the defense to collapse on us. When we should have taken some time and made space we went right back up into the non-fouling arms of the Lakers. They ate our lunch in the paint. We shot ourselves in the feet by constantly missing. Hoopdata.com indicates that the Jazz, as a team, went 17-36 at the rim. And went 1-8 from 3-9 feet from the basket. That is a combined 18 for 44. Or 40.9 fg% -- and our entire roster and offense is predicated upon layups and close shots near the basket. For a point of reference, the Lakers went 14 for 26, which is 53.8 fg%. We crashed the glass, and nearly broke the backboard with all the bricks we were desperately trying to throw at the basket.

It’s not all the fault of guys like Millsap or Jefferson though (who went a combined 5 for 19 from these two areas, combined). Enes Kanter went 1/5 at the rim. I’m not going to eat his lunch for going 0/1 from 3-9’ from the rim. I’m not going to eat his lunch for going 0/1 from 16-23’ from the rim. I am going to eat his lunch for going 1/5 at the rim. I said before that I wasn’t going to put both a jock strap on him *and* a diaper. We need to come to terms with the fact that he can’t jump. And if you are a big who can’t jump you either have to learn to use your body as a weapon to make space (like Karl Malone), or learn all the dispy-do post moves like Kevin McHale and Al Jefferson. Or just take fade away 15 footers like Carlos Boozer. What you absolutely can’t do is continue to get blocked by forcing your way into failure. It’s not like he was getting destroyed by Dwight Howard or even Andrew Bynum. He was having trouble with Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. A rookie Kyrylo Fesenko went hard at the rim and came away with his fair share of misses too. In his rookie year Fes scored at the rim only 42.0 fg% of the time. The second round ultimate project would have seasons of scoring at the rim all pretty high after that, finishing with a cumulative Jazz career (at the rim) field goal percentage of 63.6%. I have much higher expectations for Kanter. And so does Kanter. He will get better. But he has to be taught how to play better.

Tyrone Corbin said that part of the reason why we lost the game is because we missed shots we should have made. That’s like me saying a patient died because they got sick from something they wouldn’t normally have gotten sick from. That said, I’m going to give him a partial pass because he is right – we don’t expect Josh Howard to blow layups (until he changes his name to Harpring…), and we don’t expect all of our three point attempts to either be "open shots that didn’t go in" or "Earl Watson heaves with 1 second left on the shot clock". Our guards and wingplayers did not bring it on offense. C.J. Miles – our most experienced Jazz guy – was his usual mercurial self, and shot 1 for 8. Gordon Hayward missed everything outside the paint, except for a baseline jumper. Alec Burks didn’t make a single shot. All in all, last night’s game is only going to further strengthen in insane, short sighted argument, that Tyrone Corbin has to start and play starters minutes to Raja Bell (42.9 fg%, 6 points, 0.86 pps).

Overall the Jazz did not even play half bad defense, at times. The Lakers shot 42.3%, part of that was legs, another part could be attributed to the Jazz defense. The Lakers missed shots too. The Jazz only turned the ball over 10 times, one less than the Lakers. Previous Jazz teams would have had 16 turn overs before the end of the third quarter. The Jazz held their own on the glass, for the most part. The Lakers missed 41 times, and only got an offensive rebound 26.8% of the time. That’s still greater than 1 in every 4 misses; which is technically a few percentage points worse than last season when the other team got an offensive rebound 26.5% of the time. But the Jazz got their own miss nearly 5% more often than last season. What is even more remarkable is that we fought for our misses. In previous games the Jazz would get blocked, the Lakers would recover and start a fast break. Our tenacity on the offensive glass got us a low fg%, but also had a negative effect on the Lakers fast break. (And so did their tired legs, let’s not say it’s all the Jazz) They had to fight for their defensive boards, instead of previous years where we’d just give up the ghost. Way fewer one and dones was nice to see. But rebounds couldn’t save the Jazz when they shot worse than Kenny Anderson did. (He wasn’t a very efficient scorer, for you young’uns.)

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Problem Areas

The Jazz offense is built around shooting close to the basket, and we did that. And we did not shoot very well. As a result, our imbalanced offense did not have a counter attack. In a perfect situation this is where the coach would play call for more down screens for bigs in order to free up wings who can hit the midrange J. But a perfect situation would have been Phil Johnson (Jerry already thrown out for two techs because of the free throw disparity) freeing up Bryon Russell and Jeff Hornacek with screens from Karl Malone and Antoine Carr. This is not a perfect situation. It’s one thing to bag on the bigs for not getting the job done – but it’s not like the rest of the team executed well either.

Maybe he didn’t call for it, but I didn’t see but one "Harpring Curl" called for any of our wings save for a blotched attempt to CJ. (Where he got it way too close to the defense and chucked it up) Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d think that Hayward and Howard should be able to make MONEY from that shot. Why didn’t we run it? Or if we ran it, did we just do it very poorly? Execution will remain a problem all December. That’s why I felt like January would be where we start getting some wins in a row.

