A Partial Review of Ty Corbin’s Coaching

March 14th, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

As the league enters the stretch run where playoff and title contenders make their push for positioning in the last month of the regular season, we simultaneously reach a period where, for developing teams, the time is ripe to begin taking stock of the progress made over the course of the year.  For the first time in years, the Jazz find themselves firmly entrenched in the latter group, long eliminated from any realistic contention after spending the season in rebuild mode.  And on the surface, this is fine – the results mostly match expectations going into the year.

Of course, taking stock means a great deal more than just comparing Utah’s place in the standings to their expected results.  Rebuilding teams have goals for the year, too, and the Jazz are no exception.  And with more and more talk swirling around his contract status and future with the team, the time seems right to begin evaluating coach Ty Corbin and the job he’s done with the team at his disposal.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few specific moves or trends we’ve seen from Corbin through the season.  We can’t cover his whole year in a single column, but a breakdown of some of the larger elements of his coaching job can certainly shed some light on what’s sure to be a tough call for the Jazz front office.

Simple Offensive Systems:

Corbin starts off with a win here, though it isn’t the drastic reinvention of his entire system that some had (very unrealistically) called for.  Rather, he’s slowly integrated little tidbits here and there to gradually introduce new concepts to a group that, sometimes, has struggled to grasp complex ones.  His change-up on screen looks for Alec Burks with defenses growing wary of his usual style, something I wrote about a few weeks back, is among the better examples of this sort of thing.

Corbin has also done well to adjust to large personnel changes from the last couple years, during which he employed one of the league’s finest post tandems in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap – unlike many coaches who are unable or unwilling to adjust their system to vastly different pieces (cough, Mike D’Antoni, cough), Corbin has made several fairly large systematical adjustments to move the Jazz more in line with common league trends.  After being one of the league’s most post-heavy teams in 2012-13, the Jazz have reduced their post share on finished plays considerably (from 16.1% last year to 9.2% this year) while noticeably raising their reliance on pick-and-rolls and the resulting spot-up shooting (a combined 32.4% last year, up to 45.4% this year).1  He deserves credit as well for bits of unexpected offensive prowess shown by Derrick Favors, as the big man has upped his scoring efficiency from previous years despite a leap to starting-level competition nightly and a move away from his usual position.

Unfortunately, some of these adjustments have been better in theory than in practice, and the overall results haven’t been as positive as many had hoped.  The Jazz still sit just 23rd in offensive efficiency and show far too much inconsistency.  More damning, though, has been their woeful lack of development in certain basic fundamental areas – watch Enes Kanter carefully in this clip:

Say what you will about Kanter’s relative basketball inexperience compared with his peers, much of it applies in many areas – but not this one.  These occurrences are far too frequent, inexcusable mistakes on simple fundamental actions, very often screens.  Kanter has been the worst offender, but the entire team is guilty to some degree; seeing players still setting screens out of bounds (illegal in the NBA) and blatantly shuffling their feet right in front of officials like Kanter above is just not okay this far into a season, especially for a team focusing the year on development.  There are offensive positives to note with Ty, but unfortunately they are somewhat mitigated by failures to develop other expected areas.

Favors and Kanter:

I documented some of the pair’s struggles back in January, and the noise from fans and experts alike certainly hasn’t subsided since then.2  The two continue to be borderline unplayable together defensively, and the jury is still very much out on that subject.  But as the duo has slowly found at least something of a groove together offensively3, it becomes increasingly tough to justify the scarcity of minutes the two presumed frontcourt centerpieces of the future are playing together.

How much Ty is responsible for the pair’s struggles to remain viable together is hard to place, but part of this is his own fault – it’s tough to get a full handle on a long-term situation like this one when the two guys in question can only see roughly seven minutes a night on the court together, often at bookended times (when Favors is nearing the end of a spell and Kanter is just getting started, or vice versa).  In any case, the results the two have displayed together certainly aren’t falling under the “positives” category for Corbin.

Marvin Williams’ Rejuvenation:

As Kanter’s replacement in the starting lineup since early in the year, Williams has been a great rebound story for the Jazz.  He’s been a lightning rod on offense for a starting unit that was badly stuck in the mud before he helped bring spacing and breathing room, and was retained by the Jazz at the trade deadline in a move that signaled to many that he will likely remain in Utah on a reduced salary after this year.  And while it’s becoming clear that using him exclusively at the power forward spot in a high-minute role probably won’t work in the long term for a competitive franchise4, Corbin deserves real credit for recognizing potential no coach before him had seen in the much-maligned Williams and taking advantage of it to plug a fairly large leak.  If he does indeed remain in Salt Lake City, Williams could be a valuable bench piece and veteran presence, and Corbin helped make this possible.

