The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Al Jefferson: Member of a Functional Offense
The entry pass to Al Jefferson in the post was once a submission to a possession's end. No matter the resulting coverage or complications, Jefferson would seemingly attempt a shot from the block without fail.
He was one of the NBA's most consistent black holes, with a tendency built from confidence, approach and years toiling away on the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves.
Yet this season, Jefferson has made some impressive strides in a Utah offense that demands more of its bigs. It's not enough for Jefferson merely to be a serious threat from the block. His presence down low has to act as a facilitator of space through his teammates' cuts and flares, a necessity for a Jazz team lacking in serviceable three-point shooters.
Paul Millsap has perfected that balance after years of operating in the flex offense, but Jefferson didn't show much good faith in his passing efforts during his initial season with the Jazz.
This year hasn't been profoundly different, but Jefferson has made noticeable strides in both his willingness and ability to pass. That kind of simple development has cultivated a completely different dynamic in Utah.
The Jazz are in the playoffs because of Jefferson and Millsap's ability to play off of one another, a feat only possible with players willing and capable to both score and dish.
It's the little changes in this game that often end up making all the difference, and the slightest alteration to Jefferson's basketball personality has earned a playoff berth for a particularly fun Jazz team and managed to send the Suns home early.
Hakim Warrick and a Reflection of What Could Have Been
Tuesday's game offered a showing of Hakim Warrick in all suits. At moments, he was a seemingly consistent mid-range shooter. At others, he worked in complete harmony with Steve Nash to create powerful finishes vaguely reminiscent of a young Amar'e Stoudemire.
In a game where the Suns badly needed offensive production out of their reserve bigs, Warrick stepped in to bear the load for awhile.
But just as quickly as Warrick, the pick-and-roll threat, had emerged, he vanished.
The ball kept swinging Warrick's way, but he had transformed into a completely different player. He popped out for jumpers rather than rolling to the hoop, jab-stepped his way into isolated pseudo-glory and painfully attempted to do far too much.
When Warrick signed with the Suns, he seemed like a good fit as a finisher, if nothing else. But even his time alongside Nash hasn't properly tuned his basketball instincts.
Warrick certainly has his moments, minutes and games of self-actualization, but he always returns to his regular, middling state. He just can't seem to escape to better judgment, no matter how many times everything seems to finally click into place.
And now, with Nash likely gone next season, so too may be the brightest opportunity of Warrick's career.
Derrick Favors' Development in the Spotlight
If the home stretch of Utah's regular season offers any precedent whatsoever, we're in for a treat.
Derrick Favors—a promising young big who was already putting up stellar rebounding numbers —is finally picking up bits of defensive nuance.
That could be huge for a Jazz team that will need every bit of defensive acumen it can get against the prolific San Antonio Spurs. But it's even better for those of us on this side of the end lines who get to observe his improvement in real time.
The pace of player development is often akin to that of a boiling pot or drying paint, but Favors has already made the incremental gains necessary to take a bigger step this postseason.
He'll have his work cut out for him against Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair, as all three of those bigs present a very different skill set with very different defensive considerations.
How Favors manages the shift from big to big should be a small-scale item of particular interest, if only because he's shown some promise of late with his efforts on D.