Believe it or not, the season is now six weeks old. That also means this is the sixth edition of the Salt City Seven, our weekly look at the Jazz from a variety of viewpoints. This week, we talk shooting, analyze life without Rudy, give away some game balls, dissect a pretty play and more.
There is no shortage of items on the Utah Jazz’s holiday wish list this year. Reliable big man play next to Derrick Favors to help them weather Rudy Gobert’s absence. Improved two-way play from both point guards. Full, on-time recoveries for their two injured defensive stalwarts.
But perhaps most fundamentally, the ingredient that eludes these Jazz is the one that Quin Snyder’s offensive philosophy is built on: shooting. This is a system that is contingent upon defense-stretching shooters, but so far that’s lacking a bit. Joe Ingles is the only perimeter guy with a sizzling True Shooting mark (.643), and he plays just 12 minutes a night. Gordon Hayward’s TS has ticked up to above-average (.564), but Alec Burks (.531), Trey Burke (.526) and Rodney Hood (.519) are all right below league average (.532), and Raul Neto is far below it (.447).
One way to fuel Snyder’s offensive machine with the shooting it needs is through roster moves, but that seems unlikely in the immediate term. Utah doesn’t want to punt on any of its talented youngsters, and it’s going to be hard to generate anything transformational when you’re not willing to put your 4-5 best players on the table. It also doesn’t help that, aside from Hayward, the perimeter guys are all trending down over the last 9-10 games, not up. So how will Utah get some shooting mojo back?
By solving the mystery of Hood’s shot.
When Rodney was healthy enough to play last season, he was a spacing nightmare for opposing defenses because he could score and facilitate in a variety of settings. He could spot up, he could create off the bounce, or he could put the defender on his back while he probed into the elbow area for the next read. His TS% was .580 when he started 16 games starting in mid March.
This year, he’s doing many of the same things, but the results aren’t lining up.
At this point, it’s getting weird. Every game features examples of the same thing: Hood’s open on the weakside, gets a pass, does a textbook catch and release with a perfect stroke and follow-through… and misses.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with (my shot),” he told our Andy Larsen this week. “I’m not clanking, hitting it off the backboard, airball, and that type of thing. It’s just a little bit of touch. I’ve been in the gym working on it. They’ll start to fall. My three point shot is not something that I’m really — I’m concerned about it, but I’m not going crazy about it.”
That’s probably the right approach. Shooting stats — especially of the 3FG variety — are really random and noisy over short periods of time.
But the Jazz could really benefit from Hood getting this sorted out. At his current minutes and usage, Hood could single-handedly improve Utah’s O-Rating by 1.1 if he found a way to increase his TS by five percentage points. Over the course of an entire season, that efficiency bump correlates to about three extra wins, just by canning a few more jumpers.
Utah’s defensive rating in four games since the Gobert injury. That figure would be tied for 20th in the league if it were the team’s full-season DRtg.
Somehow, even with the lack of above-average shooters I bemoaned earlier, Utah’s eFG on spot-ups is still 9th in the league. They also use that play type a lot (20.5%, also 9th), even if it feels like they’re endlessly pump-faking away open shots.
This play comes from a Jazz loss, but I never promised we’d only use this part of the Seven to dissect cool plays from winning efforts. Plus, I’m a sucker for high post splits.
That is the term for a set where two cutters go behind the same high-post screener in opposite directions. It’s a decades-old play that’s getting a lot of use lately, largely because it spells a lot of decisions and potential confusion for defenses. A couple of weeks ago we talked about all the options horns provides, with one handler and two screeners. This is sort of the inverse of that: one screener, two cutters, but still a lot of moments of truth for the defense.
Most commonly, both wings complete the cut and then you just have a simple read-and-react: who switched, who came in to help, who got free1? Here, though, Burke instead pops back, setting up another P&R with Favors.
Here’s the full play:
It’s a couple of good reads in quick succession, especially by Burke. First, he pulls back from the initial action and flows right into P&R while Favors’ defender is still confused about whether to help on Hayward’s cut. Then, when Burke’s man tries to ice the pick2, Burke quickly reacts by driving away from the screen and freezing Vucevic. By now, the remaining three have cleared the lane and Favors has an easy route to the rim. Very nice design, and nice playmaking by Burke.
