First of all, I need to make a number of qualifiers here before we get into this post. In my mind to be a disappointment as a player here that inherently means that a) you are a talented basketball player, and b) you were talented enough that many people expected more from your time with the Utah Jazz. In this case (as I'm the sole author of this post) this means that I believe in you, and for whatever reason, things didn't work out to the high, crazy, expectations I had for what I thought SHOULD HAVE happened. The Jazz had a lot of players who played disappointingly (Olden Polynice), or were disappointments for whatever they did off the court (ditto). But they were not really eligible to be on a list of biggest disappointments as a player.
This group of players aren't filled with guys like Greg Ostertag who did not have the drive to dominate - no one in their right mind felt like Ostertag would ever be a star. Rather, I think you could say that bringing over Chris Morris (a bigtime college scorer, and near star for the New Jersey Nets - his PER was nearing 18.0) as a free agent, and not getting what we thought we'd be getting qualifies. Also, for the purpose of this post we're not looking a disappointing plays (Jordan push off), sequences (lost Eisley three, Harper three given after shot clock), series (Golden State sweep decades ago), or trades that didn't happen (I see you, Rony Seikaly). Just players. Players who were good. Players who made us expect something amazing from them. And sadly, players who did not work out as well as we all wished.
To me, clearly, one guy really fits that bill. The biggest disappointment player (I'm not going to say bust in this post, it's unfair to anyone to be called a bust) in Jazz history has to be none other than Morris Almond. The last qualifier I need to point out here before the break is that . . . damn it . . . I love / loved / am still in love with Morris Almond's game. I still think that if small details were changed he'd still be our starting SG today. But he's not. Right now he's a Free'dMoAlmond. Yet in my mind, I can't shake the feeling that he's the biggest disappointment player in franchise history.
Again, I'm not calling him the biggest franchise disappointment (single player) ...
...because I want to trash him. Rather, I think that by my use of the phrase, he's the guy that *I* felt like was the most likely guy to HELP our team, but it was disappointing that it did not work out. Bigger than not getting a near-star to join our NBA Finals teams (Chris Morris). Bigger than an old Danny Manning who had nothing left in the tank. Bigger than a non-hustling Tom Chambers back in the day. Bigger than so many other legit NBA guys who came here and did not pan out. That's the high esteem I still hold for Mobe today. I am more disappointed in him not working out over former NBA All-Stars not working out.
Almond not working out is a disappointment because as a confident, capable shooting guard who played four years of college basketball and had the ability to flat out ignite . . . . because of those qualities he was the missing piece to our Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur starting line-up. Morris wasn't known for passing. That's fine. He would be the 3rd or 4th option in that line-up and would only get the ball when a) super open, and b) when it would be dumb for him NOT to shoot it. That's clearly how I saw it all playing out in my mind. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's start at the beginning.
The Utah Jazz before Morris Almond
In 2006-2007 the Utah Jazz started Derek Fisher 61 times. During that season starting point guard Deron Williams played in and started in all but 2 games. So, at most, Fisher started 2 games of that 61 starts at point guard. I know we get too deep into math here at SLC Dunk, but bear with me. That means that Fisher started 59 games at shooting guard for the Utah Jazz in 2006-2007. There were other guards on the team, mind you. Of course there were: 21 year old rookie Ronnie Brewer started 14 games; 19 year old second year player C.J. Miles started 13 games; and Gordan Giricek started 6. Each of those three players had flaws though -- Brewer was a shooting guard who couldn't shoot, C.J. was 19 and not ready for prime time yet, and Giricek was just too European. And Jerry "Red Scare" Sloan wouldn't dare start three Europeans at once. (I'm just making that part up, we all know Sloan didn't have problems with Europeans. We all know it was South Americans he didn't like . . . . this part is also made up.)
So out of the three real shooting guards on the team, all three of them had significant enough flaws that it was necessary to start an over-the-hill backup point guard at shooting guard over them.
The Utah Jazz needed a prototypical shooting guard who:
- was mature
- had a 'ready to go' game
- was an actual shooting guard who could shoot
- and not be Gordan Giricek.
