Salt City Hoops » Ben Dowsett http://saltcityhoops.com The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Tue, 16 Sep 2014 23:12:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops no The ESPN TrueHoop Utah Jazz Site Salt City Hoops » Ben Dowsett http://saltcityhoops.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://saltcityhoops.com Utah Jazz Frontcourt: Three-Headed Monster? http://saltcityhoops.com/utah-jazz-frontcourt-three-headed-monster/ http://saltcityhoops.com/utah-jazz-frontcourt-three-headed-monster/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:25:20 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12848 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Between FIBA and summer league play, August pieces written by local and national media alike, and even gushing podcast segments, it’s been a Gobert love-fest this offseason. Shoot, there hasn’t been this much ado about Rudy since 1993. But with international play all wrapped up and September flying by, the hype factor slowly beings to taper off into reality – the next on-court action we’ll see from the towering Frenchman, along with the rest of his Jazz teammates, will be at training camp and, before you know it, the start of the preseason.

The questions as he once again steps onto an NBA court will be twofold, and one will be dependent on the other:

1. Can Gobert develop his offensive game to a point where lineups featuring him can hold their own on that end, particularly while next to Derrick Favors?

2. If so, what does this mean for the future of Enes Kanter – and/or how might Kanter fit in the picture?

As far as the first question goes, they’ll be hoping for short memories, as Charles would say. With the necessary caveats surrounding small sample size, Gobert’s time on the court saw an already bland offense crater spectacularly. A squad that was already just outside the league’s bottom five in per-possession scoring posted an ugly 95.3 points-per-100, over a full point lower than Philadelphia’s league-worst mark, per NBA.com. These figures were even worse (though on an even smaller sample) when he was paired with either Favors (82.0) or Kanter (88.4).

There’s cause for optimism, however. For one, all this Gobert gushing is happening for a reason – he appears to have improved, perhaps somewhat drastically. Favors and Kanter are both at a point on their developmental curve where they’ll be expected to have done the same to some degree. And my writing it ad nauseam doesn’t make it any less true: the new coaching staff will be expected to leave their own imprint on personnel across the board.

Speaking more generally, precedent exists for a successful frontcourt even if development stalls for one or more of the potential pieces involved, including the spatially-challenged Favors-Gobert unit.

Compare them, for instance, with one of the league’s top offenses in San Antonio. Gobert, like typical Spurs starter Tiago Splitter, is mostly ignored by opposing defenders outside the paint. The two combined attempted just 15 shots from beyond 10 feet all last season – 14 by Splitter, who also played about triple Gobert’s minutes. Meanwhile, Tim Duncan is a better midrange shooter than Favors both in perception and reality, but perhaps the latter gap isn’t quite as large as the former would indicate. The two shot nearly identical percentages between eight and 16 feet from the hoop (37.7 percent for Duncan, 37.6 percent for Favors) last year. Duncan had a big advantage from beyond 16 feet, but team context plays a role here; where Favors drew assists on 66.7 percent of his makes from this distance, Duncan did so 95.5 percent of the time. We see that San Antonio’s vastly superior talent and comfort within their system led to Duncan almost never being forced to create these shots for himself, with Favors far more often required to do so. This jives with SportVU data tabulated by my Nylon Calculus colleagues Darryl Blackport and Krishna Narsu, which shows that Duncan took 37.5 percent of his total shots while “uncontested” (no defender within four feet) while Favors took just 24.5 percent of his under the same circumstances. The spacing and team construct was just so different, and this certainly played some role.

Obviously, the Spurs are on a whole other planet, one this Jazz core may never even get within eyesight of. Numerous advantages in nearly every other aspect of NBA basketball of course play a large part in their ability to keep a Duncan-Splitter frontcourt viable offensively where Utah failed to do so with their own. But like several other aspects of the Jazz franchise moving forward, San Antonio has laid out the blueprint. Common sets like Horns, detailed in the video below on a team-by-team basis by Coach Nick of bballbreakdown.com, and the specific variations used by Gregg Popovich are among the simplest starting points:

If we’re being fair, some of this may end up being a bit thin. Favors and Gobert are likely to struggle offensively as a pairing, perhaps mightily so, unless one or the other undergoes a shooting renaissance that seems highly unlikely. Heck, the Duncan-Splitter duo, while far more effective than Utah’s frontcourt to be sure, was still among the least productive of San Antonio’s high-volume two-man units, and Pop wasn’t shy about mixing things up to inject more spacing when necessary.

This is where Kanter remains an intriguing piece of the puzzle. Should the change of coaching scenery and another offseason of work be enough to propel him from awful to simply below-average defensively, his abilities as a midrange shooter and low post operator could be surprisingly complementary while Favors or Gobert run more pick-and-roll action.

In truth, a Favors-Kanter-Gobert three-headed monster frontcourt may be nothing more than a pipe dream. Any major tangible improvement from Kanter before his expected RFA summer could easily push his perceived value around the league even further beyond what the Jazz would be comfortable paying him, and Gobert comes in at a far cheaper tag and in a situation they control for longer (he’s also just as large of an offensive question mark as Kanter is a defensive one, if not more so). And don’t forget, Utah is widely expected to score another solid lottery pick in the 2015 Draft – one that, at least for now, appears to contain at least three or four highly-touted prospects at the big positions. For all of Dan’s talk (and my repetition) of consolidating assets, the opportunity to pick a name like Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns might be too good to pass up, particularly if one of the three incumbents isn’t pulling their weight.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/utah-jazz-frontcourt-three-headed-monster/feed/ 13
Rudy Gobert: Spanish Nightmare http://saltcityhoops.com/rudy-gobert-spanish-nightmare/ http://saltcityhoops.com/rudy-gobert-spanish-nightmare/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 03:31:44 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12805 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The basketball gods heard our continued whining about a lack of intriguing stuff going on this time of year, and delivered some much-needed sustenance in the form of a riveting upset win by France over co-favorite (and host) Spain in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals Wednesday afternoon. France led nearly wire-to-wire and pulled away down the stretch, blowing up what many had considered a sure-thing battle in the title game between Spain the United States.

Jazz big man Rudy Gobert played his best game of the tournament, and likely the best game of his professional basketball career. He was instrumental in France’s powerful defensive effort, as they held a Spanish team yet to score under 82 points in the tournament to just 52 on rancid 32.3 percent shooting. His raw numbers were five points, 13 rebounds, a steal and a block on 2-4 shooting in what was easily his tournament high of over 23 minutes; this is a solid line, but as may frequently be the case through the young Frenchman’s career, it doesn’t tell the entire story of his impact.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard from Rudy this summer. He made waves at summer league with several impressive performances, and SCH’s Dan Clayton took a detailed look at his progress roughly a month ago. Some of the attention has spilled over to the national stage as well, with Grantland’s Zach Lowe delving into Gobert’s massive (literally) potential just last week.

Points from both these fine writers, as well as my January scouting report, stood out noticeably against the Spaniards. Rudy was a defensive force throughout, particularly in his second stint on the court that began with just over three minutes to go in the third quarter and lasted the rest of the game. During these 13-plus minutes, France held Spain to just 12 points despite what most would assume would be a huge frontcourt advantage with both Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka.

His foot speed stood out in particular, especially against the pick-and-roll. France had Gobert leaping out to hedge the ball-handler in such sets all game, and his timing and footwork were impeccable, allowing him to defend effectively within the scheme:

Gobert was in constant motion on the defensive end, both lanky arms up and annoying Spanish ball-handlers anytime he was even close to a passing lane. In Dan’s superb piece from last month linked above, he points to Rudy’s defensive understanding as an area ripe for improvement – it’s just one game, sure, but the strides he seems to have made here even since summer league are somewhat astonishing. He was fully in tune with the game from the jump, making only a couple small mental errors despite being a key figure in nearly every defensive possession as the Spaniards fed their bigs down low.

