If you missed part one of this two-part series, we covered the amazing impact coach Jerry Sloan had, not only on the Jazz teams he coached but on the city in which he coached them. Here in part two, we’ll focus in more detail on how ahead of his time Sloan was with his offensive system, and how his innovations have helped shape the modern game as we know it.
NBA offenses, almost like fashion, have gone through many trends and fads over the course of league history. In the 60’s and 70’s, nearly all legitimate offenses ran through the center; the game’s first greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and George Mikan all occupied the middle. Offense was very deliberate in this era, with the goal of advancing the ball up, getting the center in position on the block, and either feeding him the ball there or finding the open man if defenses double-teamed the center. For various reasons (lack of popularity of the game and racial inequality, to name a couple), players like Wilt and Russell – and later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others – had very few peers in terms of sheer physical ability. Wilt, especially, was a physical specimen never before seen in the league. As a result, the center-focused offense remained the staple of most successful teams all the way up through the late 70’s and even somewhat into the 80s.
But with the turn of the decade in 1980 came a new wave of players, and with them some advancing strategies. Some coaches had started to realize the advantages of the fast break, and teams like the Showtime Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, started pushing the tempo more often after opponent misses. It was a slow shift away from the style of the 60’s and 70’s, however, as the teams who dominated the decade (Lakers with Kareem, Celtics with McHale) still employed some of history’s finest post players. But the landscape had begun to shift, and it continued to do so with the increasingly guard-oriented styles pioneered by teams like the Bad Boy Pistons, Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and Dominique Wilkins’ Hawks. By the time the 90’s rolled around, teams around the league had fully embraced the fast break as a successful strategy, and half-court offenses began to lean more on isolation plays for guards and wing players. Everyone, it seemed, had found the new formula.
Everyone, that is, but Sloan and his Jazz. But far from being a step behind the rest of the league, Jerry was a step (or several) ahead. Instead of continuing the center-dominated offense that had reigned during his playing days, Sloan implemented his own version of the “flex” offense, a system developed in the 1970’s. The basic flex involves constant movement from all five offensive players, with down screens and cuts utilized in multiple areas of the floor. While the basic system itself is quite simple, the variations are nearly endless, part of what makes it such an effective system.
When working properly, the flex is designed to maximize good looks at the rim via passes off cuts. While neither results in a basket, let’s look at a couple very basic examples of the flex as run by the Jazz: