The Utah Jazz have followed an age-old concept for winning over the past five months: Go big or go home. It’s a Lakers-like recipe that has seen Shaquille O’Neal paired with Samake Walker and Pau Gasol hip-sewn to Andrew Bynum with a sprinkle of Lamar Odom just for flavor.
The major differences are that the Jazz front office has yet to see the fruits of their labor in the win column and they had to wheel and deal to pick up Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and this year’s third overall pick that’s been named Enes Kanter.
The Shaqs of the world aren’t exactly flirting with the notion of willingly opting to head to Small Market Town, USA.
No. If the Jazz brass want to get things done, they have to do it the same way Jerry Sloan had been asked to get it done, the same way Sloan demanded his players get it done: hard work. Elbow grease. Know-how. There will be no red carpet in Utah unless it has been stained with sacrificial blood and sweat from the managers, scouts, coaching staff and players. That’s not changing anytime soon.
Welcome to the Beehive State.
The good news is that the controversial Deron Williams trade from February has ultimately landed them Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, 13 feet and nine inches of raw, unharnessed, court-swallowing talent in a league that hasn’t seen a point guard lead his team to the NBA glory since Magic or Zeke in the 1980s.
Now that the pair of 19-year-old giants have been added to a Jazz frontcourt that features Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, two undersized players at their positions, analysts have frequented the idea that Utah will wheel and deal even more.
Too many cooks in the kitchen. And most basketball gurus agree that winning teams run their bigs three deep, not four—Bynum, Gasol and Odom format.
Paul Millsap has been the target of most of the talk, dating back to June 14 when Chad Ford reported: “Jazz looking for deals. Would be open to discussing Paul Milsap or Devin Harris.”
This shouldn’t have been as big of news as it is or will continue to be. The truth is that the Jazz general manager, Kevin O’Connor, has an open-door policy when it comes to “discussing” potentiality. It’s his job as GM to listen to everything. He buys and sells accordingly.
If Deron Williams is tradable, it’s not a surprise that anybody else could be.
However, it’s difficult to ignore that a three-big rotation are the wheels to success in the NBA. Utah has four if Mehmet Okur doesn’t come back from injury. So maybe they have five.
The Jazz-fan consensus has been to trade Jefferson, and all of the arguments have remained the same. He can’t guard the pick-and-roll. He’s lazy. He stalls the offense and eats the ball. He’s a horrible defender.
That’s truth you speak, Jazz nation, in most regards.
But let’s look at some other truths.
Defense is a team effort. Always has been. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t win an NBA championship without being paired next to Tyson Chandler. Nobody was being fooled into believing that Nowitzki was a defensive player, but the Dallas Mavericks understood that the right frontcourt partner could help alleviate or mask his defensive ineptitude.
Millsap is a bad defender, too. He gave up nearly as many points as he scored this season, the difference being a total of 10 points in his favor (all statistics according to 82games.com). Remove his "11 points in 28 seconds" miracle that took place in Miami and his numbers are in the red. He also allowed opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field for the year.
Basically, all the production Millsap put up offensively his opponent happily reciprocated on the other end of the floor and with a similar clip.
One of the other largest-looming problems with Millsap is one typically tagged to Jefferson: the pick-and-roll. Yes, Jefferson can’t defend it. Time and time again he gets stuck defending nobody at the top of the key. But when Jefferson gets cemented by the pick-and-roll, somebody has to be there to guard the basket. Millsap cannot.
The pair of Millsap and Jefferson simply doesn’t work. Offensively they were great, as they were the second-highest scoring 4-5 combination in the NBA, only behind Nowitzki and Chandler, but it was highly overshadowed in the win-loss department, which said the Jazz were in the bottom third of all NBA defenses.
So who do they deal? Millsap or Jefferson?
Kevin O’Connor said to the Salt Lake Tribune that he doesn’t believe he can have too many big men. But there are gaping holes in Utah’s roster, particularly at small forward, and now the Jazz have options.
The truth is that Millsap will always be undersized. He’s always going to give up points because of it.
Jefferson, on the other hand, even with his defensive issues, can be paired with a Favors or a Kanter in a way that doesn’t compromise the basket and he’s one of the league’s best shot-blockers. He’s also a bigger space-eater and better scorer than Millsap.
NBA history will always say the same thing: Go big or go home.