The Downbeat #1056 - The "Was Jerry Sloan a Flop Artist?" Edition

"Come at me, bro." - Jerry Sloan - Jed Jacobsohn

The NBA Season is almost over. How crazy is that? Well, technically it ended for us back after game 82, and our bad beatdown by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Western Conference was won by the San Antonio Spurs. And Tonight in the East we have the Miami Heat up 3-2 going into a tough road game against the Indiana Pacers. At the very least -- there could be only 5 more games this season. I'm in the process of looking at each of the final four teams in the NBA over the last 25 seasons. I started my analysis of this a few Saturday Downbeats ago. I'm waiting for the Finals to end before I publish my findings. While my initial analysis was based upon the commonalities between these teams (the defensive minded teams seemed to do better than the offensive minded teams, for example), the actual players and roster make up similarities are also worth noting.

The most obvious thing is that the teams that go far into the playoffs usually have one or two "star" players who are able to take control of the game and produce positive results on specific end of game situations. There are some less than overt roster archetypes that need to be mentioned. And if we are serious about being a contender in the NBA, our team needs to add these types of guys to the roster (or, well, develop them from the players we currently have). Here are some of them -- in the comments section feel free to offer up some examples that you think best fit these player roles, and who you think can perform those roles for our Utah Jazz:

  • Three point making back-up or decidedly "off-the-ball" point guard
  • Defensive minded center who scores mostly on put backs or star player drawing defensive pressure away from him
  • Stretch Big who has reliable midrange game
  • Primary scorer who gets to the line and can create their own shot in isolation
  • Mercurial bench scorer with three point range
  • Primary scorer with good court vision for passing (no blinders)
  • Limited ability back-up Bigman who rebounds well, and plays good defense in the few minutes he will get
  • Young "Hot Shot" who doesn't know better / has no fear
  • Role player that you just can't leave open (not limited to spot up shooters, can be a guy who cuts to the basket a lot)

These are just 9 of the roles you keep seeing on these successful teams. Of course, it's even better when a single player is capable of performing a number of these roles at the same time. A young Hot Shot who has three point range can turn a series -- for his team or against his team. (Hi there, young Kobe Bryant!) Or a defensive bigman who plays good defense and has a reliable midrange jumper is invaluable. (A Charles Oakley, Dale Davis, or Nick Collison type)

Again, who do you think are good examples of these recurring roles we see on good teams? And who do you think on the Jazz will be able to take on these roles? And these are just some of the common player roles we see in successful teams -- but this is not an all-inclusive list.

The players on a team make a difference, but the full post will also break down the performance of the teams as a whole, and the concept of what system they are in. Everything matters when you are trying to build a successful team. Even luck is a huge factor, sadly, I don't know how to quantify luck just yet.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder made the NBA Finals last year, but were bounced a little early this season because their starting PG, All-Star, usual All-NBA Team member, and Olympian player Russell Westbrook fell prey to injury during the playoffs. I guess we could say that was the first major injury they've had that made a guy miss games. It's funny that the last decade of Utah Jazz basketball is not that fondly remembered despite having some really good teams. Part of this perception change is due to the fact that we didn't get it done in the playoffs during that period. A big part of it was that we happened to face the Los Angeles Lakers during their period of three straight trips to the NBA Finals. An equally important part, that a lot of people seem to gloss over, is that two of those times we went into those playoff series' against the Lakers already down two starters.

Seriously. No wonder we lost to the Lakers when a) they were really good, and b) when we're having to start guys like Kyrylo Fesenko.

Well, OKC went to the finals last year and are at home watching them this year. Such is the fickle NBA. Well, the OKC Thunder SB Nation Blog (Welcome To Loud City) has taken their talents to Photoshop and they make a bunch of fake Sports Illustrated covers for whatever is happening in the NBA each week. Among their entries this week are a look at the San Antonio Spurs sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, a look at the Miami Heat and the ref Joey Crawford, and the return of The Mailman, Karl Malone, to coaching. Or something.

Maloneutah_medium

via Welcome To Loud City (SB Nation OKC Thunder Blog)

Catch them all here!

