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Sunday Syncopation #45

Preseason games start tomorrow? Waaaat?

This is it, right? The lockout isn’t going to return in the next 24 hours, right?

The last 12 months of basketball have been crazy for all NBA fans, and extra fire sauce crazy for Jazz fans. Let’s take a painful stroll down memory lane, shall we?

  • In January, the New Year 2011, the Jazz would have liked to return to the winning ways of November after the usual December dip. Memo’s progress is slowed by back injuries and more and more Jazz players start dropping like flies. Jerry Sloan, Deron Williams, and company need help from somewhere – Gordon Hayward is up to the challenge and plays with greater confidence. Yet the major problem of slow starts persist, despite being a team filled with great coaches (who seem to not know how to motivate this bunch), and talented veterans.
  • February was the big day where Carlos Boozer would return to play against the Jazz, now a member of the Chicago Bulls. Jazz fans did not get what they expected this night, as the Jazz collapsed down the stretch (Ronnie Brewer had a ‘dagger’ defensive play, a passing lane steal, to seal the game). And then things went absolutely out of control. The next day Jerry Sloan resigns from his position as Head Coach of the Utah Jazz. Phil Johnson does the same, as his spot as top Assistant Coach. Tyrone Corbin receives a battlefield promotion in the middle of a season Jazz fans will never forget. It’s hardly an ideal start for his Head Coaching career. Jeff Hornacek is officially an assistant coach now. Second time All-Star Deron Williams represents the Jazz players during the NBA labor meeting during All-Star weekend. The Jazz get dismantled by the Phoenix Suns on national TV. Karl Malone is in attendance and airs a lot of dirty laundry in interviews – probably prevents current Jazz brass from ever wishing to hire him as a result. Shortly after Deron Williams is traded to the New Jersey Nets for former All-Star Devin Harris, the #3 pick in the, then current, NBA draft (Derrick Favors), and an unprotected lottery pick in the upcoming (2011) NBA draft.
  • A new era was starting in the month of March. Al Jefferson was now the big man on campus, and looking down the barrel at another year in his peak where he’s the best player on a lottery team. Despite some superstar calls, the Jazz make a game out of it and nearly knock off the Boston Celtics – which would have been Al’s first time doing so in his career. It’s a moral victory after all the player injuries, 6 game losing streaks, franchise altering trades – and you know, epoch changing coaching resignations. The Jazz continue to play many games with 5 rotation players out, while younger players Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans develop on the court chemistry. The Jazz finally pull the plug on Mehmet Okur’s season, and Favors continues to find a groove, and home, here in Utah.
  • April showers bring May flowers. For the Jazz, April losses would make sure we’re in the lottery come draft time. Big Al continues to be the only guy who doesn’t miss a game, even though he could have if he wanted to. Even Paul Millsap was in and out of the lineup more times this season than I can count. Kyrylo Fesenko (Big Teddy Bear Kitty Cat) bangs up Kobe on the way to a 4 point, 8 rebound, 2 block performance in his first start of the season. He called his mom to tell her the news and she accused him of trying to play a "April’s Fool" prank on her. I’m not making any of this up. Republican (Illinois) Congressman John Shimkis honors Jerry Sloan on the House floor. No one would ever put it on official US Government public record to say anything about Phil Jackson except he was a highly fortuitous hippie who won rings on a GM’s drafting, and his assistant coaches’ offensive system (Tex Winters’ Triangle). Ronnie Price has a season ending injury. Kyrylo Fesenko does as well. The body count for the Jazz continues to pile up. Andrei Kirilenko is asked about his future after this season.
  • May is usually when the playoffs are in full swing. This year Earl Watson helped kids in Kansas City go to the prom, and Derrick Favors was voted onto the All-Rookie team. Jazz fans watched the playoffs, from the outside looking in for the first time since Devin Brown, Milt Palacio, and Robert Whaley were on the team. Many of us were still in shock over the past 6 months of upheaval.
  • June brought Jimmer-mania to the World Wide Web as his people started a huge marketing venture with, among other things, his Youtube channel. Also DeShawn Stevenson got arrested right after winning the title. The Jazz held pre-draft workouts that led to picking Enes Kanter and Alec Burks in the NBA draft; and Andrei Kirilenko got a crazy tattoo.
  • July brought us the lockout, and took away summer league and free agency. (And we lost Armen Gilliam this month too) Our young guys had to find their own ways to get run in, and directed development time was lost. In a way, this was like our young guys skipping the Rocky Mountain Review . . . except everyone skipped it, not just one or two players.
  • August was relatively quiet, as both sides of the lockout did not do much about a very big problem. I really got into my video game playing groove.
  • September gave us a chance to see Enes Kanter slowly, and surely, do his thing in the EuroBasket tournament. We also got a chance to see Andrei Kirilenko do his thing, and fall in love with him all over again. Our American NBA players had to toil in obscurity, or in fantastic worlds bereft of any defense at all.
  • October was sleepless nights for lockout followers, and not much else. Commentators on the side of the players and on the side of the owners start to make this an ugly affair. Andrei signed with CSKA Moscow, and Mehmet Okur signed with Turk Telekom Ankara. Gordon Hayward signs with a PC Game Sports league, and participates in a StarCraft II tournament. Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson are inducted to the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. Tyrone Corbin counters by hiring Sidney Lowe. The NBA cancels some preseason games, then all of them. Then they cancel the first 8 Jazz regular season games.
  • After countless failed starts, labor negotiations seriously heat up and the Lockout is Ended in November. Late November. Everything goes crazy. But a "we gotta rush and get everything done crazy" type of crazy. Not a "Jerry Sloan hasn’t come out for his post game interview with the press yet" type of crazy.
  • December . . . here we are in the middle of it all, days away from action. What a crazy 12 months. Also, Jamaal Tinsley? Seriously?

