The Triple Team: Three Thoughts on Jazz vs. Sixers 12/27/2014

December 27th, 2014 | by Andy Larsen
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. Was this a poorly-played offensive game, or a well-played defensive game?

I asked Quin Snyder, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward this question after the game, all of them said some version of “both”.1 So it’s up to me to answer the question.

I choose well-played defensive game. The Jazz allowed the Sixers to take just 29 uncontested shots out of their 74 total looks, well below average. While the Sixers are the league’s worst offensive team, tonight’s performance was their second-worst of the season by most metrics, including eFG% and points per possession. The Jazz deserve some credit for that.

When the ball was in the Jazz’s hands2, the Sixers played good aggressive defense until the 6th minute timeout of the 4th quarter, when it appeared they just ran out of gas. This makes sense, after all, the Sixers were playing the second game of a back-to-back. But Philadelphia’s defense is underrated: they ranked 12th in the league coming into tonight’s game once you adjust for their high pace of play.

In the end, both teams didn’t make many of their shots tonight. When Trey Burke was asked about the team’s sloppy offensive performance, he said “I wouldn’t call it sloppiness. I just felt like we didn’t hit shots. I didn’t think we were sloppy. I just felt like we had a lot of good looks that we didn’t make but our defense made up for it.” In the end, the Jazz’s offense played well enough, the shot luck just wasn’t there for whatever reason.

2. Jazz have won 4 of their last 5!

Sure, it’s included wins over 3 sub-.500 teams. They let a poor Charlotte team dominate them. But the win against Memphis on the road was, in my opinion, their most impressive on the season, and the Jazz haven’t won 4 out of 5 since the 2012-13 season, so this is a big deal.

What’s gone right over this stretch? Over their last 5, they’re putting up a 103.4 Offensive Rating and 100.5 Defensive Rating; not a huge differential, but at least it’s positive! While that offensive rating isn’t great (it would rank 18th over the course of the season) the defense has been much better. Over the last 5, the Jazz’s defense would be ranked 6th in the league, way better than the nearly-league-worst defenses that the Jazz were putting up in the season’s first 6 weeks.

Again, some of this is opponent strength: only Memphis has an above-average offense out of the teams the Jazz played in the last 5. But for a team that couldn’t stop anybody early, it’s encouraging.

Some of the differences that I’ve seen are:

  • Trey Burke is going under screens far more frequently. I asked Trey about this, and he confirmed, “Lately, I’ve been going under a lot of screens. I think that’s where I get in trouble at, just trying to trail every single screen. Guards in this league are too good, they’re able to make decisions when you’re trailing. If you don’t [go under], guys are just going to pick you apart.” This is in stark contrast to what the Jazz worked extensively on with Trey during training camp and even the offseason, working on his agility so he was able to effectively maneuver over the screen. It seems like everyone involved has decided that’s not going to work, and damage will be minimized by just having Trey go under the majority of the time.
  • Rudy Gobert is playing more. It’s not by a ton, but Rudy’s played about 5 more MPG over this stretch than he did in the games before it. When Rudy is on the floor, the Jazz have a 101.4 DRtg, compared to 108.6 on aggregate.
  • The team has played better off-ball defense. Quin Snyder’s talked to this team a lot about “focus” on the defensive end, where too often guys will sink too far off their player or miss a backdoor cut because they’re not paying attention to the threat he provides. I don’t have stats to back this up, but visually, it’s far cleaner.
  • Jazz are allowing fewer offensive rebounds. In the 4 wins, the Jazz have given up 8, 9, 5, and 10 offensive rebounds, all below their team average. In the Charlotte loss, they allowed 15.
  • Enes Kanter’s doing better defensively. Again, it’s a small thing, but coach Snyder has commented on how he’s making the right play more frequently than before. It’s not all the time, and I’m not sure he’ll ever be an above-average defensive player, but small strides make a big difference.
  • Rodney Hood is healthy. Most rookies are below-average defensively, but I think Hood might belong in the average camp. I do think he’s an upgrade on fellow rookie Joe Ingles, with his length bothering opponents. Him playing more minutes has been helpful, and Snyder played him going down the stretch against Memphis with success.

3. Both point guards misfiring.

Trey Burke finished 5-18 from the field tonight, whereas Michael Carter-Williams finished just 2-20. Here are their respective shot-charts:

Shot chart from ESPN.com.

Shot chart from ESPN.com.

Which shot chart is worse? It’s probably Carter-Williams’, given that 2-20 is significantly worse than 5-18. Burke shot 7 FTs, compared to just 4 for MCW. But it’s a close call, given that at least MCW’s shots are coming from within the paint, but Trey’s are from that dreaded midrange. On the other hand, both players actually are decently efficient from both ranges: MCW shoots 40% from 3-16 feet, according to basketball-reference.com, and Burke shoots 41% from 16-23. Carter-Williams defended his shot selection, saying “No, I don’t think I was shooting too much… I think if I had to do it again I wouldn’t pass up any of the shots or shy away from the game.” I’m not sure what to make of that.

