Twenty-two games left, and the Jazz find themselves in a bit of a slump. How do they get out? This week’s SC7 looks at a potential area for personnel answers, but we also hear from the coach, and look at some X&O themes that could help Utah sort things out.
Today we’ll start with By The Numbers, where we reset the race for 8th.
9 (12) – The number of games Utah (and Houston) has left against elite teams1 or on the road against non-elite teams outside the bottom 10.
These are games that .500-or-so teams typically lose. Neither team can hope for too many Ws here3. If a team wins any of these, it’s newsworthy & should shift the projections.
6 (7) – Games I’d call “projected wins”: home games vs. the non-elites and the bottom 10.
The Jazz and Rox will each by 60% or better to win each of these 13 games. They won’t all go to script, though, so pay special attention any time either team loses any of these.
7 (2) – Road games vs. bottom-10 teams.
This is a huge chance for Utah to pick up some extra wins… if they can. Winning on the road is hard, even against bad teams. So far, Utah is 5-4 in road games against the current bottom 10 of the league, and Houston is 7-6.
The key to making the playoffs may very well be winning on the road against mediocre teams.
So are we to a point yet where we can all agree that the Jazz need more depth?
3rd game in a row in which it feels like Jazz would be in a very different spot if they could just make shots… it may be a talent problem.
— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 1, 2016
This game was in peril for the Jazz the minute Hood went down. Utah simply can’t withstand injury this season. The depth isn’t there
— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) March 3, 2016
Series of tweets coming Jazz fans that will show how a little more roster building and Jazz can get darn good.
— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) March 1, 2016
The Jazz’s plan for this season was to see how far their young core could take them. And that’s fine, except that their young core had never been entirely healthy, so they’ve been forced to rely heavily on less-than-ideal bench units.
Utah also passed at the chance to shore up their bench at the trade deadline, probably a function of the market price. Now, there’s one more chance to add useful NBA players. The Jazz certainly don’t have to change their approach with 22 games left and make a run on guys when they already have a full roster. But if they want to bolster their chances, they’ll at least look at some of the names currently floating out there.
They’re out there because of a March 1 waiver deadline that just put a bunch of players on the open market, and another few that just returned to the U.S. after their season in China ended. Some of these suddenly-available players have already been scooped up. Jason Thompson, Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson and Andre Miller already have new teams, and Kevin Martin (Spurs) and Ty Lawson (Pacers) are reportedly close. China returnee Andrew Goudelock also signed with Houston.
But others are available, and at least some of them would be upgrades over players the Jazz are currently giving extended wing minutes. Here are some of those guys4:
All of Utah’s 15 roster spots are currently occupied with players who have guaranteed contracts, so to add a player, the Jazz would have to eat the 25% or so remaining on someone’s year. The most likely candidates would be Jeff Withey or Chris Johnson, who have minimum deals and no guaranteed money beyond this year.
The Jazz could use cap space to sweeten the pot for any of the guys mentioned above. Salaries aren’t prorated on rest-of-season contracts, but exceptions are. So for a team that only has a minimum salary exception available (Cleveland or Toronto, for example), they could only offer Wright a prorated portion of his $1.5M minimum: about $360K, of which the NBA would subsidize about a third. Some teams have portions of their room exceptions or MLE, and they could similarly offer a prorated portion to Wright or any other FA. For example, Indy could offer it’s entire prorated room exception: $675K.
The Jazz aren’t constrained to that because they have cap room. So they could offer more money than most teams, plus they actually have a rotational need and would ostensibly play those guys. So you have to think they would have a shot if they put a call in.
Chances are good they’ll finish out the year with what they have, for better or worse. But it’s obvious that the Jazz could use some more NBA-level players in the short term.
“I don’t think we’re playing poorly, but I don’t think we’re playing as well as we need to right now, and for me that really points to our defense. That’s who we have to be to be successful down the stretch at this point of the year.”
Snyder on team radio.
Looking back over 17 weeks’ worth of play dissections, I realized that somehow we’ve been a little light on plays featuring Gobert & Favors buckets. We’ll fix that this week, with a play from each that also serve as signals of the different levels of spacing different complementary guys offer Utah’s bigs.
I like this Favors play because it has a lot of elements we’ve talked about here. They run flex action5 in the paint to bring Favors to the ball, then he runs a dribble hand-off with Mack that doubles as a high pick & roll. The defender goes under, though, so the Jazz simply flip the pick to force the defender over on the rescreen, requiring big man help. Toronto conservatively drops the big, but he still has to shade the ball, and that frees Derrick for a roll. Favors catching below the line going towards the hoop is usually good news for Utah.
But look at how crowded the paint was when Fav got there for the finish. Some of that is because I don’t think Hayward is spaced properly here, but also because the corner spacers are Joe Ingles6 and Trevor Booker, who Luis Scola doesn’t really even pretend to guard. And since Mack isn’t a pull-up threat, the big didn’t have to hedge and can easily get back in the picture to help challenge.
Compare that with this Gobert roll on a similar play.
Utah sets up in horns, but instead of traditional horns with two big men, they put Hayward in it. We talked last week about how having him screen (or even fake the screen) is a good way of setting him up to pop out to the ball. Rudy then fakes a screen for Burke before slipping, and there’s really no stopping him. Neto & Lyles are both over 40% on corner threes, so the defense is somewhat worried about them. Neto’s guy comes in from the weakside, which is where most teams bring the help from, but look at Patrick Patterson hurry back to Lyles instead of collapsing to the paint. And Gobert’s defender is frantically trying to get back because Hayward’s profile requires a hedge that the previous play didn’t.
Here is what each guy was facing as the pass was made.
To their credit, both were able to score. But Favors’ shot was far tougher, because he had two guys waiting for him and his man closing fast from behind. So how do the Jazz improve spacing? Well, part of it is a personnel question. Teams just wont’ worry about Mack and Booker at the three-point line the way they’ll worry about Hayward and Lyles. But what also helped here is that they had the big on the strong side instead of the weak side; that made it so that the help came off of Neto, and Gobert was able to finish over a small.
A bucket’s a bucket, though.
The Jazz are 0-4 since our last SC7, which means we have no more leather to bestow. They’ve also lost 7 of 9 after winning 8 of 9 before that. Suffice it to say, they need some wins coming up. Speaking of which…
It’s hard to find a lot of fun in an 0-4 week. So I went with this because, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting all year to see Dante Exum drain a long-range jumper.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) March 2, 2016