1. Jazz allowed Suns to get what they wanted offensively.
The Jazz are again not getting it done defensively, a major disappointment for a team that wanted its calling card to be paint protection. I asked Corbin what went wrong on the defensive end, and he answered “They made shots. They got what they wanted. They had us spread out, they got drives, and got the ball where they wanted to in the initial part of the offense, then when we collapsed the defense they got open 3 point shots.”
The “they made shots” theme has been a recurring part of postgame interviews amongst both the players and coaching staff, and while literally true, why “they made shots” is more worrisome. The Suns repeatedly used a spread offense with a high pick-and-roll to find their initial hole in the Utah defense, generally with Goran Dragic at the point. After the pick, Dragic would react to a scrambling Utah defense, which still struggles enough on the pick and roll (even without Al Jefferson on the squad), either passing the ball to the roll man, driving and then dishing, or simply reading the defenses’ overhelp from the wing to deliver the ball to an open three point shooter. If the team didn’t give up any obvious holes on the initial pick, Dragic would call for a rescreen, at which point the big man defender is likely too far out of position to make an impact on the play, thus leading to essentially certain defensive chaos. This meant that the Suns had lots of open looks, leading to their 95 points through the first 3 quarters. The Jazz really need to catch up to the rest of the league in this area.
Now, did the Suns make more of their outside shots than would be expected? Perhaps. The Suns shot 65% from non-restricted area paint shots and 50% on mid-range jump shots, those percentages are usually in the 35-40% range for NBA teams. On the other hand, the Suns also generally usually make more than 8-25 of their threes, and are certainly expected to make more than 1 of their 6 corner three attempts. As per usual in the luck-influenced shot game, you win some, you lose some.
2. The Jazz have a healthy roster. Now what?
The Jazz finally have a healthy full, 15-player roster, a really rare proposition in the NBA. Naturally, the problem for a coach becomes a good one: who gets minutes? Ian Clark and Mike Harris began as the two inactive players, probably the logical choice given the newfound strength at those guys’ positions, as well as their lack of minutes and pedigree. Andris Biedrins got his first minutes of Jazz action tonight, and looked very Biedrins-y: he didn’t touch the ball in over 4 minutes of play, but set decent screens and got around to block the ballhandler on a pick and roll, a rarity for a Jazz big man. Biedrins shouldn’t play anything other than small minutes, lets be clear, but he presents an interesting contrast for the Jazz as a big man who sets screens well and plays good defense most of the time. Mostly, his limited skills put the flaws of the others in sharp relief.
Brandon Rush also came back tonight, and looked fairly lost, contributing no points and 2 assists in 12 minutes of play. He looked pretty tentative to attack, and the reactions seemed slow as well. Rush represents a possible asset to the Jazz, so it makes sense that he play, but he’s not a better option in the current tense than the other wing players the Jazz have until he makes more progress. It’s probably worth the Jazz’s playing time to find out, though, if he can recover before the trade deadline.
3. Getting a team to take smart shots on the floor is hard.
This is something from pregame, but David Locke got a chance to ask Jeff Hornacek once the cameras were off how a team becomes efficient in its shot distribution. According to Locke’s stats, the Suns were 4th in the league pregame in taking the best kinds of shots (most recent XPPS says 9th, but last update I have on that was about 2 weeks ago, so they could have improved recently). Hornacek gave a really interesting answer:
“We try to emphasize certain areas on the court for the guys to get shots at, and some of the offense is geared that way. In the beginning, I don’t think the guys really understood that much of it, but we continue to talk to these guys: ‘You think you can make that shot, which you probably can 4 out of 10 times, but we want the shot you can make 5 out of 10 times.’ Some guys weren’t really happy with the things we yell at them, but our biggest thing is about not going 1-on-1. When we go 1-on-1, we’re not very good.”
Why do players continue to take those inefficient shots? Well, they can make them: the mental difference between making a shot 4 out of 10 times and 5 out of 10 times is tiny: you get approximately the same amount of happiness reward. Consider how many midrange shots an average NBA player takes during a game: 2-3? So the difference between a good shot (lets say 50%, as Hornacek did), and a bad shot is one extra make per week of NBA games. That’s really not that different to the player, but when multiplied over several players, it becomes a really big deal for a team in individual games. This is where coaching comes in: to take the team goals and apply them to the players. As Hornacek hints, the players might even fight back! But the result through consistent coaching can be a smart, efficient NBA team that’s surprising nearly all observers with their good play.