Utah Jazz: 10 Ways to Shake the Team Out of Their Funk
The Utah Jazz have scraped the bottom of the barrel.
After a six-game losing streak that was highlighted by the best and worst of the NBA, the Jazz have to re-evaluate themselves in order to get back on track.
After a blazing 15-5 start to the season, expectations may have unfairly rose for a team who lost Wesley Mathews, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer to free agency, not to mention Mehmet Okur to injuries for most of the season.
The Jazz also have six new faces on their roster including Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Francisco Elson, Gordon Hayward, Earl Watson and Jeremy Evans. It's taking a little bit longer to jell than originally anticipated.
But there's no doubt that the Jazz are still a playoff team, even if that means the rights to play the conference's elite in the first round. But they'll be there.
With over 30 games remaining on the schedule, here's 10 ways the Utah Jazz can right the ship.
*(All statistics are through 1/29/10)
Improve Defensive Effort
Utah’s defense collapsed during their six-game losing streak. Earlier in the season, Utah was in the top five in all defensive shooting categories, holding opponents well below 50 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown.
The six-game skid saw five opponents shoot at least 50 percent from the floor and a combined 44-for-104 from beyond the three-point line (over 42 percent).
Part of the problem has been Utah’s pick-and-roll defense, which has had a hard time containing quicker guards and preventing them from getting in the paint.
Utah’s bigs are having a difficult time pushing the ball handlers towards the corners of center court, and they’re allowing them to turn the corner. When that happens, the defense is forced to collapse into the painted area, leaving shooters wide-open on the perimeter.
It’s been talked about all season from the players and the coaching staff, that Utah cannot allow their offensive flow to dictate their defensive mindsets.
But when shots aren’t falling, the Jazz have shown mental weaknesses and have allowed their opponents to get whatever shot they want.
Only the Boston Celtics average less rebounds per game than the Utah Jazz at 38.57 rebounds a night. The difference is, well, the differential.
The Jazz’s opponents have outrebound Utah by an average 2.22 RPG, sixth-worst in the league, and the only team rebounding statistics that really matters.
Generally, Utah is undersized against most other starting units. Al Jefferson is a natural power forward, but is playing center. Paul Millsap starts at the power forward position, but is usually giving up a couple inches to his challenger.
But Jerry Sloan doesn’t care about height. Sloan knows hard work, and only hard work. If he believed that Jefferson and Millsap couldn’t handle the glass, he wouldn’t be starting them side by side, especially with two ready seven-footers on the bench (Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson).
Rebounding is purely a hustle statistic, and the Jazz seem to be lacking it. Their frontcourt is currently ranked 25th in rebounding.
Utah is 17-6 when it records 39 or more rebounds, only .43 more than their per game average.
Upgrade Shooting Guard
Raja Bell has been the weakest link in Utah’s starting five. The 34-year-old is showing his age from many different aspects of his game.
At this point in his career, Bell just isn’t a starting-caliber shooting guard.
The crafty veteran is having trouble shooting the ball. His shooting-percentage has bottomed out to a career low .405 from the field.
What makes Bell’s struggles most baffling is the quality of shots that he is missing. Deron Williams is spoon-feeding Bell the ball in his favorite spots. Bell is simply missing them.
Bell is scoring less than eight points per game, his lowest total since he averaged 15.6 minutes a game for Dallas in 2003.
The defensive-minded Bell has missed 22 of his last 26 shot attempts.
If Utah wants to make a strong playoff push, “strong” being the keyword, they need to either get more production from Bell or they have to take advantage of their trade assets.
Starting center Mehmet Okur went down with an Achilles injury in the first game of the first round in last year's playoffs.
After appearing in at least 71 games for eight consecutive seasons, Okur has only appeared in 13 games this season, compiled by a multitude of injuries. From back strains to ankle sprains, Okur has been unable to take the court for any significant amount of time this year.
When, or if, Okur gets healthy, it will allow Utah to explore different options. Memo spreads defenses thin with his beautiful stroke from beyond the arc, creating more space for Deron Williams to get into the middle.
He could also be used as trade bait for teams who are looking to bulk up their middle, but only if he can get into the rotation long enough to breed any interest. If that can happen, it can potentially solve Utah's SG woes.
Push The Ball
Since mid-December, the Jazz’s offense has stagnated, a strange twist from the continual movement and unrivaled execution Sloan’s teams are always known for.
In the month of January, Utah has won only a single game in which they’ve failed to score at least 100 points.
As a team, the Jazz have also struggled to shoot well from the field recently as well, only shooting 46 percent or higher one time in the last seven games heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors.
Much of the poor shooting can be attributed to the slumps of Williams, Millsap and Bell. But it goes deeper than any of them as individuals who are just missing shots.
Deron Williams isn’t pushing the ball hard down the court. And Utah isn’t getting easy baskets.
