Analyzing Preseason Game #1: Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors - The Downbeat - #858

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

This whole Downbeat will be over-analyzing one meaningless preseason game. Now that we have basketball, (and it's been so long!) let's talk about basketball.

This is the first Downbeat of the season that features, you know, an actual basketball game involving the Utah Jazz to talk about. As a result, this Downbeat is dedicated to that game and the analysis thereof. We'll start with the boxscore:

Utaatgsw_boxscore_medium

Some quick notes before we flesh out the analysis:

  • Darnell Jackson was the only player without a guaranteed contract to play for the Jazz. That's pretty remarkable for a preseason game.
  • In games with big point swings (as this one was, with GSW taking a 16 point lead in the third), oftentimes wild +/- totals can result. That was the case for the Warriors' Harrison Barnes, who had a -17 point differential for the game. On the Jazz, however, the effort was much more balanced: no player had higher than a +6 or lower than a -6 plus/minus.
  • Despite losing, and despite shooting terribly, the Jazz won the rebounding battle, 43 to 40. This is partially due to the the impressive rebounding efforts of one Enes Kanter, who garnered 11 rebounds in only 24 minutes.
  • The Jazz also fouled fewer times than the Warriors did, giving the Jazz an important 20-10 FTA advantage.
  • Paul Millsap shot and made a 3!

Also, here's the highlight video NBA.com made for the game:

The obvious reason the Jazz lost is poor shooting. Obviously, being able to hit shots is an important part of basketball games, but we shouldn't take this poor shooting performance as indicative of the future of the season.

Consider that the Jazz shot 38% from the field. The Jazz only shot worse than 38% in 6 games last season, all of which they lost. (The games? The first of the season vs. LAL, the 4th against SAS, the 111-85 game against OKC, and the horrendous loss in SAC, as well as games 2 and 4 of the playoffs.)

Consider that Al Jefferson had one of the worst shooting nights of his career: he's shot worse than 1-8 only once since joining the Jazz, a 1-11 performance against Boston in 2011. (I looked up the same stat for Gordon Hayward's 2-10 performance, it turns out that he's shot worse than 20% 35 times in the same two year period. Of course, they have very different roles, but Al Jefferson's consistency is impressive.) Randy Foye has shot worse than 0% never in his career.

Just like that particularly poor joke and obvious piece of analysis above, it's clear that the Jazz were still in preseason mode.

As we all know, this game was not on TV.

What's really frustrating about this is that the team had announced previously that all of the games would be televised on ROOT, instead, only half of them are. Also frustrating is that it's abundantly clear from the highlights that television cameras were present, my understanding, then, is that televising the game would have only required a broadcast truck to attend, although perhaps there are some rights issues that I haven't considered.

That being said, the Jazz have been getting better about addressing these issues honestly with a demanding fanbase. For example, when Jody Genessy of the Deseret News reported a 3-tweet-per-quarter limit, Jazz fans were understandably upset: this was limiting their access to the team. Especially in the 4th quarter of a tight game, which can last far longer than a half-hour, a three-tweet limit seems absurd. To their great credit, the Jazz (and Jonathan Rinehart, Jazz PR guru) responded by explaining that it was an NBA rule, and indeed, nothing had changed or will change about how reporters are allowed to cover the Jazz.

In an era when fans are smarter and more basketball-hungry than ever, it would seem to be fair to ask for an explanation: what happened with the telecasts of the missing four Jazz games? Was it a strictly cost-cutting decision by the non-Jazz-owned ROOT sports? Was it an NBA rights issue? What caused it?

This kind of open dialogue can be great for the team as well: in the Jazz' more secretive moments, unfair conspiracy theories arise when they're not really warranted in response to limited information. With communication, fans can understand and wholeheartedly support the team.

There was some significant worry before the game on Twitter regarding Ty's choice of starting lineup:

Instead, there was no need to worry, as Favors played more time than any of the starting lineup. Perhaps more worrying is the 8 point/ 2 rebound/4 turnover statline, as you would probably expect more from a Most Improved Player candidate. But, as we showed in beat #2 today, it was an off game for many.

But this doesn't address Peter J. Novak's concern regarding first-team reps: how will Favors learn how to play in crunch time with starting-caliber talent if he doesn't get the practice and time he deserves in the first team?

Well, if we're honest, I'm truthfully not too worried about that. Why? Because when he performed with the first team, the Jazz played great. Look at the following table:

Jazz_top_5man_units_medium

Look at lineups 8, 13, and 17. Those were high winning percentage lineups for the Jazz, some of the team's best. Those also happen to be the lineups in which Favors played with the starting unit. (While I have your attention, let me again point you towards lineup #8: the big lineup. In that lineup, the Jazz scored 1.22 PPP and only gave up 0.81 PPP. We should start that lineup. Media members: do you want your careers to advance because you cover a winning team? Bug Corbin about starting this lineup until he does, the rewards will be great.)

So really, if you support Favors starting, your argument should be "Favors should start because when he plays with the first-team, the Jazz are really good" and not "Favors should start because first-team lineups featuring Favors need to improve".

Let's go back to the highlight video again, and do a quick NBA Playbook-style analysis of one play, the very first of the video:

The play is absurdly simple: Harrison Barnes dumps the ball to Lee in the post. Barnes makes a quick cut to the hoop, using Lee as a screen. Lee simply hands it back to Barnes who's easily able to dunk.

But notice the subtleties involved that make the play work: both done well by the Warriors and poorly by the Jazz:

  • Barnes doesn't initially go towards his basket, but instead makes a split-second fake to the top before cutting hard behind Lee. Hayward responds by taking a step back, as if to go help double on Lee, before Barnes cuts. This means that Hayward is unable to slide in front of the screen by Lee.
  • Millsap begins his slide towards Barnes, but instead of getting there in time, knows that he'll be late, and somewhat stutter-steps and reaches instead of committing. Realistically, he's not going to be able to get there that quickly (and neither would Favors, by the way). However, a younger Millsap may have been more willing to take the foul.
  • Marvin Williams is actually really well placed: he's there to take over guarding Ezeli on the low block if Al needs to go and help, but still is within close distance of his man. He even steps in front of Ezeli when Al moves to help. Marvin probably doesn't, though, have the angle to go and help himself.
  • Al Jefferson does go and help, but does so too late, once Harrison already has the ball and is just one step away from the rim. You can congratulate him on the effort, but being there meant giving up the foul plus the basket, whereas getting there early may prevent the basket, and getting there late means conceding two but not three points. Jefferson is getting better: last year's 103 DRTG was the best of his career, but it's going to take additional work for him to be able to make the smart defensive play. Luckily, the "learning how to pass" incident last year actually gives me some faith in his ability to suddenly improve: it seems a switch flips in his head and allows him to expand his game. If the defensive positioning switch were to flip, the Jazz would have one of the best players in the league.

It's a simple give-and-go, but there's a ton going on in just 4 seconds of NBA action. Which, by the way, has finally returned for 2012-2013. How truly excellent.
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