Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
Like I said in the downbeat today, 14.6% of the season is over. (Maybe I didn't say that, but I had that in my excel sheet to say . . .) (No, I'm not kidding. It was.) Well, with 12 games in the books we've seen some things that we like, love, and hate. Some of these things were super obvious, and some were more subtle. We've had some outright surprises as well. Let's go over some of them!
- Right now our record is exactly what I thought it would be, even if I wanted us to grab a few more road wins. But that's what I wanted, not what I felt would be. The Jazz need to win three more games in order to be right on schedule, and that's still a possibility -- we have the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at home, and the Kings and New Orleans Hornets on the road. So the Jazz are who I thought they were? No, that's not the surprise. The REAL surprise is how the team is getting these win.
- Sure, we're still winning (or losing games) because of our offense. Last season the Utah Jazz were 4th best in the NBA in PPG, and 6th best in Offensive Rating. That team shot at 45.6 fg%, 32.3 3pt%, and 75.4 ft%; while taking the 4th most shots, the 4th most free throw attempts, had the 3rd most offensive rebounds, and some of the most horrible three point shooting stats around. This season the Jazz are #15 in PPG, and #14 in Offensive Rating. The team is shooting 43.3 fg%, 35.0 3pt%, ans 75.0 ft%; while being 1st in shots, 3rd in free throw attempts, 2nd in offensive rebounds -- but we're a much better three point shooting team (a few bad games have dropped us down). Our offense right now doesn't blow anyone away, but we're the kid that re-learned how to do something, but learned how to do it so they can do it better and better as they get more practice. We reached the limit of what the offense could do last year, and we were super easy to defend in the playoffs. This year we made changes.
- I was surprised when the Jazz went out and made trades for Mo Williams and Marvin Williams, while signing free agent Randy Foye. I didn't expect the team to go "all in" on three point shooters this past off-season. They did. The bigger surprise was their actual in-game affect. They are, if you will, 'ballin' right now. Long ballin', you might say. Marvin has gone 9/28, but we know he's better than that. Mo has gone 15/46, and can get super hot. And Randy Foye only does one thing, but man, does he ever do it? So far this season he's shot 27/61. I didn't put the percentages for them (Mo and Marvin are both in the mid 30's, but Randy is shooting 44.3%), because it's their collective floor spacing that matters more than their individual efforts. As a group they've gone 51/135 -- which is 37.8%. I'm not even going to compare that to how Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, and Josh Howard did last year. I'm not even going to look it up.
- It's not just MFM guys, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap have been shooting a whole lot of threes for us too, their five player total is 73/191, an astounding 38.2%. In 12 games they're averaging 6.1 made threes a game off of 15.9 attempted. Using more math we also see that each of them is averaging about 1 made three a game, as a unit (built on collective totals).
- Of course that's not the case as we have a three point specialist, and a number of three point opportunists. Foye makes 2.3 threes a game, Mo 1.4, and Gordon 1.0 threes a game. Marvin and Paul both make 0.8 -- but because we have five legit guys to spread the floor, we can really mix and match a lot better. And it's only going to get better as the season goes on. Why do I think that?
- Well, I think that because the off-season idea was to get three point shooters in order to help our inside game flourish against single coverage. Nope. Our three point game seems to be self-propagating. It's creating better floor spacing on offense for the inside game but also for the outside game as well. Guys are moving to the right spots (partly because they are NBA vets, but also all guys who played in "threes are good" systems before coming to the Jazz). I don't mean they'll park themselves in a corner and wait. No. They are each moving together in different parts of the floor and moving as the rest of the team moves. They see where the defense is and position themselves best to take advantage of that situation. I actually haven't seen that since Jeff Hornacek was suiting up. Learning how to get open is a learned skill, and all three of these guys have it. When this is working, we're getting a ton of open looks.
- Not only was it a surprise to get three point shooters, or that these guys are actually playing well -- the biggest surprise on the three point front is when and where we are taking them. As a team the Jazz have gone 76/217 from deep -- only 35.0%. But it's not just spot ups and end of the shot clock heaves anymore. The majority of them are still spot ups (where we're shooting 36.2%), but a growing minority of them are in transition (where we're shooting 37.9%). And yes, we're actually taking and making transition threes. The team is taking 18.1 threes a game. Of course, 11.5 of them are pure, half court Spot ups. That remains about the same from last season. The huge surprise here is the 2.4 threes attempted in transition this season. This may be normal for other teams, but we're the Utah Jazz. In the Jerry Sloan years we averaged "So help me God I will strangle you to death for even thinking of it" three pointers per game in transition. The main culprits are Mo and Randy. With Gordon Hayward running things on breaks both of those guys can move to an open spot in transition -- and both have, and both have been raining death. Mo is shooting 50% on spot ups, and 40% on transition threes. Randy is shooting 40% on spot ups, and 61.5% on transition threes. At this moment Mehmet Okur is working on his come-back attempt. Jokes aside, we were a team that sucked at threes. We got three point shooters. And beyond that, five of our guys are killing it from downtown this year. The ultimate surprise here is that it worked.
