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Utah Jazz 2014 2015 November Review: Building a foundation

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The first month of the season was like the first few frustrating minutes of building Ikea furniture

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever made something that comes in distinct prefab sections, before? Maybe some of that "ready-to-assemble" Ikea furniture, perhaps? It's simple. It's easy. It comes with instructions. But, of course, it's all of those things only in retrospect after the stupid dumb shelf you need but they only had in the wrong color is actually finished. It's a frustrating ordeal during the initial stages ... best described in the classic HBO series "The Wire", that detail scenes where broken down, and drunk, police officers attempt it.


NSFW: Scenes of drinking, failure to follow step 5b correctly, and some bad words.

Yes. This is where the Utah Jazz are right now. They know they have a plan, and have all the pieces that should fit together correctly. But it's building that foundation right now that's the struggle. The first month (+ 2 October) games is over, and the team is a lowly 5-12 having lost the last five straight. But this is the whole first few steps of building something from Ikea right now stage. It's bad. It looks like it'll never get better. But you have to seriously look at what you are asking these pieces to do, and find out what THEY do, in order to cooperate and advance from the swearing stage.

So what happened this month?
Good Guys Bad Guys Margin Record Win %
1 UTA 93 vs HOU 104 -11 0 - 1 0.00%
2 UTA 102 @ DAL 120 -18 0 - 2 0.00%
3 UTA 118 vs PHX 91 27 1 - 2 33.33%
4 UTA 101 @ LAC 107 -6 1 - 3 25.00%
5 UTA 102 vs CLE 100 2 2 - 3 40.00%
6 UTA 82 vs DAL 105 -23 2 - 4 33.33%
7 UTA 97 @ DET 96 1 3 - 4 42.86%
8 UTA 86 @ IND 97 -11 3 - 5 37.50%
9 UTA 97 @ ATL 100 -3 3 - 6 33.33%
10 UTA 102 @ NYK 100 2 4 - 6 40.00%
11 UTA 93 @ TOR 111 -18 4 - 7 36.36%
12 UTA 98 vs OKC 81 17 5 - 7 41.67%
13 UTA 88 @ GSW 101 -13 5 - 8 38.46%
14 UTA 94 vs NOP 106 -12 5 - 9 35.71%
15 UTA 95 vs CHI 97 -2 5 - 10 33.33%
16 UTA 82 @ OKC 97 -15 5 - 11 31.25%
17 UTA 96 vs LAC 112 -16 5 - 12 29.41%
1626 1725 -99

The team had flashes of competency -- hey this can work out -- but did not have complete games. That's why the team had the record they earned. But for three quarters here or there the team was right in it. Learning how not to lose is a skill gained only through practical experience. No one can teach it to you, you just have to go out there and figure it out. In that way it's entirely applicable to use the Ikea analogy. You can't watch a youtube video of someone making it. You have to sit there on the floor, with little pieces of metal and cheap wood making mistakes enough to learn how to assemble that stupid foundation. When the foundation is there, it gets so much easier.

A smarter blogger would list each player on the team right now as a piece of Ikea ready to assemble component, but I'm not that guy. (Is Gordon Hayward and Allen Wrench? Is Rudy Gobert the big long flat piece marked B?)

Utah did have flashes of competency, but lost to a bunch of really good, vet teams. The Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks (x2), Los Angeles Clippers (x2), and Oklahoma City Thunder (x2) all look to return to the Western Conference playoffs this year. That's 7 of the 17 games right there. Western Conference playoff hopefuls, the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans, were also on the schedule -- so it's not like the Jazz played BAD teams out west.

In the East they could have picked up a few more games, I expect them to next year, I didn't this year.

But by my preseason estimation, the Jazz should have won against Dallas once and New Orleans once, they lost both. They did win against Cleveland once, which I did not expect. And they got a freebie against an injured OKC. So they won two games I did not anticipate, and lost two I thought they would win.