Awesome stuff guys, and hope that your luck with injuries doesn't get as bad as our luck got. Anyway, Karl Malone is awesome. And P.J. Carlesimo had this to say about bringing him on:


Woo! 1992 Dream Team talk!

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Do you read Grantland? Twitter royalty @netw3rk , who writes everywhere and is a contributor to that blog, wrote a historical piece for them talking about flopping. I don't load up Grantland everyday (there can only be so many websites a man can be expected to check daily!), so I missed this -- but then everyone started to talk about it. In fact, it was our own Peter Novak who turned me to it. Why was this interesting? Well, aside from it being a very well written and researched piece on the subject, it also goes deep into the history of the game and the changes that we see taking place right before our eyes.

The rub is that we may have blinders on about the "good old days" of the NBA, and be prone to absurd Historical Revisionism. (Similar to the concept that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird never missed shots, and as a result, their ratings in Video Games do not accurately reflect their on court performances in real life.) It's our belief that Flopping is a progressively degenerative problem in the NBA that is a recent-ish problem (from the 1980s onwards). Go ahead and read the article now if you missed it. No really. Read it. I'll wait.

The interesting part for Jazz fans is in this paragraph:

"Some of the most revered players in NBA history were floppers. The rest were their teammates. Jerry Sloan was such a notorious flopper that an unnamed coach threatened to fine his players if they didn’t step on him when he fell down. The notion that this problem is somehow worse now than it was in the ’50s, when there were only eight teams, or the ’60s, when there were 14, is ludicrous. The problem isn’t worse; our ability to see it in high-def slow-motion replay is better." - @netw3rk, Grantland.com

This is where Peter came in as he tweeted out the link to that archived newspaper report. Because I'm clearly a crazy person, I found out which paper that was from (St. Joseph News-Press, for Wednesday, April 16th, 1975) and tracked down the author (Mr. Wes Lukoshus). I actually then went out and called Mr. Lukoshus to confirm that he was the same one, he now works as an Assistant Vice Chancellor in the Media Relations department of Purdue University - Calumet.

Well, let's be honest here. I called the school to confirm he was the same guy -- but Wes was super awesome about it that his assistant put me through and I got a chance to talk to him for a brief moment. I guess the internet makes the world that much smaller where a guy who writes for a SB Nation blog can find and talk to a beat writer who watched Jerry Sloan as a Chicago Bulls player.

Mr. Lukoshus' write up from before most of my readers were born has some absolute gems in it. Because it was so great I'm going to just upload the scan of it here, instead of picking out 20 words or so to cite.

Db_1056_-_wes_lukoshus_jerry_sloan_medium

Lukoshus, W. (April 16, 1975), St. Joseph News-Press

Man, it's always fun to read these old articles -- they inspire me to become a better writer myself. That said, is Jerry Sloan a flopper? I don't know if he is one, but this article seems to suggest that he used to draw a lot of fouls. My understanding of this used to be that he was willing to put his body on the line and take contact. Netw3rk's history lesson and Mr. Lukoshus' article seem to paint a more accurate picture of events though.

What do you think? Jerry -- hard nosed dirty player, or did he exaggerate contact in order to elicit a response from referees? No matter what we believe, I think it is fair to say that Sloan played a different game out there than many of his peers. And his brand of basketball helped his team win games. (Something all playoff teams need -- a 'tough guy' who annoyed the heck out of his opponents if we're dove-tailing with point #1 today)

Thanks again to Mr. Wes Lukoshus for taking the time to talk with me on the phone, and you can follow him @Lukoshus on twitter!

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According to @JazzBasketball1, the Utah Jazz only had 6 sell outs out of a total possible 41 home games last year. That's pretty bad. What makes it worse is who they were against:

So the "Jazz" fans showed up to watch the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics. Four of those six teams are in big markets, and the other two have 'stars' in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Kyrie Irving. (And C.J. Miles) The immediate idea here is that the fans that are showing up to these 6 games are doing so to see the other team, and not OUR team. Or that they are flat out fans of the other team (displaced Californians who now live in the Beehive State, for example).

