Less predictability on offense would get Jazz out of rut

GAME TIME



Magic 104, Jazz 99



Utah is coached by Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan. Deron Williams
is at the very least the third-best point guard in the league.
Carlos Boozer is a seven-time All-Star. Andrei Kirilenko is an
all-league defender.

So why are the Jazz only four games above .500?

Their frustrating loss in Orlando provides all of the
reasons.

Boozer is not the power player he appears to be. He only
ventured into the low post on two occasions — scoring a short
jumper and then getting a layup blocked. He missed four layups
— including one in the clutch — because he approached
the rim on tiptoes. For the most part, he was positioned at the
high post and either functioned as a reverse passer or a jump
shooter.

There’s no question Boozer has adhesive hands (eight
rebounds), but he’s slow moving up, down and sideways. That’s why
his defense is so poor.

Williams’ body language was a giveaway — he was
relatively lifeless and playing as though he expected the worst.
His shot wasn’t falling (6-for-16 for 18 points), but he did make
sure the ball arrived at its pre-assigned destination (12 assists).
Most of his dimes were picked up when drove hard in one direction
and threw accurate skip passes to open teammates in his wake.

But one of Utah’s main problems is Williams is Utah’s best
post-up player — four interior set-ups good for two points of
his own and four more generated by two of his assists. Another
problem is that, with all of Utah’s minutely prescribed offensive
plays, there’s precious little space for Williams to create his own
shot opportunities.

Mehmet Okur never was a speed burner, but, at the not-so-ripe
age of 30, he seems to have lost a step or two. Except for a
putback, a short jumper and a late trey, Okur was not involved in
the offense.

On defense, Okur totally relies on anticipation — which
is precisely how he induced a pair of charging fouls. Otherwise, he
reacts late to just about every offensive play in his vicinity.

Since neither Okur nor Boozer is a shot blocker, the Jazz
must collapse their defense around any ball penetration, which
makes them especially vulnerable to kick-out passes and open
perimeter shots.

AK47 made Vince Carter work hard for his points, and also
dropped a trio of treys that helped keep the Jazz close in the
endgame. Kirilenko is for real, and he even looks more Americanized
with his new Kyle Korver haircut.

The Jazz got uneven performances from several other players.

C. J. Miles has to shoot better than 5-for-15 for Utah to
win on the road.

Ronnie Brewer is super-quick into the passing lanes (three
steals), but his crooked-arm jumpers (2-for-9) are not NBA-worthy.

Paul Millsap (8-for-11, 20 points) was the only Jazz man to
be consistently aggressive near the hoop. And he also knocked down
four of the six step-back jumpers he has worked so hard to perfect.
The Jazz were more competitive when Millsap played and Boozer sat.

Eric Maynor (1-for-5 for four points) is much more
comfortable playing in a broken field. The team’s complicated
offense continues to confuse the rookie, so much so that he forced
a total of four shots-and-passes.

So, then, what’s wrong with the Jazz?

• Aside from Williams, they lack anybody who can
consistently create his own shots.

• That’s why they ran only four isos. Two for Boozer
(resulting in two points), and the same numbers for Miles.

• Not counting Williams’ ventures into the pivot,
Millsap set up down low three times (for three points), and Boozer
twice (for two points).

• Their offense consists of a wide variety of perpetual
screens, fades, dive cuts and sequential curls, but precious few
screen/rolls. Indeed, they tallied a total of only six points on
S/Rs.

• In other words, their half-court offense is designed
to score off ball movement and jump shots. In set-up situations,
the Jazz were awarded only six free throws as a result of drives
and post-ups.

• No matter how convoluted their offensive patterns
might be, the Jazz don’t put enough pressure on the defense.

• And after a while, alert defenses learn how to dance
with Utah’s offense. Which is precisely why the Jazz couldn’t
manage a decent shot with the game on the line in the waning
minutes.

The Jazz win games primarily on discipline and some
combination of Millsap’s heart, Miles’ shooting, AK’s defense and
spot shots and Williams’ athleticism.

They lose because their offense is ultimately too
predictable, their bigs are not sufficiently athletic, their wings
are not proactive enough on offense and they miss too many shots
— 40.4 percent against the Magic.

This particular group has reached the uppermost limit of its
capabilities. If the front office is satisfied to be a perpetual
seventh or eighth playoff seed, then all is well is Salt Lake City.

But if the Jazz aspire to climbing up the ladder, then it’s
time to rebuild a new roster around Williams, Kirilenko, Millsap
and perhaps Maynor. And it’s also time for Sloan to let some fresh
air into his game plan.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

Last June, those presumably in the know proclaimed the
upcoming NBA Draft to be one of the weakest in recent memory.
However, once the prognostications ended and the hooping began, it
turned out that several rookies were, in fact, authentic
blue-chippers.