He was a beastly physical presence as well; it may be difficult to sustain night in and night out in the NBA, but Gobert held his own against the bulkier Gasol tandem and didn’t back down an inch:

GET SOME, PAU!

Gobert also picked up 13 boards, showcasing more willingness to bang down low and maintain his positioning than at any point in his rookie NBA season. I wrote in my January piece how he needed to focus on learning to find ways to counterbalance the weight disadvantage he will face against most NBA centers, and evidence of work in the offseason here is readily visible. He’s identifying his box-out responsibilities more quickly, tracking the ball’s trajectory in the air more effectively, and getting lower to the ground to leverage his weight and move his opponents. Continued improvement here will see him quickly become one of the NBA’s best rebounders – no one is reaching over those arms if he’s in good position.

To my eye, though, the largest tangible improvements visible from Rudy in this game (and to a degree in earlier FIBA games) were in some of the more minute details. Offensive contribution is of course the largest obstacle standing between Gobert and an NBA starting gig, particularly one next to a non-shooting threat like Derrick Favors. I noted during the season how an improvement in his simple ability to catch and control the ball was the first big step toward finding an offensive identity, and this is clearly already happening. He’s not perfect by any means, but is already showing a noticeable refinement in his hands:

These plays don’t seem like much (and may not have had positive endings), but they’re among several examples of Gobert’s increased confidence with the ball in his hands. He’s clearly been drilling himself on catch-and-react scenarios, and doesn’t appear afraid to put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two now and then. Given his size and defensive skill set, this type of development may mean more for a guy like Rudy than nearly any other NBA big. As Lowe noted in his piece, if Gobert can follow the Tyson Chandler model as an offensive big man, his value as an overall player will skyrocket.

He showed promise in other offensive areas, as well. Just like on the defensive side, Gobert was hyper-active without the ball – I counted at least a few possessions where he set five or more picks for teammates, including a few heady improvised back screens like this one leading to an open look:

Just like several other elements of his game, Gobert’s court sense has undergone an accelerated development. He’s setting smart, effective screens and appears infinitely more aware of how his spacing affects his teammates. Coach Snyder is going to love his activity level away from the ball, something a motion offense absolutely must have from its big men, especially if they aren’t shooting threats.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, know that Gobert still has a long way to go. He remains a horrible free-throw shooter (under 50 percent for the tournament) and likewise isn’t a threat to score further than a few feet from the hoop. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to go pound-for-pound with heavier guys every night in the NBA like he did against Spain, and he’ll need to bulk up significantly to avoid significant physical mismatches on a regular basis. And while it’s certainly improved from the NBA season to now, his mental acumen still lags a tad behind his aggression. Touch fouls like these 40 feet from the hoop aren’t going to cut it at any level:

But with that said, Jazz fans have real reason to be excited. I typically caution against gleaning too much from summer league or international competitions, but context remains king here. This wasn’t DeMarcus Cousins swallowing up rebounds against Ukranian bigs similar in stature to American high school players; it was a 22-year-old going against the world’s best international frontcourt in a vital elimination game between two teams that hate each other, and more than holding his own. We aren’t crowning him an All-Star just yet, but his performance this summer is very encouraging. Whether or not he can duplicate Wednesday’s showing before the end of the tournament, I can’t wait to see how his development translates to the NBA game and his role with the Jazz.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/rudy-gobert-spanish-nightmare/feed/ 1
Pump the Clutch: Utah’s Late-Game Issues http://saltcityhoops.com/pump-the-clutch-utahs-late-game-issues/ http://saltcityhoops.com/pump-the-clutch-utahs-late-game-issues/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:09:32 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12763 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

August has come and gone, and there is much rejoicing. Never mind the nearly two months to go until regular season basketball played – September offers light at the end of the tunnel. FIBA competition, training camp before the month is out; I’m in game mode, and don’t try and tell me differently.

When the Jazz do eventually take the court, they’ll have plenty to work on. A group that was behind in a number of areas last season will also be adjusting to a new coaching staff, and while the long term picture here shows great promise, it’s a big change nonetheless for a young roster getting even younger. The defensive side of the ball in general will of course be a targeted area following a league-worst efficiency figure in 2013-14, and Utah will hope Quin Snyder and his staff can stabilize an unbalanced defensive culture. There were issues everywhere, but one that stands out upon further review is opponents’ performance near the end of close games.

Already sieve-like defensively, the Jazz were even more porous during the “clutch” portions of games. Their per-100-possessions figure for the year was 109.1, narrowly below Milwaukee for 30th in the league. But in the final five minutes of games with the Jazz trailing or leading by five points or fewer, they plummeted even further to 124.0 points allowed per-100, per NBA.com. This was just a hair more stingy than the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves (124.3), of dubious infamy for their frequent late-game meltdowns. Utah was solid to begin the year in this area before spiraling out of control:

And a look at an individual breakdown of the seven roster members playing somewhat regular minutes in the clutch:

The numbers are anything but encouraging across the board, both on a team and individual level. Much has already been said and written regarding the general defensive ineptitude often present in Utah last season – what elements of “crunch time” affected the Jazz to an even greater extent?

To be sure, there are several factors here working against Utah that are mostly or completely out of their control. For starters, a mandatory caveat about sample size applies, although 146 total clutch minutes is certainly enough to draw basic conclusions from. It’s also important to remember that the exact thresholds we’re using are somewhat arbitrary, and could vary, perhaps greatly, using different minutes or scoring benchmarks for many teams. That said, the Jazz ranked at or near the bottom of the league in nearly all similar iterations, and the numbers clearly support a team that was markedly worse defensively during these periods.

Other explanations involve uncontrollable elements that Utah will nonetheless expect to improve in future years. The relative youth and inexperience of the majority of the roster surely played a role in their late-game issues, and the team’s key players should develop more poise as they become more familiar with crunch time scenarios. It’s also fair to note that opponents will almost always have their best players on the floor during these periods, a not-insignificant fact that likely skews the numbers to a degree. But the Jazz should also have their best players on the court, and as they begin hitting their athletic primes they’ll be expected to go blow-for-blow with the best the league has to offer.

More tangible and controllable explanations were similarly varied. The above player chart listed turnovers-per-48 in the final column; Burke, Burks and Williams all showed notable per-minute increases in their turnovers during clutch periods, and a team turnover ratio (turnovers per-100-possessions) that was roughly middle of the pack for the year became the second-worst in the league during crunch time behind only Sacramento. This isn’t a defensive stat, of course, but it has a direct effect on that end of the court; turnovers mean extra defensive possessions, and live-ball turnovers in particular can create advantageous situations for opponents. The Jazz also allowed a league-high 42.2 percent from beyond the arc, with a sizeable gap of nearly four percent between them and next-worst Minnesota.

The Jazz also sent their opponents to the line at an advanced rate in the clutch. Utah allowed 48.7 attempts at the stripe per-48, over double a 23.6 figure for the entire season. This isn’t quite as insane a jump as it may seem on the surface; intentional fouls at the end of games skew this average across the league, and the Jazz aren’t the only team who saw a huge increase. But they allowed the third-highest total during clutch minutes, well up from a middle-of-the-pack overall finish. And to compound the issue, they were fouling excellent free-throw shooters – opponents sank a higher percentage of clutch freebies than any other team in the league. As with the overall picture, Kanter is likely the worst offender here, committing 10.4 personal fouls per-48 in the clutch, double his normal figure. Favors was also more jumpy than usual, fouling 7.6 times per-48, a near-150-percent increase.