Tomorrow the Jazz suit up against the Portland Trail Blazers for the first of two pre-season games. It’s going to be a crazy game because the Jazz haven’t made any cuts yet and it does appear as though a number of our probable ‘rotation guys’ either don’t know the plays, aren’t in game shape, aren’t making their shots, or don’t know how to play basketball. It is going to be a long season if we are relying on Raja Bell’s midrange shooting to get us places. All in all, a pretty crazy 12 months – even without a long free agency period.

There is still so much of December left, our first "real" game starts on the 27th. Less than 10 days away.




The NBA – Expect Big Things:

Like a single Kobe Bryant . . .




Being Kantankerous

I did not get a chance to watch Enes play last night. From what I heard he did not look great. I did not get a chance to see him play in that scrimmage for the fans, the one where he got hurt early on and had to watch from the baseline. From what I heard he did not look great. I did not watch all of his games for Team Turkey, but I did see a few. He did not look great. Let’s get a few things straight here . . . our #3 draft pick is not playing well. He’s either hurt, or nervous, or something else. What he is *not*, however, is dominating. It doesn’t look good.

He’s also 19 years old, a billion miles away from his home, and a few years removed from even playing competitive "this one counts" type of basketball.

What we have here, for those following at home, is the classic situation where Jerry Sloan would argue against. We understand, inherently, the problems of Kanter. But we can’t put a jock strap on him for one game, and then put him in diapers the next. This was precisely what Jerry Sloan said about C.J. Miles. Miles took a while to develop into a rotation player. He has been in the league forever, but he’s only 24 now (which is the same age as Jeremy Evans, a dude who most would say has a ton of upside still). C.J. had some great games, spent some time in the NBA D-League, and spent a lot of time on the bench behind Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring, Gordan Giricek, and the 5th fan in line at home games. C.J. took a long time to get the confidence to be an NBA player. Part of this may have been because of his starting age. Another, probably larger part, was his Yo-Yo’d minutes and ever changing role from season to season. The Jazz did not commit to developing him, so instead of a guy who (as a rookie) had a 20 pt shooting out against Monta Ellis we had a guy strapped to the bench, who’d only get to see playing time if someone was injured. I don’t think it’s absurd to think that had C.J. gotten a more serious shot at contributing early on he would be a better C.J. than he is today. After all, how do other teams somehow coax usefulness out of guys on their rookie contracts – yet we can’t? Do we just have incompetent scouts and draft the wrong guys?