The Jazz had everything else, they won 9 playoff games with that crew at shooting guard. If you found the missing piece of the puzzle you go from playoff participant to title contender.
Morris Almond in College
Morris Almond was on the radar for a few places coming out of High School in Atlanta - but he was overlooked. He ended up committing to Rice. Rice isn't a big school for basketball, and it's far from a pre-NBA academy. That said, it is the Alma Mater of Ricky Pierce. Some of you readers are as old as I am, or older; however, someone of you guys are young cats. In a sentence, Ricky Pierce was the prototypical 80s to early 90s guard. He wasn't a game changer, but he did what you wanted or expected from a guard. He was an efficient scorer starting or off the bench; made all of his free throws; played within the greater team concept of what you guys were doing; and for the Lion's share of his career, had a PER between 16 and 23. Ricky was a 23 year old rookie who started slowly but had a long, productive, 16 year NBA career. He was twice the 6th Man of the year, and once an All-Star. Not everyone who went to Rice became Ricky Pierce. But there was one guy who had a great NBA career. Almond, I felt like, would be the second.
Pierce played at Rice, but didn't blow anyone away in his rookie or sophomore seasons. But in his last season at Rice he finished it as a 6'4 shooting guard who averaged 26.8 points per game, off of 51.1 fg% - and was drafted in the late first round in the 1982 NBA Draft. Does this sound like anyone we know?
It should. Because it's basically the Morris Almond story, but from an earlier era.
Almond, as previously explained, went to Rice. And in his first years there he also did not blow anyone away. But he wanted to get better. He wanted to kill it - so he worked on his game. And shot and shot and shot and shot. And in his last year at Rice he was a 6'6 shooting guard who averaged 26.4 points per game, off of 48.3 fg%, 45.6 3pt%, and 84.6 ft%. And he was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the late first round in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Check out their senior season scoring numbers:
They were both guards who worked their way up on smaller college teams to make a name for themselves by being the prototypical shooting guards on their respective eras. They made their shots. They were dependable. They got to the line. And they both got drafted despite not having a red carpet path to the NBA.
Morris Almond Pre-Draft
There were a few knocks on Morris Almond leading up to the draft. The first one was that he played for a smaller school. The second was that he was on a team that didn't have much success. The third was, despite his clear numerical superiority, he was 'just' the best player on a bad team. Maybe this, combined with the lower level competition he faced, made his statistics ring a little hollow? I don't know. I can only speculate. He was a college senior, and mentally mature. He had an established game that did not need a lot of teaching (in terms of fundamentals). Furthermore, he was an above average college scorer. At the very least that would qualify him to be an average NBA scorer as the 3rd or 4th option on the court at any given time.
As the Chicago Pre-Draft camp he measured adequately. He was a 6'6 guy, with a 6'10 wingspan and 8'6.5 standing reach. He wasn't a physical freak, just the prototype of what you wanted. Athletically he had a 35.5" maximum vertical jump, a 3.19 second sprint, and managed 13 reps on the bench press. Again, he wasn't super athletic, but more than held his own. Like I said, he was pretty much the prototype of what you wanted out of a modern era shooting guard. Check out Mo vs. Matt Harpring, Kyle Korver, Kirk Snyder, Ronnie Brewer, Wesley Matthews, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Kevin Murphy. (Sorry, no measurements for Andrei Kirilenko or C.J. Miles)
Physically he's almost absolutely average, and has the prototype height, length, and strength - all the while being slightly above average athletically, despite being a little slow of foot. Measurements will only take you so far, you still have to go out there and do well in workouts and interviews. As a senior Almond was more polished between the lines on the basketball court, and between the pages of his textbooks. He also came from a disciplinarian background as a Military brat. He also presented himself an an intelligent student athlete beyond his studies. Dude wrote an article for TrueHoop in between doing predraft interviews with NBA teams. I've been blogging for years and years now and I've never come close to writing for TrueHoop.
He was really smart in his interviews, saying all the right things - and essentially the same thing - in his interviews with the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and our Utah Jazz. His performance in the predraft workout sealed the deal - they had interviewed him before the measurements, and sent scouts to 10 of his games.