A look through the game action itself doesn’t reveal a whole lot that hasn’t already been dissected as far as the Jazz defense last season, but the issues were even more prevalent and frequent. The team struggled badly to form a unified identity, acting too often as individual pieces and lacking the sort of trust necessary to work as a unit. There was certainly a noticeable uptick in effort level, one small silver lining going forward, but it was mostly badly directed, as evidenced by certain elements above like foul rate.

Inexperience showed through, and perhaps most worrying of any element within this piece is the way this seemed to intensify as the year went on rather than the other way around. The hope going forward is that this reflects on the outgoing coaching staff more than the players themselves. This isn’t unrealistic, and Utah showed real promise on the other side of the ball during these clutch periods as well – they increased their offensive rating to 114.2, the seventh-best mark in the league (best of non-playoff teams) and nearly a 14-point boost on their overall mark. Hayward and Burke were especially effective offensive weapons, each drastically upping their efficiency in the clutch, and Favors wasn’t far behind.

The foundation is there for a core that can get buckets when it counts, and more experience together along with a more focused defensive scheme could eventually see them become a formidable overall unit down the stretch in close games. The turnaround defensively has to start this year; another stalled campaign on this front will be cause for concern regardless of surrounding circumstance. But expect it to be a point of emphasis, along with all things defense, as the new season begins to take shape.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/pump-the-clutch-utahs-late-game-issues/feed/ 4
My First Favorite Player: Jeff Hornacek http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-favorite-player-jeff-hornacek/ http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-favorite-player-jeff-hornacek/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 19:41:30 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12703 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo Courtesy of sportsnet.ca

Photo Courtesy of sportsnet.ca

Last week, I re-watched the 1998 Finals between Utah and Michael Jordan’s Bulls for what was the first complete time since my childhood, and “live-blogged” the retro experience, if you will. It was a fun exercise, both as a flashback to my youth and as an educational experience highlighting the many contrasts between the way the game was played just under two decades ago and today. I had such a good time, in fact, that we’ll jump in my trusty 90’s time machine for another trip down memory lane.

If those ’98 Finals were my first tangible basketball memory, Jeff Hornacek was undoubtedly my very first favorite player. Certainly the marksmanship was likely what drew my eye initially – before I knew the significance of shooting percentages or efficiency, Hornacek was just “that guy who never misses.” The half-trendy, half-hipster nine-year-old Ben found an enjoyable niche with him, preferring to (attempt to) emulate his sharp-shooting profile while other kids in recess pickup games predictably picked Stockton or Malone. He was crowd-friendly, endearing, and came across to the public just as he would to NBA front-offices years later: relatable and smart beyond his years. And just like that Finals team, taking a look back through my current analytical lens brought whole other areas of enjoyment while refreshing what drew me to Jeff in the first place.

While true Jazz fans know he was much more than just a marksman (more here later), the sharp-shooting was his calling card and deservedly gets first mention in any player profile. Hornacek is among the elite in NBA history as a raw shooter, a retro Steph Curry in the way you simply expected every shot leaving his hands to swish through the hoop. He was known for his talent of making ridiculous shots look pedestrian:

He had seven different seasons where he shot above 40 percent from 3-point range on at least 90 attempts, one of just 15 players to accomplish such a feat at least that many times, a list that includes most of the greatest shooters of all time. His patented free-throw routine must have been working, too – excepting his rookie year, Hornacek never posted a figure under 82 percent from the stripe and had nine separate seasons over 87 percent, including a 171-180 (95.0 percent) showing in his farewell year of 1999-00 that ranks as the fifth-highest of all time for guys with 125 or more attempts.

But while his skill as a shooter set the foundation for his success, it was the details around the margins that propelled him from bit player to a vital cog on a Finals roster. Hornacek’s feel, court awareness and basketball IQ were as elite as his marksmanship. Many forget that he played point guard for the entirety of his collegiate career at Iowa State, and even had a brief NBA stint at the point when traded to Philadelphia in 1992. Flashy dimes like these were more common than some might remember:

Hornacek averaged over four assists a game in all but one of his Jazz seasons, no small feat given the all-time assist leader playing next to him every night. Much was made of some comments from then-Warriors-coach Mark Jackson last season about employing the greatest shooting backcourt of all time in Curry and Klay Thompson – not only could Stockton and Hornacek make a pretty decent case for themselves here, but they could also do so for “best passing backcourt of all time” and have a fairly convincing resume to back it up.

Hornacek’s feel for the game went far beyond just his passing skill, however. He was gifted in every spatial element of basketball, with or without the ball. While guys like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen typically are the first ones mentioned when discussing this style, Jeff was on either’s level as an off-ball threat, smartly utilizing a bevy of screens provided for him by Jerry Sloan’s scheme to cut up opposing defenses. He wasn’t afraid to break off sets early if he saw an opening, and his instantaneous connection with Stockton upon arriving in Salt Lake City fueled their ability to confound even the league’s most stringent defensive units.

Perhaps my favorite element of Hornacek’s game upon revisiting his career, however, is the footwork he displayed. Again, it’s an area he’s not recognized enough for historically; greats at his position like Michael and Kobe deservedly see the most praise here, but Jeff’s precision rivaled theirs throughout his entire career. He was never the most explosive athlete on the floor, so Hornacek leveraged the advantages he did have. He was uncommonly patient, particularly near the hoop – where most smaller guys would panic when surrounded by size and invading limbs, Jeff took his time, utilizing his elite understanding of his positioning and angles:

The connection between his smarts and on-court performance was a masterpiece to behold. He had a savant-level skill for feeling his defender’s positioning even when he wasn’t facing him, then seamlessly exploiting whatever small advantage he discerned with his flawless technique:

Whichever era and lens you did it through, Jeff Hornacek was a true joy to watch play the game of basketball. He understood his biggest strengths and augmented them with useful secondary skills, forming a game that was at once both fundamentally superb and skillfully awe-inspiring. It’s no surprise to anyone in Utah to see him excelling so quickly as an NBA coach, nor would it be for him to eventually match or even exceed his playing success. And to top it off, he’s a class act all the way, liked and respected in circles around the league. Whether or not he ever returns to the organization, Hornacek will always have a well-earned place in the hearts of Jazz fans everywhere.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-favorite-player-jeff-hornacek/feed/ 1
My First Basketball Memory: 1998 NBA Finals http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-basketball-memory-1998-nba-finals/ http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-basketball-memory-1998-nba-finals/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 17:44:53 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12621 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo Courtesy of NBA.com

Photo Courtesy of NBA.com

My family moved from North Andover, Massachusetts (suburb north of Boston) to Salt Lake City in August, 1997. Up to that point in my nine-year-old life, I was mostly a hockey kid, with my dad (thankfully) filtering my rooting interests away from Boston sports and toward my family’s nucleus of Toronto. The Raptors were a new, bottom-feeder franchise that inspired no awe in someone my age, and the Celtics, by that point, had my ire as another crappy Boston franchise local TV anchors would never shut up about. All in all, I wasn’t particularly vested in any basketball outcomes.

This would change about nine months after we relocated to Utah. Though this was before today’s hype-driven culture of season-long fanaticism, the buzz in the city as the postseason began for a Jazz team coming off a Finals loss to Michael and the Bulls the previous year was palpable even for a preteen like myself. Stockton and Malone were gods to my group of friends, Jerry Sloan was already a legend, and I quickly developed a favorite player in Jeff Hornacek. The buzz became a roar as Utah reached the Finals for a rematch with MJ. And of course, any Jazz fan at least my age will recall the heartbreak that came next.

