There was much fanfare for the introduction of the big lineup in Washington. Why? Lineups featuring Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson were +14 in the first 6 games of this season, and +51 in the 65 or so minutes they were used last year. They also managed a positive plus/minus against the Spurs in the playoffs last season in over 48 minutes of action, despite the fact that the Jazz got destroyed in that series overall. In short, there's a lot of evidence that it's the Jazz best allocation of resources: when those 3 players play together (in the eyes of many, the best 3 players on the team), the Jazz have consistently outscored their opponents.
This is not the first time the big lineup started, Corbin actually started a lineup of Harris/Hayward/Millsap/Favors/Jefferson in Game 4 of the Spurs series last spring. In that game, combinations featuring Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson were +13 in a game the Jazz lost by 6. Quite frankly, given the evidence, it's a little troubling that Corbin hadn't gone to the big lineup to start before Saturday's game.
But then evidence struck back. The 15-2 run against the big lineup by the hapless Wizards destroyed most or all of the big lineup's mojo, instead forcing Corbin to start a different lineup coming out of halftime. What went so poorly? Let's break it down, possession by possession, to figure out what happened. If you'd like to skip the gory details, scroll down to the conclusion at the bottom.
Favors loses the tip to Okafor. The Wizards call a series of screens for their point guard, AJ Price, which Mo Williams actually fights through fairly well. Price drives and dishes to Ariza. Stopped in the paint by Favors, Ariza dishes to Vesely, who is blocked by Favors at the rim. Great help D by Favors, displaying one of the best traits of the big lineup. Unfortunately, Millsap blows the rebound, as it simply bounces off his hands to the perimeter. This is a hard ball to rebound, because Favors blocks it with considerable force, but Millsap and Al just don't need to be this close to the hoop:
Okafor immediately passes it to Ariza (Millsap's man, off screen above) for a wide open 3, which he misses. Again, Millsap is too far under the hoop on the rebound, and is only able to tap it out rather than corrall the ball. The long rebound goes to Washington.
Suggestion for Improvement #1: This one is understandable: Millsap is typically a PF, so he's used to getting the close range rebounds. However, SFs have the responsibility to get mid-range rebounds, and Millsap simply needs to stay further out when rebounding from the 3 position. This also means he has more time and ability to use his "knack" to get the ball, and balances the defense more should an offensive rebound occur. As is, Millsap missed the first one because he didn't have time to react, his man had a wide open 3 because he was too far away to recover, and he missed the second rebound because he was then out of position for a mid-range rebound. A simple positioning fix would be appropriate.
Millsap atones for this mistake by blocking Ariza on the subsequent layup attempt, and this time Favors gets the rebound uncontested on the weak side.
Foye dribbles up, and attempts to get an early postup for Jefferson, with no luck, he then swings to Williams, who calls Favors over for the pick and roll. Favors' pick is ineffective, and the ball goes to Millsap at the top of the key, who isolate-drives to the hop, pretty impressively until his layup is blocked by Vesely. Williams get the rebound and misses his followup shot.
The Wizards hurry up the floor, though the Jazz get back, but are able to get a pretty open 15 footer by Okafor, who bricks it unceremoniously off the front of the rim.
The Jazz then run a play, though it is so poorly run that it is difficult to call it that. Rather than resulting in open opportunities, it results in wasted time, and a turnover. Seriously, the execution here is so terrible that I uploaded it to Youtube.
The idea here is a double screen for Mo Williams to get an open jumper, with some possible backdoor inside opportunities. Instead, much pointless jogging occurs until Williams hands the ball to the Raptors in shame. Specifically fun to note include Foye completely sidestepping out of a screen on the baseline at 0:14 and Jefferson spinning out of the second one in 0:16. As a result, Price follows Mo incredibly easily, and the Jazz, in panic, try a pick and roll with 3.5 seconds left in a terrible place on the court. That we're attempting to run plays is admirable, but... jeez, guys.
Suggestion for Improvement #2: Set screens. Look, Randy Foye/Al Jefferson, I realize that setting screens is not in the category of things you are recognized for doing. I realize that it's probably painful, and yes, you may even fall on your buttocks. But an effective screen from either one of you here sets your teammate up for success. Instead, you both failed to set those screens, for absolutely no reason. Yes, screening is in the category of sins most people won't notice. The boxscore doesn't reflect your missed screens. What it does reflect, however, is that your team was worse in this game while you were on the floor. (Foye:-12, Jefferson, -2) And that's disappointing, considering how skilled you guys are and how well you played later on.
