1. The Jazz answered the Wizards’ two-big lineup with one of their own.
The Jazz have had more success (i.e., more than 1 win in 15 games) since starting Marvin Williams at the 4, giving them a lineup with lots of shooting and floor spacing, but with the drawback of being somewhat small against some of the larger frontcourts in the league. The Wizards are one of those large front-court teams, starting two players listed at 6-11 in Marcin Gortat and Nene. When there’s a mismatch like this, a battle of wits occurs: which team will be able to impose its will first, and which team will be forced to make adjustments?
I asked Wizards coach Randy Wittman about the balance between imposing his team’s philosophy and being concerned about matchups. He responded, “I don’t really worry about matchup problems, I worry about our team. To be a good team you have to be a consistent team, and if you try to change how you play every game depending on the team you’re playing, you’re not going to be very consistent. We’re going to play the same way whether we’re playing Utah, Phoenix, or the Clippers. We want to try to impose our will on the other team.”
On the other hand, Ty Corbin played the matchups. After Marvin struggled guarding the size of Nene 1, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have played 429 minutes together this season, however, only 117 of those minutes have come in the 29 games since the change in the starting lineup separating them (an average of 4 MPG). Those two played 17 minutes together tonight, and both played well. Enes contributed the scoring with his 24 points on 11-13 shooting, while Favors contributed on the glass, with 14 rebounds (5 of them offensive) and 11 points of his own. In the end, the Jazz rode the pair to success alongside the other 3 young core players (Burke, Burks, and Hayward) at the end of both halves.
2. The Jazz are taking the three with more regularity.
Utah’s offense has traditionally been one of the lowest three-point attempt teams in the league, instead preferring to punish teams inside, or even take midrange shots, before launching the 3, unless it was wide open. This season, though, we’ve seen a change: the Jazz take only the 5th-fewest 3s. The Jazz are on pace to take the most threes in their history2.
Tonight, the Jazz took 24 threes. They didn’t shoot fantastically on them, making only 10 (41.7%), but that’s still good enough for a 1.25 PPS, or the equivalent of 62% 2-point shooting. 14 of them came up on spot up opportunities, the kind of quick passing that coaches like to see. That’s a sign of good offense, and realizing that sometimes the best shot comes from taking the ball further out. Impressive in this area was Trey Burke: he went 0-7 from inside the arc and 4-5 outside of it. He understood the game plan, in his words “We did a good job of attacking them and trying to start inside out: attack them in transition, attack them in the half court. That allowed guys on the perimeter to get wide-open looks.”
3. Jazz floor spacing needs a little tweaking.
Not big tweaking, but just a little bit. The Jazz have played the last 3 games against two of the league’s best teams in transition. Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Washington Wizards have good transition weapons. In all three games, the Jazz allowed the teams to get above their season averages in fast break points: 19 in both games against Minnesota and 21 tonight against Washington. (Both teams average about 16 per game).
What I’ve noticed is that the Jazz often don’t adequately space the floor when driving baseline. What ends up happening is that one of the Jazz’s wings (usually Burks, Jefferson, or Hayward) will drive baseline, with the other Jazz wing in the opposite corner ready for the spot-up three. This is good. However, should that shot or three be missed, and the defensive team gets the rebound, they immediately have a numerical advantage the other way, as the only player back is Trey Burke. It may be that in these situations, one of Marvin, Enes, or Favors needs to drop off somewhat to prevent against the fast-break opportunity the other way.
Like I said, it’s not a huge deal… indeed, that I’m including it at all in this space is an indication of how far the Jazz have become. It’s now the little things that need tweaking in order for the Jazz to go from .500 in their last 30 games to an above-average contender.