Outside shooting is always going to be a problem – especially on a team that doesn’t try to keep Mehmet Okur (or even Andrei Kirilenko who had a phenomenal year shooting from deep in his last year as a Jazz player). So I’m not even going to address it here. The Jazz shot 1 for 13 from deep. Jason Kapono went 1 for 3. He equaled us in three shots. Why do we not try to get guards who can shoot? Are we hoping at the end of the season our wins will round up to a greater number because of ‘degree of difficulty’? This isn’t figure skating Kevin O’Connor . . .

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Some of the guys we wanted to be awesome did not play awesome

We love most of this team, and will always support the Jazz. This was the first game of the season, but if you ask me, it’s the third game of the pre-season. Hayward needs to find his shot confidence, and Al Jefferson needs to go to the rim harder. He got blocked on a dunk attempt, but that doesn’t mean he has to regress to a poor midrange jump shooter. That’s what happened to Carlos Boozer psychologically against the Lakers. We’ll have no hope if this happens to Big Al as well.

Favors is going to be a foul magnet all his career if he doesn’t ever get enough playing time to change the refs perception of him on the court. (Fesenkitis) He got whistled for a foul about every 5 mins on the court. He has to be out there to challenge that perception. "Hiding him" or "saving him" by taking him out of games, and keeping him out of games early, isn’t helping him. And Kanter is going to be a grounded player all of his career as well. He doesn’t have the length that a guy like Gasol has. He’s a big body, but his footwork can always improve. I’d like to see him watch a lot of Karl Malone and Luis Scola tape. Those are both guys who can’t jump for their lives, but are / were a threat to score 20 every single game.

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Some of the guys we wanted to get playing time did not even get that

When you are down 35 points it’s okay to put the bench guys in. It’s also prudent to do that when you are down 25 points. Or 20 points with 4 to go in the third quarter. The Jazz shot themselves into being on the wrong end of a blowout; and did not get players a chance to really play. If Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans can manage to get 11 minutes (total) in a 30 point drubbing, is there any hope they get playing time during a close game? I hope so . . . I don’t think that Josh Howard is in our long term plans. Glad to know that we’re shafting our long term plans to give a has-been a shot at earning another NBA contract. And also Jamaal Tinsley. At least he only got 2 minutes of play.

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The big picture:

This was the first game. It’s silly to over-react to one game. It’s also dumb to automatically brush off any game in a 66 game season. We have to look at everything in order to see trends and patterns before they become a threat to our health. One of the things we always look for is behavior. I think I’m going to be very interested in Tyrone Corbin this season. Before I wasn’t worried about him, but after seeing the rotations early on this season (all three games, two in the preseason), I’m going to be following this all season long. Ty’s substitution behavior is very cut and try. He appears to be going 10 deep, and rolling with two distinct squads, with very little intermingling between them. If Jefferson is shooting his way to a 2-16 night, wouldn’t it be better to not play him like he’s having an 8 for 15 night?

Last season we stuck in a lot of games because of strong bench play from the bench unit we called The S.W.A.R.M. – and I can imagine this year’s starters are also going to be digging us in a hole every few games. I’d like to see a strong bench unit this season. I think Ty is trying to find chemistry in our units by exclusively playing them together. That said, right now it may at the expense of chemistry that already exists. Evans and Watson always do great things. Hayward is also always looking to make things happen with Evans and others. Putting him on the floor with ball movement murdering Al Jefferson (and Devin Harris) isn’t using him at his best. He needs to ALSO see time with the bench unit. Any maybe some bench guys need to surround some of the starters? Hope to see some more mixing and matching going forward.

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Prognosis

The Jazz played an ugly game on offense against a wounded team. We were outclassed, and for the most part didn’t play horrible defensively. (We had no dribble penetration defense, but what else is new…?) Our poor execution, unfamiliarity with one another, and bad shooting earned us a beat down. We have to get better on all three aspects, and will. The rotations will be mixed and matched as well as the season progresses (and our starters start to get injured). It’s not time to panic yet. It will be if guys like Alec Burks has played less than 20 minutes by the time January rolls around. I am a Jazz homer, but I didn’t expect or consider Deron Williams to be a ROY candidate. Nor did I think that guys like Morris Almond or others like him would be either. I do think that Alec Burks can be a ROY type player, provided he gets a chance to be a young player on the floor who makes mistakes and gains the confidence to get better. I almost played more minutes than him last night, in a 30 pt blowout (for most of the 2nd half). And I was a dumb guy sitting at home in front of the TV.

Blowouts hurt, but they hurt twice as much if you don’t learn from them. Jazz will have a test vs the Nuggets. Hope to not see a repeat performance from these guys.

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