Fast forward 17 years, and I’m the insufferable basketball geek on your computer screen. Can I claim the ’98 Finals were a jumping-off point for my love of the game? No. But they remain my first real basketball memory nonetheless. So to fill some more of the bland month of August, and in keeping with a theme percolating through Jazz Twitter the last few days, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Using old clips, I re-watched the majority of the series, jotting down my thoughts as I went along. Here are some of the better ones, from personal recollections to my usual strategical analysis. I had some fun with this one – hope you enjoy, Jazz fans.

    • Ah, the Delta Center. Sorry Energy Solutions, I still call it that and always will. Utahns didn’t get their loud crowd reputation for nothing, either – Bob Costas and Doug Collins open the Game 1 broadcast with a note about Phil Jackson walking out on the court prior to tip-off wearing earplugs.
    • Did they seriously get Michael Buffer to come to Utah and yell “Let’s get ready to rumblllllllleeeeee!!!” for the NBA Finals? Yep, they seriously did.
    • The Triangle is in action from the get-go, with Chicago entering the ball to the wing and looking for Michael to cut to the post right away. Jerry sends hard doubles:

Of course, when they don’t double, Jordan goes to work:

I wrote earlier this week for Nylon Calculus on Michael’s insane midrange game later in his career; clips like the one above are indicative of just how he was so proficient from that area. He rained turnarounds on any Utah defender foolish enough to try and single-cover him.

    • Jackson’s Bulls did all sorts of stuff we recognize as standard in today’s game, the same way Utah’s pick-and-roll attack was ahead of its time. The Bulls posted their talented wings often, pressed for 2-for-1’s at the end of quarters, and stretched the limits of the now-defunct “illegal defense” rule that prevented the sort of Thibs-ian overloading of the strong side we see so frequently today.
    • Given my age at the time, my chronology was somewhat off when re-watching the series. For instance, I recalled there was a single overtime game in the series, but not that it was Game 1. I also thought I remembered the series being 2-2 before the Bulls took the next two games, but this was also incorrect – the Bulls led 3-1 before losing Game 5 and then…well, you know.
    • That Game 1 overtime win came after the Jazz blew an eight-point lead to start the fourth quarter, and the points discrepancy in the final quarter was a huge factor in the outcome of the series. In six games, the Bulls outscored Utah by a whopping 39 points in the fourth, or over six points per quarter. This likely showcased Chicago’s top-heavy team construct – Utah’s depth guys like Bryon Russell, Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson were superior to their Bulls counterparts, especially with Dennis Rodman suffering from a finger injury and limited. But Michael and Scottie, the former in particular of course, brought their games up a notch in these final periods and were too much for the Jazz.
    • Hornacek and Steve Kerr could flat-out shoot the ball, man. This was before a time where guys with their skill sets would be mostly limited to distance specialists, and they were normal members of the offensive schemes – albeit members who were expected to shoot the ball anytime they were the least bit open. Check out both guys’ red hot shot charts, courtesy of Austin Clemens:
    • The Bulls ran an absolutely insane number of post sets for Michael, and with good reason. But this was an element of the game back then that wouldn’t translate as well today – offenses, especially elite ones, just have to be more diverse to succeed. Great defensive coaches are too smart not to solve such simplistic attacks, and increased defensive flexibility in the rulebook would play a role as well. But that aside, it’s an absolute marvel to watch MJ in the post; his footwork, balance, and timing might never again be matched for a wing player, as hard as Kobe may have been trying for the last decade and a half.
    • Stockton deservedly gets most of the praise among this Utah team for his playmaking abilities, but both Malone and Hornacek were vastly underrated as far as basketball IQ and floor sense. Mailman averaged nearly four dimes a game for the series, including a few masterpieces like this:

Hornacek, for his part, always had a seemingly psychic connection with Stockton. The two would frequently connect for pretty give-and-go plays:

    • Don’t think I’ve forgotten Stock, either – the guy was masterful for so long, and it’s possible we even somewhat underrate things like his speed and abilities with the ball 15 years later. He didn’t have a good series shooting (just 22 percent from deep and under 10 points a game), but he remained a catalyst for Utah’s offense, frequently blowing by Chicago guards even at 35. And of course, the chemistry with Malone and his ability to keep the defense off-balance was ever-present:

    • To be completely honest, the first five games of this series blur together in my memory somewhat. I was about as busy as a nine-year-old could be back then, playing four sports and active in all sorts of extra-curricular activities when not in school – I may have even missed one or two of the earlier games. But Game 6, like I’m sure it does for every true Jazz fan who can recall it, stands out vividly. It was truly a watershed moment, despite the negative outcome; I remember watching on my parents’ bedroom TV, feeling something I’d never experienced before – this was the first time a team I supported had ever been in such a high-stakes situation. I knew all about Michael by now, and even as a child with no grasp whatsoever on basketball strategy, I remember wondering aloud, “Why do the Jazz keep letting him get the ball?”
    • Yeah, we’re going there…Jazz fans of a particularly biased nature may want to avert their eyes here: It wasn’t a push-off. Watch the play. Now watch it again:

Sorry folks, but this isn’t a foul in the NBA. Isiah’s stupid comments and my fandom aside, it just isn’t. Expecting that offensive foul call on Michael freaking Jordan with five seconds left in an elimination Finals game is almost as ludicrous as…well, as insinuating that Michael freaking Jordan would have done anything but drain that shot even if Russell had been right up in his face. Are you one of those people who believes in alternate timelines? Michael made that shot in every single one of them.

What a series. There were highs (Game 1 overtime win looked like a turning point after the previous Finals), lows (54 points in Game 3), and even both within the same minute or so of play (Stockton’s ice-cold triple in Game 6, followed by Jordan’s noted heroics). And beyond the pure excitement it brings back, going through the games again is such an intriguing exercise for a nerd like me – the game has changed so much in less than two decades since, and observing this dichotomy through the eyes of someone so conditioned to today’s game is really interesting. What are some of your favorite Jazz memories?

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/my-first-basketball-memory-1998-nba-finals/feed/ 9
TeamSPACE and the Jazz’s “Core Five” http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-jazzs-core-five/ http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-jazzs-core-five/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 19:07:09 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12559 Author information
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.
]]>
Earlier in the week, I spent some time breaking down last year’s Jazz starting (and most-used) lineup using shooting data expertly compiled by Matt D’Anna of Nylon Calculus – how the five-man unit as a whole as well as individuals within it functioned in terms of their shot selection, frequency, and effectiveness. Continuing the nerd-out today, we’ll turn an eye toward the future pieces within the franchise. How did Utah’s “Core Five” lineup stack up from Matt’s TeamSPACE perspective last year? The lineup played 122 minutes together over 24 different games, per NBA.com, so they don’t have as large a sample to draw on as the starters from last year, but such a sample is still easily large enough (214 FGA) to draw conclusions from. Here’s the chart:

Jazz1314core5

The TeamSPACE chart for Burke/Burks/Hayward/Favors/Kanter.

And just for the purposes of convenient contrasting, here’s the chart I used earlier in the week for last year’s starters:

Jazz most-used lineup: Burke/Hayward/Jefferson/Williams/Favors in 13-14

Jazz most-used lineup: Burke/Hayward/Jefferson/Williams/Favors in 13-14

The Not-So-Good:

We’ll begin with the areas that still need work this time around, in part to mix things up and in part because, despite a still-flawed chart for the core youngsters, I think there are a few more areas of promise to highlight here. These are mostly individual areas, though – on the team level, it’s likely this chart showcases even less overall direction and efficiency than that of the starters. Smaller, somewhat isolated splotches are even more frequent, particularly those in the longer midrange areas.