It used to be easy to give our draft picks a ‘pass’ because we were always picking from some God-awful spot. It’s super easy to absolve picking a Jamie Watson, Martin Muursepp, or Scott Padgett when these are guys all picked at the end of each round. But when you have a more valuable pick you gotta make it the right pick. Here’s a list of all the guys the Jazz have drafted in the top 14 (what we now call the lottery): Rich Kelly (’75); James Hardy (’78); Darrell Griffith (’80); Danny Schayes (’81); Dominique Wilkins (’82 – but traded for MONEY); Thurl Bailey (’83); Karl Malone (’85); Kris Humphiries (’04); Deron Williams (’05); Ronnie Brewer (’06); Gordon Hayward (’10); Enes Kanter (’11); and Alec Burks (’11). No team hits a homerun with each pick they draft, especially not in the lotto where the later picks are kind of a crap shoot. That said, I’d say only 4 of those 13 guys are guys you could hitch a team to, and get wins. (And only 3 of those 4 were guys who even played for the Jazz) The next group, solid rotation guys, is also 4 guys strong. That means the Jazz get a rotation player (or great player) 61.5% of the time from the lotto. Of course, time will tell where a guy like Kanter (or Burks) stands . . . he is closer to a Karl Malone or a Kris Humphries?

Of course, this current Jazz front office shouldn’t get much of the credit for picking guys like ‘Nique, Stockton, or Malone – as that wasn’t Kevin O’Connor and Jerry Sloan. Forget that, Jerry Sloan isn’t even here anymore. Neither is Larry H. Miller. Our current brain trust isn’t the same one that got us those guys. Instead, we picked Enes Kanter with the #3 pick. It’s not rocket science to know that the higher the pick is, the more values you are supposed to get out of it. This isn’t like ‘having’ to take Ronnie Brewer at #14, this was having to pick any guy, except 2 guys ahead of you, to take at this spot. Out of everyone, the Jazz wanted Kanter the most. Regardless of age, the #3 pick is supposed to be ready to get down to business and wreck things up.

Regardless of what criteria you use to rank players, and regardless of what things happen to make you pick a guy #3 – that guy has been pretty good. And most of them were pretty good as rookies too. This group has less busts than the #2 or #1 pick. Who are the only ‘bad’ players from this group over the last 30 years? Adam Morrison (who had a lot more NCAA exposure than Kanter), Darius Miles, Raef LaFrentz, Billy Owens (who was later traded for Mitch Richmond), and Chris Washburn. That’s 5 bad apples in 30 tries. That means you got a got rotation player (or Hall of Fame) 25 out of 30 times. That’s 83.3% of the time. Even the Jazz’ 61.5% success rate is supposed to be trumped by the near "can’t miss" status of the #3rd pick.

As a result, I am not going to grade Kanter like he’s C.J. Miles / DeShawn Stevenson. Those were two teens who were months removed from having a home room class to report to. Kanter has played in professional ‘man’s league’ international competitions, and had a whole year in an American college experience. He practiced with a team under a former NBA-style college coach. And I’m not going to evaluate Kanter based on the progress of Kosta Koufos (a late 1st rounder), or Kyrylo Fesenko (a middle 2nd rounder). Kanter is the MAN we picked with the #3 pick in the NBA draft. He was picked ahead of guys with more experience. He was picked ahead of guys with more question marks. The point is that he was picked, and picked #3. If the Jazz picked someone else and swapped picks for Kanter (at a lower level, and lower starting rookie scale contract value) then I would similarly expect less from him.

But I’m not going to put a jock strap on him when he does good, and put a diaper on him when he does bad. Jerry Sloan would not. You should not either.

The average rookie season for the #3 pick in the last 30 years is 13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 2.5 apg. Fact. This isn’t me picking and choosing only guys like Anfernee Hardaway and Grant Hill, this is all #3 picked rookies. And that’s the average, 14 / 5 / 3. If you picked a guy who doesn’t get at least that then you picked a guy who was unable to handle the burden of his draft spot. And if that happens you need to reevaluate how and why you picked him, and reevaluate your process for evaluating players. I’m not in ‘this’ to be a fan of a poorly performing team. I’m a Jazz fan. I’m used to contending for titles. We’ve been given a boat load of younger players and high draft picks. We can’t bumble our way into mediocrity. The current mindset of the NBA player and current rules of the collective bargaining agreement don’t give teams 10-15 years to mix and match bad players around two loyal stars who’ll put up with un-ending failure.

We’ve already seen star players leaving teams because those teams couldn’t get their ‘shi*t’ together long enough to keep them there. I’m not interested in seeing Derrick Favors playing for the Lakers in 4 years. That’s why the Jazz can’t afford to do a re-do of following up picking Griffith (who was ROY) with Danny Schayes. You can’t be gifted Favors and follow that up with a bust. (Or follow it up with abject redundancy … "Oh great, you paired me up with a bigman who is worse than me. Awesome.")

