You may or may not remember, years ago, where Deron Williams was interviewed by local (for you, not me) sports radio and the host of the show identified that the young point guard lived in a zero-sum world. I’m sure all of you understand the meaning, even if you didn’t spend time in college studying ‘game theory’. As always, Wikipedia saves the day:
"…a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s)," (Wikipedia, 2011 b, ¶ 1)
In effect, all of the potential winnings and losses add up to zero; hence, zero-sum. In order for Deron Williams to ‘win’ something the person or people he was playing against had to lose.
In order for him to start all the other potential PGs had to be behind him. In order for him to handle the ball, all the other players had to lose the right to handle the ball. (See: Andrei Kirilenko, our erstwhile point-forward) Possibly even worse was that in order for him to gain primacy and be able to dominate the ball and dictate which plays are being run those around him (even Hall of Fame coaches) may have had to relinquish some of their right to do so as well. This is, of course, unfairly painting the picture that Deron Williams wasn’t a leader and a good team mate. He was both of those things. However, he also was a guy who existed in a zero-sum Point guard world. Luckily for him, the vast majority of our offensive plays for the past 25 years have fed into that one-ball handler doctrine.
The one-ball handler doctrine is being used less and less around the league, and rumors suggest that Tyrone Corbin is planning on expanding (or unearthing) some more two-ball handler sets. New coach. New team. New era. It makes sense, now more than ever, when half of the Conference championship teams (and all of the NBA championship teams) run those offenses. Alas, this is not the post on that doctrine shift – but if you like to do homework you can check up on the shift from this to this. This is the post talking about why this draft, where we have the chance to pick up two of the top four PGs, shouldn’t be a draft we close our mind two picking up necessary redundancy.
One-Ball Handler Doctrine
This doctrine really works out well when you have one guy who is good enough to do everything mostly by himself. Magic Johnson was one such guy. Isiah Thomas was one such guy. Nate Archibald was one such guy. Of course, John Stockton was one as well. Today we have Steve Nash and a slew of shoot first point guards (Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, etc) adopting this doctrine to heart. Chris Paul and Deron Williams probably displayed the best modern examples of pass-first point guards running one-ball handler sets. The obvious benefit is that if the guy with the ball in his hand is All-NBA level then it’s hard to find faults with the system. The obvious, or absurd, criticism is that at times it can get way too "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" for some teams that aren’t well balanced. It’s predictable. And if you run a predictable set of plays (to be fair, the Flex offense is not listed as one of the more dynamic sets – but it works because it is simple), in the playoffs it can be dismantled by a well prepared team. More than anything else, though, is that this doctrine limits the creativity and decision making skills of your team mates. I’m biased here, but there’s no greater example of this than watching Andrei Kirilenko’s games when Deron Williams is injured. In those games his responsibility vis a vis the ball handling is greater and he is almost always up to the challenge. We don’t need to re-create the frustrated forward wheel all over again by handcuffing Gordon Hayward to a ball dominating PG.
Two-Ball Handler Doctrine
This is, honestly, the offense the Jazz should have run way more with John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek (and with Howard Eisley and Jeff Hornacek). The year before we traded for Jeff he averaged 6.9 assists per game. He was a capable ball handler, heck, he was the starting SG and backup PG in Phoenix all those years. This doctrine shares the ball (doesn’t have to be 50/50, but it’s greater than 90/10) between a number of offensive players. The roles change depending on the play called and the game time situation. This increases defensive uncertainty – especially since so many systematic ruses can be built into the play formation. If the Jazz were running those plays back in the Finals days then the Jazz could ALWAYS have attacked whomever was defended by Steve Kerr, instead of having one of our under 6’5 guards try to find a passing angle around Ron Harper or Scottie Pippen. I don’t have a time machine though, so I’m not going to get too into it.
If the one-ball handler doctrine works best in a zero-sum game then I think it’s fair to suggest that the two-ball handler doctrine is more like the Nash equilibrium. In this the players all use their best resources and knowledge of each other player in order to win. To go back to the previous era of Jazz basketball, the Nash equilibrium is one where Deron is aware of his teammate’s capabilities (strategies for winning) and doesn’t take anything away from them. After all, our playbook is supposed to be a Coordination game – where "all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions," (Wikipedia, 2011 a, ¶ 1). That would be like Deron recognizing that Andrei’s height and placement on the court can get a pass to a guy faster than Deron waving Andrei out of that area and dribbling there himself to then try to attempt a pass at a lower passing angle. Alas, that was a world too beautiful to exist . . .
