Reason for (Tempered) Optimism?

One point Yucca Man made in his Fun Reason for Optimism piece was that he didn't think Utah's offense would be truly dismal. However, if you look at the pieces the Jazz have, it's hard not to wonder where the points will come from with three of our top four scorers leaving via free agency.

While the Jazz are losing almost 60% of their total points scored last season (4733/8038*), they're also losing approximately 60% of their on-court minutes (11833/19881). So last year's bench (aka young guys, aka C4, etc...) scored at approximately the same rate as the outgoing veterans. Thus, per the Millsap Doctrine, the Jazz offense should be fine, right?

Well, maybe.

While I won't dispute a good researcher like Kevin Pelton, In my opinion, the Millsap Doctrine is not the end of the story, because basketball isn't just about taking and making shots, it's also about creating those shots in the first place. While not the most efficient offensive player, Big Al did his thing on the left block last year and created a lot of offense because of it (granted an ungodly amount of that "offense" came in the form of Tinsley/Watson open 3's that promptly bricked off the iron). Furthermore, two of our other best offensive creators, Millsap and Mo (most likely), are also on their way out.

Here's another way to put it. Compare Kyle Korver to J.R. Smith. While the former is universally recognized as one of the best pure shooters in basketball, the latter is considered a streaky headcase who can shoot you out of any game as easily as he can shoot you into one. Yet in free agency this year, Smith somehow came away with a larger payday than Korver. And furthermore, many pundits seemed stunned that Korver got as large a contract as he did. How is this possible, especially considering Korver probably plays better defense than Smith in addition to being a spectacularly more efficient player? Part of the answer is that shot creation is a real basketball skill that teams need.

If you watched the NBA Finals, you probably saw how the Spurs struggled to score when Manu was playing poorly. Turnovers aside, part of the problem was that when Parker and Duncan were on the bench, the only guy the Spurs had who could consistently create shots for himself and others was Ginobili. When Ginobili struggled, San Antonion's immaculate offense sputtered to a halt (well, that and Miami's unreal defense, but I digress). To me, that's the power of shot creation.

So let's look at who on the current Jazz roster can take on that role by process of elimination:

Biedrins, Jefferson, Evans, Gobert, Lucus III - I think we can all agree on these guys.

Brandon Rush, Marvin Williams - Adrian Peterson has given us all an unrealistic hope for ACL injuries. Could he be Kyle Korver 2.0? Sure. He could also be 2012-2013 Derrick Rose (though probably not). Oh, and Marvin is out with an Achilles injury, so I wouldn't count on much of him this year.

Kanter & Favors - While it was great to see both these bigs improve offensively, I worry about the two of them as shot creators. First, both are still weak passers. For all the criticism Jefferson gets for being a ball-stopper, he averaged almost as many assists as Favor and Kanter combined**(2.3 vs 2.5). Second, Kanter has a serious turnover problem leading the team in TO/36 minutes. Third, while this doesn't directly pertain to their offense, the two of them averaged 9 fouls per 36 minutes, which is clearly not sustainable and will prevent them from logging the heavy minutes necessary to carry a team's offense. Finally, take a look at Favor's shot chart from (caution: it might give you nightmares).

Burke/Burks - Okay, I'll admit I just lumped these two together for the alliteration. But both present major unknowns. First, Burke was awful during summer league. And though his numbers ended up looking decent (9 ppg, 4 ast, 3 rebs), his shooting numbers were ghastly (21% from the field and an unreal 5% from three), which was exactly what everyone feared, because his size makes it hard for him to create space for his shot and finish at the rim. So while I'd usually be dismissive of the summer league numbers, these do worry me. If he can't create his own shot, and the three isn't falling, doesn't he instantly become Earl Watson? On the flip side Alec Burks looked good at the end of last season and in the summer league. However, while we think of him as a slasher and finisher, the numbers seem to say otherwise. First, Burks shot chart shows he struggled mightily with finishing, something that the eye test confirmed even in his fairly good summer league showing. Second, Burks averaged just one more FT than the notoriously FT averse Al Jefferson and shot a significantly lower percentage (though hopefully that's an error of small sample size). Finally, while his three point shooting (and numbers) looked much improved the second half of last year, defenses for the most part were ignoring that shot. If he gets any better, you can bet defenses will pay closer attention.

Hayward - And that brings us to Gordon. We've all heard about his per 36 comp to Paul George, but from watching many games (I wish I had actual data to back this up) it seems that they get their points much differently. Hayward scored off a ton of spot up threes, fast breaks, free throws and that inbound play that results in a baseline 15 footer off the curl. Paul George does all that (besides the inbound play) and also scores in the post and off the dribble. And that's what Hayward lacks - an off-the-bounce game. Take a look at these highlights and notice two things: 1) there's only one play with him using a pick off the dribble and 2) his only one-on-one move is behind the back. A pitcher can only rely on one pitch so long (unless you're Mariano Rivera), because in sports, like in any other areaof life, knowledge is power. And good defenses will suffocate you if you if they know exactly what is coming. Just ask Danny Green about games 6 and 7. So while I love Haywards efficient game, I'm reserved, if not skeptical, that he can elevate it to become a true shot creator in the NBA.

In conclusion, the Jazz really don't have any player that I see as being a great shot creator. So while I don't think Utah will have the league's worst offense, I am more than a little skeptical that they'll manage a league average offense with the personnel they have right now. In fact, the only positive I really see is that Utah still runs something of the flex offense, which is designed to create shots specifically without a top-of-the-line off-the-dribble player. But, hey, I've always been a pessimist, so hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised at the end of next year (unless, of course, tanking). Tell me what you think (besides TL;DR)

*All stats are from Basketball Reference and Hoop Data. The math is mostly me and Excel.

**For comparison I'm always using per 36 mins, which isn't perfect, but at least gets the conversation going.

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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