From an old Ross Siler article (SLTRIB, June 2007):
"I've had this workout circled on my calendar," Almond said. "I feel like it's a really good fit. It's definitely in my range. I think it'd be a really good fit come draft day and I hope things work itself out to where I can be part of this team."
He even admitted to being a fan of the Jazz and forward Matt Harpring, an Atlanta-area product like himself, even if "it wasn't a popular thing to say." Almond said he liked how the Jazz post up hard, run the floor and shoot coming off screens.
"That kind of stuff's right up my alley," said Almond, who played on a Global Games team with Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer coming out of high school in Powder Springs, Ga.
Another thing Almond displayed besides 'saying the right things' and being professionally prepared for a job interview was his confidence. He knew he needed to sell teams on his skills. But he also knew and drew a sense of self from the quality of his skills. You have to have that self confidence and self worth if you're going to be a shooting guard in the NBA, after all, you're called on to take the most difficult shots. Not all of them are going to go in. The Jazz were in love with Almond though. And so were many of us Jazz fans (myself most primarily). This pairing seemed like a slam dunk.
Morris Almond's Rookie Year
Very rarely do the Jazz actually pick the dude I go nuts for in my (very minor) review of the potential candidates a few days before the draft. And to be honest, it's not like I pick a winner ever year. (Mouhamed Saer Sene - I thought you'd be Serge Ibaka. And Serge Ibaka, you knew I wanted the Jazz to draft you!) In the case of Almond the team I root for did actually draft the guy I wanted them to draft. (They also made a draft night trade to pick up that crazy Soviet bigman, but I can't quite remember his name right now . . . ) The 2007 draft couldn't have gone better in my mind. The Jazz picked up a huge man to come off the bench and dissuade intrusions into our paint, and more than anything else, we also got the "hand in glove fit" we needed at SG. (Almond said that in this post-draft article at the SLTRIB, also by Ross Siler.) I don't think it was supposed to be just 'pillow talk' either. I felt like this should have been a hand in glove fit. We had everything except a strong outside shooting SG who could create for himself if we were in a jam. Almond had never played with guys better than him before, and being on the floor with the four legit starters (Deron, Andrei, Carlos, and Memo) would be able to reign in his gunner mentality. Everything was going to work out, after all the hard part was already done - praying that he would fall to us.
I was so wrong.
The hard part was reality. For whatever reason Morris Almond played a WHOPPING 39 total minutes in his rookie season, spread out over 9 games. All in garbage time. All with nothing to play for. And as a shooter -- all with such little burn that there was no way he could even get in rhythm. Not even the Microwave Vinnie Johnson, he who could get hot at the touch of a button, could get into a shooting rhythm in 4.3 mpg. I could understand playing him so little if he sucked.
The problem was that we drafted him to be a shooter and scorer. And he clearly WAS both of those things as the same season, 2007-08, he was the impact player of the year for the NBA DL. He played in 34 games for the Utah Flash (so it's not like he wasn't available for more than just 9 Jazz games), and averaged 25.6 ppg (44.6 FG%, 35.4 3PT%, 83.3 FT%, 7.7 FTA per game, 1.31 PPS). He was the Impact player of the year, and he *was* the guy we drafted. They were the same guy. You know, the guy sitting behind the Jazz bench all season long. Let's review:
- Almond played a certain game that even put him on the radar of NBA GMs.
- Almond did that and got drafted by NBA GMs
- Almond showed that he could do it professionally, in his rookie year
- But he only showed that in the NBA DL because he only got a chance to play there
So the Jazz drafted a guy for what he could do, and after getting him, did not let him do what got him drafted. Except in the NBA Developmental League. Where he showed that he was a good player. But they still didn't let him play. For some reason. I guess they were looking for a different type of player. Which makes perfect sense why they drafted him though. The Jazz loved Qunicy Lewis' shooting, drafted him, but didn't play him because he wasn't athletic. The Jazz loved highschooler DeShawn Stevenson 's athleticism, drafted him, but didn't play him because he wasn't a shooter and was immature. The Jazz loved Kirk Snyder's raw emotion, drafted him, but cut ties with him because he wasn't stable enough. The Jazz loved C.J. Miles' potential, drafted him, but didn't play him because his potential hadn't yet turned into production. The Jazz loved Ronnie Brewer's athleticism and defense, drafted him, but still started Derek Fisher over him because Brewer wasn't a shooter.