Dallas runs a great multiple ball handler set of plays. Sometimes Jason Kidd is the point man. Sometimes it is Jason Terry. Sometimes it is J.J. Barea. Depending on the play and the defense the primary can shift in the middle of a possession. This is a quantum leap ahead of the stuff we were running this same year where everyone knew who would be passing to whom. A move to this type of offense is only possible when you actually a) change the ball handling doctrine, and b) get the players who can share the ball this way.
History is the teacher for tomorrow’s victories
The Jazz are a good team. They are also not a dumb team. While moving Deron to the SG at times was still a one-ball handler set (Earl became the ‘Deron’, and Deron became the ‘CJ’ on those plays) the Swarm showed that the two-ball handler theorem was something to invest into. Next year we could have none of the guys who were part of SWARM prime (Earl Watson, Ronnie Price, C.J. Miles, Francisco Elson, and Kyrylo Fesenko) – but I think that unit (scroll down to #16 here) was more like a technology demonstrator than an actual unit to develop. In the Swarm unit everyone was a threat because the defense had never seen the Jazz run anything like that before. C.J. Miles became the focus of the defense's energies – while defenses against the Jazz were previously focused on corralling our point guard. Adding another point guard only confused the defenses further because they weren’t always performing the same role on back to back plays. Furthermore, that unit really had a strong Nash Equilibrium thing going for it – Francisco was great at shooting midrange jumpers but he wasn’t a banger. Fes can only bang. Fes drew players on him despite his inabilities to box out. Fran could box out. They somehow made it work; with one another ‘winning’ in the way they knew how, without hurting their team mate. This was seen even more plainly between our two guards: Earl and Ronnie. Earl could run an offense, while Ronnie could not. Ronnie can drive on guys and draw defenders, while Earl rarely did that with any success. Earl could make the long pass. Ronnie could make the spot up jumper.
I will always look back at the stats and see all the support in the world for the SWARM theorem. It worked. And it worked because everyone worked together while the defense had no clue what the hell was happening.
Anyone who has had the sheer JOY of buying any piece of technology since the 1970’s knows that no matter how happy you are with what you have, there’s someone out there who wants to convince you that you should be unhappy and you should upgrade immediately. Sometimes it works out – your phone contract is up shortly after the release of some new, cool, technology. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and you have to upgrade on the fly to replace something broken, and it’ll cost you an arm and a leg to replace. Right now some people love Enes Kanter – and I’ve watched all the same scouting vids, looked at his stats, his measurements, and read the reports. The problem with Kanter isn’t that he’s a big and we have a lot of them (that IS a problem though), the problem is that he’s not a painless upgrade. We have a guy inside who is a lifelong Jazz member and consummate garbage man / hero in Paul Millsap. We have a big who has all of the post moves in the world and can score on anyone in single coverage (watch the games vs Orlando again) – and he also dominated Pau Gasol on both ends of the court this year – in Al Jefferson. And we have LAST YEAR’S #3 Draft pick / high upside big in Derrick Favors.
Excuse the Socratic method here, but I do think that drafting Kanter to replace Favors is stupid. (No one said that we should remove Favors, but the Socratic method exhausts all possibilities including the dumb ones) Favors is obviously the better prospect. He’s also better at the same measurements that made Kanter seem like a Top 3 pick in the first place.
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It’s really nice that in a group of 70 players over eight categories both of these guys rank in the top 35 players quite a bit: Favors 7 times and Kanter 6 times. Favors’ ordinal rank is 23.3, while Kanter clocks in at 28.3. What the bigger difference is; however, happens to be what they do well and how well do they do them. Enes is really good at being tall, heavy, and relatively quick. You don’t block a lot of shots with your forehead though, so being tall is not that big of a deal – especially when it’s only a 1" difference. Weight is another thing, a 15 pound difference is significant, especially coupled with the fact that Kanter appears more agile. But getting to a spot and getting to a spot and playing defense are two different animals. Unless Kanter is going to develop a mighty flop (like Anderson Varejao (flop) or Big Baby Glen Davis (???)) it’s not that helpful. Favors has big advantages in wingspan, no step vertical, and max reach. He may get to a spot after Kanter, but he’s more equipped to do something about the shot when he does get there. (Just google some of his help defense back in New Jersey for proof). This is just the measurements alone, but Favors has not only upside and measurements in his favor. He’s about the same age and isn’t a rookie. He seems to make a difference on defense. He’s more athletic. He’s not a great post up guy, but playing against Sap and Al Jeff all year long makes him learn faster than taking a year off of basketball like Kanter did. Clearly, if it’s between Kanter and Favors, Favors is the victor.