“If you’re playing the game the right way, you usually end up being confident in what you’re doing ’cause you’re making right play. Just intuitively. I think that’s the case when you’re unselfish. You know, the ball moves a few times and suddenly it’s not ‘my shot,’ it’s ‘our shot,’ and everybody participates in generating that open look.”
One of my favorite Quin traits is when someone asks him something very specific3 and he responds with an answer so macro that it borders on philosophical.
What Snyder lays out in this paragraph doesn’t describe the Jazz’s offense every night, but when it does, the results usually work out. Utah is 4-7 in games with 18 or fewer assists, 6-3 with 19 or more.
The Jazz probably could and should have done better than their 2-2 since the last time we convened here. They may wish they had over the course of the next seven nights, when wins may be a little harder to come by.
They have a home-and-home series coming this weekend with Oklahoma City, a team that has already demonstrated a couple of times this fall why it’s on a different level than Utah. The Thunder’s preseason waxing of the Jazz inspired a legendary Quin Snyder diatribe about needing to “be realistic about the level that’s out there.” Then they met in the regular season and OKC again outclassed the Jazz in a 22-point win in Salt Lake. Sure, it’s hard to sweep back-to-back meetings against the same team, but anybody who has seen previous Thunder-Jazz scuffled knows Utah is still very much looking up at this squad.
Then they go to San Antonio to face the second hottest team in basketball in a gym Utah hasn’t won in since Carlos Boozer wore Jazz blue4. Then they host the Pelicans on Wednesday, a team they beat by 14 two weeks ago.
Their chances at stealing a few of these tough ones definitely took a hit with Gobert’s mishap. Now, they’re more likely to spend the next month playing jumprope with the .500 mark, and then hopefully get their defensive trump card back somewhere around there.
Jazz 122, Pacers 119 (OT) – Favors
OK, Jazz fans, let’s talk about Game Ball for a second. This is Game Ball, not Guy Who Provided a Timely Spark Ball. One of our criteria has been, “Who will we remember when we talk about this game in a month or two?” And sometimes that’s what game ball will be about, for want of other storylines. But more often that not, I’m looking for a true MVP-of-the-game over the guy whose narrative had us talking. Go to the Hall of Fame and see the types of accomplishments that have resulted in guys getting an actual game ball. It’s for seminal moments, career nights, milestones. I didn’t see a single one in Springfield that said, “Nice energy off the bench,” or “Helpful third-quarter scoring spurt.”
The Pacers game — a signature win, by the way — gives us the perfect case study. Yes, Booker got the bulk of Gobert’s minutes. Yes, he had his best game in a while. Yes, the team’s TV guy actually said, “Give Booker the game ball!” in a moment of hyperbole. But when a 24-year-old burgeoning star has maybe his best game ever in a meaningful win… let’s not make this too tricky. Derrick’s work on a true game ball type of night: 35 & 13, a +21 net rating, 26 points in the paint by himself, 4/12 allowed at the rim, terrific defense out in space on an MVP candidate, and big shot after big shot.
Jazz 106, Knicks 85 – Hayward
The Jazz need their stars to be stars while Gobert mends, and that’s what they got in their two latest wins. Utah seized control of this one early, and Hayward’s fingerprints were all over that 18-2 run that sealed the deal before we’d seen two commercial breaks. He went for the jugular early, with back-to-back threes followed by a great set-up for Neto, free throws, another three, a runner and a sweet assist for a Jeff Withey dunk. All that was just in his first stint on the court. G’s final damage: 24-4-5 in just 27 minutes.
At one, Andy suggested I save this corner of the column for the best(worst) Snyder pic of the week. I’ve changed it up here and there, but this one, shared by the ubiquitous and engaging Kris, was too god not to capture.
Pretty much my new favorite Quin Snyder pic. pic.twitter.com/yvqDeKZqZ4
— Kris (@5kl) December 7, 2015