Utah Jazz: 4 Adjustments Ty Corbin Must Make for the 2011-12 Season
The Jazz shot out of the gate last season with a 27-13 record near the midpoint, but finished with an epic collapse rivaling that of the Roman Empire by winning only 12 of their final 42 games.
After longtime head coach Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned midseason, Ty Corbin took the reigns and finished with an 8-20 record.
The Jazz also traded away their All-Star point guard Deron Williams about that time, and it looks like the team is in a rebuilding mode for the first time since President Jimmy Carter was in office.
The Jazz began a remarkable run of 20 straight playoff appearances including two Finals appearances against the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls' dynasty that began in 1983 and didn't end until John Stockton and Karl Malone rode off into the sunset.
The Jazz have missed the playoffs four times in the past eight seasons, but only two of those years did they have a losing record, last year being one of them.
This franchise has been one of the most consistent in sports for a long period. The ship is listing a bit, but Coach Corbin can right it by making the following four adjustments once the 2011-12 season gets under way:
Improve Team Defense
The Jazz ranked 19th in points allowed per game last season. In the previous seven seasons under Sloan without Stockton and Malone, the team earned an average ranking of 13.6.
Even more telling is what Basketball-Reference.com refers to as Defensive Rating for individual players and teams developed by Dean Oliver. http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/UTA/2004.html The rating is simply the number of points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Jazz ranked 23rd by this measure last year. They earned an average ranking of 15.8 in the previous seven seasons.
Finally, according to the Simple Rating System numbers at www.basketball-reference.com developed by Doug Drinen, the Jazz had an average ranking of 12.6 over the past seven seasons while ranking 20th last year. This system takes into account point differential and strength of schedule.
The Jazz ranked 17th last season in defensive field goal shooting percentage and 29th in defending beyond the arc.
These deficiencies were caused by undisciplined players getting out of position, taking poor angles, an excessive number of layups and dunks and uncontested three-pointers. These are things that can be coached up.
The team has a slew of young athletic players mixed with a handful of savvy veterans. They need to develop cohesion and communication on the defensive end to get back to the hallmark of good Jazz teams of the past, defense.
Develop an Outside Threat
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The Jazz were a solid field-goal shooting team last season, ranking ninth at .465 percent; the trouble came from beyond the arc, where they were only 20th and shot a mere .346 percent.
Teams don't respect the Jazz outside game because nobody has proven to be a legitimate every-game threat that stretches defenses and keeps them from packing the paint.
Second-year pro Gordon Hayward looks to be the guy that can help rectify this problem. As the season wore on, he got more and more minutes and was eventually starting down the stretch. He drained a whopping 47.3 percent of his 74 attempts to give fans a sampling of better days to come from behind the arc.
Alec Burkes has all the tools to develop into a talented two guard, but he needs help with his outside game. If Corbin can develop that part of this kid's game, that's a bonus to what we expect from Hayward.
The only other current player Corbin has on the roster who can consistently knock down the long ball is Memmet Okur, but we'll have to wait and see how is health is.
Without this threat, teams will bottle up the big men and catch the Jazz on too many fast breaks off the misses. This area must improve.
The point guard position is like quarterback in football; it's a natural position of leadership because the ball is in that player's hands so much of the time and he is the decision maker.
Deron Williams was a solid leader on the court from the point, but he's gone. Devin Harris is the man at the helm and he needs to step up. Corbin can help with this by developing the kind of relationship Jerry Sloan had with John Stockton.
Yes, Sloan came to trust Stockton's decision making exclusively, but that came with experience and playmaking. It didn't happen overnight—neither will it be the case for Devin Harris, but the more he becomes a good decision maker and gets his teammates in positions to maximize their abilities, the more Corbin will trust him.
Raja Bell is a respected leader on the team and always has been, but Corbin needs to develop leadership from his young players. As they gain more confidence, the hope is that confidence will breed a desire to have the ball in critical moments when teammates are inspired and motivated to take their games to another level.
Confident teams are a breeding ground for leadership because they have a certain swagger that tells their opponents they won't back down.
The Jazz need to get back to winning to give their young players the confidence that develops their leadership potential.
Find the Right Lineup Combinations
Jerry Sloan was pretty effective at learning which players to play with one another, making sure to counter his opponents' substitutions and lineups with lineups that took advantage of the opponents' weaknesses and kept Utah's weaknesses from being exposed or taken advantage of.
This is a sixth sense for NBA coaches that comes with experience and a meticulous knowledge of each player's strengths and weaknesses and how those work in combination with the other players on the team and the positions they play.
Ty Corbin will learn this on the fly, but the sooner he gets it, the more beneficial it will be for the Jazz and the more detrimental it will be for their opponents.
It will take experimentation. At times last season we saw Earl Watson and Devin Harris on the court together. We saw Hayward manning both the two and three spots. We saw Millsap sliding to the five. Perhaps it's time to shift Jeremy Evans to the three instead of strictly working the four to get him more opportunities.
These are the decisions Corbin will have to make while monitoring the success or failure of different combinations and then make the appropriate adjustments.
Hopefully it won't take long and won't come at the expense of wins.
It's a travesty that Ty Corbin has not had the luxury of summer camp and preseason to work with his players. These adjustments will have to come during the course of the season—if that ever happens—and it will certainly be a crash course season in developing and improving these aspects of his team for Corbin.
His coaching effectiveness will be that much more under the microscope, but an improved defense where players are more disciplined, an outside threat, the maturation and development of leadership among his young players and quickly finding the best lineup combinations will put this Jazz team on the inside track to rapid improvement.