How about Kanter against Millsap, or Kanter against Big Al, or Kanter against Memo? All more painful upgrades than Kanter vs. a 2nd year player. Kanter’s bigger than Millsap, but Millsap is an energy guy who dominates on the glass. Sap also is clutch and able to shoot and dribble better – while adapting to life outside of the paint. Why outside? Because we have Big Al – who is a true paint scorer that we’ve sorely lacked for nearly a decade. Jettisoning either one of those guys is going to involve a critical reception – especially in favor of making room for a young guy who has no experience against other guys his size. Kanter looked great against American high school kids. He’s never played against guys his own size. The Jazz pulled the trigger on sending D-Will away, but they didn’t get a rookie in return to play PG. They replaced D-Will with a former All-Star PG in Devin Harris. Moving either Sap or Big Al for a rookie is not the same thing.
What about Kanter instead of Okur? This is sheer madness as their games are not the same. Yes, Memo can rebound well, and Kanter can hit the outside jumper – but Memo is lights out from outside and has had experience guarding guys like Yao Ming in single coverage in the playoffs, and held him to -3 ppg from his season average against the Jazz during that time. Kanter isn’t Memo no more than I’m Taye Diggs. I don’t know how that analogy works. I think Taye Diggs is a good looking man. . . what, what am I talking about here? Oh yes, Kanter isn’t an upgrade over any of our current potential rotation bigs. He may be in certain areas, but it’s not a great upgrade when you have to factor in the cost of doing something with the 'phone you already have'. Sap, Big Al and Memo all have money and years on their contracts. Drafting Kanter doesn’t automatically make PLAYING TIME for Kanter. There’s only 96 minutes a game at the PF and C spots. Even if you somehow get Millsap to play 15 at small forward, there still isn’t enough minutes to go around. You’re going to have to get rid of one of the four current guys ahead of Kanter on the depth chart. And those four guys deserve one healthy year together to better evaluate what we have there, and what could be. Can you imagine how amazing Big Al could be if Memo was out there drawing a big away from the paint? Or how many blocks Sap and Favors would get against other teams’ bench units? Don’t tell me the unknown of Kanter is a greater draw than actually using the guys we already have – guys you already love.
No need to read the fine print
You know what’s the opposite of costly upgrade? A free upgrade. These are pain free and are the best of a good situation. Here you get the best stuff at the best time and there are no strings attached. We’re planning on running more two-ball handler sets. Right now we have shoot first Devin Harris at the helm and two career backups in Earl Watson and Ronnie Price who are both free agents. Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles both look to have the ball in their hands a bit more too, but they are starter material next season. We know that Jimmer Fredette is better than Ronnie Price. If you’re going to have a guy come off the bench and vacillate between PG and SG (and Jimmer is taller, has about the same wingspan and a much faster lane agility test than Ronnie) why not have Jimmer do it? He’s way better at passing than Ronnie. He’s way better at penetrating than Ronnie. And he’s way better at shooting (and making) threes than Ronnie. (Don’t even get me started on free throws) How easy and pain free would it be to replace a fan favorite back up point guard who went to a college in Utah by drafting Jimmer and letting Ronnie walk?
Similarly, steady but unspectacular Earl Watson can be replaced by (my pick) Brandon Knight. Knight kicks Earl’s butt on all the predraft stuff. He’s not an outstanding % shooter, so he’ll be forced to run the plays and get the ball to better scorers. (One of them will be sharing ball handling duties with him – in the upgraded Swarm, his name is Jimmer.) While Jimmer is a better penetrator, Knight is a better floor general. Using the Nash Equilibrium here is the key, as they can co-exist and thrive together. It’s not a zero sum game at all. Imagine how great Jason Terry and Jason Kidd would have been if they started off their careers with one another. That type of synergy can exist if the Jazz recognize that a) they are going to be changing ball handling doctrines and b) they are up for two pain free upgrades.
And if you put the theory into full practice, the Jazz should be carrying 4 dedicated PGs using this new doctrine (like how the Jazz used to carry 3 back in the 12 man roster days with the one-ball handler set and Stockton). That means you also re-sign Earl Watson (or even Kyle Weaver?) and have him lead the bench for the first 20 games while Knight learns. Then the next 62 is Knight/Fredette show. Of course, my idea is that this minimizes Raja Bell’s on court time – but hey, I can dream can’t I?
Next year’s draft is going to have a better slew of SFs (some all around ones, not just guys who are either athletes, defenders, or scorers). Also this time next year we’re going to know better who to move out of our four bigs. I’m willing to sacrifice Marshon Brooks in favor of getting Jimmer to appease a lot of people here (gotta remember that BPA is BPA now, not BPA in the future) – meet me half-way and recognize that drafting a PG at #3 isn’t a zero-sum game for drafting your guy at #12. After all, the new ball handling doctrine is no longer a zero-sum game. It’s a new era of Jazz basketball. One with more cooperating and success; which means more wins.