I live in Chicago right now, and I've hated this city with all of my heart for years and years just because they beat the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals, twice, decades ago. Because it was Karl Malone's birthday last week we got to watch a lot of old Jazz games on NBA TV. I am not alone in not being 'fully over' those Finals years. I was a teen back then, in High School, and full of uncontrollable emotions. Every day now I creep closer to the big 4-0, and I'm still not over it. I suspect many Jazz fans are not. (Which is funny when we are implored to 'get over' recent events with an alacrity that we've never, ever, had.)
While stuck in historical bittersweet-itude I could not help by look at what our team was back then and compare it to the recent versions. Sure, there are no Hall of Famers on our squad. And John Stockton and Karl Malone sure made things look easy at times. But that group, that core was so consistent, and hence stable that they moved into the overly predictable. With the rules changes for illegal defense today that offense would not be very good -- unless John or Jeff Hornacek decided to somehow turn into Russell Westbrook type of guards.
Sure, our current team is no where close to being a contender. Our best players don't always step up to lead the team when the pressure is highest. Our role players don't fill that role to a T. And I could go on and on about what our current (or recent) Jazz team (teams) are not. But there's one thing that our 2014-15 Utah Jazz are going to be that our glory years team was not: dangerous.
I don't mean dangerous as in "a legit threat". I mean dangerous, wild, chaotic, and unpredictable. We've seen glimpses of it over the last few seasons. Gordon Hayward getting a rebound and going coast to coast, or like he did last year, scoring nearly 40 points without a warning. Trey Burke hitting game winning layups in the half court, or game winning threes off a broken play. Alec Burks just, effectively, being like no other player in Utah Jazz history . . . and then not even acknowledging what he did as he runs back on defense licking the corner of his lip.
We've seen glimpses, yes. But we're going to see the show this year.
When I look back at those finals teams I see why they HAD to lean on their stars.
- They had stars, so duh
- But sadly, outside of John Stockton, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, or Howard Eisley -- every other single player was a calamity waiting to happen with the ball in their hands
In 2014-2015 we're going to see a new coach (Quin Snyder) run an all-new offense (goodbye Dick Motta playbook from the 1950s), and do so with a number of guys who absolutely THRIVE with the ball in their hands. Hayward, Burks, and Burke have demonstrated their ability to share the ball. Add in rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood (legit faceup forward who can make his own shot, who was ALSO the ball handler in pick and rolls during summer league), and the most likely guaranteed contract for Ian Clark and there are SIX guys who can do damage and be dangerous with the ball.
That's not including play finishers (pick and roll, post up, cut, or spot ups), but while our team is way worse than in the finals years, this team is way less predictable and a strong foundational season like this upcoming one will go a very long way.
Using SynergySports let's breakdown our guys....
He's a forward in my traditional roster balance theory, but the game has change. Last season he had the ball in his hands as a playmaker over 70% of the time he was on offense. And did so for about 13 possessions per game. I'm using #Ball here because, you know:
Gordon has become a larger and larger part of the team over the years, and having #ball in his hands has bee instrumental to that. He doesn't get it as much as John and Karl did. But the amazing thing here is that while Gordon does get the ball a lot now, he's still sharing it.
He did had it in his hands for 70+% of his entire offense last season, and for his career he's over 60+%.
He's our #1 point guard until someone takes that title from him. As a result, he's our traditional ball handler out there. While his parents did grumble about taking the ball out of his hands last season he's only going to be asked to do it more this year. But he's a team player. He was killer in the pick and roll, and nearly 40% of his offense last season was just that. Overall over 60% of his offense was with #ball in his hands.
It's a far cry from the 95+% that Stock had, but the game has changed. One thing that we can presume here is that each ball handler will have their specialty. Gordon is great off-screens and off dribble handoffs. Trey has got P&R on lock. Which leads us to . . .
Oh my goodness, this guy is a dagger in the night. Slipping past people and striking with ease. A large percentage of his work is off the pick and roll, but he is our best player in isolation. Trey will work himself and the defense into letting him take a jumper. Gordon can drive or step back. But the "A" in Alec is for attack.
And yes, here's ANOTHER guy who has the ball in his hands 60+% of the time he's on offense.
He's not officially on or off the team right now. But you figure he will be. He did not get a lot of chance to play last season . . . but when he did he was still a better option on offense with the ball in his hands than all but about 4 or 5 of the guys from those Finals teams.
And he DID have the ball in his hands, 60% of the time he was on offense. But he's not going to be a huge part of our offense this next season because . . .
Have you seen this kid play? There's no Synergy data on him, but I haven't felt this secure with a guy with the ball in his hands since we had Deron Williams. He is excellent with the ball, and could end up being our #1 ball handler in short order. He's no John Stockton, but really, there is no peer for that man.
Exum isn't the only guy we're adding who is going to have the ball in his hands. Let's not forget about:
What if you got the bizzaro world of Andrei Kirilenko, a multi-talented offensive player who wowed you by doing things outside of his size or position? Well, that's not entirely fair, Andrei had great offensive BBALL IQ as well, made highlight reel passes, and knew where to be to set screens and be helpful on offense when he wasn't shooting the ball too. But what Hood does is on a different level (not better or worse, just different). Hood also has good court vision for his size, but he also does things like, well, being the ball handler in the pick and roll. He can self post himself from 16 feet in, and create his own shot. We love his shooting potential, but he's more than just a spot-up shooter. And I think that Dukie coach Snyder will be willing to see that. If Hood going to be the 5th guy with over 60% of his offensive touches be either isolations, pick and rolls, off-screens, hand offs, or in transition? Maybe, maybe not. I just don't know.
But what he could be is another very dangerous weapon that helps make our team so much harder to game-plan for or guard.
Add it all up:
The 2014-15 Utah Jazz not going to be a traditional team, or "your father's Utah Jazz", as the expression goes. I don't know if that expression is valid, because there are people way older than me who are still fans of this team. More guys sharing the ball, in a new offense that takes the emphasis out of the paint and into the hands of the guards and wings = progress?
It does, it takes advantage of our most talented players, and takes advantage of the trends in the NBA. The rules changed making it more important to be guard / wing oriented. Furthermore, dribble penetration is always going to be needed, just now the traditional ideas of 'who the ball handler is' is no longer valid. I guess LeBron James broke down that wall by being the size of Karl Malone, and leading his team in APG.
This position-less revolution isn't the end of the world, just the beginning of this next one, a world that Snyder's Jazz will find and carve out a big chunk of based on the great work done by Dennis Lindsey.
How could you guard the Jerry Sloan teams with Stockton and Malone? You couldn't with the rules that team played in. That era is over, and Sloan needed a guy like Mehmet Okur to make the scheme work. But the game kept changing, and the rules kept going in a certain direction. Utah now has the horses to run this race, and the offense will take advantage of the ball handling talents of these players. Snyder puts the Jazz in a position to take advantage of where the game is going, and these six players will help the Jazz get there with a progressive, dynamic, start.