So the Jazz loved Morris Almond for being a prototypical shooting guard with 50 point game scoring ability, drafted him, but didn't play him because he wasn't a combo guard.
That makes total sense.
The official reasons were that: you can't play young guys when you are in a win now mode (again, Karl Malone played 30 mpg as a rookie in a win-now season), and that Almond isn't good enough as a passer. That's very easy to say. Especially at the NBA level. Why? Because when he actually PLAYED in NBA games he was always the best option to score on the floor for the Jazz. He was railroaded to "do him" in those whopping 39 total rookie season minutes. And with the Flash - they didn't even run the same playbook. Their owner wanted wins and ticket sales. So they rode Mobe out of obscurity onto NBA-TV and highlight packages. If Almond did not have a strategic reason to pass at the NBA level (if our team was to score, it had to be because of him - in garbage time), how do you think he was going to play when he was placed on a team where his teammates weren't even good enough to MAKE the NBA?
Morris Almond did his Mobe thing - because how else was the team going to do it? And he did it also because that's how he even got to the NBA in the first place. But probably more than anything, he did it out of frustration. This was supposed to be a hand-in-glove fit. He was supposed to play with Deron Williams, and come off of Carlos Boozer screens. Instead he was playing in some basketball purgatory, and not getting a chance to HELP the team in the very ways the Jazz drafted him to help them in.
Monster in the D-League. Minnow in the NBA. That's fine. Morris was disciplined and mature. He had climbed the ranks before. He did it to get onto his high school team. He did it to make a name for himself at Rice. He could do it again, at the professional level in the NBA. After all, he only scored 4.8 ppg as a Freshman in college. And he wound up finishing his last season scoring 26.4 ppg. Ultimately, he was the same Morris Almond who made it despite the challenges. He learned a lot as a rookie, while setting the D-League record books on fire.
Next year would be different.
Morris Almond's Sophomore Year:
This was supposed to be it. Brewer was the bigtime starter last season, in his 2nd year in the league. This season Morris would supplant him, or at the very least, be a consistent bench threat in his 2nd year in the league. That was what I thought. It's what a lot of Jazz fans thought as well. It's probably what Morris thought as well. He paid his dues. He did what they drafted him to do. He would at least get a SHOT this time around, right?
Morris played in only 25 NBA games this year (+16 from last year tho), and a grand total of 255 minutes. That is an average of 10.2 mpg, which is more than double the 4.3 he got the season before. That is a huge jump on paper, but he still only played in a little over 30% of the Jazz' regular season games. (zero in the playoffs) He did also split time with the Flash - where he even got better than he was the year before. He became more efficient, scored at a higher rate, shot better (FG .446 -> .521; 3PT .354 -> .407; eFG .489 ->.572), and had a PER increase from 17.6 to 22.8.
So he killed it, again. But didn't even get a chance to play poorly at the NBA level. There were real reasons why he didn't play - namely the wing minutes crunch of having to compete against Ronnie Price, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring, and Andrei Kirilenko. (It's not just Eric Maynor, but the Jazz re-signing Harpring also killed any use we would have gotten from C.J. or Mobe -- they never got the time they needed to become real NBA players). Apparently Almond was also high on himself for knowing that he wasn't a leper. He knew he was a talented scorer, but was buried on the bench. Not being an insider I don't have all the dirt on this -- but from what little I have gathered, the Flash were doing him no favors in how they let him go into Rice mode every game. And the Jazz did the Flash no favors by not telling them what to do with Morris. And Morris did the Jazz no favors by not magically changing into the player they wanted. (See again: Jazz wing drafting wheel of futility - draft a guy because you like what he can do, don't play him for what he is not.)
The only real way Morris would get a shot would be in the same way other players got a shot -- by injuries or incompetence. (Let's not be historical revisionists here - B-Russ wouldn't have gotten into that playoff game if the guys ahead of him were playing average. B-Russ got a chance because Sloan HAD to play someone. And Bryon Russell got a chance to show what he could do, and did well enough to become a starter for the rest of his Jazz career).
The Hand in Glove Game
December 2, 2008 - a come from behind victory on the road vs. the Sacramento Kings. This was that brief, shining moment where Morris Almond got a chance to be on the floor at the same time as Deron Williams. It was his real opportunity to play with a HOF worthy point guard, and finally not be the best player on his team on the floor. Andrei and Matty were injured, and Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Miles were getting lit up on defense. Kyle Korver was going to get his regular burn, but Jerry needed to play someone else. Out of necessity he played Morris Almond - and running with D-Will, Memo and pals he had his best game in his career.
He slowed down Kevin Martin, played defense, and played that Hand in Glove role as the 3rd or 4th option on offense, and was deadly at it as he spotted up for jumpers, or made smart cuts and was rewarded with the ball for it. He looked and played better than I had ever seen him play before. He wasn't Mobe, a "if we're gonna score, I'll have to do it", player. He wasn't a hapless guy playing with functionally retarded players in garbage time either. He was a glimmer of that NBA player we all hoped he would one day be.
Morris played 25:39, and helped us get the win. It was his defense *and* scoring. He had two blocked shots. He had a steal. He pulled down 6 boards (3rd best on the team). Had one assist. And he shot 5/9, going 1/2 from downtown, and also completing a three point play. The Jazz were a +14 with him in the game. He wasn't the difference maker, but he made a difference. He came off the bench. Played defense. And made shots. For one night he was Ricky Pierce.
And only because two guys were injured, and two guys were getting burned on defense.
Morris would play 24:27 the very next night, and finished with a 10 / 3 / 1 game, while going 4/4 from the FT line against the Miami Heat. He wasn't great, but he wasn't horrible. Then $6.5 million Man Matt Harpring came back and he would never again play 20 minutes in a game for the Jazz. His last 10 games in a Jazz uniform had him play: 7:32, 12:39, 5:56, 6:42, 3:49, 2:07, 0:49, 4:38, 0:16, and 3:33 minutes. The last game he got in was February 8th, 2009. Two months after his hand in glove game.
The high scoring, offensively unrivaled, hot shot shooting guard we drafted finished his second season in the NBA with a career high of 12 points - in a game from December. Because we had too many guys ahead of him taking up valuable development time. When he went to the D-League he wasn't taught Jazz stuff, and just played his game. But how was he to know HOW to change his game - in fact playing his game is what got the Jazz excited and made them want to draft him?
I guess they loved Morris Almond's game, but were not IN love with it. Just like they loved DeShawn's youth, but were not IN love with it. Or Brewer's athleticism. Or C.J.'s potential. Or Quincy's scoring. Or Kirk's passion.
Beyond the Jazz
Morris Almond has been a professional basketball player every year since his last (his SECOND) with the Jazz. Either in Europe, or in the NBA-DL. He also had a stint with the Washington Wizards last season. Aside from the D-League he hasn't dominated though. The refrain is "If he was any good - he would have proven it, and vindicated your accusations." There is some truth to that, he's only recently been awesome in Springfield or Maine jerseys; and not NBA jerseys. Still, over 119 games in four seasons he has career averages of 24.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.8 spg, 38.7 3pt%, 8.1 FTA/gm, and a 20.8 PER. A guy THAT good in the D-League should at least be a bench guy in the NBA.
But I guess that's the real frustrating and/or disappointing thing about Morris Almond. He SHOULD be in the NBA. He should have made it by now. And he SHOULD have made it as a member of the Jazz.
There has to be a real reason for this though, and I think that there is a critical period in development that has to occur in a young player's life. After all, personality wise Almond was also a hand in glove fit. Disciplined. Self Motivated. Military Family. Four year college student with a degree. Smart. History of working his way up in a system. Almond was a fit with his personality.