Instead of looking at the other team and blaming them (the fans like stars, or they are popular, boo hoo!) we should point some fingers to us. Why were the Jazz such a poor draw last year? Let me count the ways . . .

  1. The team did not play an exciting brand of Basketball. The pace was slower than it could have been, and we avoided dunks in favor of things like midrange push shots.
  2. The moves of both the coaching staff and front office did not energize the fanbase, nor did they give fans much confidence.
  3. The team on the floor was not as inspiring as it could have been, and the rotation was not optimized.
  4. Fans were at an economic disadvantage with the nation having money trouble, and the ticket prices went up in certain locations in the building.
  5. The team had to compete against the other Salt Lake City sports franchises at that time of the year.
  6. People in Utah don't like basketball.
  7. We have no star player, or draw.
  8. We have star potential, but keep it bottled up.
  9. Fans were worried about Matt Harpring's hair do.
  10. The at home experience is better than in person because of HD TVs and the ability to watch everything on a non-Lite Brite screen.
  11. "My religion prevents me from being in the same room as young women who dance specific routines to modern music while wearing matching outfits."
  12. Worried about "El Nino."
  13. Worried about Lyme Disease.
  14. Worried about our Clan Raid in World of Warcraft important current events in international hot spots.
  15. The Head Coach was of the wrong: age / sex / religion / race / handicapped status / and/or sexual orientation.
  16. The Mascot was of the wrong Bear Species / not the type of bear I prefer.
  17. (Not paying attention to the question) "Uh-huh, sure thing honey. You can use it."
  18. Casual fans were not excited by the 2012-2013 Jazz, and thus did not show up.
  19. The hardcore fans were not excited by the 2012-2013 Jazz, and the few that showed up did not multiply through binary fission to fill out the stadium.
  20. SLC Dunk corrupted the fans to hate this team.

Well, okay, not all of these are legit reasons. But some of the must be true. I think the front office noticed this year. What changes are made in the upcoming season will be tell-tale signs of what factors the braintrust thinks are important. Will they do what the fans want, or make subtle changes and hope things get better somehow? I don't know. I'm excited to see if anything happens.

Will the Jazz faithful support a losing team that plays in close games and are led by youth? The Jerry Sloan coached team led by Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Carlos Arroyo, and Gordan Giricek that went 42-40 -- missed the playoffs -- had the 6th highest average home game attendance in the NBA (19,154). How does last year, that 2004 magical year, and all the other years since our "contention" stack up against one another?

Year Regular Season Wins Avg Attendance NBA Rank
(per 82 reg season gms) (Home games)
2001 53 19,321 7
2002 44 18,685 10
2003 47 19,171 7
2004 42 19,154 6
2005 26 18,756 8
2006 41 18,332 9
2007 51 19,566 6
2008 54 19,907 5
2009 48 19,903 6
2010 53 19,378 6
2011 39 19,511 7
2012 * 45 19,306 6
2013 43 18,680 9
Average 45 19,205 7
STDEV (+/-)
7.6 480.5 1.5
* Lockout shortened Season

Well. The good news is that it's not horrible right now. But last season was between 2 and 1 standard deviations away from average, on the wrong side of what average is. It's not significant, but it's not good either. We showed up for teams we loved (that 2004 team), and even for teams that were absolutely wrecked by misfortune (the 2005 team).

Three generations of fans have grown up on the Jazz in Salt Lake. I hope the front office gives us the benefit of the doubt here and works on making the future better. Trust the fans to still care about the team they love by promising to make it a team that we can love -- even if the present is bumpy.

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Longest Downbeat ever that doesn't include tasty pie charts? Yes? Okay. Now seems to be a good time as any to announce a new section here at the Dunk. Once a month I will write the article YOU want me to write. I will take on any topic. And I will write it from whatever angle you want me to write it from. The challenge for a writer is to expand your abilities. The challenge for a thinker is to see the other side of an argument. The challenge for me is to be able to actually write a long-form piece that isn't a love letter to Myck Kabongo every month. So get at me with your suggestions. I'll pick one (this is not by voting) and get it done every month.

Oh, did someone say Myck Kabongo?

Db_1056_-_kabongo_udqm

Yeah, I think I #UDQM'd myself there . . .

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