The Wizards again hustle up the floor, and find Okafor in good post position against Favors. Okafor gets a hook off, but it misses, Jazz rebound uncontested.
The play call here is another Jazz flex favorite, however, this time, Millsap and Favors are the ones setting the screens. They, at least, try to make the screens, though are not super effective, largely because the defender cheats and takes the shortcut through the screens. Ideally, the Jazz would go backdoor here, but Foye gets a relatively decent look off of the screens anyway from 3, and misses it. Wizards get the rebound, though Favors is able to get a hand on it. This actually happens a lot. Suggestion for Improvement #3: Favors should tap those rebounds that he can't quite get to back to the perimeter for new possessions.
Ariza brings the ball up the floor, and sets up a pick and roll with Okafor. However, both Millsap, who is defending Ariza, and Jefferson, defending Okafor, hedge way to hard towards the impending screen, and Ariza just drives to the basket, and finishes over some excellent help defense from Favors for the first points of the game. Wizards 2, Jazz 0.
The Jazz, struggling to score, call for a Jefferson postup. Millsap, though, as the new 3, can't complete the entry pass to Jefferson, who is being fronted by Okafor. The ball goes out of bounds off Okafor, and the Jazz set up an well designed BLOOB (BaseLine Out Of Bounds) play for an easy Favors layup. Unfortunately, Foye set the screen with his elbow without being set, and the call is a moving screen. Suggestion for Improvement #4: Foye, learn to screen well, but not illegally.
This possession is actually really well done by the Wizards, taking advantage of the little escalating problems that screens create. The key is a Crawford/Vesely pick and pop, where Favors comes out excellently to stop the ballhandler. Crawford then, as designed, drops it to Vesely for the shot, which Al Jefferson comes over to help on. However, this leaves Okafor under the basket, relatively open for the layup against Millsap, who can't rotate away from Ariza in time. Wizards 4, Jazz 0.
The Jazz come up the floor, having Favors set a pick for Millsap for a 20 foot jumper. Favors does set the screen, and the play works, but Millsap misses the jumper early in the shot clock. I don't know if the play is designed to have Millsap take a 20 foot jumper, or if there's more later, but fundamentally, it's usually a bad idea to take long twos early in the shot clock. Suggestion for Improvement #5: Don't run plays for long 2s early in the shot clock. Millsap, if you're presented with those opportunities, consider waiting.
The next play is a simple Ariza isolation against Millsap on the baseline. Ariza tries to get by, Millsap cuts him off, but fouls him while doing so. Crawford, out of the out of bounds, takes a contested jumper set up by a screen, he misses. Jefferson is actually in the optimal place for this rebound, as indicated by Kirk Goldsberry's research. Unfortunately, Okafor is too, behind Jefferson, and his length allows for the easy tap out.
Suggestion for Improvement #6: The solution here is simple: a Jefferson boxout turns that tap into an over-the back foul call. Alec Lam wrote an excellent post on Jefferson's rebounding struggles here. His numbers are good, and Jefferson is a pretty good rebounder, however, we believe he could be even better.
Again, Millsap is too far underneath the basket, and so when Ariza gets the ball from the offensive rebound, he has a wide open shot. This time, he makes it. See Suggestion #1. Wizards 6, Jazz 0.
Coming up the floor, the Jazz quickly get the ball to Favors at the top of the key, who is being bodied up by Vesely. Favors takes advantage and drives by Vesely, but misses the layup. It's another early-offense miss, but given that it's a layup, it's hard to complain too much.
On the other end, Millsap entercepts Ariza's initial pass to Okafor, and goes for the layup on the other end. He does a sweet spin move to get the easy shot, but completely blows the layup, Derek Fisher style. Being like Derek Fisher is never a good thing.
The Wizards bring the ball up, and call a double screen for Jordan Crawford. Foye fights through some excellent screens by Vesely and Okafor brilliantly, and forces Crawford into a contested 3. It goes in anyway. C'est la vie. Props to Foye here anyway. Wizards 9, Jazz 0. Timeout Utah.
Out of the timeout, the Jazz go to a play many fans want to see more of, the Favors/Williams pick and roll. It works exceptionally well again, Favors gets a layup again, and Favors misses the layup again. He does get his own rebound, but is savagely blocked by Vesely on the followup out to Mo Williams. Williams immediately passes to a cutting Foye, who attempts to lob it for a Favors alley-oop, it is again blocked by Ariza. In my opinion, the ideas here are good, and usually lead to made baskets. It's just that Favors missed his layups, and Vesely and Ariza were remarkably active. Sometimes you get beat by players playing well, even against the Wizards.