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen

Andy Larsen is the Managing Editor of Salt City Hoops, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate for the Utah Jazz. He also hosts a radio show and podcast every week on ESPN700 AM in Salt Lake City.
Andy Larsen

9 Comments

  1. cw says:

    Pretty important to take strength of schedule into account here. I agree the Memphis win was their best but Memphis was in a losing streak, on second night back to back, and missing two important starters. Basketball-Reference has a Simple Rating System that is a weighted combination of strength of schedule and average point differential. I can’t figure out how to see past results but if I remember correctly the jazz have been ranked by SRS as the 23rd best NBA team for quite a while and now they are at 21. Their B-R projected record is 11-19 and their actual record is 10-20 or .333 win percentage. 82 games times .333 = 27.3. These projections are right in line with Vegas, Pelton, ESPN, etc….

    Looking at this it is very hard to see any bottom line improvement. Teams do make improvements that take time to affect the bottom line and I think it is possible that the Jazz are doing this, but I am not really sure. They have been in lots of games but folded at the end and you could say that once they figure out how not to fold the bottom line will improve. And maybe that is what we are seeing now. Or it could be that superior teams clamp down/turn it on at the end, or it could just be a string of random outcomes.

    If you look at offensive individual splits from November and December, Hayward has regressed a bit (as you would expect), Burks, Kanter, and Gobert have got somewhat more productive and Exum, Favors, and Burke have stayed more or less the same. If you look a team offensive and defensive splits at the grainular level there is very little difference I can see between november and december that is not affected by strenght of schedual.

    So, my gestalt take on Jazz progress is that there they are pretty much where they started. Wins and losses have been pretty much dictated by the schedule. If there have been gains they have been small and system-oriented and have not translated to winning (nor shown up in the stats). They are playing to their talent-level. They will win somewhere between 25-and 30 games and get a draft pick somewhere around 7-9, all as projected.

    It is possible that playing gobert and maybe Exum more will improve the defense and also give those guys a chance to improve thier offense and that will translate to more wins. It is also possible that Kanter will improve on D. People say he is making progress but I can’t see it in the stats. His offense has been getting better though and if he could match that with improvement in D that will for sure improve jazz chances to win. Hayward, the Burkses, and Favors are all playing pretty much as expected and I don’t think they will improve or degrade enough to make any difference, although Burks’ shoulder might mean he’ll miss games and that will hurt the Jazz as it is very unlikely that Hood will beable to come anywhere close to Burks production of either O or D. The Jazz as a group could also get better at playing Snyder’s defensive system and that would be the one thing with the most power to improve the Jazz enough to translate to winning more than expected. I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing that happens though, especially not in-season.

    • Spencer says:

      Great Comments CW. I think you are right on. I do think there will be in-season steady defensive improvement. This will come because it really does take years do learn defense as a team unless you get a KG or LeBron who can carry a team defense to a lot quicker ascent. The Jazz simply have every player learning the system and every player makes multiple mistakes each game defensively. Incrementally, however they are fewer. This is more obvious with players who were completely lost like Kanter to start the season, but Gobert, Alec, Trey, Hood, Exum and even Favors are improving their positioning and forcing more difficult contested shots.

      Also, Dallas twice, Toronto twice and Golden State are they type of teams that are playing at such high offensive levels that a team learning how to defend against high-level offense can get easily throttled. Those five games did influence things and I believe that by the end of the year the Jazz will be closer to 18-20 range defensively than 30th.

      • cw says:

        Thanks for the positiveness. The proportion of defense that is (on average) system vrs talent is something that I am interested in. The jazz are a pretty good test case for this. They do not have any elite defensive talent besides Gobert (and maybe Exum in a few years). So if the jazz get their D rating up to 18-20 a lot of responsibility will be to the system. Right now they are at 111, exactly where they finished last year. My current theory is that there is only so far you can go without talent and unless the Jazz play Rudy 40 minutes a game (hurting the O) they will not be able to move up much from 27. But we’ll see. Snyder seems like a good coach and I think the players are all still listening to him.

        I want to throw this out there. If the jazz are more or less where they are now on March 1st, do you admit that this team as currently composed is not good going to be good enough to contend and tank the rest of the way hoping to get a really high draft pick and another shot at someone better than the current crop?

        I say yes, even though I know it would be difficult for the Millers to sign off on. I say yes even if they are playing considerably better than they are today. Becasue the no. 1 factoid/rule of thumb I hold onto when thinking about success in the NBA is that San Antonio became San Antonio–not becasue of Popovich and their magical culture that everyone is trying to copy–but becasue they stretched out David Robinson’s injury (tanked) and lucked into Tim Duncan.

