I've long advocated giving Tyrone Corbin until the end of this season to prove, once and for all, whether he deserves to remain head coach of the Jazz. To be blunt, I'm skeptical. But I feel he is due a season with reasonable expectations given a set of very specific goals and outcomes that fit the roster he's been handed, and I don't feel any of his previous three years fit that description.
To my mind, this year does. Because of that, I plan on offering more criticism on Corbin's performance this season than previously, both positive and negative as the situation warrants. I suspect many in the SLC Dunk community will do the same, while others will continue to comment on his performance as they have in the past. There will be a lot of fervent talk about a guy in a very hot seat. It is my hope that we keep this avenue of discussion positive and respectful, and I think establishing clear criteria by which we're evaluating can help ensure this.
So, what specifics are you using to judge Coach Corbin's efficacy in this pivotal year? I'll list my five most important criteria then hope you all will add yours in the comments. This collection of criteria should prove a good basis to evaluate Corbin this season as a community. Hopefully, knowing what we're all looking for will help bridge perspectives as we discuss the fate of Tyrone Corbin.
Personally, here are the things I consider of paramount importance in judging his coaching:
1) Establishment of an offensive system patented to the talents of this year's roster
The Jazz offense the past few seasons has been, to be kind, simple: Big Al on the left block, occasionally substituting Paul Millsap at the same spot or facing up at the elbow extended or the wing, with Mo Williams isolating in crunch time. It wasn't a symphony of sophistication, certainly, but it did largely fit the abilities of his players. But this year is entirely different.
The Jazz have no proven scorer to dump the ball into on the block, and no ISO scorer with the established history of Mo Williams. To carry over the previous offensive system would thus be a sign of inability to adapt rather than a calculated decision.
Corbin has shown moderate ability and willingness to make offensive changes. Last season saw the Jazz take 129 more three point shots than the previous year, the most precipitous increase in their history. Given an influx of three point shooters, Corbin put them to use. But that evolution was simple given a post-based offense that already asked players to spread the floor. This year's situation presents both more possibilities and more challenges.
How to weld together the following:
Gordon Hayward's mixture of three point proficiency and drawing fouls, especially when you're likely #1 option works better off the ball than as an isolation scorer.
Enes Kanter's diverse scoring ability that is hampered by the predictable dump into the post with a defender already in position.
Derrick Favors' explosive but unrefined game that, at this point, is so benefited from shots created by others.
Trey Burke knows how to run the pick and roll but struggles to finish in the paint; Alec Burks is a dynamic slasher/scorer with substantial questions as to his ability to hit the outside jumper; Brandon Rush can stretch the floor while Jeremy Evans is incredibly efficient as a sudden cutter to the hoop.
There's a lot to work with, but no single player to just give the ball to and let them create for everyone else using their own dynamism. If this team is to be even respectable offensively, it will be because of a scheme that fits the disparate parts together into a well-functioning whole. If Corbin can do that and the scheme improves throughout the year, it will be a huge point in his favor. If not, it is a glaring weakness.
2) Substitution patterns
The past two years the Utah Jazz were really two teams: a veteran team built on deeply ingrained styles of play and a young team with energy, enthusiasm, and athleticism. Corbin basically played them as two teams, employing a hockey shift strategy of largely alternating five man units. Let me go on record as saying if he does the same throughout this season, he should not be a head coach in the league.
This young version of the Jazz is at a talent disadvantage. Their good players are young and inexperienced, and they have fewer good players than most other teams. Placing five bench players on the court at once would be inviting significant runs by the opponent nearly every time. It would be like spotting the opponent five points. With as little talent as the Jazz have this season, stretching out starter minutes so as to bolster the thin bench will be incredibly important.
Will Corbin find two and three man combinations of his best five or six players that can keep bench units afloat? If so, it will be a significant change in his coaching method and benefit the team. If not, he'll take a team that will struggle to compete many nights already and hinder them further.
3) Adapting scheme for specific competition
Corbin is on the record as possessing the philosophy "We do what we do and make the other guys adjust to us." That works just fine when you're the Miami Heat and what you do is more effective than what the opponent does. When you're a team trotting out three or four starters 23 and under and you're less competitive than your veteran team that missed the playoffs last year, you're the one who adapts. Because you're not good enough to make the other guy adapt to you.
The Jazz will have advantages this season, if they create them. There will be times when Hayward could change a game by guarding an opposing point guard such as John Wall, or posting up against an overmatched shooting guard. They'll face some slow footed bigs that can be targeted by Trey Burke and Derrick Favors in the pick and roll. Against teams that lack the ability to pressure the ball handler, I can envision a lineup with Burks, Rush, and Hayward on the wings switching everything. When will Marvin Williams play as a stretch power forward, and will Jeremy Evans ever see some burn at small forward? How and when might zone defenses be used, or called traps, or ball denial of specific players?
This roster presents possibilities to do some interesting things to gain a competitive advantage. A good coach would make use of that flexibility. We'll see if Corbin does.
4) A coherent, consistent defensive system
For the first time in years, the Jazz have a roster that should produce good defensive results night in and night out. There are a lot of good defensive players on this team. With those resources, Corbin should be able to create a defensive system that stands out, including particular constants of defensive strategy.
This team should be able to guard the pick and roll. Whether they trap the ball handler, the big strings him out then recovers, they switch on the pick, or the big hedges to the paint, they have the players to make the strategy work. So they'd better know what they want to do and why, then do it and do it consistently. No more draw-a-response-out-of-the-hat defense to this common play.
Also, no more question about when to double team and when to play straight up. What players deserve a double team in what situations? When do players pointedly not double team? What shots is the defense willing to live with a team taking? Which shots will the team simply not give up?
Dennis Lindsey made no bones about the fact that he expects to see a true defensive identity develop this season, and I'm there with him. Players should know what they're going to face in opposing offenses and how they are going to handle that, individually and as a unit. If things are chaotic or inconsistent, or simply don't work, that's a failure of one of the most basic of mandates for this team.
5) Play calling out of timeouts and in crunch time
Every game a coach gets a certain number of opportunities to disproportionately influence the outcome of a few pivotal plays. Teams that get quality shots out of timeouts and at the end of games often win. Teams that don't frequently lose. Drawing up effective plays in timeouts affects momentum, combats runs, and can get key players involved in games. Good end of game play calling produces shots that the other team doesn't want to give up.
Thus far in his career, Tyrone Corbin has not shown a great ability to consistently get his team good shots on key plays he's diagrammed according to situation. That must change.
I've been encouraged at some of the out of bounds plays in the preseason, and I really hope this becomes the new norm. I want to see the same in plays out of timeouts. Not simply disciplining the team to run a standard play as it's drawn up, but a play chosen specific for the situation and lineup. I want to see productive creativity and plays that cut counter to the expectations of a defense.
At the end of games, the Jazz should expect more than to get a shot off without too much time remaining on the clock. They should expect to get a shot the defense is trying to deny them. No Trey Burke or John Lucas dribbling away seconds then darting into a pullup three or twenty footer. No clear outs for Gordon Hayward, forcing him to pivot and fade off balance for the win. Motion, and screens, and multiple options with clearly defined passing lanes is the expectation, not on option.
I don't care if the Jazz miss many of these shots. Actually, I expect they will miss more than they feel they should. The point is, when Tyrone Corbin gives them a play designed for the moment, they should get shots they expect to make.
So that's what I'm looking for above all else. What about you all? When evaluating Tyrone Corbin's performance in this final contract year, what do you see as make or break criteria?