So they are "right where" I expected them to be after one month. If the team "only wins 5 games a month" every month they're going to end up with 30+ wins this year. And that's where the majority of you Dunkers felt they'd be as well.

How about the games themselves?

PPG 95.65 PPG 101.47 -5.82
RPG 40.9 RPG 39.9 1.00
APG 20.8 APG 19.5 1.30
SPG 7.1 SPG 8.1 -1.00
BPG 4.8 BPG 4.6 0.20
TO 15.4 TO 12.4 3.00
PF 18.7 PF 20.4 -1.70

The team doesn't look horrible on paper, they just do in the box scores . . . which are products of what happens on the court. So, okay, at times they look horrible. The key problem seems to be defense. The defense is holding back the Jazz' counter attack / fast break / pace of play. There are plenty of guys who can run and score in transition on this team (Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, Trevor Booker, and even the hustling Rudy Gobert -- to name just 10). But they can't get in transition because they're not getting the stops.

This is finding out that you screwed in the right piece backwards. You recognize only after that you did it all wrong, but now you know how not to make the same mistake twice.

The Jazz are 28th in DEF RTG, giving up 112.0 points per 100.0 possessions. They are getting blown out a lot. But it's obviously something they have to fix. This is a case where fixing something is waaay easier after you recognize what you did in a big failure. Losing each game, on average, by 6 points means that you're not hanging around a lot. You're in that comfort zone for the other team to coast to victories.

Looking at the four factors on defense the key issues here are that the Jazz let the other team take really good looks (.522 eFG%, 27th), and don't pressure the ball much (11.9 TOV%, 27th). On the other side of the defense, no team fouls less than the Jazz, in relation to the shots the other team takes (#1 in FT/FGA ratio). Older Jazz squads would hack and hack, and make the other team beat them at the line. The other team is only going to the line 19.5 times a game this season. But, maybe that's not the defense being smart and measured, but the opponents getting whatever they want?

Open threes are a problem, and threes in general -- where the other team is shooting .377 3PT% against our boys.

So what do you call a team that doesn't foul, and leaves guys open for threes all the time? Probably one that is defending the paint well enough, right? Or perhaps just a team that gets sucked into helping out on dribble penetration. This is the NBA game of today though, so I'm not going to eat their lunch for doing the strategically correct thing here (you defend the man with the ball, right?) -- but other teams aren't getting blasted from outside like Utah is.

An idea I have is to, and excuse me from borrowing from Matt Harpring here, know your personnel. Stay home on three point shooters, guys. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are in the paint. They can't do it by themselves, but an open three is a much easier shot to make than a contested layup in the paint. The Jazz defenders have to know their personnel better and have better discipline on defense here.

I would trade off some more FTA for the other team for a few fewer open threes. Today's NBA is one where even centers (Chris Bosh, Spencer Hawes, etc) can hit from outside. The defense needs to adapt in order to meet the needs of this new threat.

Staying home on three point shooters and fouling more isn't going to solve everything though. The defensive effort needs to be there more. But the biggest red flag for me is that our team doesn't seem to get that the defensive play is over ONLY when your guys get the ball back. When they figure that out and work with the coaches on how better to ensure that (Jazz getting less than 75% of the opponents misses right now on defense, a DRB% that's 19th in the NBA) THEN the offense can run and gun.

Offensively things aren't perfect, but they are more in place than the defense. The team is missing a lot of open jumpers right now, and 32.9% from outside is too low for a team this talented. They'll come around, hand in hand with the defense, as the season goes on.

One month into the year things look bad. But everything looks bad when the only two pieces in the box that fit well together (Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors) can't support the entire weight of the project. The more experience everyone gets (from the GM Dennis Lindsey, the head coach Quin Snyder, and all the players) the better things will work and fit together.

It's a long process where we're not skipping steps. Other teams have made the climb. So will we. You can bet your Allen wrench on it.