NBA Playoffs 2012: Jazz Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap - playing big inside, or only big in size?

Apr 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) and Paul Millsap (24) during the second half of game one in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 106-91. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

We're getting close to the end here, and I think we need to come straight to the point. The Utah Jazz did not make the playoffs this year by being the most perfectly constructed team. We got here because of our offense. The Jazz were the fourth best team in the league in points per game this last season: 99.7 ppg. A huge part of that was the overt dominance we had inside. And, naturally, two huge pieces of that puzzle were Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Millsap has been exploited on defense in the playoffs before, and Al Jefferson was never really expected to play any defense until he got here. So, for the most part, our two best players -- our biggest players -- our guys who were paid $22,103,435.00, are playing this far into the season because of their offense.

So let's look at their offense so far, month by month, in the regular season, and now in the playoffs. Are they playing big inside when it counts, or are they only "big" in size. (Yes, Sap is only 6'8 . . . the same height as our current starting shooting guard -- but everyone calls him a big; so I'm rolling with it here)

The Numbers:

Al Jefferson Paul Millsap
Minutes Points Shots Free Throws Points Minutes Points Shots Free Throws Points
per Game per Game per Game per Game per Shot per Game per Game per Game per Game per Shot
December 30.0 14.7 16.3 1.7 0.90 . 27.3 13.3 11.8 3.5 1.13
January 33.7 18.7 16.4 3.8 1.14 . 33.0 18.1 13.9 3.7 1.31
February
32.7 19.5 18.1 2.5 1.08 . 30.1 13.8 11.9 3.4 1.16
March 34.5 21.4 17.8 3.3 1.20 . 33.1 17.1 13.8 3.9 1.23
April 36.2 17.5 16.4 2.2 1.07 . 37.2 18.3 14.8 5.3 1.24
'11-12 Season: 34.0 19.2 17.2 2.9 1.12 . 32.8 16.6 13.5 4.0 1.23
'11-12 Playoffs: 33.3 15.7 16.3 1.0 0.96 . 32.7 12.7 12.3 4.0 1.03
Difference: -0.7 -3.5 -0.8 -1.9 -0.16 . -0.1 -3.9 -1.1 0.0 -0.21

For the most part their MPG remains stable from their '11-12 regular season averages to what they are getting in the playoffs. Just what they are doing with their time remains to be seen. In the regular season the Jazz did not play at a super high pace; however, we can assume that the play has even slowed down that much more in the playoffs. Or, you know, perhaps the shots the Jazz are taking are being taken by their 2nd and 3rd options -- and less from their 1st and 2nd options? The San Antonio Spurs are damn good at defense.

.

The Play:

There are two really interesting plays that stick out in my mind this season from Al Jefferson on offense. The first is a sequence of plays where he completely took Phoenix Suns defensive minded center Marcin Gortat to school in the 4th quarter of the most important regular season game of the season. Jefferson was decisive, and hell, dynamic. He was quick with his post moves, and made flawless shot after flawless shot; he even finished strong with two hands and hung on the rim. The second really interesting play came last night where he head-faked himself into an even more difficult shot when Spurs center Tiago Splitter was on him. He ended up behind the backboard and threw up a really bad shot during a crucial time of the most important game of the playoffs. This is Al Jefferson. He exists between these two extremes. He does not get to the line, and his shots are all rhythm based. If he can get into a groove he is poetry in motion. The Spurs did not give him the peace of mind the regular season did; and even his pet move looks herky/jerky now. It's like he has to clutch the ball for an extra heart beat or two during his move and he's releasing the ball at an unnatural swing in his normal shot.

His play is steadily improving. After all, he hasn't really played in a lot of playoff games in his career. And never before against the Spurs. I am disappointed in his offensive play though. He's shooting 3.5 less times a game, getting to the line 1.9 less times a game, and the quality of his shots are off as well. During the season he was not a very efficient player, and his 1.12 points per shot value reaffirmed that (average is 1.22 -- Karl Malone was 1.40). In the playoffs it has retreated down to 0.96 points per shot. Using something called math let's see how many shots that would mean he needed to take in order to reach his season average of 19.2 points per game. Hmm, at the rate of 0.96 PPS, he'd need to take 20.0 shots a game in order to reach 19.2 ppg. Which is even above his regular season average. And in the playoffs, as we just went over, he's taking 3.5 less shots a game. Offensively (again, the only reason he led us to the playoffs -- it wasn't his defense) he has gotten even less efficient.

These are, arguably, Allen Iverson type levels of volume shooting right now. And volume isn't going to get it done against a great defensive rebounding club like San Antonio.

Paul Millsap also needs to be yelled at as well. It's one thing to be shut down by Tim Duncan; but Millsap is getting *handled* by Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner. Millsap plays about the same number of minutes, and gets to the line the same number of times. However, he is shooting horribly. His PPS value was above average in the regular season, but now it is 1.03. That's really bad.

As a result, as a tandem, these guys have gotten worse. And they aren't locking anyone down on defense. They are big parts of our team because of their offense. And their offense is already on holiday with Andrei Kirielnko right now in some sub-tropical expensive European resort. The hotel rooms probably have bidets there. I'm sure it's really relaxing. That's where Millsap and Big Al's offense has gone.

We kind of need their offense to come back if we're going to avoid a sweep here . . . they are big parts of our team. And a big reason why we're even in the playoffs is due to their offense.

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The Solution:

These guys have taken (and settled for) way too many jumpers this series. Take it inside, draw contact, go hard. In effect, play "big". The Jazz advantage was supposed to be size, you give that all away when one of your two best bangers are firing away from 18 feet like they are Carlos Boozer. Neither of them are. And we're picking up losses as a result. These two guys need to show me something good in Game 4 -- otherwise some of their brilliant play during the regular season will seem like nothing more than a regular season mirage. When the games mattered, the playoffs, they did not play big. It's okay though. I know someone who is playing big. He's the 20 year old who has a 1.11 PPS value in the playoffs, while getting to the free throw line 5.7 times per game, in 26.3 MPG. You know, Derrick Favors. Aka -- 2012-13 Utah Jazz Starting Bigman Derrick Favors.

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EDIT: Here is Fav's stats compared to Al and Paul

Utah Jazz Bigs in '11-12 Playoffs
Minutes Points Shots Free Throws Points
per Game per Game per Game per Game per Shot
Al Jefferson 33.3 15.7 16.3 1.0 0.96
Paul Millsap 32.7 12.7 12.3 4.0 1.03
Derrick Favors 26.3 10.3 9.3 5.7 1.11
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