- That's not the only big surprise this year. For example, Al Jefferson's evolution is something to watch. We've gone from Al the Conqueror Ball to this "push the ball up the floor, and take threes" attack which is so un-Jazz like. It seems to work though because we're not the Golden State Warriors (no conscious) or the 7 seconds or less Phoenix Suns (one HOF floor general). It's working for us because we have some of the best bigs around -- and we're still killing it on the glass, even if the balls bounce a few feet outwards now. Al used to get the ball all the time, but now he's turning into a guy who can turn it on when his number is called; but be there if you need him. This shows me that he's actively working on what's best for the team. His shots are down. His touches are down. And the team plays at a speed that doesn't put him at his best -- and he hasn't said a thing yet. This is not how guys in contract years usually behave. Al is behaving quite well. He's also trying to expand his game. Right now he's averaging career highs in RPG (12.0), near career highs in APG (1.9), career highs in FT% (78.9%), all the while shooting less and less. In fact, he has not shot these few shots a game (14.5) since he was in a Boston Celtics uniform. Over all, on offense, his scoring is down; and not just because of shots. But when we've needed him he's been there. And he's putting the team first. It's early, but he's really being that guy you want him to be especially with his mentorship of the younger bigs and seeming to play better with the ball out of his hands. That said, it's no surprise that he's not defending better this year. Offense is only half the game, but I'm not going to fully trash Al here. I've been surprised with his attitude and affinity for changing his style of play. Paired with a real Star, he would totally flourish.
- I think we all should stop being amazed with Paul Millsap each year, and just accept that he's going to come back with some new facets to his game.. He always improves, but it's totally a surprise that he's shooting 55.6 3pt% this year, going 10/18 in 12 games. With Kevin Love draining threes last year, and the Miami Heat losing games in the playoffs without Chris Bosh going 3/3 down the stretch from deep I guess this is where the position is going. The knock on the Jazz bigs was that we didn't have that Ryan Anderson stretch four type guy. I think we do now with 'Sap.
- A huge surprise has been how our Core Four has been whittled down to three, and now, two. I guess eventually the only "star" we'll have will be Derrick Favors. He's showing star athleticism, work ethic, and ability on both ends of the court. Kid's even shooting 70.6 ft% while leading the team in FTA per game at 4.3. Both are career highs -- and he started his career off shooting 59.5 ft%. Gordon Hayward looks to be the Perpetually Under-Estimated Guy (PUEG) of this generation, essentially a taller Rickey Pierce who is more versatile on defense. I can see Hayward having a break out season -- next year though. So far what we have going on with the vets seems to be slowing his momentum from last year a big. Enes Kanter looked dominant in the preseason, but he's still a project and he's still projected to not get any playing time until he becomes the #3 big, and not the #4 big. There may be some evidence to suggest that he can be that #3 guy ... but he needs to show it in order for the front office to start drinking that Kool Aid. Speaking of all of those things (speaking of . . . a dominant preseason . . . no playing time . . . and Kool Aid) we get to Alec Burks. I've seen the Jazz play their game and ruin countless shooting guard prospects to kind of know where this is going. He hasn't been helping himself in games when he does finally get in either, he tries to win back all of his lost playing time by trying to display his ability to do what Randy does. I think he has the physical tools to be a very solid defender. He's only going to get more playing time by establishing that part of his game, and distinguishing himself from Randy.
- The Biggest Surprise, for the entire team for me, is that Tyrone Corbin is improving at a faster rate than I expected of him. That doesn't mean I think he's going to be a COY this year. Nor does it mean I expected him to be horrible this year. It just means that he has surprised me. He's mixing lineups a lot (should have done that in the preseason . . . but okay . . . ), riding guys with hot hands, and trying to manage all of these talented people. In previous seasons he did little mixing and matching, and took guys with hot hands out of the game for the sake of the rotations. His job is hard; not because we expect him to take us to the finals. His job is hard because except for point guard, every position is overflowing with legit NBA talent. And making it worse is that the replacement level from starter to bench player is pretty equitable. It's not like you're going from Karl Malone to Mike Brown here when you go from Paul Millsap to Derrick Favors. You get a way different player, but for the most part, everyone is capable of contributing on any given night.
There are a bunch of surprises I left out too. I hope you guys add them, and your own feelings on what I wrote, in the comments section!