The “in-between” areas, between at-the-hoop looks and midrange, are far too populated with clusters. These shots aren’t necessarily bad from time to time, but in larger groups generally tend to indicate either frequently rebuffed driving attempts or rushed shots after rebounds and at the end of the shot clock. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the way their activity from beyond the arc was so staggered and inconsistent – the group certainly has work to do in terms of spreading the floor and finding the areas that will best stretch defenses. Of nine Utah lineups with over 100 total minutes last year, this one shot the second-fewest three-point attempts and had the fewest makes.

Of course, much of this is entirely understandable. This unit had no members over the age of 24, had never played together before Trey Burke’s debut, and certainly wasn’t helped much by Ty Corbin’s refusal to start or play them many sustained minutes throughout the year. It’s easy to see how that translates into a lack of in-depth understanding from each player of their individual role within the lineup, and it’s a big part of why there’s so much visible overlapping between guys. But there are positives to glean for multiple individuals within the chart (more below).

The Good:

After all the flack his shooting has taken from myself and basically the entire known basketball world these last few months, you bet Gordon Hayward gets the first mention here. His chart within the core five group last year, while still far from ideal given the role Utah wants to see him in long term, was a major improvement over the performance he put forth as part of the starting unit. Barely visible in much of the halfcourt with the starters despite his nominal “first option” title, Hayward’s red clusters appear in a far more prevalent way with the rest of the youngsters – and with better results, as well. Per nbawowy.com, Hayward had an Effective Field-Goal Percentage of 47.4 with the starters, a figure that skyrocketed to 55.3 when he played with the core unit. Gordon is far too spread out in an overall sense, but his increased activity with this lineup showcases a comfort level and sense of responsibility that will prove vital as the team works its way up to contender status. It’d be nice to see him move some of those longer midrange shots back beyond the arc, but of course spacing plays a big role here and often isn’t under his control.

Alec Burks also receives a mostly positive grade here, though like both Burke and Hayward his selection is somewhat all over the place. Burks did rank in the top third of guards for “In the Paint (Non-RA)” percentage, but a slightly sub-40-percent figure from there again has me wishing he’d eliminate some of those in-between looks. That said, he was likely the best of the three guards at somewhat clustering his locations. I’ve talked before about his off-the-bounce game being notably more effective when going to his right hand, and either defenses noticed also or Alec wasn’t doing a good enough job getting to those spots – larger clusters to his left side would likely be better served if they were going to his stronger hand. But overall, he seems to be grasping his role reasonably, loading up from distance and in close while hopefully limiting his midrange to more of a secondary option going forward.

I was surprised to see such little activity from Kanter, the de facto shooter at the big position within this lineup. In particular, the (shooter’s) left baseline is noticeably bare of jumpers from the big Turk, despite it being easily his most common and most effective jump-shooting area over the full season. Whether this speaks to positioning issues with Favors, opportunity issues given the three guards, or something else entirely, I’d expect Enes to make himself more known within these sort of lineups this season, particularly if his midrange game continues the solid upward trajectory it’s followed thus far in his career. But outside this, he’s doing what he should – sticking to shots in his office by the hoop, with a few selective splotches from midrange to complement it. Favors and Burke don’t show too many marked departures from their performances with the starting lineup, so many of the same talking points apply for them.

As a unit, while the entire picture likely isn’t as pretty as we might like, to my eye there’s plenty of promise. Hayward and Burks are clearly comfortable with their young peers, and both are reaching an age where shot selection refinement is a common addition to a player’s game. The group is almost insanely young, and a fairly large amount of improvement across the board, particularly from Burke as he enters his sophomore season, isn’t out of the question whatsoever. They’ll be a lock to well exceed their total minutes last year barring major injury, likely in more sustained periods where they can really nail down the chemistry aspect. And of course, all five have another year of experience under their belts, a heralded player development staff newly on board, and a new scheme within which to operate. Can’t wait to team back up with Matt and take a look at their progress as the season takes shape.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-jazzs-core-five/feed/ 6
TeamSPACE and the 13-14 Jazz, Part 1 http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-13-14-jazz-part-1/ http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-13-14-jazz-part-1/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 19:08:38 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12485 Author information
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.
]]>
The NBA may take the summer off, particularly the typically dead month of August, but nerdiness has no “season”, so neither do I. Last week I used this space to look at some contextualized elements of last season for the Jazz through the lens of SportVU tracking data, namely their shooting prowess (or lack thereof), passing and elements of rebounding. The week before, I used shot charts created by my Nylon Calculus colleague Austin Clemens to accentuate individual shooting and shot selection among vital Jazz pieces going forward.

In keeping with the theme of breaking down last season with a keen eye toward next, today I’ll be highlighting another remarkable project pioneered by a Nylon Calculus writer, Matt D’Anna. The data is affectionately referred to as TeamSPACE – an extrapolation of Austin’s excellent charts focused not on individuals, but rather on entire five-man units during their periods on the floor together over a given season. Before I say anything further, check out an example in the form of last year’s New York Knicks:

San Antonio Spurs 2013-14 TeamSPACE

New York Knicks 2013-14 TeamSPACE

Matt used the Knicks as part of his inaugural TeamSPACE introduction, where you can also find more detail on his methodology. In a nutshell, though, it’s easy enough to decipher; each player within a given lineup is marked with a color in the lower right corner, and said colors correspond to their shot clusters on the court. Again, these are shots taken only while this particular five-man unit shares the floor. One extra nugget is the presence of weighted values for made shots over missed ones – clusters are primarily based on volume of attempts from the given areas, but Matt included slightly heavier weights for makes as compared to misses, so a player who chucks away repeatedly from an area they never connect from will show a lighter cluster there, or even in extreme cases perhaps no cluster at all.

Today will be Part 1 of my investigation of Jazz shooting within lineups last season, where I’ll break down data from their most frequently-used lineup of Burke-Hayward-Jefferson-Williams-Favors. Let’s take a look at the chart:

Jazz most-used lineup: Burke/Hayward/Jefferson/Williams/Favors in 13-14

Jazz most-used lineup: Burke/Hayward/Jefferson/Williams/Favors in 13-14

The Good:

Part of what makes Matt’s work so interesting is that we can gauge both team and player context from the same visualization without sacrificing quality in either. Utah’s chart from last year is a prime example – within this lineup, Marvin Williams obviously stands out. Outside the Restricted Area (where all teams naturally clump up), he has the largest and most concentrated clusters of shots, particularly from beyond the 3-point arc. He has very few random blotches outside his preferred shooting areas, save for a few clusters from midrange that were frequently one-dribble step-ins after a close-out to the 3-point line from a defender. This type of clumping is almost always desirable, an indication that a player has identified his strongest areas and is taking steps to get to them regularly within the offense (more on this in a little).

Richard Jefferson was another positive through this lens, even more selective than Williams and rarely shooting from anywhere but beyond the arc or at the rim with this lineup. Derrick Favors also showed glimpses of range from the right block baseline up to free-throw line extended, but spread-out clusters here indicate that he hasn’t quite found a “sweet spot” or two to lean on, something he’ll need to work on if he wants to continue expanding his game away from the basket. And while I wish I could say more positive things about the guards’ showing here, the only major plus for Burke and Hayward was that the latter at least kept his chucking to some of the same general areas.