Kanter is young, in a new situation, and possibly not ready to deserve being picked #3 right now. But he can only get better. (He can’t get worse, really. He can’t.) He’s on the Jazz, and I want him to exceed my expectations for him. I’m not going to baby him, or celebrate him like I’ve done with The Koof and Fes. Those guys were destined to be role players at best, and bench guys all their careers. Kanter, at the #3 pick, is supposed to be a 14 / 5 / 3 guy. It’s hard, it would be so much easier to baby him and pat his bum and talk to him in a baby voice like I was changing his diaper after he scores 8 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. But he is supposed to be better than that. And I think Kanter, a MAN in a MAN’s league, wants more than just to be babied.

Regardless of my reverence for Jerry Sloan and his hard-hat wearing philosophy, it undermines Kanter more to put him in a diaper than to be hard on him. I want him to the best he can be. And at the #3 pick, he’s supposed to be pretty great.

And he wants to be the best he can be too.

He’s not a low ceiling, low talent player like Felton Spencer, Greg Ostertag, or the previously mentioned Kosta or Kyrylo. He’s not a guy we were pressured into picked with a poor draft spot. He’s not a guy who we didn’t have choice over. We wanted him. We picked him. And we picked him high. He’s not supposed to be a scrub. I’m not going to expect him to be one. He’s young, but other young guys have succeeded despite their age. He’s foreign. Other non-Americans have thrived in the league. He’s raw and nervous – but he’s also a #3 pick.

And he wants to be the best he can be.

I’m not going to put him in a diaper this season. And if you were planning on doing it, you should change your mind too. Or else Jerry Sloan will come to your house and make you run wind sprints.




It’s not all Kanter though . . .

The Jazz made a commitment to Kanter by picking him so high. The Jazz also have to make a commitment to Kanter to develop him. They picked him for a number of reasons. One can assume part of it was due to his age, his NBA-ready body, and his talents. He has upside, but he’s not a finished product. The Jazz have to finish him. Of course, we’re halfway there because we have Sidney Lowe on staff. But jokes aside, a commitment to making Kanter reach his #3 draft spot (and deserving it) means actually playing him. There is no greater currency a young player needs than confidence. And confidence can only be raised so much by ‘rah-rah’ speeches, and late nights at the PF shooting jumpers against assistant coaches. We have a great example of that in Gordon Hayward – who started the season off like a little kitten, but finished it like a tiger. Yes, the practices, familiarity, and film all helped. But what helped most was actually getting onto the court and doing what comes natural to them – playing.

The Jazz have a great history with drafting project bigmen, finding out that they aren’t ready to help right now, and moth balling them for entire seasons. Kosta Koufos was a 1st round NBA draft pick, who played 84 games for the Jazz and a grand total of 741 minutes. In his first season he was only 19. During all the time the Jazz had him watching games from behind the bench he sure developed. Speaking of development, the Jazz had their own IN STATE NBA Developmental League team, the Flash. Kosta (over two seasons of eligibility) played in 15 games and 453 minutes for the flash. As I pointed out, confidence is the number one thing for a young player. And you gain the most confidence by playing. Under the Jazz, Kosta played in (NBA + NBADL) 99 games, over the span of 1194 minutes. That’s doesn’t look so bad, as it’s about 12 mpg. But if you are an NBA 1st round draft pick, and currently pulling in NBA money, and nearly 40% of your career minutes are in the NBA-DL, you should be averaging more playing time than 12 mpg. He’s not our problem anymore, and he didn’t have as high a ceiling, but I think it’s safe to say that we didn’t try to develop him. You can’t say with a honest face that the Jazz tried to make Kosta better by letting him play in 5 or less games every month.

I’m not even going to get into Fesenko’s "development" . . .

If the Jazz want Kanter to be good he has to be confident and comfortable on the court. It’s hard to do that if the Jazz don’t let him play. You can watch a lot of porn baseball, but if you never have sex play baseball, you’re never going to hit a homerun. If watching veteran players do the right things on the court made you better, than Jacque Vaughn would have been an all-star after watching John Stockton all those years. If Kanter spends the majority of the season watching basketball instead of playing it he’ll finish this season, his rookie year, behind the curve of other #3 draft picks.

