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Sloancrates' Xs and Os: Defensive Philosophy

Sloan Socrates - Image created by AllthatJazz / Amar
Sloan Socrates - Image created by AllthatJazz / Amar

Larry Brown is the travelling salesman. Hubbie Brown is the old man of the mountain. Phil Jackson is, and I'm assuming here, sarcastically called the Zenmaster (because nothing says non-attachment like earning $12 million a year). Jerry Sloan is, honestly, an old fashioned a--hole whose education isn't from some sophist school, but the heartland wisdom of more humble folk, laborers, workers, farmers. His humor is simple, but his wit is sharp. There are many similarities to find between Jerry Sloan and Socrates, especially when it comes to the whole "unrecognized genius of his time" issue. Let's not forget that the Socratic style can be the round-about way Jerry leads younger players into recognizing the truth through being yelled at for long periods of time.

That said, let's delve into the X's and O's of his schemes and, ourselves, find the hidden truth that is (actually) right before our eyes.

In the NBA game there are a few things you can do on defense. You can play man to man defense. (Either defending by position, or by talent -- SG on SG, or longer player to defend SG if he's shooting over player) You can play zone defense (and in that, there are different zone schemes). You can trap. You can goad teams into taking shots they would rather not want to take. Of course, in all of these situations you may be able to double team.

A coaches philosophy on doubling trickles down into the rest of the game plan. George Karl, back when he was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics, employed a crazy scheme where everyone rotated and doubled in concert with one another. This defense worked well because everyone was around the same size, athleticism, length and quickness. Shaquille O'Neal called this a "jungle monkey defense", and did not appreciate being fouled by everyone on the court all game long. This, of course, is one extreme in the continuum of double teams.

The other, is obviously, the "no double team" scheme. Jerry Sloan would let Shaq get 40 on Greg Ostertag in single coverage -- as long as it meant that the rest of the Lakerscouldn't get going. Jerry Sloan is 8-1 against Shaq's LA Lakers in the Playoffs, by the way. Part of this record is due to Jerry Sloancrates defensive philosophy on doubling a bigman in the paint.

There are different kinds of double teams: no double teams, complete double teams, late double teams (which were called illegal defenses back before that rule changed), and double teams once the player puts the ball on the floor. If there ever was a double that Sloan would advocate using it was the double of throwing Stockton at Shaq in the paint once Shaq started to dribble. Stockton's quickness also made passing the ball difficult.

So far in this Denver series we've seen only those types of doubles. And those doubles have never occured on an offensive big. (So this doctrine remains pure in this regard) So far we've seen Billups and Melo backing into guys of their strength/size, or smaller. If you double them too soon, then that means they'll find the right guy to pass to, and the Nuggetswould rotate the ball to an open man. Utah does not need to force JR Smith to take open shots and get hot unnecessarily. Thus, we've seen Fesenko come in late with the double team when the offensive player starts to dribble. Sure, he doesn't have Stockton's quick hands -- but he has Odenian length (9'4 standing reach) and he uses these long arms to obscure clean looks at the basket *and* any potential passing lanes.

This has worked very well for the Jazz so far in this series - and is a product of Sloan's philosophy on doubling. Especially since Fes going to double leaves a big open -- but because of the asynchronicity of posting up a guard or small forward, a big is displaced on offense, and thus, not a threat.

Of course, cases exist where the Jazz are forced to do an overt-double. It's because of this need that the Jazz have been bombarded from the outside by teams that reverse the ball out of the post quickly, and swing the ball around the three point line to an open shooter. The reason why the Jazz have (as of late) been massacred by 'the type of guy we hate' (e.g. a middle talent guard who can hit an open jumper, and then act like he's awesome -- Sasha Vujacic is a great example) is because those types of guys are on teams that also have guys the Jazz have been previously forced to double.

When the Jazz were playing Shaq's Lakers, the Jazz were not lit up by Eddie Jones. When the Jazz were playing Hakeem's Rockets, the Jazz were not lit up by Veron Maxwell. When the Jazz were playing David's Spurs, the Jazz were not lit up by Sean Elliot. When the Jazz were playing Kareem's Lakers, the Jazz were not lit up by Byron Scott. And so forth . . .

Why? Because Sloan opted to use a big guy to play their best big in single coverage.

The Jazz were ripped apart by the Lakers the last two seasons because the Jazz were forced to double a big, leaving a wing open for a three. Fesenko is a solid big who can man up on someone with size and strength on defense -- and cause players to reconsider shooting. He also allows the Jazz to remain in single coverage, not allowing good outside shooters with open shots.

A Jazz defensive line-up of Boozer-Memo, or Boozer-Millsap is just too small to play super long teams in single coverage (see: LA Lakers). Fesenko (for all his faults) is a big body who changes the minds of the offenses tasked to score with him on the floor. Having him on the floor gives Sloan's doctrine an outcome aside from failure.

Memo was big and slow on defense, but did not challenge shots. Boozer is strong and quick, but too short to defend 7 footers. Millsap is full of heart and hustle, but was even shorter than Boozer. Fesenko, the dullest and most chastised of Sloancrates' students gives his defense a hope in this new, changing world.

And it's a hope that even the stubborn, cranky Sloancrates is wise enough not to turn away.