We all know too well of the struggles that the Jazz faced in the second half of last season. We collectively as a fan base went from being cautiously optimistic, to wildly so, to watching the team seemingly fall apart before our eyes. The sudden retirement of our head and first assistant coach and the trading of our cornerstone player saw the second half of the season turn out much differently than even the most pessimistic Jazz fan would have dreamed.
I've read some very good arguments from the Jazz press and Inernet-o-sphere as to why the second half of last season -- to put it bluntly -- sucked, but I've not seen anyone put forward the X's and O's theory as yet, or relate this X's and O's theory to this season's signings and team actions. What's this X's and O's theory, Tazz? Read on after the jump for all the details...
The Flex Offense
Jerry learned it under Dick Motta during his time on Da Bulls. Beloved by tactically minded coaches, X's and O's nerds, and Jazz fans everywhere. A system based on player movement without the ball, options, passing, options, movement without the ball, and did I mention options? The flex family of offensive structures is used by teams at all levels of the game (my Rec League team runs a basic version of 2 Jazz sets against man D, the '1-4' and the old S2M 2 Man post and cut) and it is almost the antithesis of the current NBA's love affair with ISO's, the Pick and Roll and clear-out-Jackpotting-Around structures. It is by no means a simple offense to learn at the semi-pro level, requiring hours of practice without the ball or defenders to learn the patterns and options available.
My "sources" haven't seen the actual Jazz playbook, (like most teams it's a very closely guarded secret, at least until the advance scouts get ahold of NBA TV replays or Synergy analysis) but rumour has it that it's a weighty tome of paper. Yes, I strongly believe that the playbook would have been printed on paper, no interactive iPad apps here. With Jerry's well publicized aversion to using game tape as a tool, I'd say that the chances of the Jazz using an e-playbook are slim to none. But I digress.
Last season saw four new players on the Jazz roster: two rookies, two veterans, including who had already played in the system. Both rookies were young, but both seemingly had an average or above basketball IQ. In this sense I mean the ability to learn new things quickly. We all saw DWill cuss out Gordon for not knowing the right spot to be in early on, but that is perfectly normal for a rookie who is both adjusting to the increase in speed and size of the pro game and an extraordinarily complex offensive system. Our veteran pickups, Elson and Watson, were both seasoned campaigners with high hoops IQ's (so it seemed from the outside, anyway) who fit right into their roles with ease.
So, here we are, mid season, with a coach who liked to control the offense from the sidelines ('Hey, DWill, he ain't pickin' on'choo! He used to do same to Stock!') and over 1/3 of the squad still learning or re-learning the ropes (I'm not even going to mention Fes here).
We now suddenly have SEVEN players on the team who are learning the offense. Two of whom are trying to learn one of the most complex systems in the league on the job. That wouldn't be so bad if they had the creators of the system to teach them... BUT THEY STEPPED DOWN A WEEK BEFORE.
This is why, as a washed-up old PG, that I couldn't get mad at Devin Harris last season. Poor guy was trying to not only learn a complex structure, but he was also trying to run one that was built around a dominant, assertive point. One of the strengths of the flex is the ability to tailor the options to your strengths -- strong 1&4, strong 4&5, slashing 2&3, etc, but analysis of how Jerry's flex evolved is something for another post or 6-- which Jerry had been doing for years. It kept opposing coaches on their toes, because they would never know exactly what versions of the flex we would run every year. Now the architect and main cog of the whole strategy were gone, and it showed in the discombobulated second half of the season.
Coach Corbin both played and coached under Jerry for years. He knows the flex. Then why did he seemingly struggle? Exactly what I said before: the system he had to work with was tailored to pieces no longer with the team and the coaching staff had to teach the newcomers a version of the offense. They ran less sets and variations, attempting to simplify the offense (common for new mid-season coaches to do) but this made scouting and playing defense easier for opposing teams.
Ty was stuck teaching a system he certainly had a hand in developing, but not for the team he was running it with. When a team spends all offseason heading in a certain direction, both in terms of player movements and offense/defense setups, then has a sudden upheaval midseason you can't get too mad at the new coach left working with a system tailored towards missing pieces.
So. There's the thoughts of one X's and O's obsessed Jazz fan about last season. But what about this season? That's going to be in my next post.