Alec Burks and Minutes Distributions:

As far as Burks alone goes, Corbin gets something of a mixed grade.  On the one hand, Burks has played the second-most total minutes of any Jazz player on the year, and Corbin has given him free reign with the second unit5 to use his full array of skills and induce pandemonium for opposing defenses.  On the other, Corbin steadfastly refuses to start the young swingman in favor of Richard Jefferson, despite the latter performing at a significantly worse level than Burks.  He insists on starting Jefferson6 in spite of the evidence that not only is Burks the superior player in a vacuum, but the vastly superior player with that exact starting lineup.

For those who didn’t click the link: assuming the exact same results over 526 minutes (the number the current starting lineup has played) versus 120 minutes (the same lineup with Burks instead of Jefferson) isn’t advisable, but it’s certainly not irresponsible to assume a similar level of performance.  And simply put, Burks has just been much better in his 120 minutes with them than Jefferson has been in his 526 – the offensive numbers are roughly the same, but the unit with Burks defends at a rate equivalent to the league’s fourth-best defense while, with Jefferson, it falls all the way to just a hair worse than Sacramento’s 23rd-ranked unit.  Throw in the fact that Burks is a core piece, vital to Utah’s future, while Jefferson is almost sure to be on another roster next season, and it’s fairly befuddling trying to figure out how Jefferson continues to start and play more minutes with the primary units.7

This brings us to a larger overall point, one that has received plenty of speculation, especially in recent weeks: is Ty doing a good job with his rotations and minute distributions?  I think many of the criticisms levied on him over the course of the year have been either unfounded or without context, but I’m just not sure how the answer isn’t a round “no” at this point. Corbin just doesn’t appear to have a coherent plan in place for the way he manages these elements, and it shows in the inconsistency of his team.  Some trends appear to largely follow a “win now” thought process over long-term development, such as the relegation of Kanter to the bench with Williams taking over as a starter, or the fact that project center Rudy Gobert has barely been able to touch the court recently.8  Other times, Corbin has appeared to value the maturation of his players, such as recent instances of the five core players finishing close games together.  And still further, some situations seem to speak to neither development nor current product – what else can explain the younger, vital future piece (Burks) still finding himself unable to start or gain a real minutes advantage over the older, unimportant-to-the-future piece who also can’t contribute nearly as much to the team right now (Jefferson)?

It may not be the prettiest picture for Jazz fans conditioned to be fiercely loyal to their own, but Utah’s front office has to take these elements into account this offseason when determining their coaching situation going forward.  There’s no question Corbin has injected several positive bits into the team this year as well, though, and they’ll have to note those as well.  In the end, I can’t say I envy Dennis Lindsey and his team – they have a tough offseason ahead of them, and I wouldn’t want to be the one making the final call here.  All Jazz fans can hope is that whoever is coaching the team next season, the team re-discovers the sort of consistency and structure that made them a mainstay among the league’s hierarchy of relevance for so many years.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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15 Comments

  1. Run_Pappy says:

    No doubt Corbin has been thoroughly average during his tenure with the Jazz. Will that be good enough for the future? I doubt it.

  2. cw says:

    Nice job.

    I disagree about Burks though. There are two reasons to play him with the starters instead of Jefferson. One, it improves the chance of winning. I think at best it would be a wash. THe starters would be better but the subs worse. The second reason to start him would be to aid his development. I think it would actually impede his development. If he started he would have to share the ball with Burke and Hayward. All three of those guys are best with the ball in their hands and all three need to work being the guy with the ball in thier hands. Burks on the second unit means he gets lots of ball time and so do hayward and Burke. I think the results speak for themselves. Burks has grown tremendously this year. Since he also gets more minutes than Jefferson and often plays with the starters at the end of the games, I don’t see any reason to change things up.

