Diagnosing Utah’s Recent Woes

April 5th, 2012 | by Evan Hall

Chris Detrick (SL Tribune)

Typically, when a team misses the playoffs, it’s for one of two rather obvious reasons. 1. A talented roster that is incapable of meshing the considerable talents of each individual into a concerted team effort. 2. A roster that simply lacks the talent to string together wins on the road. This year’s Kings and last year’s Warriors are examples of reason 1, and this year’s Nets, Bobcats, and Wizards are prototypical of reason 2. For the majority of this season, I have worried that this Jazz team is simply falling victim to reason 2: the team, united though it may be, does not have enough talent to steal enough road games to reach and maintain a very available 8th playoff spot.

For the most part, this has been my narrative for 2012, but in recent weeks, the Jazz are losing winnable games at home (last week against the Kings and last night against the Suns) and forcing me to re-evaluate. Now, I don’t believe there is a single person remotely educated in NBA terms that would place this Jazz teams in the ring of basketball hell to which the Nets, Bobcats and Wizards are consigned. This leaves only one possible solution: the Jazz are underachieving.

This is absolutely not to say to that the team is not trying. Quite the contrary: almost every player on this roster kills himself every night, most especially during this losing streak in which the team is mired. These players care a ton, and one trip to a post-loss locker room removes any doubt that they don’t want to win. Yet they continue losing. This is not due to a dearth of legitimate talent. Teams all over the NBA would love to have Hayward, Millsap, Jefferson, Favors, Burks and Harris on their roster. This team, when broken down into the individuals, is good. Really good. Unfortunately, the pieces are not complementary.

Take for instance, the example of C.J. Miles. What do the Jazz need from C.J.’s position? A high percentage three point shooter with judicious shot selection, perimeter defense, and solid movement without the ball. But who is C.J.? A long, athletic, high volume shooter who loves long 2s and has a disappointingly low percentage from three. Where would C.J. thrive? An undersized team that thrived on isolation plays for the wings and that pushed the pace for 48 minutes of every game. A team like Oklahoma City. Unfortunately (particularly for C.J.), C.J. is on the Jazz, where he has been pigeonholed into a role he is ill-equipped to perform.

I am not blaming everything or even much of anything on C.J. He is merely an example that points to a larger trend. The Jazz roster is loaded with players who have been compelled to play in roles with which they are uncomfortable or ill-suited. At least offensively, Millsap is far more effective at the 3 (see: Blazers game). Jefferson, whose greatest ability is scoring on slow, methodical, low-post isos, plays on a team whose system thrives on quick passes and heavy off-the-ball movement. Jefferson’s very style disrupts the flow of an offense structured on flow. Again, this is not Jefferson’s fault. In fact, of all of these square-in-a-round-hole players, Jefferson has been the best at adapting his game to the situation. He has become a much more adept passer out of the post and he has developed a sense for pulling double-teams with his positioning so as to open up his teammates. But again, this is not his strength, and this certainly doesn’t maximize his considerable talents. It’s only the role the team asks him to play.

Sadly, this is par for the course in the NBA. Very rarely do teams find a set of players who complement each other beautifully. The thing about chemistry is that you don’t know you have it until your team is out there on the floor. Last night at the game, Spencer (known around here as “The Boss”) and Gordon Chiesa were discussing how well Andrei Kirilenko would have played on D’Antoni’s SSOL Suns. Unfortunately, because of an albatross contract, AK’s transcendent but specific skill set were forced into a Jazz system that could not maximize it. Because of the nature of the Association, this sort of thing is inevitable. There’s no omnipotent God of basketball who governs to which teams each player/coach must go to reach their potential (otherwise, Jimmer would be on the Magic, C.J. would be the leading scorer for the Bobcats, and Steve Nash would most definitely not be wasting away on a mediocre Suns team). Good teams make the best with what personnel they have, and that’s what those D-Will, Memo, and Boozer teams did with AK.

