For 22 years now, Jerry Sloan’s predictable but ever-effective pick-and-roll offense has been the mainstay of Utah Jazz basketball.
From the Stockton-Malone era, right on through to the new regime of Williams and Boozer, this hard-nosed brand of basketball is deadly when executed correctly.
But times, they could be a changin’ in Salt Lake City.
This Jazz team has re-discovered something new and exciting. And it’s not alcohol or multiple wives—sorry to disappoint on that front. But the city is in a buzz again about their Jazz.
In fact,not since the days of Jeff Hornacek have the Jazz used the “great equalizer” of the three-pointer with such regularity and precision. Deron Williams, C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver, and Mehmet Okur are taking and hitting these big shots, and winning basketball games because of it. The team has gone from outside of the playoffs to having a chance at the No. 2 seed in the West, all within the span of a couple months.
But the truth is, this shot has been missing from Utah’s arsenal for quit a while now, only recently have they been able to trust in it.
The Jazz have shied away from taking these game-changing shots, ranking near the bottom of the league (28) in three-point attempts (859). But, after major comebacks at Portland and now Phoenix, the team has found a renewed confidence in the three-pointer.
The NBA’s leader in this department is Eastern Conference juggernaut Orlando. Despite having one of the best big men on the planet in Dwight Howard, the Magic keep launching up three’s at a rapid pace, attempting twice as many of these shots (1,735 shots) as do the Jazz.
What does this mean?
Well, it helped the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and for the Jazz, it means wins. It’s like discovering gold for Utah. The Jazz are 9-1 in games when they’ve taken 19 or more three-pointers this season.
And there’s more…
When a team can get “stops on demand” as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once said—that’s when you can start talking about championship.
Frankly, I’m not sure if Sloan wants to be part of that conversation.
Don't get me wrong, he wants to win, but not with somebody else's philosophy. And contrary to popular belief, he’s not against his team taking three's—just the time and place in which its taken.
Fair enough. But consider this when putting a value on the three-pointer.
The top eight three-point shooting teams in the NBA—excluding Golden State—are all in the playoff hunt. Phoenix, Cleveland, Denver, Toronto, Orlando, San Antonio, and Milwaukee, all shoot the ball well from downtown and all should qualify for the post-season.
What about the Lakers you say?
Sure, they’re down the list (20th), but when you have Kobe Bryant and a strong inside game—the three-ball is a luxury.
Cleveland and Orlando are the standouts in the East—and as the playoff picture becomes clearer— you’ve got to see the Cavs or Magic meeting the Lakers in the NBA Finals, right?
That’s just the kind of “spot on” insight and analysis this reporter brings to the table.
So, where do the Jazz stand in all of this?
Utah is tied with Portland (13th) in three-point field goal percentage, currently making 35 percent of their shots from long range.
But expect that stat to go north for the Jazz, as the regular season begins a frenetic push toward playoff seeding. Utah seems to have found a new weapon in the three-ball.
Starting with a blowout victory over Houston at EnergySolutions Arena on Feb. 27—Utah was unconscious from three, hitting 14-out-of-25 bombs, and Deron Williams was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
And more recently, on a national stage in Phoenix, the Jazz tied a franchise record with seven fourth quarter three-pointers, as Utah rallied to beat the Suns 116-108. “We just keep finding ways to win,” said Williams, who was 5-out-of-9 from long-distance, to go along with his 27 points and nine assists.
Swingman C.J. Miles came alive with back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter to get the Jazz within 98-91, then Mehmet Okur tied the game at 98-98 by drilling a huge three, with less than five minutes to play. Okur broke out of his slump, going 7-of-17 from the field for 24 points.
Utah’s 12 three-pointers against Phoenix obviously sparked the Jazz down the stretch.
And Williams confirmed it, by telling the Salt Lake Tribune that the game was won from behind the arc. “This was one game where we got outscored in points in the paint and that usually doesn’t happen with us."
“It felt good that our three-point shots bailed us out and we were able to come alive in that fourth quarter,” Williams said.
The funny thing is, all of Utah's good fortune from three-point country is happening without much help from three-point specialist Korver, who’s still considered the best shooter on the team but has yet to step-up consistantly. Sloan gives him the most minutes of any bench player, but Korver’s been up-and-down offensively, as he continues to recover from Oct. knee surgery.
The six-year pro scored 18 points against the Bobcats at home on Feb. 24 (five three-pointers), but then produced consecutive sub-par performances against the Rockets and Kings. Then rebounded with a strong performance Saturday night, scoring 12-points in Utah's 107-85 victory over the Clippers.
It should be interesting to watch how Korver performs down the stretch. Utah could be a very dangerous team if the former Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year finds his stroke from downtown.
Now it’s your turn Jazz fans, tell me how this team will fair with 20 games left in the regular season, and are you convinced that the Jazz will continue to shoot the three-ball with such a high rate of success?