    I think the fit of Burks, Burke, and Hayward is something the Jazz are going to have to think about in the future. I think they can all play together finn, but one or all of them is going to have to give up part of their game if they all play together. The current paradigm is to have a point guard that handles the ball a lot, then a three and d guy, then a dynamic scorer. Instead the jazz have three guys that pass and shoot off the dribble. It would be cool if they could evolve into a three-headed interchangable dribble pass shoot monster, but I don’t know how realistic that is. Although it might be an advantage to break the paradigm, might cause match up problems. But what happens if Hayward gets paid some huge contract. Does he then automatically become the man meaning the Burk have to give up some game? What happens to Burks or hayward if the Jazz draft Parker Wiggins or Exum? It’s the same with Kanter and Favors. They can probably play together but I think, defensively at least, they would each work better with a DeAndre Jordan type.

    Someone is gong to get traded. What are the odds of a team drafting 5 or six guys and them all fitting together so well that they become the starting unit?

  3. Ben Dowsett says:

    Thanks for the comments guys!

    CW, unfortunately I think you’re pigeon-hole-ing yourself a bit on the Burks issue. It’s far from as simple as “he makes the starters better but the subs worse, so it’s a wash.” First off, starters typically play longer minutes and against better competition. Even if you assume Burks will simply improve the starters and worsen the bench (which, by itself, is a reach as an assumption – as I’ve mentioned in other pieces, teams very often use mixed lineups with staggered substitutions rather than full “starter” and “bench” units, the Jazz do this often and would certainly continue to with Burks), this doesn’t mean the overall product stays the same. A boost to the starters will help considerably more than a decrease to the overall bench quality will hurt.

    Further, you say the results speak for themselves regarding the play of GH and TB compared with Burks off the bench – I agree they do, though not in the way you are indicating. GH and TB, though both nice players with tangible skill sets, are both taking WAY too many shots and using WAY too many possessions in the current offense. Both have unacceptable percentages, both overall and from specific jump-shot areas, for players with usage rates as high as they both have. Inserting Burks into the starting lineup with them, assuming the correct coaching, would allow for a reduction in the usage of all three and likely a boost in efficiency. As for that being in disagreement with the “styles” of GH and TB, I’m not sure where that’s coming from. GH thrived in each of the last two seasons as a secondary scoring option, a slasher capable of hitting his spot-up looks and contributing everywhere. At no point until this season was dominating the ball a part of his game really at all. As for TB, he plays point guard and this is the NBA – he’s a rookie on a bad team so it’s cool for now, but if and when this team contends, him shooting as much as he does will be COMPLETELY unacceptable unless he turns into Damian Lillard pretty darn quick, and if that happens it’s a good problem to have.

    The reality is, whoever the Jazz get in the draft, THEY NEED HIM. The idea that such a player would be “stealing” shots from the other 3 we’ve discussed is just backwards – if the current team had such an excellent shot distribution, perhaps their offense wouldn’t be one of the worst in the league. If any of the current guys really have an issue with their usage going back down to under 20% considering the efficiency they’re currently showing, then they should go play somewhere else.

    Also, my point from the actual piece about Burks being a vital future piece for whom figuring out his chemistry with the other vital future pieces is of paramount importance this season, while Jefferson is nearly a 100% guarantee to not play for Utah next season, stands, and remains one of the largest reasons for my Corbin grumbling, if not the very largest.

  4. CW says:

    That’s a very good point about it being a good thing for Burks taking the ball out of Hayward and Burke’s hands. That would definitely improve the offense.

    I still think for development though that it’s better to have Burks on the bench. I think they all need to work on what to do with the ball and this way they all get more time with the ball to do that work. Burks needs to get better at distributing. Burke, being a point guard requires that he have the ball a lot no matter what and being a rookie requires he get plenty of work at this. And Hayward’s only elite skill is his distributing. You take the ball out of his hands and he’s just a poorer shooting Jared Dudley. His distribution is a valuable weapon but only if he has the ball. Like you say, him and Burke both need to take better shots and get more efficient. With Burks on the bench they get more practice at that.

    And they get plenty of time together too. It really isn’t a big deal, I don’t think.

  5. robin says:

    This is a wonderful analysis of the Jazz, and the best of Jazz coaching since Zach Lowe’s piece last year.

    Marvin Williams, at best, is league average and Jefferson is a major drag on both ends. The utility of each of these layers, moving forward, is as spot up three shooters.

    the Burks thing frustrates me, because I likedc what Portland did last year, and saw their team as somewhat similar to ours – only a few decent players, play them as much as possible together, then get a few more pieces in the off season. Not playing your best players together is a head scratcher.

    I don’t think there are nearly enough positives, as a winning or a development coach, to keep Corbin.

