Welcome to the new weekly recap of all things Jazz.
A lot happens in 168 hours in Jazz land, so today we introduce you to the first of 24 regular check-ins as part of the 2015-16 season. Since Thursday is most often an off day for the Jazz, it will be our chance to catch up with a few weekly traditions, rankings, key stats and miscellanea.
Let’s jump in.
A few quick thoughts on one macro-level theme.
There has been a lot of really interesting conversation about how much of Utah’s action early in a possession is at best superfluous and at worst a complete and utter waste of precious shot clock.
For the record, it’s absolutely true: the Jazz go through a lot of motions early in a possession that don’t lead to much. As a result, they once again find themselves in the top half of the league in passes per game and yet DEAD LAST in assist opportunities: they’re moving the ball, but a disproportionately low number of those passes lead to scoring chances1.
There’s a lot of trickery that can be built off of those seemingly banal early movements, but only if Jazz players have each early action down to muscle memory. You know who does? The Spurs. They get a ton of offense early in the shot clock because they know how to capitalize on little wrinkles to those early actions. The defense thinks they’re just setting up their regular sets when — BAM! — they unleash something sneaky.
For a minute, this just looks like a dribble handoff with and a weakside pindown. *Yawn.* Utah initiates their offense this way a lot, as does SA. The Spurs frequently employ those actions to start one of their favorite zipper sequences. The guard comes off that weakside screen with a zipper cut2 and either gets an open jumper on ball reversal, or more often flows right into floppy3. If you pause this at about the :16 mark, you’ll notice that the last defender still has no idea whether he’s going to get screened as part of one of the Spurs’ favorite zipper actions or whether he’s going to wind up on a Kawhi poster. By the time he figures it out, there’s nothing he can do.
The point is, Kawhi might not get a dunk if the opponent hasn’t seen film of about 1,000 examples of the guard taking that Kawhi downscreen as a means of initiating the play. The defender, for just a second, stops and says, “Oh, I recognize this: I’m about to screened so that Mills can pop out and — oh. Crap.”
With the Spurs’ smarts and roster continuity, everybody knows every sequence of set-up action and how even seemingly innocuous early action can be weaponized. Over time, the Jazz may throw in similar wrinkles, but probably not until the basics are second nature.
Snyder has made several comments over the last 12 months to lead me to believe that he’s just as concerned about laying the framework for the future Jazz as he is about achieving a top 10 offense this year. So if it feels like the Jazz have a lot of empty theater happening early in the shot clock, be patient: that might just be Quin hardwiring the Jazz players so they can get to a point where every pindown and early shuffle cut can be made lethal later down the line.
Positional Power Rankings
In the preseason, we introduced the idea of a positional power ranking, a barometer on how things are shaking out up front, on the wings and at point. We’ll keep this alive throughout the season.
Favors has been really special so far this season. So has Rudy, but take a look: Favors has been roughly as solid defensively while also carrying the team on offense4. Stifle is right there with him in macro terms, but what was supposed to be a deep field behind those two has left a lot to be desired. Booker and Lyles have combined to shoot 11.5% from the field thus far and Pleiss and Withey have played just three total minutes.
If this was a “best player” ranking, I doubt we’d see a name other than Hayward’s at the top all season. But it’s a power ranking, and Hood has been capturing all of the recent buzz. So far he’s the most consistent scorer and the lead assister among the wings, although Hayward is lurking. The Jazz star has had some early shooting woes but has been terrific on defense, even while guarding very different types of players. Burks could be higher, if we weren’t already asking questions about whether he understands his offensive role5 or can dial in on defense.
Ingles has looked good so far with 71% true shooting and a very giving Assist Ratio, second only to Neto. Snyder can’t really find minutes for Millsap — it’s really hard to play 11 guys — let alone Johnson.
The opener aside, Burke has been the better individual performer by a mile. He was one of the best preseason Jazz players, and his performance versus Philly, Indy and Porty is exactly what the Jazz need from him. Neto is still a work in progress overall, but his solid defensive understanding has made him a +/- hero of the young season.