The Not-As-Good:

This shouldn’t surprise anyone by now, so I’ll just say it: This form of shot chart is just as ugly as any other metric we’ve attempted to analyze Jazz shooting with. I talked a couple paragraphs above about concentrated clustering being almost universally positive within this context, and Utah’s visualization displays nearly the exact opposite. Compare their chart above, for example, to last year’s NBA champion Spurs:

San Antonio Spurs 2013-14 TeamSPACE

San Antonio Spurs 2013-14 TeamSPACE

Obviously, comparing Utah’s performance to a legendary offense is foolish in a vacuum, but in this case it helps partially illustrate some of the issues they had shooting the ball and as an overall offense. Look at how much more spread out the Jazz were in their shot selection, and just how beautifully concentrated San Antonio’s individual clusters were within each player’s preferred zone. Kawhi Leonard, he of multi-talented Finals MVP-winning pedigree, was the only starter with even slightly varied clusters, and you might say he had an OK year last year – no one is complaining about his variety. And outside Leonard, it’s the embodiment of a team that knows their roles: Tony Parker and Tim Duncan handle the midrange, Danny Green bombs away from the wings and the corners, and Thiago Splitter cleans up and shoots almost exclusively near the hoop. There are slight exceptions likely born of player tendencies within the group, but this is a squad with pieces who know exactly what their roles are and remain constantly within them.

Contrast that with the Jazz and the picture is pretty ugly, especially as far as future pieces within last year’s starting lineup go. Favors, as I mentioned above, was valiant in attempting to extend his range, but he needs to take those little clumps and parlay them into larger ones in more concentrated areas. And though my readers must think I hate them after these last few weeks (I don’t), Burke and Hayward were very disappointing here, the former in particular. Trey’s clusters are littered all over the court, clumping heavily only near the basket. Hayward was a tad more selective, but still has splotches in several places and not even a sniff of one or two “go-to” areas.

As a team, these results are especially worrisome within a starting lineup designed by then-coach Ty Corbin specifically to improve Utah’s spacing after a dreadful shooting start. Some of it is certainly age, role and lack of experience – Williams and Jefferson are both veterans, and thus have had more time in the league to define their offensive games. But these factors aside, these are still professional basketball players, and both Burke and Hayward count basketball IQ as a positive element in their respective scouting reports. That neither was able to find any semblance of a niche for themselves even among improved spacing can’t be entirely overlooked, and should be one of new head coach Quin Snyder’s first priorities when instilling his system.

Like many elements of a disappointing year in 2013-14, there’s tons of context at play here. This is only a single lineup, albeit far and away Utah’s most-used, and they weren’t exactly playing within a solid offensive system. Also, while the young guards certainly need improvement, a refining of their offensive games is far from out of the question; Burke still has at least a two-year cushion before such a chart would incite truly ominous alarm bells, and the fact that “Hayward was outside his optimal role!” has been repeated ad nauseam doesn’t make it any less true. The NBA is fun in part because ugly situations can turn around so quickly, and despite several decidedly negative elements and their lingering stench, the Jazz have positioned themselves well to undergo just such a reversal should a couple chips fall their way.

Stay tuned later this week for Part 2 of my examination of last year’s Jazz using Matt D’Anna’s TeamSPACE visualization, when I’ll look at Utah’s “Core Five” lineup and forecast their prospects for the upcoming season both as individuals and as a unit.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/teamspace-and-the-13-14-jazz-part-1/feed/ 3
Jazz 2013-14 SportVU Snapshot http://saltcityhoops.com/jazz-2013-14-sportvu-snapshot/ http://saltcityhoops.com/jazz-2013-14-sportvu-snapshot/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 22:05:04 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12412 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

As I mentioned in my piece last week, I’m lucky enough to count myself a writer for Nylon Calculus, the new analytics arm of Hardwood Paroxysm (under the Sports Illustrated/Fansided banner). Several of my colleagues are supremely gifted data scrapers and manipulators, and are doing simply remarkable things with extrapolations of publicly-available data.

One bit of scraping I’m eternally grateful for has been done by NC writer Darryl Blackport, with some assistance in compiling from Krishna Narsu. Most of you who read me regularly will remember my frequent references to SportVU player and team data available publicly on NBA.com, but they’re not the only bits of such information on the site. Perhaps slightly less well-known in last year’s public roll-out were Player Tracking Box Scores – game by game only, but with several bits of data that aren’t available within the season-long database, and several others that allow for extrapolation if laid out over the full season. And extrapolate Darryl did: he scraped every individual box score, compiling season-long statistics by both team and player that expound on the data already available. And while I obviously can’t share any full databases, I want to highlight a few bits and pieces I found relevant within a Jazz context, using both Darryl’s extrapolations and other bits of publicly-listed data. Keep in mind these are snapshots, not anything remotely comprehensive, but they still have some interesting implications.

Shooting:

The Jazz had a plethora of issues shooting the ball last season, a fact that’s easily attainable without any sort of advanced information. They spent time in the early parts of the year flirting with all-time levels of awfulness from the floor before smoothing things out to simply bad, finishing the year in the league’s bottom third for both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage. SportVU box score data gives us some further insights: they track contested shots versus uncontested ones, one of the snippets of info that doesn’t appear on their publicly-housed yearlong stats. Now, the distance-only aspect of this differentiation means they need to be taken with grains of salt, particularly contested numbers – the closer to the hoop a shot is taken, the higher the chances become that said shot was “contested” under these guidelines given defenses’ proclivity for placing themselves in that area, up to the point where nearly every non-fast-break layup attempt (even those with no true challenge, essentially 90-95 percent shots for NBA players) will fall under the “contested” label.

That said, tracking the other end of the spectrum, or “uncontested” shots, can provide us with less noisy data. These shots can’t be convoluted by the possibility of non-challenges, because challenges simply aren’t possible with no defender within four feet. Accordingly, again excepting breakaway layups and dunks, such shots will trend heavily toward open jumpers, and therefore can be of some use.

As far as the Jazz went here last year, the picture wasn’t pretty. Utah ranked 29th in the NBA for uncontested field-goal percentage at just 40.7 percent, over 7 percent below Miami’s league-leading mark and mere tenths of a point above tanktastic Philadelphia. Again, these aren’t perfectly contextualized numbers, but they seem to match up decently with team success overall: 12 of the league’s 16 playoff teams were in the top half for uncontested percentage, meaning just four fell in the bottom 15, and vice versa. The top five teams for this category, in order, were Miami, San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Phoenix, all of whom were in the top eight league-wide for per-possession offensive efficiency.

He’s been piled on unfairly by some in Jazzland recently, but unfortunately Trey Burke comes in as the worst offender here for Utah’s rotation players. He shot just 38.4 percent on 477 uncontested attempts – this was a top-40 attempt number for the entire league, and of these 40, only Josh Smith shot a worse percentage. Gordon Hayward was nearly as inefficient, posting the ninth-most uncontested attempts league-wide and converting at just over 40 percent, only three spots ahead of Burke among this same top 40 for attempts. Easily best among Jazz regulars was Enes Kanter at just over 46 percent, but the Jazz had only four players (Kanter, Gobert, Evans, and Jefferson) over the league average of almost exactly 43 percent. It speaks to an overall lack of jump-shooting prowess on the roster last season, and Utah will hope the additions of sharpshooters Steve Novak and Rodney Hood can boost things somewhat along with rejuvenated shooting years from Burke and Hayward, among others.

Passing:

One element that could be involved in some of the still-present traces of noise in the above numbers involves another we can snapshot, in this case assists and assists per opportunity. This isn’t exclusively a box score tracking stat, but SportVU tracks “assist opportunities”, or passes by a player followed by a field-goal attempt which, if made, would result in an assist for the passer. Inserting a simple formula, we can find each team’s assist-per-opportunity, which is really a measure of two things: how well a team shoots the ball after passes, and how good those passes are in the first place.