  6. Ben Dowsett says:

    CW, let me be clear that no part of what you’re saying regarding the improvements each of the three needs to make is incorrect – they all certainly have elements even beyond what you listed to improve upon as young players, although I’d argue that Hayward in previous seasons was fairly close to an elite shooter when a higher percentage of his looks were coming uncontested.

    That said, I still think you’re approaching it from somewhat the wrong angle. The idea that these three can’t improve the exact areas you mentioned, plus others, while on the court together isn’t really based in any reality. In fact, in many areas their presence with each other will actually HELP these sections of their development. Knowing there are other capable offensive pieces on the floor will force them to become more selective and efficient with their play.

    Furthermore, the point Robin makes is excellent, and is a more succinct way of putting what I was attempting to: a HUGE part of development involves growing confident with other pieces with whom the developing players will be expected to succeed in future years. Portland last season is a wonderful example – early on in the year, the team realized it had no realistic shot at contending in a tough West, and prioritized playing all their core pieces together for absolutely as long as possible. This resulted in them having a historically awful bench, but what did it matter? The team knew full well it wouldn’t be winning anything last year, and that it had the cap space and heady management to fill some of those bench slots through free agency and the draft. Fast forward a year, and they’re the story of the league – and if you look at it, the Jazz are in nearly the exact same position, with gobs of cap space and a high pick upcoming plus a growing core. Everything else aside, even if Jefferson were thoroughly outperforming Burks and even if he struggled mightily with the starters (none of which is true), I’d STILL say start Burks and give him significantly more minutes. What’s the downside, we lose more games? We all know there’s no real winning going on this year, and the goal of developing all core players with each other should be absolutely the highest priority, bar none.

    Robin, as I mentioned above, spot-on observation regarding Portland last year. I hadn’t made that connection until you mentioned it. And thanks for the kind words!

    • CW says:

      Ehhhh, you may be right. I don’t really think we are last years Portland though. Maybe next years jazz will be last years Portland. At this point in our season of discovery I want to see them all playing together, and I want to see them playing in environments where I can really see what their potential is. What you say about them playing together is true, they would have to be more selective. But I don’t really personally care about that this season. This season, (if I am the GM) I just want see what I got, see what their games consist of, what their ceiling is. Burks and Hayward are the perfect example. They put the ball in Haywards hand and said your the man and the found out he wasn’t the man, at least not yet. Hehad pleanty of chances, they got pleanty of info. I don’t think that would have been so clear if he had to share the ball with Burks.

      (As an aside, I wonder if Hayward is going to end up losing money becasue of his agents gamble and if so, how much. I also have to say there was something about them wanting more than $50 that offended me and made me think less of Hayward)

      And Burks, once they settled on him coming off the bench, he really shone. I don’t think he would have blossomed like that if he was starting. Maybe, but I don’t think so. It’s a matter of opinion. You for sure can’t say that coming off the bench has hurt him.

      So anyway, no matter what, I think they have a pretty good idea of what they have individually. And I’ll bet they’ll play together more in the coming weeks. And I think they have pretty good information to decide on the young guys value. I think this season has been a success. I know if I’m a GM it will be a risk paying hayward more than 10 million a year. That Burks and kanter both have a ton of potential. That Evans is totally worth keeping (I actually saw him drive and shoot last night). That Gobert has a lot of work to do (starting with practice catching the ball) but has a lot of potential. That Favors is more of less who they thought he was. You can quibble about rotations, but in the large scheme of things, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

  7. casey says:

    Nice article. Of all the criticism, I’m surprised defense didn’t come up :P. Even if Lindsey doesn’t take into account everything you just talked about, the Jazz dropping to 30th in the league defensively is going to make him look elsewhere this off season.

    Also, I’m glad you brought up Derrick Favors as a success for Corbin. I get tired of ppl saying “Favors has the highest PPS, so he should shoot more”. Don’t people realize he is more efficient this year because he’s getting more efficient shots and more P&R opportunities? Giving him more post up possessions will only make him more inefficient, and the jazz can’t force Favors to have more P&R shots as defenses look to take away the “roll” option first. Anywho, glad you commented on that :)

  8. john ryan says:

    Corbin was not a good choose to stsrt with, would of been fired in any NBA team other then the Jazz, its like will paid to watch 20 point leads ever quarter, with a team that could be in great with any type of coashing

  9. dean says:

    i would like to see Lionel Hollins as our next head coach. i think that he would be able to gel Favors/Kanter in a similar fashion to Z-Bo and Gasol. Memphis always had a great defense with him at the helm also which is something the Jazz certainly need. I think an example of Corbin’s poor defensive coaching is the fact that Jefferson was always looked at as a terrible defender but now on the Bobcats he is doing a much better job. I think the Jazz have a lot of pieces and are in great shape. I actually feel that with the right coach we could see ourselves fighting for home court next year.