Nobody is asking Williams to be erratic and force the ball. But if the defense is going to have an eternity to get back, it limits what the Jazz can do offensively. It forces Utah to rely exclusively on their sets, which haven’t been consistent.
Williams has to push the ball. If nothing else, it puts pressure on the defense. But on top of that, he’s one of the best decision makers and passers the league has, and Utah will get easier buckets.
On Friday, point guard Earl Watson got the start when Williams was sitting with a hyperextended wrist. Watson pushed the ball relentlessly, resulting in multiple easy shots for the Jazz. Watson finished with a season-high 13 assists.
The Jazz scored 108 points in the meeting, the most amount since they dropped 121 on Cleveland over two weeks ago and their first win in seven tries.
Pushing the ball up the court will help utilize all of Utah’s intangibles, especially when they are playing in Energy Solutions Arena where the fans are some of the loudest and most loyal.
Stop Running Offense Through Al Jefferson
Jerry Sloan wants the Utah offense to go inside out. If the Jazz can establish Al Jefferson early and often, it will open up the outside for Utah’s shooters.
The problem is that Jefferson is still learning the nuances of the intricate offense. He knows the sets but has failed to grasp the timing of the motion offense, leaving multiple possessions with players out of position.
As the season continues, these issues should resolve themselves. In the meantime, however, Utah needs Al Jefferson’s production to be a byproduct of the offense, not the goal of it.
That isn’t to say that Big Al isn’t producing and that he shouldn’t be a primary option either.
Coming from a franchise that hasn’t experienced success since his arrival, and moving into a system that is known for its consistency, Jefferson is still adjusting.
His season statistics may be the lowest in four years (16.5 PPG and 8.9 RPG), but he’s basically a rookie for the second time.
Jefferson will find his groove in Utah’s offense. But until it happens naturally, the Jazz should be looking for different ways to put points on the board.
Be Aggressive in The First Quarter
In 47 games played this season, the Jazz have lost the first quarter 36 times, a baffling statistic.
During their six-game losing streak, the Jazz lost every single opening period and were outscored by a total of 45 total points in the first quarter, including a 15-point blowout from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Utah is barely putting up 23 points in the initial 12 minutes, and the news doesn’t improve much in the second quarter, where the Jazz average only 23.7 points.
The Jazz are, however, one of the best second-half teams in the entire league, averaging 52.5 points in the final two periods. They’re also only conceding 49 points to their opponents during the third and fourth quarters.
Utah has won more games when trailing by double-digits than any other team in the NBA. However, that is not a way to live come postseason.
The slow starts that have plagued the Jazz are directly related to their offensive tempo, which is being dictated by the defense.
If they want to fix their woes, it has to start in the opening quarter. Utah is 9-2 when leading after the first 12 minutes and 19-1 when heading into halftime with the lead.
A Coaching Change
No, the Jazz shouldn’t get rid of Jerry Sloan.
Sloan just needs to get feistier. At times, Sloan’s patience seems thick and unwarranted, as if he’s becoming more tame in his seasoned age.
The controversial, foul-mouthed Hall of Fame inductee needs to hold his players accountable. What happens behind closed doors is unknown. But Sloan hasn’t gotten in the faces of his players from the bench at all this year, and there have been times when it should have come.
He has also taken it easy on the referees, which is a strange adjustment for a man who has accumulated over 400 technical fouls throughout the course of his NBA career.
If Sloan starts boiling, the Jazz will heat up.
Less Banter, More Leadership
Deron Williams hasn’t been the leader that Utah fans are expecting him to be. And maybe fan expectations are irrelevant, but the results are not.
Sure, his play has been absolutely phenomenal during his career year, 21.9 PPG and 9.4 APG. But he hasn’t been saying the right things.
After a 110-86 loss in Boston last week, Williams was asked if the team could expect him to make a statement, physical or verbal.
Williams responded, “Well, if I do that then I'm the bad guy; I'm the villain. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut," possibly referring to an altercation earlier in the year with rookie Gordon Hayward.
The last thing that the Jazz need is a passive-aggressive Williams. What they need is a leader, both verbally and physically.
Villain or not, Utah needs someone to slap them in the face to wake them up. Williams is the face of the franchise and arguably the best PG the NBA has to offer.
The job is already his; he just has to embrace it.
It’s a long, strenuous NBA season.
The Lakers have experienced a four-game losing streak this season, the Mavericks six consecutive dropped games.
The Orlando Magic lost eight of nine with back-to-back four-game losing streaks with only a single win between them. The Miami Heat have dropped three in a row two times this year.
The point is that Utah may have just experienced their longest losing streak dating all the way back to December of 2007, but it won’t be the defining point of their year.
Utah has a great core of players, and there isn’t a reason to panic just yet. If anything, it’s only made blatant their weaknesses, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing with over 30 games remaining on the schedule. There’s still time to grow.
The Jazz just need to get back to playing Sloan-style basketball. Execute and defend.