Of course, if he spends most of it with the Flash then a) we drafted a D-League All-Star when we should have drafted an NBA All-Star, and b) maybe the Jazz brass learned from their past recent mistakes in ‘developing’ bigs.

Hmmm . . . maybe . . .




Video of the Week:

Anyway, enough Jackpotting around with Enes Kanter related posts. We have a lot to enjoy about him, but even more joy this next season will come as a result of the slam dunk pick of Alec Burks, at #12. BEHOLD!

Uploaded by LockoutHoops

I love Alec Burks, and yes, I’m going to judge him against all other picks of his draft spot too. But as a #12 pick, obviously, the rookie season averages he’ll have to meet are much lower: 6.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 1.4 apg.




Stats Class

There are many ways to score in the game of basketball. Jazz fans know this, because we got to watch Karl Malone for so many years, and he has more points than everyone else in the league except Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A lot of Karl’s points came from the free throw line. After a while, when he was in his peak, he’d get a lot of free throw attempts. They would keep adding up, and it would be difficult for the other team to cope with giving away so many ‘freebies’. That said, as Jazz fans, we know what it’s like on the other side of the whistle. The Jazz foul a lot. And the Jazz get called for fouls a lot as well. And it leads to ‘freebies’ for the other team.

It may not mean much when you run a high octane offense, one clicking on all cylinders. And it also may be mitigated if you have a foul magnet on your team who gets a lot of free throw attempts. Last season we had neither though – and it made a difference.

The Jazz, over the last five years (and honestly, for decades longer), foul a lot. All teams foul a lot, but the Jazz are known for fouling a lot, and as a result, they get called for a lot of fouls as well. Also, regardless of perception, some of the fouls the Jazz make are very easy to spot. It’s not like we’re getting bad calls, the most important reason for fouling a lot is playing bad defenders. The Jazz, on average, foul the other team 23.39 times per game over the last 5 years. That’s high. The Jazz’ rank for those years are all Top 10, being Top 2 in four of the five years. Logically there is a strong correlation between fouling and giving the other team free throw attempts. The Jazz do so with aplomb as well. Being 30th worst at something like sending the other team to the line is being 1st best at a bad thing. The Jazz scored highly in being bad here.

If you add those two things together, and split the difference with what we do on offense, you get the net free throw attempts per game difference. It isn’t a big surprise that the other team goes to the line more. The Jazz just kind of expect it at this point. Though, the disparity isn’t like a -10 FTA deal like we get when we play the Lakers in the playoffs though. (I get that we get the short end of the stick, but I do reserve to get upset if there is no stick left for us at all.) Planning for less free throws doesn’t make a huge difference – you know, if your offense kicks butt.

It did not last year . . . and well . . we lost a lot of close games.

Obviously it’s not a 1:1 relationship, and we’d need to look at ft% as well. But that’s a stats class for another Sunday . . .




Hope you didn’t miss . . . .

Spencer Hall of Salt City Hoops with a great breakdown of our defensive shift . . . moving away from the Mark Eaton Heliocentric defensive stratagem of forcing to the middle to a more sane idea of forcing the offensive players baseline. You all need to read this twice!

@azv321 ‘s cool find of Michael Jordan being Michael Jordan … If Karl ever did this he’d be ejected from the league.

@caseliv 's (as RT’d by @kyle11kirkham) amazing tweet with this crazy pic of Kosta Koufos with cornrows . . .

Some guy named Jon Cooper at a GTech blog catching up with Matt Harpring. . . I did not read it, so I don’t know what it is about. Anything from basketball, to football, to astrology, to his favorite episodes of Knight Rider . . . again, I haven’t read it. I will though!




Did you know . . . ?:

… Derrick Favors went to Georgia Tech? That school has produced 35 players who went on from there to play in at least one NBA Game. The top 10 NBA players (as seen in career PPG) who have played there are: Chris Bosh, Stephon Marbury, Mark Price, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Thaddeus Young, Anthony Morrow, Matt Harpring, Jarrett Jack, and Matt Geiger. Favors is already Top 5 in RPG on that list, and we can only expect him to get better and better. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Matt Harpring is also Top 5 in RPG for all NBA playing alumni from G-Tech.


He also played Football growing up. But we already knew that.