  10. trollificus says:

    Very perceptive to credit Corbin with putting Williams at the 4, where he has been effective offensively. However, while Williams has had some positive results personally, the overall defense has been awful and we have to wonder if our personnel really fit the current “Stretch 4/dunks ‘n 3s” trends in the league. (and I really like the idea of retaining Marvin as a matchup play at 3/4, though Corbin doesn’t seem to like that kind of flexibility.)

    First, the Kanter/Favors tandems’ purported ineffectiveness was hugely skewed by starting during that initial 1-11 season-opening stretch with JLIII as “point guard”, which can hardly be considered a fair test.

    Second, the avowed purpose of the “Stretch 4″, is, of course, to ‘stretch the floor”. And other than a bigger floor, what is that supposed to get you?? Why, open lanes for slashing wings and room to operate for post players due to a ‘big’ being drawn out to defend said “Stretch 4″. And yet…we do not seem to be benefiting from the roster arrangement in this way. Favors is not an offensive force in the post. He does NOT take advantage of ‘more room’, and our wing players, except possibly Burks, have NOT taken advantage of the reduced defense in the post either.

    Ultimately, the offensive benefit of implementing this lineup is less than the detriment to defense and, especially, defensive rebounding, where the eye test says we’re piss-poor(I haven’t looked at the stats though). Until we get a 4 who can hit outside shots AND defend and rebound the position, I say we try Kanter/Favors together…maybe, someday, with a coach who has the understanding and coaching ability to make it work better. As opposed to a coach who just throws them out there and gets frustrated when/if it doesn’t work out.

  11. trollificus says:

    ps) Also STRONGLY disagree with CW’s rather lazy characterization of Hayward as “Jared Dudley with passing ability”.

    Are you kidding? You really want to equate the two? How many chase-down blocks has Jared Dudley made? In his LIFE? Hayward, relieved of his 3-miles/game offensive role, can be an elite defender-he’s smart and hardworking enough, AND athletic enough, unless you REALLY don’t like reality countering your stereotypes.

    As a noob on the site, I don’t really want to be offensive or anything, but that was just a bad, bad, comparison. (Oh! Ballhandling, too! Dudley is not what you would call “much of a dribbler”, while Hayward, at 6’8″, is excellent, if a little weak in traffic (ref: AK).)

  12. T. W. says:

    I’ve watched almost every game this year and I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what the Jazz could do or who they could add in order to become a more competitive team. I believe it all comes down to coaching. My main complaint since Ty Corbin became the head coach is that he brought a bunch of small guards to coach the Jazz big men, it makes no sense and it shows in their development. Favors and Kanter both would prefer to sit out on the perimeter and shoot jumpers more than they would to get down in the paint and go to work. Their rotation on pick and roll defense is below average at best, they’re so afraid to foul out that they have zero fight in them when it comes to fighting for position down low, Zach Randolph punished Favors and Kanter by getting right under the basket for easy buckets and fouls when either of those two would swipe at the ball when he would shoot. Our guards are helping when they shouldn’t and ends up leaving their man wide open for jumpers and that’s why Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have gotten their first triple doubles against the Jazz this year. A team takes on it’s coaches personality and Ty Corbin has never been a defensive player and will never be a defensive coach. If you look at Jerry Sloan, he was a hard nosed defensive player and that’s the way he coached, so the Jazz were perceived as a hard nosed defensive team. Look at Al Jefferson with the Bobcats/Hornets and he looks like he is giving a half hearted effort on defense this year, because his coach is putting him in the “right” defensive scheme that fits his style of play. The Jazz need to find a coach that will put the players in a situation that will allow them to succeed on offense and defense.

  13. Sel says:

    Agree with T.W
    The other problem with Corbin is that he punishes you for mistakes and becomes way too animated on the bench. The players don’t trust themselves or trust the coach because of the punishment. Defence stems from the team not individuals. Corbin relies on talent (favors) on defence rather than building a structure and unit. Horrible coach and only positive is the potential draft picks

  14. Pingback: Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward want Jazz fans not to root for losses, which is reasonable, but not the whole story | NBARealTalk

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