This leads to a fast break and a brilliant pass on the break for a sprinting Vesely, who finishes the layup. Wizards 11, Jazz 0. While it's easy to fault the Jazz transition D here, again crediting the opponent seems like the right thing: that's an incredibly pinpoint pass by Crawford, and Vesely finishes under difficult circumstances. Given Vesely's length over Millsap, the one back, and the fact that Millsap had to hedge towards Crawford, dribbling towards the hoop, it's difficult to ask him to intercept that pass.
On the other end, we run a double screen for a Foye jump shot. Millsap's screen is not good, but it knocks Foye's defender into Favors' second screen, which is excellent. Foye takes the open jump shot and misses, but the rebound goes off the Wizards. The Jazz run perhaps their most famous BLOOP play, and get the simple alleyoop layup to Mo Williams. Wizards 11, Jazz 2.
The Jazz then play some pretty good defense against the Wizards, who end up getting a post up for Okafor (who then ignores an open Vesely under the basket for 2 seconds, but whatever). Unfortunately, all 3 bigs again go under the basket, and none choose to box out. Vesely gets the mid-range rebound. The ensuing possession results in mass confusion for the Jazz, as Millsap, for some reason, doesn't follow Ariza through screens, instead switching to Vesely. In the confusion, Ariza gets a wide open 3 and buries it. Wizards 14, Jazz 2.
Utah then run Foye off a Jefferson screen for an open 3 look, it's somewhat open but Foye turns it down and instead elects to do a PnR with Jefferson. Foye drives, and tries to dump it off to Favors but he isn't ready for the pass, and it goes out of bounds. Foye probably tires to do too much here on the drive.
Washington runs a pick and roll for Crawford. It doesn't work at all but Crawford takes an unimagineably bad shot out of it anyway, unfortunately, Favors and Jefferson fail to box out Vesely again. Again, Vesely kicks it out to a wide open Trevor Ariza (who is open because Millsap is too far inside for the rebound), who misses the wide open 3 again. This time, the rebound is a long one to the weak side, and it bounces to Crawford. Crawford drives, dishes to Vesely, who pump fakes past Favors and gets fouled on the followup. Vesely makes 1 of 2 free throws. Wizards 15, Jazz 2. While the second rebound is somewhat excusable, in the end, those long rebounds are difficult to account for, the first offensive rebound was not. Again, Favors and Jefferson failed to box out. Again, Millsap came far too far inside, giving Ariza a wide-open followup. Had Ariza made those opportunities, the deficit could have been even worse. Again, see Suggestion for Improvement #1.
So, what do we learn here? In this timespan on defense, Millsap was significantly out of position multiple times leading to extra possessions and open shots for his man. While this is understandable given his time at PF, it needs to be fixed when Millsap plays perimeter-oriented 3s such as Ariza. Notably, the Jazz did out-rebound and out-defend their opponents when the big lineup was used last season, though Hayward's additional size and SF rebounding skills may have helped there. If the Mo/Foye/Millsap/Favors/Jefferson lineup is to be used again, Millsap should learn his rebounding role. If he proves unwilling to stay in the mid-range for rebounds, it may be wise to start Hayward, rather than Foye, at the shooting guard spot.
Also troubling was Favors and Jefferson not boxing out on the inside. While long offensive rebounds are difficult to prevent, the short ones should be the domain of the defensive team. Instead, Favors and Jefferson allowed themselves to be out-jumped on the inside, largely because they failed to box out their opponents. This, again, is a simple fix, though it requires a focus and attentiveness to doing so.
On offense, the problem early was one of low execution: the Jazz jogged through their offensive sets, and often completely failed to set screens when they were called upon to do so. Favors did an excellent job of screening, but Foye, Millsap, and Jefferson all failed at points to set the screens as instructed. This is an accountability issue for the coaching staff, and showing game film of these incidents may serve to highlight the importance of setting good screens: the difference in creating good opportunities is massive. The poor execution did improve towards the end of the run, though then the Jazz were troubled by poor finishing, poor luck and some good disruptive defense by the Wizards.
The issues that plagued the big lineup Saturday night were largely addressable. Indeed, some of them were probably due to the fact that the game was back-to-back, and that this lineup had played very limited minutes before this game. Some additional practice (which should be possible in the 3 day layoff the Jazz have this week), as well as some teaching from the coaching staff, should lead to the better results Ty Corbin was seeking when he changed the lineup this weekend.