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Utah Jazz 40 at 40: Spotting (up) offensive problems that need to be fixed

The Utah Jazz are diversifying their offense from the traditional post up slog to one which involves a variety of ball handlers. The key is to maintain floor space by keeping the defense honest outside. This means making spot up jumpers. Somehow.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the offense the Utah Jazz ran with precision from a few seasons back you can see genius in it. The front office had constructed a well balanced team, the coach had a great game plan, and the players performed as a well oiled machine. For a while that whole Kevin O'Connor / Jerry Sloan / Deron Williams / Carlos Boozer / Mehmet Okur / Andrei Kirilenko / Kyle Korver thing worked perfectly. For a while.

None of those guys are around anymore (seriously, I met KOC at a gas station in Indiana).

Genius turns into madness when you see how the Jazz offense has fallen apart over the last five seasons. A big reason for it was personnel changes. You go from Deron Williams to Jamaal Tinsley as a starter, and bad things happen. You go from Carlos Boozer shooting midrange jumpers to Al Jefferson, and bad things happen. You go from Kyle Korver being the designated shooter to C.J. Miles, and bad things happen. Let's not rehash all of that right now, but recognize that as the players go, do does production. (And it will always be this way, after a while game plans get thrown out the window if everyone is playing at their worst. I guess coaches are supposed to get their players prepped, and some coaches are better than others.) (But that's a tangent.)

The Utah Jazz from 2009-2010 averaged 105.7 offensive possessions per game, scored 0.97 points per possession (PPP), and had an NBA rank of #6 in that metric. Today the Jazz average 104.8 offensive possessions per game, and can muster a 0.89 PPP, which is good for 23rd. How did things get so out of hand so soon? Let's investigate.


Okay, so this information (if you bother to read through it all) looks bad. We are worse at the whole making the points thing. We're taking more threes per game than our five year average, and making slightly more so that's good. But on the other hand, we're getting an Estimated Points per Game (ePPG) of -5.6 less than normal. It's not good. We're getting -5.6 ePPG less, while having -1.3 less actual possessions. That's one really valuable possession we're missing.

Part of the problem isn't just talent, though. Sure, losing Deron Williams and going on to start John Lucas III sucks. But a big deal is the change in our offense this season. We have, at times, three ball handlers on the court at the same time. The bigs are also not as dominant so we can't run the Alfense anymore. While it was simple, Al Jefferson was good enough to make it chug along at times. We've had to go back to the drawing board this season -- twice -- because five rotation players were out. And in order to get an offense where the bigs are on the move, and three guys want the ball and can penetrate, to work you need to be able to move the ball around to the open guy. And this is the tricky part, that guy has to make the open shot.

Spot up jumpers are an increasingly important part of today's NBA offenses. The star players have the ball in their hands and elicit movement on defense to compensate for these stars. And the star is supposed to move the ball accordingly to the open guy for this open shot. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are great at this. A big reason is because they have starts who dominate and NEED the defense to collapse on them. The other part is that their spot up shoots shoot well enough that the stars have confidence in passing them the ball.

The Jazz need to be like that if their current "offensive system in transition" is every going to work.

In order to find out if things are working or not let's look at how Spot up shooting makes or breaks our offense:


Okay, when we were great at spot up shooting our offense was amazing. In 2009-2010 we were Ranked #11 in Spot up PPP, and as a team were ranked #6 in PPP overall. There is a relationship here. In order to faciliate our more open offense the Jazz are taking more time finishing plays with spot up shooters. The % of offensive plays that are spot up shots is greater, the number of possessions per game is greater, and the ePPG from spot ups is greater too. Unfortunately, the ePPG gain is less than the increase in Possessions per game that are spot up shots. The team is shooting worse from spot up FG% and spot up 3PT% this season than the five year cumulative marks.

The Jazz NEED spot up shooting to work in order to get everyone else free enough to do their thing. Spot up shooting needs to happen for Hayward and Burke to do unmolested pick and rolls. Spot up shooting needs to work to open up the inside for Kanter and Favors. If guys aren't making their spot up shots then Burks will pass less on drives, and may or may not get the call to go to the line. This season the Jazz are Ranked #19 in spot up PPP, which is a higher number than their over all PPP rank of #23. So in a way, it is working . . . but for whatever reason not opening up the floor in that positive feedback loop of good offensive sharing and execution.

Let's drill down and look at who is and isn't helping out on spot up shots:


Okay, three of our players LIVE from spot up situations, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush. They are all doing fairly well from the three point line on spot ups, with the lowest % being 37.5 3PT%. They aren't the problem. John Lucas III is a spot up guy too, but he's not making his shots, despite that being his one NBA caliber skill -- hitting open shots.

After Lucas it is the heart of darkness. Alec Burks and Diante Garrett are both in the Top 100 in NBA Rank for Spot up PPP, but don't really get this play called for them too often. They add less than 6 ePPG from these, despite shooting impressively in this play.

The two guys we expect to do well, Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke, are both shooting like poop this year. This is the real problem. Part of having three guys to handle the ball means that on every play TWO of them should be good enough to knock down open jumpers if the ball rotates. Burks is doing it this year. Hayward and Burke, on the other hand, are not. They touch the ball a lot and spot ups aren't a big part of their diet on offense; but that's probably because they are shooting so poorly.

Last, but not least we have Ian Clark and Jeremy Evans. They are a combined 1 for 8 from downtown on spot up jumpers. Evans I get. Clark, well, if he's only good at making shots that he creates for himself he's not going to see a lot of the floor in his career with the Jazz.

As a group spot up jumpers are 30% of their diet, which is higher than the 21.8% for the entire Utah Jazz. These guys shoot a little better than the entire team, but they should -- these guys are the only guys who should be taking these shots. Things will improve when Gordon isn't shooting 32.7 FG% on spot ups, and when Trey isn't shooting 29.1 FG% on them either. Forget about threes, these guys are missing shots they should be making.

And until they start shooting the way we think they should, our offense is not going to look any better.