        • Spencer says:

          I certainly understand that we have a few players who are never going to be very good defensive players like Kanter and Trey. Those two aside, I believe that Gobert, Favors and Exum can be elite. I believe Alec can be an excellent defender and Hayward and Hood can be above average.

          Let’s take Butler from Chicago as an example. He is not more athletically gifted than Hayward and Hood, but he has that toughness and the elite skill of defensive IQ. I don’t know of that can be taught completely, but I believe it can be taught at some level. As far as tanking goes, I don’t see a player like Davis, Lebron or even Wiggins who has the physical gifts to be a franchise changer. The best player in this draft reminds me of Al Jefferson, including defensively. So my answer is that I don’t see anyone to tank for.

          I think that I would continue to increase Gobert, Hood and Exum’s minutes and let Snyder develop. That will likely end them in the 27-35 win area. The three players I really like are Johnson from Arizona and Winslow (Duke) for their elite defensive tenacity and IQ along with elite strength and athleticism. They both have lock-down potential and bulldog mentality we lack. There is a great chance one will be there when we pick even without tanking.

          The third player I am intrigued by is Portzigis. He will likely be gone before we pick unless we get into the lottery. That said, he has the stretch 4 with elite size and defensive potential that would be an excellent fit. His downfall is that he is years away physically and we would then have to juggle the Kanter, Favors, Gobert scenario, which may happen anyway.

          If you look at a great defensive team like memphis, they have one elite perimeter defender (who is undersized most nights) and an elite rim protector (who is just brilliant but not very athletic). They also have a PG who can guard his position which we have not had since Stockton. A player like Allen is who I would be after in the draft or as a FA this year.

          They guy we should chase as a free agent who we could actually get is KJ McDaniels. (Interestingly on the Phily team we just beat and the best defensive player on that team as a rookie. Including leading them in blocks!) That guy will be a slightly better version of Allen I believe, because at least he can sort of shoot.

          • cw says:

            I actually know nothing about next years draft so I don’t actually know if tanking is worthwhile or not. And I agree that a good perimeter defender will go along way. I don’t agree that any of the current players except for Gorbert and maybe Exum can be elite. Favors is probably an above average defender and Burks COULD be a good defender. He seems to be good on the ball, but were talking about guys in their fourth and fifth year. They are basically who they are. As are the rest, who are below average defenders and I think will continue as such.

            I like the idea of signing KJ McDaniels. That is the kind of thing I’m hoping the jazz are going to start doing, finding good affordable young players.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    One thing that I noticed this game was that Trey Burke seemed to be making an effort to play fast. He was dribbling the ball up court at least 20-30% faster than I have ever seen him do before on a number of occasions during the game. He exhibited some speed I didn’t know he had. One reason for this may be that MCW was playing fast and Trey Burke wanted to “one-up” him, because MCW got a lot of the praise for good play as a rookie that Trey imagined would have been his–so whenever they play now, Trey is hyper-competitive.

    It seemed to me at this stage in the two teams’ respective re-builds that Utah has far more talent than Philly–although Philadelphia seems to have 2-3 really talented players at the SF position (although the talent there is still very, very raw).

    • Spencer says:

      I loved KJ McDaniels and hoped we would draft him until we had Hood fall into our laps. Then I was hoping we could get him in the 2nd round until it was traded and he went just before our pick. I had similar feeling for Grant that Phily drafted and wondered if we should have picked him up with that second pick instead of dealing it.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I had the same impressions about both McDaniels and Grant prior to the draft, and felt cheated when the Jazz traded away their 35th pick, rather than selecting Grant, who appears to have lottery-level athleticism. Grant has such great length and athleticism for a SF, if he ever gets any offensive skills he could become very good. McDaniels has been much better than anyone expected.

        It would be great if the Jazz could “poach” McDaniels from the Sixers in free agency, but there are probably 28 other teams thinking the same thing, and Utah is hardly ever the sexiest destination for an NBA free agent.

        This upcoming draft is stock full of small forwards who could be very good, especially on the defensive end–particularly, Johnson, Winslow and Hollis-Jefferson. Hopefully, the Jazz will have the opportunity to pick an impact defensive player (who also has decent offensive skills) at the SF position with the Jazz’s draft pick–I think that would improve the Jazz much more than selecting the best PF or center available when the Jazz pick in the draft. Putting a good defensive wing player out on the court with any of Hayward, Burks or Hood could really help the Jazz, especially if that player also has good offensive skills such as Johnson and Winslow appear to have.

        Another option for the Jazz would be to go after Jimmy Butler in free agency, but I think there is zero chance the Bulls don’t match whatever offer Butler receives as a RFA.

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