Grantland’s Zach Lowe gives the Jazz his longform breakdown treatment and serves up some brilliant analysis and a few scathing reviews for the team he calls “the most interesting franchise in the league right now.”
Lowe addresses all the important issues surrounding this season for the Jazz: What happened before the trade deadline? What plans (if any) do the Jazz have for Jefferson and Millsap going forward? Should the Jazz continue to shoot for the Playoffs or slip into the lottery? Why do the Jazz play such terrible defense? Why are the minutes distributed with near-complete disregard for both the eye test and stats? Excellent stuff all the way around.
First, a little myth-busting about the conventional wisdom that the Jazz feel/felt forced to move Jefferson and/or Millsap before the deadline to avoid allowing them to walk “for nothing” in the offseason:
In other words, the Jazz aren’t going to cry if they lose Millsap or Jefferson for nothing in July. It’s an NBA cliché that losing an asset for nothing is bad, and that cliché is generally true; the Nuggets didn’t really want Nene, but they re-signed him anyway at a price they knew could move.
But a lot of GMs don’t view this as a universal rule, and it appears Utah is in this camp. Several front-office folks outside Utah framed the issue this way: Jefferson and Millsap are salary slots who also take a certain number of minutes. Letting one walk for “nothing” wouldn’t really net Utah nothing; rather, it would open up both salary and minutes Utah could fill with Favors and Kanter, and down the line with another signing — this summer or next. This line of reasoning holds special value for teams under the cap, because they can actually sign any players they can attract on the open market. Utah losing Millsap without replacement compensation is not the same as capped-out Chicago losing Omer Asik without replacement compensation.
And then the brutal assessment on coaching:
The team is probably already playing Jefferson too much, which brings us back to Corbin. Here’s a remarkable thing: Utah’s five most-used lineups this season have been outscored. Ditto for 17 of its 18 most commonly used three-man groups, and usually by margins much larger than Utah’s overall negative scoring margin.
Only two of the 80 teams that have qualified for the playoffs in the last five years have done so with their top five lineups being outscored: the 2008-09 Bulls, and … last year’s Jazz. This is very strong evidence that Corbin is basically just playing the wrong guys and wrong combinations in the wrong minutes distribution. His better defenders and all-around guys — Favors, Kanter, DeMarre Carroll, Gordon Hayward, et al. — deserve a larger chunk of the time going to Jefferson, Mo Williams (now back from injury), and others. Lineup data can be pretty noisy over short sample sizes, but the noise is getting really loud at this point. [emphasis mine]
The noise from critics is starting to reach the team. The Deseret News’ Jody Genessy elicited the wrath of an annoyed Corbin when asking questions:
With fire in his eyes and a feisty tone, the third-year Jazz coach shared a message about that before Monday’s tipoff. It’s one he’s been giving his team, which had lost four straight and seven of eight games before the schedule mercifully pitted the Jazz against the Detroit Pistons.
“I tell the guys, ‘You can listen to criticism, but most of the people that’s criticizing don’t have any idea of what you’re going through,'” Corbin said in his pregame media interview. “They probably haven’t never did anything at this level in their life. They can talk. Talk is cheap. We’ve got to go out and do what we’ve got to do.
For a change, the Jazz did that.
To be clear, I don’t think anything about Corbin’s comments is anything more than a team facing a tough test trying to stay together. I don’t think he deserves to get skewered for it, either. If that’s what the Jazz need to finally get motivated, then they should get speeches all the time. Corbin has always hated to answer questions. I think he just finally got sick of it and popped off a bit. His coaching strategy is very “work harder” and “get better,” very gut-based, so it frustrates him to give reasons for choices.
Regardless, it will be interesting to pay attention to how the team addresses the questions highlighted in the Grantland piece over the next few months.