Here, then, are my all-rookie/newcomer teams:

FIRST TEAM

DeJuan Blair (Spurs) is a monster of the midway.
But how long will his surgically repaired knee hold up?

Omri Casspi (Kings) is a master of the driving
flipper, can drop 3-balls and knows how to play. He’ll only
get better as his career progresses.

Stephen Curry (Warriors) is having some difficulty
shooting under pressure and becoming a full-time point guard. Too
bad he’s not playing on a team that’s more together and
more disciplined.

Tyreke Evans (Kings) is strong, smart and
immensely talented. In order to become a perennial All-Star, he
needs to improve his perimeter shooting, his decision-making and
his defense. In other words, he’s still a rookie.

Brandon Jennings (Bucks) is super-quick and has a
soft touch. If it won’t compromise his quickness, he would
greatly benefit by adding 10-15 pounds in the offseason.

SECOND TEAM

Chase Budinger (Rockets) can shoot the lights out
and is usually in the right place at the right time.

James Harden (Thunder) gets dramatically better
game by game.




Jonny Flynn
(Timberwolves) has to develop his left
hand and also has to avoid over-penetrating. But he has the goods
to eventually be at least a near All-Star.




Tyler Hansbrough
(Pacers) can do everything except
shoot and keep up with the warp-speed of the game. However, the
more he learns the angles and techniques, the better he’ll
get.

Ty Lawson (Nuggets) gets his team running and also
is a reliable shooter and handler. He could be the best pint-sized
rookie guard in the league.

THIRD TEAM




Jon Brockman
(Kings) earns his spot for banging
like a battle-hardened veteran.

DeMar DeRozan (Raptors) is a shoot-first guard who
plays surprisingly good defense for a rookie.

Taj Gibson (Bulls) can rebound, run and find his
points without having any plays pointed at him. He’s a
terrific role player.




Jonas Jerebko
(Pistons) rebounds, makes mid-range
shots, plays extremely hard and like Gibson, doesn’t need the
ball to be effective.

Sam Young (Grizzlies) is an up-and-coming baseline
scorer.

VOX POPULI


Many people are quick to say that Kobe Bryant is the best
NBA player since the heyday of Michael Jordan. But what about Tim
Duncan and Shaq? Why aren’t they in the discussion?


Muhammad, Calgary, B.C.

Duncan still is, and Shaq has been, a dominant force in the
lane — without doubt the most overwhelming interior presences
over their respective careers.

But Kobe’s influence covers more of the court —
from miraculous 3-pointers to even more miraculous attacks on the
basket. Moreover, Kobe can go get the ball, whereas Duncan and Shaq
need someone to bring the ball to them. Plus, the two bigs are more
easily and effectively double-teamed.

Aside from any comparisons of talent, Kobe gets the edge
because of his mobility, creativity and the sheer range of his
particular genius.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

Clinton Smith was a burly 6-foot-6, 210-pound point guard who
played in the CBA while intermittently appearing in 41 games with
Golden State (1986-87) and five games with Washington (1990-91). He
could shoot, pass, see the court, guard well enough to be named the
CBA’s Defensive POY (1991) and was an all-time great
teammate.

Indeed, Clinton was always enthusiastic, intelligent, happy
and upbeat and could single-handedly insure that whatever team he
played for was thoroughly copacetic. Plus, he was an absolute joy
to coach.

But Clinton’s collegiate career offered a hint of the
wanderlust that abbreviated his CBA career and, therefore,
curtailed his opportunities to return to the NBA. From Central
Arizona College, Smith transferred to Ohio State before ending up
at Cleveland State.

During his 10-year tenure in the CBA, Smith played for
Charleston, Albany (in three separate stints), Fort Wayne (twice),
Rapid City and La Crosse. The problem was his penchant for suddenly
going AWOL. Of course, there were plenty of rumors to explain his
quick exits: Somebody’s husband showed up at the wrong time.
He owed money to the wrong folks. Or quite simply, he was easily
bored.

I only got to coach Clinton for a few games during his last
stopover in Albany — and with him on board, the Patroons
almost looked like a championship team.

But after about a dozen games, he simply vanished. No
goodbyes. No forwarding address. No footprints.

His abandoned teammates and coach missed him both on the
court and off. It wasn’t long after he disappeared that I was
fired.

I wonder where Clinton is these days. And wherever that
might be, I hope he’s outdistanced whatever was chasing him,
or else he’s finally caught what he’s been chasing.