26 February 2012
"It's about pursuing it rather than waiting to see what comes along. That's partly because I found myself getting typecast, as everyone does unless they pursue roles that are very different from what they've done before."
While reading one of my favorite weekly authors, our own Kyle Kirkham and his Utah Jazz Player of the Week, (if you haven't been following these, shame on you. Kyle puts a lot of research into his posts and presents them very well indeed) I found the Al Jefferson numbers extremely interesting.
The premise is a stereotype of sorts, that he puts up big numbers on bad teams, in the process creating the opposite of the intended effect, to win the game, a reputation garnered, fairly or not, from his years of putting up 20/10s in Minnesota (there's a whole other tangent here we won't go into today, but it includes having poor teammate options and coaching on the Timberwolves in his time there, as well as a losing culture that fostered an environment of "I'ma get mine").
Up in the Twin Cities I could see how a rep such as this was attained, but it feels unfair to the new-and-improved Big Al as currently constituted on this Jazz team. He wasn't a willing passer before, but we've seen now that he is, whether finding cutters or feeling the double coming on defense and kicking it back out.
"He seems to know based on how he is being defended where he is going with the ball [every time]."
-Locked On Jazz
Al is so talented in the post with his hands, body, and feet that he has the ability to get a shot off under almost any circumstances, really a throwback to a previous age that's by and large gone from today's NBA, an ability under-appreciated by the fast-paced standards of the current ADHD age of 140 characters or less. It's too easy to simply isolate a couple of categories and make sizable generalizations from them because that's not the style you prefer to see. But it doesn't mean the method isn't effective in the course of chasing victory.
Whereas in Minnesota Al found that he could always get a shot off, even if triple teamed, and did, this year for the Jazz we see him draw defenders to his spot on the low, left block, then often move the ball elsewhere starting a series of flex cuts and ball movement in the flow of the intended offense. And without Al Jefferson's 10-19 the Jazz are never even in the game with the San Antonio Spurs with a chance to win late. Al is the only guy on the Jazz's roster you can play the odds on a given offensive possession with. Everyone else is far too inconsistent to gamble on when points are at a premium at any point in a given contest.
Simply put, he's the bread and butter.
I don't recall if it was Phil Johnson, Ron Boone, Thurl Bailey, or someone else, but during some recent analysis involving the Jazz's struggles and Al Jefferson something that was said stuck with me.
"Al Jefferson is the least of the Jazz's problems."
It's an oversimplification to pin Utah's troubles on any one guy, but what is clear is that the Jazz have struggled to close games out, be it coming back or holding off an opponent. When things go wrong it's all too easy to say "so-and-so's just a career a loser, play the new guys," however, the Jazz, aside from Raja Bell, Earl Watson, and Josh Howard are still really young, and none of those players are your late go-to guys. It's easy to think of Al as old and decrepit, but he's only 27, still learning to win, for once with a franchise that actually cares about winning.
Usually, it takes young teams -- and the coaching staff is included here -- years to learn how to win close ones. Old teams win a lot of close games for a reason with their acquired savvy; they know how to from experience.
It's not as if Al Jefferson is shooting the Jazz out of games -- in fact, I'd assert the opposite, that without him they'd be in far fewer in the first place. But there is one key area of his game that has hurt the Jazz's chances in close ones this year, his scoring in the clutch. It's inexplicably way down, and I mean way down. However, he's not dominating the ball in the clutch, stealing touches from other players in an attempt at hero-ball or anything. In fact, he's taking less clutch-time FGAs this year than any other I can find data for (since he's been a starter).
From 82 Games
The Jazz are predictable in the end-game scenario. There's only one player you can pencil in on a nightly basis and opposing scouts know this. That's makes any standard, normal play in the course of the game much harder to pull off when it counts at the end. "They're going to go to Al." Yep. We know.
To Ty's credit, in the heartbreaker against Minnesota they at least didn't run a predictable Al isolation play this time, although you probably don't generally want a career 36%-from-16-23-feet shooter taking a 19-footer in a pick-and-pop (although to Al's credit he made the shot. He's shooting a career best from mid-range with the Jazz, about 5% better as a Jazzman than previously).
While it's our nature as the fan to want to point fingers and out-guess brass and staff alike after a loss, the fact is, the Jazz are a lot closer than most thought they'd be to competing at this point. As Kenny Smith said in Friday's All-Star festivities, "The Jazz are one guy away."
They're just young, and making primary playing time even younger isn't really solving anything. All that would do is make the future Jazz the former Timberwolves. Have patience. Let us learn along with them how to win again.
How Doc Rivers Won the Game for Boston
|< Prev||Next >|