04 January 2011
By Jake Jeppsen (@CowhideGlobe)
The Physics of Chemistry
First, thank you to a good friend of mine who encouraged me to write this piece through great conversation. You know who you are. Much appreciated.
Go on a journey with me. Close your eyes. Ok, not really, since that makes reading difficult. Now pretend you are the floor leader of a professional basketball team. You call the plays. You call the shots. You are relied upon in the clutch. You are the man, as they say.
You’ve come through for the squad time and time again. Sometimes, you were the sole reason for your team’s success. You are an All-Star and YOU KNOW IT. Now…we take a turn down a different road.
Success isn’t coming as easy this year…to you, at least. You’re struggling to find your stride in getting the team involved like you’re accustomed to. You struggle early, and often. Yet others around you are succeeding, and big time.
Yet somehow, your team is winning, so it COULD be tolerable. But you’re unhappy. Why? Because you are no longer THAT GUY. The guy who is praised for carrying a squad. The guy who gets credit for the team’s success. The guy who is always talked about.
You’re no longer “The Man”.
KFAN Radio’s Ben Bagley (@benbags) tweeted the following after the Utah Jazz’ 102-97 victory over the Detroit Pistons: “Interesting Utah Jazz locker room. Lots of joy over 4th qtr & win. Deron lone voice thatreally stressed play needs to be better earlier…Raja & AK said the players have talked about the concern,but both enjoyed the Utah Jazz win. Deron was ALL about the early poor play.”
Now, before you start murdering me for suggesting the Deron Williams is no longer the man in Utah, read further. This man is, in fact, the man in Utah. But Bagley’s tweets give us a deeper look into the mind of D-Will. And I see two glaring facts about him that hopefully you see as well.
Deron is a perfectionist. Jazz fans criticizing him for his “negativity” need to understand that his imperfections fuel him. Sometimes to a fault, sadly. Deron expects zero mistakes from himself, because he knows how good he is, and can be. But then he expects it of his teammates. This is fine, to a certain extent. I want my leaders expecting perfection. But, as pointed out to me during our aforementioned conversation, this expectation at times leads to detrimental results and stagnation. Bad body language and sulking causes more damage than good.
What is the result? Slow starts by the starters. Nervousness about making the smallest mistake. Early deficits. Finger pointing. Nothing going right. That is, until the bench unit backcourt - led by Earl Watson and Ronnie Price – come in to calm the storm.
Wait. Earl Watson and Ronnie Price? Cleaning up a mess that Deron Williams has left behind? That can’t be…right. Can it? Sadly, folks, it has been for nearly every one of Utah’s 35 games so far this season. Now, obviously, Deron isn’t solely to blame for the slow starts. It goes deeper than one position. All are accountable to the poor starts, but Deron’s inner drive for ”Gr8ness” pushes him so strongly, it is having an adverse effect on his squad. And it’s obvious.
Adapting to change can be difficult. Deron played alongside Carlos Boozer for many years. They knew each other, understood each other. It became routine. And now? Change. One that is not happening overnight.
Nothing hammers this point home more than the infamous “Bullet Pass To Your Head” Gordon Hayward incident in the 2nd game of the season. A misunderstanding. A wrong route. A rookie who didn’t know better. And the veteran openly (and rather childishly) reprimands him for not living to up his standards. This was during a game. We don’t see what happens behind closed doors at practices.
Think guys are afraid of living up to Deron’s expectations? No one wants to make a mistake. Guys aren’t playing loose like the second unit. The bench is energetic, free-flowing goodness on the eyes. The starters are stiff and, at times, emotionless. CJ Miles postgame said it best (to paraphrase): They sure can get it done in the 4th quarter. Why can’t they do it in the 1st?
How many of you have ever struggled financially in life after at one time being self sufficient? It’s embarrassing. You become so accustomed to taking care of yourself (and your family, if the shoe fits), that accepting assistance from someone else feels degrading. It becomes an issue of pride.
In a basketball sense, Utah’s superstar point guard is coming to the realization he needs help. And it’s not easy to admit. This is one of the league’s greatest, if not top, point guards (we won’t get into that tired argument). How could he, THE Deron Williams, need to rely on anybody to succeed? He’s the man, right?
Deron has pride. It has to be frustrating for a player of his caliber to be an integral part of these slow starts, then see Watson and Price enter the game and eliminate deficits like it’s nothing. Granted, he is facing starters while Earl and Ronnie battle back ups, but the energy discrepancy is so tangible, you can practically taste it. A light switch goes on when the star goes out. And it pains me to say that. Honestly.
It’s has to be bothering Deron to see the bench “scrubs” having to be the heroes, knowing full well he is more than capable of being THAT guy. He’s happy for their success. He’s just used to being the man. Luckily, he has help this year, something he hasn’t always had (unless, of course, you consider Jason Hart and Brevin Knight help). Something he isn’t used to relying on. Hell, if he’s smart, he can learn a thing or two from ‘em.
He is a perfectionist. He has pride. And the two things that drive him to be the best sometimes drive the teammates he plays alongside backwards.
I know this has a negative feel to it. That was not my intention. In fact, there are many positives to be taken from these words. This team is ahead of schedule, development wise. Jerry has struck gold on a bench squad that exemplifies true hustle and heart, a deadly combo. Oh, yeah – and Utah is winning on the road (11-5!!!!). Be happy, Jazz fans. You have a lot to be thankful for. And a lot to look forward to.
For all the “woes” Jazz fans are having with these slow starts – THE JAZZ ARE WINNING GAMES. Clint Peterson (@clintonite33) pointed out via Twitter: "Jazz fans, realize just how far ahead of schedule this team is. Teams with this many new faces rarely get to the tune of 70% wins.” So freaking true.
We’re really nitpicking with the slow starts stuff if the team is still 24-11. Would wire-to-wire blowouts be preferable? Sure. But get real. That happens rarely for ANY team. And, as David Locke pointed out, the Jazz are 6-1 in games decided by 5 points or less. Last year? 9-9. And 4-6 at this point last year. Pleasing trend, indeed.
So cheer up. This team will kick it into high gear, just like they do every January/February. But it’s going to take a little something extra this year. Deron Williams has to be the leader his team needs him to be.
His statistical numbers are there. The wins are there. But the chemistry among the starters is not. Instead of being overly critical (including of yourself), lighten up once in a while. Address the concerns, but don’t dwell on them. Express frustration, but follow it up with encouragement (which Williams has done, let it be known). You can’t always be a cheerleader, but you can’t always be a Grinch.
Be a leader beyond stats. Be the leader these boys deserve. Elite awaits.
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