When watching the Jazz in the 2007 Western Conference Finals putting on a clinic in game 3 in Salt Lake City against the Spurs, or when reflecting on the lore of older Utah Jazz past, one can't help but marvel at some of the subtle mastery of the variety of pick-and-roll plays utilized by different teams in different eras. Every team has used some form of the play at one point or another, whether as a staple go-to play or an end-of-the-quarter drawn-out motion by the coach, be it a pick-n-pop a la Karl Malone or a slashing lay-in from Boozer. While the play is simple enough to teach to children, not every team has the right combination of players to look for it.
Deron Williams knew how to massage a defense, to get it to shift positions and relax until he found his opening in just the right spot, and by penetrating to the hoop or into the paint opening up his team mates, his potential constantly presented a double-threat (penetrate or pass). With his 3-point shooting ability, he was loaded with options. And that was one option he could and would go to more successfully than Stockton.
Stockton obviously knew all the angles. My favorite was when teams knew they were going to use the pick and roll, and as Malone's defender would step up to pin him from getting a good enough position in the pick, Stockton would crossover his own defender, turning and going baseline instead of toward the key, forcing Malone's defender to drop down leaving Malone open for an easy pass right in the key for his choice of finish. Stockton's defender wasn't quick enough first of all to react in time to the cross over let alone have the sense of mind to instantly cut off the about-to-be-assist to Malone in the paint, the very spot they know they had to stop them from scoring in, and yet that unique point guard - power forward combo found a way.
When Mark Jackson joined the Jazz in 2002 to back up Stockton, I use to wonder how long he'd been backing his defender down when he'd bring the ball across the court. I often wondered of it's effectiveness in preventing turnovers, and with Jackson's impressive assist-first point guard mentality and history of high assist-to-turnover ratio, I had to figure there was something wise and practiced to it. Like watching a unique wild animal crafting it's next play as it approached, seemingly predictable, yet unpredictably indefensible.
With the recent departure of Devin Harris and the returning-to-healthy status Mo Williams, Utah has managed to keep an honest point guard at the helm, albeit in a position that's left big shoes to fill from the past. Jazz fans for decades have been fed on a steady diet of Point Guard Casserole Magnifique, stretching from the early nineties to 2010, around 20 years depending on when you consider Stockton really started his career as the lead point guard.
Mo Williams, or Devin Harris for that matter, we know would never measure up to the likes of Utah's most successful point guards in history. At times they resemble similar capabilities, knocking down big 3's, playing defense and getting transition points for the team. These point guards probably won't be the answer Utah is looking for, and it isn't going to happen over night.
The draft this summer has a lot of potentially future All-Star material point guards in the likes of Marcus Smart, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, and the lately redeemed Myck Kabongo. Whether Utah ends up with 2 or 3 first round picks, odds are they're likely to be able to either get a point guard they could be very happy with training and taking under their wing, if not maybe two, even if they have to trade to get in position. With Utah's potentially vacuous cap space of $32 million to $40 million dollars, and first round draft picks to trade, surely they can find a way to move up the ranks. They might even be forced to should they miss the playoffs, giving them a lottery selection and 3rd first round draft pick. Utah's 3 first round picks will only add to their abilities to position themselves in range of making long lasting investments in the teams future success. Millsap and or Jefferson may walk, but with Favors, Kanter, and Marvin Williams securing the backcourt, and plenty of positions that could be filled, Utah could be looking to continue the still-morphing line-ups it's been playing with in the post-Sloan era. And I think the best is yet to come.
Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson have been good, honest, hard working vets that continue to amaze at times, but with the absolving of the 3-poiint shooting issue, the front office can continue to focus the backcourt into a defensively sound and penetrating, pick-n-rolling flex offense that it once use to run so well. It's encouraging when Watson and Tinsley get their 5-6 assists, and in a few of those games coming out with 0 turnovers, but it's also encouraging to see guys like Hayward finishing games with 7 assists and Kanter throwing alley-oops to Favors. The interior passing game, and masterful use of the always available pick-n-roll, has to get back into Utah's game.
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