23 January 2011
A change in the starting lineup didn't have the desired effect so many had hoped it would. It was speculated, rather widely, that inserting Gordon Hayward for Andrei Kirilenko against the Philadelphia 76ers might give the Utah Jazz a shot in the arm. The lineup change came on the heels of a Deron Williams comment concerning head coach Jerry Sloan, the floor general saying, "It's never been his characteristics to change anything."
Despite the switch, the Jazz were typically out-scored in the first quarter, right on their season average, 26 to 22.
It wasn't the only tweak Sloan made either. It had been suggested that maybe tightening the rotation would make a difference as well. However, despite playing only nine players, instead of the usual eleven or twelve, there again was no difference to be found in the Jazz's efforts to break out of the startling slump they're in.
That's two popular suggestions down in the process of elimination in the quest to fix what's broken. As fans become increasingly restless their next suggestion in the ESA's comments box will surely become more seriously considered, or at least more loudly vocalized; make a trade.
I've said all along it's not a personnel problem, and I stand by that more than ever. Besides, what makes folks think yet another infusion of fresh blood will speed up the learning curve after the team already added seven fresh faces in the offseason?
It really begins and ends on the defensive end.
Through the first quarter of the season the Jazz were a top defensive team with a middling offense. They went 15-5.
Since then the script has been flipped. Now they are hovering around 6th in O-Rating and 17th in D-Rating, 12-12 since and on a heinous four-game slide with no end in sight. Clearly, the most glaring deficiency is on the defensive end of the 94 feet that comprise a basketball court. Here's how bad defensively they've actually been over the last five games, by position, highlighting noticeable areas.
Jazz opponents over last five games:
C 21.2 pts, 13.6 reb, 2.6 blk, .519 FG%, 8.4 FTAs, .619 FT%, +2.4 Differential Efficiency
PF 23.4 pts, 10.0 reb, 16.4 FGAs, .537 FG%, 6.0 FTAs, .833 FT% +3.6 Diff Eff
As for the Jazz over the same span, the C is putting up 20.4 pts on 15.4 FGAs, and 11.0 rebs, and the PF 22.4 on 16.4 FGAs, and 11.2 rebs, two 20/10'ers offensively. That should be enough offense from a frontcourt to win a game, provided a modicum of defense is being played. It's not.
As a team, over the last five games, the Jazz have given up the fourth-most points in the paint and second-most free throw attempts, 44.6 pts and 14.4 FTAs. Opposing teams are waltzing into the paint, leaving it with a smug smile and pile of points on their way out.
PG 20.0 pts, 10.6 ast, 5.6 TOs, -3.2 Diff Eff
Nice job by Deron to force the majority of the opposing turnovers comprising that 5.6-per-game. Unfortunately it's effectively negated by his own. The PG position for the Jazz has made 5.6 TOs of it's own over the sample span. "Jazz basketball" is comprised of staunch defense and execution on offense. We are seeing neither.
And those PPG and assist numbers should belong to Deron, not his opponent. The differential efficiency shows he's out-scoring his man. A perennial leader in the dimes category, while the Jazz as a team are putting up the third-most assists, they've also given up the second-most assists-per-game over the last five, 25.6. Again, the Jazz have made scoring too easy for their counterpart.
SF 17.4 pts, 2.6 TOs, 60% FG, 50% 3-PtFG, -1.4 Diff Eff
This is the only other position the Jazz actually have a positive differential efficiency in over the last five games. It's also the lowest scoring opposing position.
It also happens to be the position that most Jazz fans would like to see traded away, Andrei Kirilenko's starting spot until the last game. Since AK frequently slides to the 4-spot in the rotation he's only partially to blame for those poor opposing FG percentages. And when you take into account that the least actual damage to the Jazz's side of the scoreboard is being done here it makes less sense to point the finger at him as the problem or the lineup change solution.
SG 21.2 pts, 6.6 rebs, 6.6 ast, .953 FT% on 5.4 FTAs -12 Diff Eff (league worst over last 5)
OUCH. Shooting guards should not be getting that many rebounds or assists, especially when you take into account how many of the league's lame ducks the Jazz have played in the last five games, Cleveland, New Jersey, Washington, and Philadelphia.
And when we factor in the amount of points that the center, power forward, and shooting guards are giving up at the free throw line alone in the last five we find the Jazz putting themselves deep into a 15-point hole every game. Fifteen (15) opposing points-per-game just from freebies at only three positions! That's outrageous. It's an indication that the team is playing virtually no defense other than weakly swiping at the ball when they repeatedly get beat by their offender.
Yes, I said "offender." Because frankly, I'm offended by this atrocious defensive effort.
As a vocal defender of Raja Bell in the starting lineup, this analysis indicates that he and his 32 minutes-per-game over the last five needs to take a seat for a spell in favor of career-year-all-around CJ Miles, despite his recent team-high, and ever-improving 3-point shooting. The trade-off on defense is simply too stark, ironic for a guy brought in touted as a defender.
Of all the lineup changes that could be made, Sloan chose the one that statistically had the least impact and chance of actually improving the team. Not that it was on purpose, but in hindsight it wasn't a high-impact maneuver by any stretch.
If there's another to be made that might make a defensive impact on the team it's statistically-speaking Paul Millsap that needs to take a break. He'd no doubt sulk about it, but frankly, I'm sick of the slumped shoulders and whining anyway.
Your body language in a battle of any kind sends a loud and clear message to your opponent. You show 'em they've beat you like that and they smell blood in the water. Half the battle is already lost.
Deron wants the team to get it's "swagger" back. But swagger isn't a word, it's a state of being that makes the opposition think twice about challenging you. The entire team has taken it's lead from moody-Deron and begun giving their opponent an edge by physically showing them that they've been gotten to, that they're reeling. It's only a small step from there to the knock-out punch.
He, rightfully, wants to lead, and readily admits he's at a loss at times as how to go about doing so. Not letting your opponent see that they just got you down would be a start.
So would be doing a little more homework.
The Boston Celtics won their recent game with the Jazz exactly 3 minutes and 42 seconds into it. That's when Rajon Rondo forced Deron Williams into his second foul of the game, sending him to the bench.
Deron quipped after the game that the Celtics knew exactly what the Jazz were about to do offensively before they even got to running the play. How did they know?
Minutes before the game Rajon Rondo was seen intently studying frame-by-frame film of Deron Williams, specifically his offensive moves. He would also have realized that a Utah team that just lost two games to the dregs of the NBA would come out aggressive, ready to try and win back their confidence at the expense of his own mental well-being.
Armed with this in-depth knowledge and a sound game plan, Rondo focused all his efforts into shutting down the oppositions best player by beating him to his spots on the floor. He succeeded in mere moments, effectively winning the game for his 'mates less than four minutes in, allowing an elderly-in-NBA-terms Celtics squad to further their careers all the more, this time having been saved by Rondo from their biggest enemy at this point, time itself.
In other words, he did it with defense.
Everything else you get after that is icing.
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