And he was drafted for a certain set of characteristics, which made him a prototypical shooting guard. And when he got playing time he showed that he was the same type of player in the NBA-DL. He didn't Shan Foster his way out of professional contention because he lost his Mojo. He always had his Mojo. He scored 50 twice in a season on a team where he was the only scoring option - and the OTHER TEAM WAS FOCUSED ON NOT LETTING HIM SCORE 50.
So it's not like his game got worse. And it's not like he had a personality problem. The problem had to be something else. And I think the problem was that he did not get the direct grooming or teaching that you need to 'make it' in the NBA. The Jazz pawned him off on the Flash who cared only for their own interests. And the Jazz didn't want the responsibility of trying to find development time for him with the NBA team either, so it's not like it's not partly their fault. They gave up on Morris after two years. Or maybe they let him go after he asked to be freed? I don't know. I do know that at the NBA level he didn't get a fair chance to play in our team, or play in meaningful situations where he was on the court with guys better than him.
No meaningful minutes. No minutes at all (39 in his first season). When Gordon Hayward was a rookie he was at least on the floor enough to get Deron Williams to throw the ball at his head. Morris had to wait till season two for that. Enes Kanter played 20:30 in his first NBA game. That is almost all of the minutes Morris played as a rookie, total.
I'm a big proponent for learning through behavior. You get better at something to more you do it. And you gain autonomy and confidence in your actions by seeing success first hand. This is, in my mind, how people learn. Morris got ALL of that in the NBA-DL, and none of that in the NBA. Guess which league he kicks butt in? Morris missed the critical confidence boat in the NBA because we needed to play Matt Harpring. (Btw, Harpring played 18.1 mpg and 11.0 mpg in Almond's two seasons with the Jazz, shooting pathetically, displaying no three point range, and averaging 8.2 ppg and 3.2 mpg, and 4.4 ppg and 2.0 rpg. That's over 2000 mins over 2 seasons that should have gone to Almond -- or dare I suggest it, C.J. who was even YOUNGER than Mo.)
Morris Almond is the Jazz' biggest disappointment as a player...
... and it's not even all his fault. And it's not because he was the wrong guy. Or because he didn't make good here. Or he had a drug problem. Or as psychologically unstable. Or not a hard worker. Or because he sucked. None of that. He had every reason to be that hand in glove player for the Jazz. He had what we needed. When he played in the situation we envisioned him to play in - he was that Ricky Pierce guy who was the prototypical shooting guard. But the numbers game and Harpring-philia prevented him from getting to where we ALL expected him to get to. Morris is the Jazz biggest disappointment player, not because he sucked. (He clearly does not) And not because he did something wrong. It's a combination of factors - he's the biggest disappointment because the team messed it up. The concept of Almond, coming off Boozer screens and drilling jumpers, getting expert passes from Deron . . . all of that was supposed to happen. And because it did not, we are left shaking our heads and feeling disappointment. Technically disappointment in a player, but this was a perfect hand in glove fit. It took concerted effort or carelessness to mess something so good up.
I guess I'm a @FreeMoAlmond apologist. I think it's fair to call me that. I wasn't in the practices. I wasn't on the team bus. I don't know all the details. I don't want to know. I know he played in 9 games as a rookie, and 25 as a soph - and that was it. Despite the YEARS of being scouted by the Jazz, all the interviews, and all the buckets in the D-League, the Jazz were done with him after 34 games. He should have been that Ricky Pierce guy for us. Instead we never got what we got our hopes up for. And the Jazz, well, the Jazz can't even buy out Raja Bell's contract right now - and they couldn't buy a three point bucket last season. Yeah, Morris' combined NBA + NBA DL three point percentage is 38.3 3pt% (n=481 threes attempted). But that's not important now.
Mobe shoulda been that guy for us. He was a great college player. He was what we needed, and would have been a killer playing alongside D-Will, Memo, Booz, and AK-47. Instead he wasn't. Us fans never got to see that. The Jazz never got to see that. And Almond himself never got to see that.
And that's why the Morris Almond story is the biggest franchise disappointment in history.
PS. I'm sure he's not a fan of the nickname, but I use Mobe with affection here. I loved that part of his game, that he could have these unstoppable offensive onslaughts.