The Jazz ranked dead last for assists-per-opportunity last year, and also dead last in a similar category, assists per total passes. Though there were a few more exceptions than the uncontested shooting numbers above, the top of the lists for both these areas mostly included top-10 offenses and vice versa. Quantifying what portion of Utah’s showing here is shooting skill versus bad passing is impossible given the information available currently, but I unfortunately lean toward the former – passing accurately has much more room for error and is intuitively far less integral than shooting. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Jazz just weren’t good shooters last year from any viewpoint, and it’s even possible that their miserable early season showing was closer to reality than the slight improvement their overall offensive efficiency seemed to indicate later in the year.

Rebounding:

One area the Jazz stacked up well in was team rebounding, per SportVU’s rebound chance stats, defined as any time a player is within 3.5 feet of an available rebound. Utah ranked eighth for defensive rebounds per chance (62.6 percent) and ninth for offensive rebounds per chance (54.5 percent). The defensive number is of particular importance seeing as they gave up the second-fewest total misses in the league, and a failure to rebound at such a good rate would have sunk their already-league-worst defense to even further depths.

Within the roster, Hayward and Burke both get credit here – Hayward was the top rotation player for Utah, snagging 68 percent of his available boards, while Burke trailed just him and Diante Garrett, grabbing 62.5 percent. These elements can help compensate some for deficiencies in other areas, and the Jazz will surely be pleased at placing 13 roster members last season, including eight rotation players, over the league average of 57.8 percent.

Again, these are just a few small pieces in the massive jigsaw puzzle that is player tracking data and its potential extrapolations. Like absolutely everything in this league, they must be analyzed in proper context and through an unbiased lens to be of optimal use, and here’s hoping the amount of data available makes this process easier and more detail-rich in future years.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/jazz-2013-14-sportvu-snapshot/feed/ 5
Examining Utah Jazz Shot Charts http://saltcityhoops.com/examining-jazz-shot-charts/ http://saltcityhoops.com/examining-jazz-shot-charts/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 18:18:32 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12350 Author information
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.
]]>

In today’s media-savvy basketball world, there are a number of methods available to analysts like myself to evaluate players, teams, lineups and everything in between. As part of our natural human tendency, in many cases we gravitate toward more comprehensive measures, particularly in terms of individual player analysis; metrics like PER or Win Shares were created in this vein, an attempt to quantify an all-encompassing view of a player’s statistical contributions within a single number.

Frequently, though, we require more context.

With this in mind, let’s take a small bite from the proverbial Jazz analytics pie. Last week, the recently-launched Nylon Calculus (the new analytics arm of Hardwood Paroxysm under the Sports Illustrated banner, for which I am also a contributor) debuted a remarkable advancement in shot chart data from my colleague Austin Clemens. Those who enjoy pieces from Kirk Goldsberry on Grantland are in heaven, as NC now hosts the capability for anyone and everyone to create very similarly-styled shot charts for any player in the league, dating all the way back to the 1996-97 season. Let’s look at Gordon Hayward’s chart from last season as an example:

As the legend at the bottom explains, colors by area reflect the player’s field-goal percentage from that area compared to league average for the given year – red is better, blue is worse. The size of the cubes reflect the frequency of shots from each location, and printed numbers inside certain cubes reflect actual field-goal percentage from that area rather than percentage compared to league average.

Got it? Good. Now let’s apply it to our Jazz. What follows is a look at several of Utah’s more important pieces through the lens of Austin’s charts, with bits of relevant context to further paint the picture. Because I already took a detailed look at Hayward for NC last week, he’ll be left out.

Trey Burke:

This particular set of glasses isn’t too rosy as far as Trey was concerned in his rookie season. Of particular worry to me isn’t necessarily the amount of blue in his chart, but rather how spread out it all is. Burke was chucking from everywhere, despite being efficient compared with his peers in only a few areas of the court – as he develops, Jazz fans will hope he identifies his strongest areas and works to generate higher volume from them while eliminating some of the fluff from his selection. His work from midrange was scattered, though he was solid from both the left and right elbow, a promising sign going forward for his off-the-bounce game coming out of the pick-and-roll. His strange side-to-side disparity, particularly from the baseline midrange and corner 3’s, is likely a result of variance within a small sample – he attempted just 24 corner 3’s from the left and 15 from the right, per NBA.com, so just a few makes or misses would swing his percentages here in a large way.

Most worrying were his percentages from the high-emphasis areas in today’s NBA, at the rim and from deep. Trey hoisted 293 non-corner 3’s last year, shooting just 32.8 percent on them, and apart from a couple small clusters had virtually no reliable areas as a distance threat. Utah’s generally poor spacing certainly contributed to a degree, but it’s also not as though he was forced to take high-volume stepbacks or off-the-bounce triples – over 82 percent of his non-corner makes were assisted. Things were equally grim at the basket, where Burke simply wasn’t efficient finishing against NBA length. This isn’t uncommon for young guards, but given his general lack of explosiveness it may be a concern for Trey throughout his career, and he’ll surely be spending time this offseason working on angles and shielding the ball more effectively. As he moves forward with his career, much like many of his young teammates, expect his selectivity and accuracy to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the pro game in all aspects.

Alec Burks:

Like his similarly-named backcourt counterpart, Burks needs to improve his selection a bit, though not to nearly the same degree. Part of this is his time in the league already, as he’s developed in this area significantly from his first couple years. I wrote back in February about, among other things, his divisive splits from the left and right sides, and Austin’s chart only reinforces this idea – he’s significantly better going to his right than his left. This is an exploitable tendency for smart defenses until he can smooth it out somewhat, but credit to Alec for emphasizing his right more often, as shown by the larger clusters there.

The reversal of this trend around the basket is likely representative of his strong athleticism and cutting, as well as an ability to finish through contact even on his weaker side:

He’ll want to improve on his stronger hand here, but on the surface this seems far easier for a player with his kind of physical ability than rapidly improving his weaker side. But overall, especially given Utah’s numerous offensive issues last year, fans should be quite encouraged with Burks’ chart, particularly if he continues to improve from deep.

Derrick Favors:

Favors has the easiest chart to dissect, by a decent amount. Like Burks, he reined in some of his lesser efficiency shots from the previous year, in particular basically eliminating shots outside 16 feet (he took just 57 all year). I’ve discussed his jump-shooting in this space before, and while it continues to make small strides over previous years, it’s likely Derrick’s largest obstacle as a player going forward. He’s a strong finisher around the rim and will continue to be given his athleticism, but a leap in his midrange efficiency, and particularly an evening out of both his attempts and accuracy from each side of the block, could be the element that really pushes him into borderline star territory at his position. The upcoming couple years will be huge in this regard for Favors, who can well exceed the value of his recent contract extension and put himself in position for a big raise down the line if he can reach average or above average.

Enes Kanter:

Kanter’s eye test is reflected almost exactly in his jump-shooting clusters on the chart – lethal from the left baseline and slightly closer in on the right baseline, mostly lukewarm from “floater”-type range. His selection is likely the best of Utah’s young core; his highest efficiency areas, for the most part, are his highest volume as well. He shot nearly 39 percent from all midrange shots, and was Utah’s most consistent threat from here all year long. He could do to improve from those little in-between areas outside the restricted area, but to my eye much of this is mental – he rushes shots in these areas, particularly after offensive rebounds, and doesn’t collect his balance enough, areas he can easily improve with age.