The good news is that this current Jazz team is possibly more talented than those D-Will teams. The roster is young, and youth improves with time. That alone should raise the ceiling of the team. The ideal line-up of the future for positions 2 through 5 is Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter (or potentially Millsap instead of Burks with Hayward at the two), and that line-up does look, at least on paper, like a talented, complementary collection of pieces. This would be especially true if Burks could improve his 3 point shooting. The bad news is that right now, this group is too young, too inexperienced, and too raw to make a legitimate run toward the playoffs without the help of the veterans. As much talent as this team has, the Jazz have yet to access and maximize all of that talent, and until that occurs, this team’s ceiling is a first round playoff exit.

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  1. Bloodshy says:

    Great analysis. It is clear that Sap has fully developed into an NBA 3. His skills are refined enough for everything a 3 should do and his physical abilities make him a monster in that role. I simply do not understand why we’re not seeing more of that. Also, Hayward is clearly best suited as a 2. His passing is superb, his handle is elite, and his shot is good (not great), but his rebounding is soft (short arms). Burks thrives most when he dominates the ball. IMO he’d be best (for the next 2-3 years) as the spark-plug 6th man.

    As I see it the Jazz have no answer at the 1. We have three quality backup 1s, but no one that fits our system. We simply need to find someone else to run the point. The 2 should be Hayward. The 3 should be Sap. The 4/5 Favors/Kanter/Al/Evans.

    Obviously, if we can move Al that would be great. But I doubt he’ll have much value w/his large contract. It would be nice to trade Al for a quality 1.

  2. Evan Hall says:

    You’re right. The only position we don’t have a long-term solution for is the one.

  3. Joe Simmons says:

    Nice take Mr. Hall. Currently, with Raja Bell out, there are 0 players on the jazz that shoot above 35% from the three point line this season. That is a problem. Imagine the damage a sharp shooter, say like the Jimmer, could do on this team. Also, the Jazz have poor perimeter defense and rotation, allowing other teams to shoot a high percentage from downtown (not terribly higher, but higher nonetheless). When it comes down to a one possession game, whose number does Corbin call? Who takes the game over and wins it. The only player on the entire roster that I think has experience with that is Burks, and that comes at the collegiate level. I could see him developing into a player that could get himself open, or create off the dribble drive in crunch time. All hail Jimmer and Evan, the new Steve Kerr.

  4. Gorb says:

    Absolutely horrible reasoning as the basis of this crap of an article. You set up a false dichotomy and then declare since it’s not one of the choices you’ve presented it must be the other.

    • Sean says:

      Trolliest of all troll comments. Care to refute any of these arguments? Yes, the article failed to present every side of every story ever told. Your comment made my brain hurt it was so stupid and ignorant.

  5. Sam says:

    You gave two examples of people who don’t fit into the team? So how is this such a problem?

    The only people that get minutes I see that don’t clearly fit into the offense are:
    1) Devin Harris (though imo I think he would do well at the 2 more often, and when he is on top of his game, he is a great fit)
    2) Big Al (though, like you said, he has fit himself into the offense anyway)
    3) CJ (though, he doesn’t get consistent minutes, so what do you expect him to do?)

    Josh howard doesnt fit, but he isn’t getting any minutes, so he obviously isn’t a source of the problem (though earlier in the season you could’ve made the arguement)

    the issues with the Jazz? Consistency and defined roles. Not many players besides Hayward/Millsap/Jefferson get consistent minutes every night, so it seems sort of shell-shocks the players. I’m scared that Burks is going to turn into CJ Miles 2.0, because his situation is very similar.

    We aren’t trying to fit squares into circles, more like ovals into circles, where they don’t quite fit, but it’s not the biggest issue.

  6. Cody Douglas says:

    They might As well Lay Down and Lose Its ither Lose and get 2 Loto Picks Or win and Get Swept In the 1st Round???? im going with the First one!!

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