Less predictability on offense would get Jazz out of rut
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.