Slightly surprising when compared with the eye test are his figures around the hoop. Stuck in my mind are frequent examples of Kanter hesitating on close looks and making life around the basket more difficult for himself, but the numbers bear him out as closer to average than I’d have guessed. Of 67 centers attempting at least 100 shots in the restricted area last season, Kanter’s 62.4 percent puts him 41st, nowhere close to elite but certainly higher than I’d have pegged him on a raw guess. As he improves his confidence and strength while retaining his superb footwork and post game, expect these numbers to continue to rise.

Jeremy Evans:

Despite being a fan favorite and by all accounts one of the nicest guys in the game, Evans’ chart goes a long way toward showing why he’s been unable to find a consistent place in Utah’s rotation. He just hasn’t fully figured out who he is as an NBA player yet, as evidenced by his largely spread out shot locations and his only real clustering taking place around the basket. He expanded his range extensively last year in a more untethered role for the first time in his career, but just didn’t prove effective enough in any of these new areas to warrant real attention from defenses. He remains a beast around the hoop given his ridiculous hops, but his lack of another reliable shot and inability to hold his own down low against bulkier bigs may see the upcoming year as his last in a Jazz uniform.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/examining-jazz-shot-charts/feed/ 18
Scouting Report: Rodney Hood http://saltcityhoops.com/scouting-report-rodney-hood/ http://saltcityhoops.com/scouting-report-rodney-hood/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:08:10 +0000 http://saltcityhoops.com/?p=12299 Author information
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.
]]>
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

With a number of large developments surrounding the team over the summer thus far, there’s been a palpable sense of excitement among Jazz fans and media alike. A young, energetic coach has been hired in Quin Snyder, lottery pick Gordon Hayward has been retained in a move that will cement his status as a franchise cornerstone going forward, and Utah received an unexpected boon when Australian prodigy Dante Exum fell to fifth in the draft, giving the Jazz the opportunity to select the potential superstar they had so vocally coveted. The boat is rocking, to be sure, and a fan base mostly devoid of anticipation the last few seasons has every right to frolic in the water just a little, even if the true payouts for these moves may not be realized until a few years down the line.

Making some waves of his own after taking something of a backseat hype-wise during a whirlwind couple weeks surrounding the draft and early free agency is 23rd pick Rodney Hood. Regarded as a player who could offer certain contributions at an NBA level immediately, Hood nonetheless fell to the Jazz despite a late lottery projection from most experts, another steal in the minds of Utah’s front office given that other outlets have indicated they also had him far higher on their own draft boards.

And though summer league results are always to be taken with several large grains of salt, Hood has done his best to justify Utah’s high opinion of him in his short time in a Jazz jersey so far. Given a mightily small sample size of just four games and the above caveats, though, let’s use his limited time in summer league in conjunction with his college performance to get a gauge on where Hood will fit with the Jazz, both this upcoming season and going forward.

His calling card coming out of Duke is shooting, and rightly so. Hood was a knockdown man for the Blue Devils as a secondary option behind the more heralded Jabari Parker, hoisting a healthy 169 attempts in 35 games (just under five a game) and converting at a strong 42.0 percent. Also important are some of the specifics here – unlike many sharpshooters, Hood isn’t confined to simply a spot-up game reliant on strong passing and systems. He’s capable in such situations, of course, but is similarly proficient off the dribble – per DraftExpress, he shot 43.5 percent (37-85) for the year on pull-up triples, ranking first among their top 100 prospects heading into draft night.

Another positive detail is a theme that’s starting to be given more weight in smart circles in recent years – his release point. Every inch truly does count in this league, and heady front offices are valuing guys who can not only shoot, but who can do so while maximizing the degree to which they stretch opposing defenses. This means quick releases and high release points, or in some truly rare cases (peak Ray Allen comes to mind) a combination of both. Oft-maligned Rashard Lewis fell into some major minutes in the last two rounds of the playoffs for the Heat last year after playing sporadically up to that point, almost entirely as a result of the way he can stretch defenses in this manner. He certainly doesn’t have a quick release – in fact likely the opposite – but look at how high above his head he holds the ball while shooting:

It may not seem like a huge deal at first glance, but Lewis’s long arms and unorthodox motion give him a real advantage on close-out defenders compared with guys who release the ball lower. With several of Miami’s offensive role-players effectively taking a nap on the court during the latter parts of the postseason, coach Erik Spoelstra went to Lewis in large part because of the extra little bit of stretch he provided against defenses that were keying in on LeBron James. Bearing in mind the obvious practical differences between the two, now check out Hood’s similarly high release:

This, coupled with nearly perfect shooting mechanics and the simple fact that he’s left-handed, will be a weapon for Hood his entire career. The above clip was from his masterpiece earlier in the week against the Bucks in Las Vegas, where he shot 7-10 from deep and finished with 29 points on 11-16 overall. The increased distance of the NBA line has been no issue whatsoever, and he’s showcasing the sort of confidence and willingness to bomb away one loves to see from a rookie, especially when they’ve got the sort of range Hood does.

His offensive repertoire is far from limited to just his shooting, though. Hood possesses an excellent basketball IQ and feel for the game and is a competent, if not particularly explosive, ball-handler capable of initiating an offense himself at times. His work in pick-and-roll sets might be the most underrated element of his game coming out of college – again per DX, he scored at a 1.26 point-per-possession rate on finished P&R sets, another high-water mark among the draft class. He doesn’t turn the ball over often and his height allows him to see the floor well; Duke’s system didn’t maximize him much here, but he shows potential as a distributor for this reason. He’s shown flashes here in summer league as well:

Hood’s biggest potential issues will be on the defensive end, with several elements of his game here that will need work. Some relate to effort and the mental side of the game; he needs more coaching for his stance and elements like screen navigation. Conversely, some are physical drawbacks that may limit his defensive ceiling somewhat, such as a fairly thin frame and, perhaps most damning, a very short wingspan – 6’8.5 at the combine, the exact same as his height. He’ll never fill passing lanes or accumulate many blocks given this and his lack of explosive leaping, and he’ll need to leverage his solid quickness and smooth stride as much as possible to become an average positional defender. His smarts do indicate he’ll be a fine help defender once he gets up to NBA speed, and he’ll likewise want to utilize this strength as often as possible to make up for his disadvantages.

Hood likely won’t have much shake against NBA-level wing defenders and won’t be bulky enough to overpower many of them either, but this hopefully won’t be a large issue given the motion system expected to be instituted by coach Quin Snyder. He should fit well with bench units that’ll need his and Steve Novak’s spacing while Rudy Gobert and Exum (neither a shooting threat) provide other sources of value, and Gobert’s presence behind him as a rim protector should partially soften the effect of his still-raw defensive game. His ability as a secondary handler should be invaluable both this year and going forward – you can never have too many solid ball-handlers in a motion system, and his combination of skills both here and as a shooter make him an excellent fit for Snyder’s projected system. He showed an ability and willingness to pump fake and penetrate after over-eager close-outs on the perimeter, one of the staples of such schemes, and he and Alec Burks will be a fun pair in the minutes they see together as a shooting and slashing combo.

Like nearly every member of the current Jazz roster, Rodney Hood has a number of developments to make before he can be considered a success. But he’s an excellent fit for the direction Snyder is taking this team over the next number of years, and he’ll bring some much-needed shooting to a Jazz rotation that was woefully devoid of it last year. His performance thus far at summer league has been encouraging, and Jazz fans will hope he can carry it over into training camp and meaningful games a few months down the line.

Author information

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.
]]>
http://saltcityhoops.com/scouting-report-rodney-hood/feed/ 5