Doling out imaginary mantle candy
Yes, it should be all about team, but let’s be honest: most wins have a chief protagonist, whether it’s because of a dominating performance, a memorable milestone, emotional angles or a significant breakout. The criteria is fluid6, but when all else fails, it basically comes down to: who’s the player you can’t tell the story of that game without mentioning?
A couple of quick guidelines: no shared game balls. You can’t really halve a Spalding, so Gobert & Favors can’t share my imaginary award, either. And while a game ball can go to a coach or other figure, I personally think we should acknowledge the players first unless there’s a storyline that just can’t be ignored7.
Jazz 99, Sixers 71 – Gobert
Utah outscored Philly by 33 in Gobert’s 32 minutes and lost by 5 in the other 15. I was sitting about five rows from the Jazz bench on this one, so I can tell you that Philly fans were begging Jahlil Okafor to go right at Gobert all night. He did, and we know how that turned out: six blocks for Gobert, 33% eFG for the rook. Also considered: Favors, who had several moves that prompted people around me in Philly to say, “Has Favors always been that good?”
Jazz 97, Pacers 76 – Favors
I could make this about his line (18-7-2-3-1) or about his efficiency (73% eFG in the second half), but this is really more intangible than that. He changed the game in the third quarter and carried the Jazz home, including emotionally. Even when he wasn’t the one doing the scoring, he was the one pumping up his team. Also considered: Gobert had another special game, Hood looked good and Hayward had a ridiculous +76 second-half net rating thanks to gorgeous defense.
Stat of the week
On Halloween, Favors became the first Jazz player since 2009 to start a season with at least 18 in the first three games. At 24 years and 108 days old, he bested Karl Malone by a day; Mail was 24 years and 109 days old the first time he achieved the feat, with 25, 23 and 24 to start the 1987-88 campaign. The only Jazz player ever to do that at a younger age than Favors was Deron Williams, who at 23 years and 130 days old wrapped up games of 24, 30 and 30 in 2007-08.
Favors was just the ninth Jazzman ever to start a season that way. Malone did it 10 times and Adrian Dantley did it five times.
Dissecting a particular possession of awesomeness.
I love this play because it’s emblematic of early actions setting the table for the real desired outcome, but it’s also a great example of the defense shutting down and Utah finding counters.
Favors gets a FT line screen and comes to receive the pass. He then executes the dribble hand-off, which is really just disguising the cut he’s about make baseline, where Neto is waiting with a well-choreographed cross screen. This allows Fav to get deep post position. To the defender’s credit, he reads it and gets over the top to front, the counter to which is the high-low pass, but Booker doesn’t quite have the angle, either. So Joe probes the perimeter until he finds a seam he can punch the ball through, and Favors is so deep because of that early trickeration that led into the Princeton-style cross screen that he’s able to score even over tough D.
Enjoy, first at game speed and then slowing down the circuitous route by which Derrick establishes his spot.
The Jazz player/coach quote of the week.
— Derrick Favors (@dfavors14) November 2, 2015
Favors tweeted this just minutes after the NBA announced the Players of the Week and the nominees. Favors was neither, so most assume that his trail of punctuation was a commentary on that omission. Teams nominate their players for POTW and POTM. So if Favors is upset here, he’s upset at his club. Utah nominated Gobert, who registered 7.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in the first three games — not bad at all, and I seriously doubt Favors is trying to throw shade at the big guy. Teams are allowed to nominate multiple guys, as Atlanta famously did for January 2015 POTM honors when the award was granted to their starting five as a group. Three teams — Chicago, Cleveland and OKC — made more than one nomination this week. Of course, we’re making some assumptions here on the emotion behind the ellipsis, but if he’s upset with not getting nominated, just realize who that means he’s upset with. A bit of randomness. I was saving this space for the best #QuinFace image of the week. But this whole 11-second sequence of anxious energy and exasperation from Snyder8 was just too good to deny you. Behold…