Alls right in the Sports World these days. Brett Favre's career was just made a little less meaningful when his longtime backup tied him in Super Bowl Rings, March Madness is promising to be as exciting as ever, especially for the state of Utah, and the Jazz are back to playing great basketball. Okay better basketball. And most of the time. But we will take it over the last 3 weeks of basketball we have seen prior to this last week. Is this team coming together a little?
-Things would be even better if the Jazz had been able to find a way to beat the Thunder, but at least we got the chance to see the very good Jazz team we all expected on the road in Denver. Deron was back to controlling the team and the tempo. Deron standing up for Raja Bell was one of the great team chemistry moments of Jazz history. We beat a good team on the road, in a hostile environment. And Al Jefferson was very tough on both ends of the floor. The game at Denver was his best of the season and we've been saying that a lot lately.
-Al Jefferson is still shooting under 50% for the season, but he has shot 50% or better in his last 4 straight games which is encouraging. I will be surprised to see him catch up and finish better than 50% from the field, but he is improving and being more aggressive towards the basket, which is key for him. Here is my main concern. The Jazz continue to go to him in isolation and post up situations down the stretch of games. Besides the fact that Jefferson only shoots 41% in these situations, he doesn't draw fouls in these situations and I would be willing to bet that the team gets less offensive rebounds when Jefferson goes one on one in the low block. It reminds me of the old football adage attributed to University of Texas coach Darrell Royal: "There are three things that can happen when you pass the football and two of them are bad." That's how I feel when Jefferson is working in the post. He was dynamite down the stretch against Denver, but sometime in the near future he is also going to shoot 1-6 or 2-8 in a 4th quarter of a close loss. I would rather see us run more motion sets in the last 4-5 minutes of games, which opens up threes, drives to the basket, foul shots and offensive rebounds.
-Jefferson's offensive ups and downs aside, if he can bring the defensive intensity every night, the Jazz will be all the better for it, obviously. He isn't a great defender and probably doesn't have the tools to ever be great, but when he plays hard and aggressive on that side of the court, it makes a world of difference. That goes for all of the Jazz players.
-David Locke did a really interesting podcast with Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor that you can find here. It was Kevin O'Connor's honesty that was the most striking to me. Sure he still deflected questions, but he answered some very honestly as well. The Jazz still believe they can make a deep playoff run this year. They expected Memo to be able to contribute more than he has thus far. The front office has no regrets about trading for Al Jefferson. I have respect for Kevin O'Connors positions even if I don't agree with them.
-I don't agree that this team can make a deep playoff run this year, because I don't see us being a top 4 seed in the playoffs. If we are a 5-8 seed, that means we most likely have to go on the road every round and it means we will meet one, or possibly two of the Thunder, Mavs, Spurs and Lakers in the first two rounds. In that scenario, I give the Jazz a 40% chance of getting out of the first round and a 10% chance of making it through two. Somehow we need to find a way to make up 6 games and pass the Thunder and the Mavs.
-I tweeted a couple of weeks ago that a 2011-12 lockout would be the most devastating to the Utah Jazz out of all the teams. Why? Because if there is a lockout, then this is the only season we will have to show Deron Williams that we can contend with the big boys and more and more this season is looking like a lost one. Just making the playoffs will be a success at this point. The Jazz desperately need next season to see what they have with a healthier and incorporated Al Jefferson and Raja Bell and a healthy Mehmet Okur. But they may not get it. Orlando is the only other team that needs to prove something to their star and they will have all the opportunities this season to make a deep deep playoff run. The Jazz need 2011-12 to happen more than any other team. Without Deron Williams, the Jazz are a ceiling playoff team.
-Here is my biggest beef with Kevin O'Connor. He has failed his entire tenure to get a defensive presence at center. The Jazz don't need a franchise center, but they are still missing that low post presence who will do nothing but alter shots, play pick and roll defense and get rebounds. We are still missing that player. If the Jazz don't think it will be Kyrylo Fesenko, and it certainly isn't going to be Ante Tomic, we are still back where we always are: too short and unathletic in the post. Our entire defense, especially our perimeter and 3 point defense would improve greatly if we had a beter defensive presence in the middle.
-Want to see a depressing list? In 2003 the Jazz drafted Sasha Pavlovic at 19. Kendrick Perkins was drafted 27th. In 2004 the Jazz took Kris Humphries. Al Jefferson was drafted next and Anderson Varajao 15 picks after that. In 2006 the Jazz drafted a franchise point guard. In 2007 the Jazz drafted Morris Almond and passed on Tiago Splitter and Marc Gasol. In 2008 the Jazz took Kosta Koufos instead of Serge Ibaka, Deandre Jordan, Semih Erden and Trent Plaisted. The point is that the Jazz haven't needed lottery picks in order to find centers who would be starting for us today, but they have needed to take risks and draft young athletic centers. They haven't done that and it looks like nothing is changing soon.
-Want to hear a depressing quote? Jerry Sloan on his team's defensive achilles heel: "we went through every pick and roll defense we have and nothing worked. Our guys tried as hard as they could. I really believe that." Well, I guess that settles that. We can't defend anyone who can run a successful pick and roll. So we can't defend the Spurs, the Thunder, the Lakers or 90% of the league. At least we know that we will have tried when we can't get crucial crunch time stops in the playoffs. I can sleep better now.