Utah Jazz Breakdown: Jazz Need Quicker Beat

Erick BlascoSenior Writer INovember 9, 2008

The Jazz showed a lot of flaws in their 107-99 road loss to the New York Knicks. Some of them will be helped out by Deron Willams’ clean bill of health, but the others may be fatal.

The Good

Aside from possibly the Lakers, the Jazz have the most complex offense in the league, and easily have the most disciplined one. Even without Deron Williams, the Jazz were able to dial up any number of successful play calls that sliced the Knicks apart.

Since the Knicks were often employing a three guard lineup, Utah ran a number of weak-side flashes, cross-cuts in the paint, and screen/rolls designed to get somebody in the post.

Utah’s post up game generated 22 points on 18 first half possessions, but with Carlos Boozer plagued with foul trouble in the second half, the Jazz lost their best pivot man, and a ferocious off-the-ball-cutter. That’s why six third-quarter trips to the pivot resulted in only two points. With Boozer back to rumble in the fourth quarter, the Jazz scored nine points on their seven jaunts to the low box.

For the sake of being specific, here’s how each Jazz player shot when posting up: Mehmet Okur 2-5, Andrei Kirilenko 2-4, Boozer, 1-2, Paul Millsap 0-2, Ronnie Brewer 0-2, C.J. Miles, 1-1.

Every Jazz player set effective screens. Even the diminutive Brevin Knight was able to impede the burly Zach Randolph so that Carlos Boozer can come off a curl for a layup.

After setting the initial cross-screen in the post, the Jazz point guards would next receive a down screen, allowing them to pop back out on the weak-side elbow. With all the smaller Knick bodies tangled up in the chaos, Utah’s point men would frequently wind up with wide open looks at the basket.

Baseline brush screens for Brewer, weak side curls for Kyle Korver, pin-downs for Andrei Kirilenko, all resulted in open looks.

Utah’s unselfishness was noble throughout. The extra pass always looked to be made, one reason why the visitors tallied 29 assists on 40 made baskets.

The Jazz’ baseline rotations were usually on point, but some of their perimeter rotators were confused or tardy.

Carlos Boozer was a bear on the offensive glass, crashing his way to six offensive boards.

Utah obliterated New York’s passing lanes, constantly coming up with steals or deflections. Utah knew and anticipated whenever Zach Randolph would reverse the ball, and always had their hands up to intercept or knock away his telegraphed passes.

Ronnie Brewer led this assault on the passing lanes with seven steals and countless more deflections.

Mehmet Okur’s lumbering drives were surprisingly effective—8-13 FG. He was even able to lurch into the air and complete the slowest developing alley-oop in NBA history.

Ronnie Brewer’s stroke was much smoother than at any point in his first two NBA seasons. He hit all three of his long-range jumpers, including both his threes. If Brewer can add a jumper to his high-flying acrobatics, Utah’s flex offense will be infinitely more dangerous.

Brevin Knight was able to scoot and shoot, 3-7 FG, 5 REB, 6 AST, 2 TO, 10 PTS.

Kirilenko came off the bench like a Swiss-army knife, filling any number of roles Jerry Sloan needed. His on-ball defense neutralized Jamal Crawford, his quick rotations spooked many Knick finishers, and even when he was beat, his long arms allowed him to recover in time to swat the ensuing shot. And when the Knicks were pulling away late in the fourth, Kirilenko was the only one able to hit big shots to keep the game close.

Despite the loss, Utah showed that they have the toughness, the discipline, the pinpoint execution, the instinct to help on defense, and the overall talent to be a force come playoff time. However, the Jazz committed a lot of glaring mistakes that will have to be fixed for the Jazz to be more than a second-tier contender.

The Bad

Despite their unselfishness, the Jazz might be the worst passing team in the NBA, a problem exacerbated by Deron Williams being out of the lineup. Any pass that required any bit of trickiness was an adventure, a problem compounded by the fact that the Knicks were hardly pressuring the ball, and the Jazz had the advantage in creating passing angles against their smaller opponents.

The Jazz are so hardwired to making passes that lead to layups, that they often force passes that aren’t open. Mehmet Okur was especially guilty of this transgression.

Okur’s defense was a problem the entire game. His screen/roll defense was porous and he wasn’t able to go out and contest a handful of Wilson Chandler jumpers. Worse, he’s such a slow jumper, that despite doing a good job of defending Zach Randolph in the post, he was unable to collect himself and grab the defensive rebound, one reason why Zach Randolph grabbed seven (seven!) or the Knicks’ 14 offensive rebounds.

Since Okur and Boozer are so landlocked, and Millsap is undersized, Utah doesn’t have the athletic back line required to protect the basket. And because Boozer has short arms, he can’t adequately throw his hand up when contesting opponents’ jump shots.

Because of Utah’s inadequate back-line defense, the team has to overcompensate in their rotations, one reason why they constantly lead the league in personal fouls.

Since Boozer’s post offense, elbow jump shooting, and relentless rebounding are invaluable to Utah’s offense, Okur may have to be traded for the Jazz to take the next step.

C.J. Miles and Ronnie Price have made improvements, but neither is ready for primetime. Aside from committing offensive mistakes, neither is a very good defender.

Kyle Korver adds range to the Jazz offense, but he’s abhorrent defensively and commits too many turnovers. One possession, Chris Duhon blew by Korver so badly, Korver was beaten by a step and a half.

Plus, Korver’s proven to be an inadequate pressure jump-shooter in the playoffs. Pundits who point out Utah’s success after acquiring Korver last season are strictly focusing on the end and not the means.

Jamal Crawford lit up any Jazz defender not names Kirilenko. Brewer had some success against Crawford, but he also committed a disastrous foul on a Crawford jumper, allowing him to complete a four-point play.

Some of the problems exhibited against the Knicks will be alleviated in the near future. Deron Williams automatically improves Utah’s passing, decision making, athleticism, and jump shooting. Matt Harpring will add stronger defense, rebounding, a nasty off-the-ball player.

Besides a more athletic back-line defender, the Jazz need another playmaker to augment Williams and Kirilenko, and better overall passing.

Until these holes are filled, the Jazz will be a step behind the Lakers and Hornets out West.


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