Saturday marked the homecoming of a very important figure in Utah Jazz history. We all know him. He contributed to some of the greatest moments in recent memory. A point guard all of us rallied behind and loved dearly. Yes, you know who I’m talking about.
The man, they myth and the legend: Sundiata Gaines.
Wait, huh? Yes, Sundiata’s return to Utah two years to the date (January 14, 2010) of his NBA debut and desperation game winning, fade away triple is forever etched in our memories. But this night’s homecoming was centered around two long time Jazzmen, traded to New Jersey in the past year. And while the game result for Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur and their New Jersey Nets was rather forgettable, the impressions left on them by Jazz fans in the arena will no doubt stay with them for a while.
Introductions saw a mix of emotions. Okur, the loveable 3-point assassin and longtime Jazz man, was given a warm reception overall. Williams, however, received a smattering boos among the few cheers. And while I have my own opinions on the matter (I felt Deron’s commitment to the Utah Jazz and the community in general warranted more respect than he was given last night), I understand the general vibe that was present at Energy Solutions Arena. I'll explain later.
And, hey, if they we trying to rattle Deron, it worked. Williams struggled all night to find a groove, finishing with a quiet 16 points on 3-15 shooting. Hardly the return I’m sure he’d hoped for. New Jersey, fresh off an exhausting victory the night before in Phoenix, were no match for the well rested Jazz, who after Saturday’s 107-94 victory over the Nets have now won six of their last seven.
Changing of the guard: Deron Williams blocked by Al Jefferson at Energy Solutions Arena (photo courtesy of Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Utah, led by an early 15-2 first quarter run, grabbed the reins and never looked back. Paul Millsap has been in All-Star form during Utah’s recent tear, and Saturday saw more of the same, finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds and a team high +/- of +15. More importantly, Millsap’s stellar play, combined with the rest of the starters, enabled them to sit the entire fourth quarter in preparation for tonight’s important division game in Denver.
A moment that brought a smile to my face was watching C.J. Miles defend Deron Williams. The two are good friends and both highly competitive. At one point, Deron drew a foul on C.J., doubling over after getting hit in the face (not by C.J., but by his own bicep). Miles, familiar with Deron’s play, laughed and applauded the act as if to say, “You win this round, buddy.” Later, Deron would try to cross Miles over, only to have C.J. force him to the corner and into a bad pass…right into the arms of Enes Kanter. Touché.
Two recently-under-fire wings, Raja Bell and C.J. Miles, had outstanding performances on both ends. Bell would finish with a season-high 12 points (5-6 FG), all of them coming in the first half. And who knew Bell could still get up and dunk? The recipient of a fast break outlet pass, Bell went up strongly to dunk over his pursuant, Jordan Farmar. Miles, off the bench, would kick in 17 points, hitting six of his eight attempts to break out of a recent shooting slump. A highlight was his pick-pocketing of longtime teammate Okur under the Jazz basket, followed up by a nasty two-hand dunk in the same sequence. A stiff test awaits Utah tonight, and a similar output by Bell and Miles will be crucial to Utah’s success.
Earl Watson had a sweet over the shoulder dish to a trailing Alec (Eric) Burks for a lovely two-handed fast break finish. Watson’s play has been instrumental in Utah’s current run.
Enes Kanter’s motor continues to impress. I find myself repeating this often, but once this young man can learn to finish around the rim (no pump fakes, Enes…JUST GO UP STRONG!), watch out. Rebounding comes so natural to him, and it’s truly a joy to watch him out there. Kanter chipped in a solid 7 points (3-6 FG), 8 rebounds and 2 steals in 18 minutes last night.
Utah is now 7-4, winning six of their last seven games (the sole loss in an overtime thriller at home against the Lakers). Gaining in the win column and in confidence, Utah’s early season success is translating into cohesion and chemistry for a team that truly looked lost early on. A little home cookin’ will do that for you. The Jazz get another crack at the Nuggets tonight in Denver in an attempt to avenge the December 28th beat down doled out by Nene and company.
#JeremyEvansAlert. Nice to see him get in the game and nearly pull off a horribly thrown alley-oop from Jamaal Tinsley. Any playing time for Jeremy Evans is reason to celebrate.
For good measure, it was refreshing to see Sundiata Gaines hit a three in the fourth quarter with the clock winding down. Luckily, it wasn't a clutch three to sink his opponent. Two years ago, one of the most spectacular regular season Jazz games unfolded with the feel good story of Gaines' call up to the NBA. To you, Sundiata, we tip our hats. You'll always have a special place in Jazz fans' hearts.
Happy days, Sundiata. Thank you for the memories. (Photo courtesy of rotoninjas.com)
I would be remiss if I didn’t speak my mind on the elephant in the room, better known as the boos that rained down on Deron Williams. I begin with a disclaimer that each and every person is entitled to their opinion on the matter. I understand the boos. Many felt Deron ran a beloved, hall of fame coach out of town. Many felt Deron was unhappy in Utah and was bound to leave eventually. Many felt his general surliness and negativity translated into poor leadership, even though his talent and toughness were rarely called into question.
I get it. Trust me. And during introductions, while I would have cheered had I been able to attend, I see why there were some boos mixed in. I don’t agree with it, but I can certainly accept that not everyone sees it the way I do.
What I can’t wrap my head around is the incessant booing throughout the game. This has typically been reserved for the vilest of the vile, according to Jazz fans. Think Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Think 2006-08 Tracy McGrady. Think Carlos Boozer and anyone else who has slighted Utah in any way, shape or form. I could only imagine the reception Ric Bucher would get in a pregame, press-in-attendance style introduction.
You’re really gonna put Deron Williams in that class? REALLY? I can’t accept that.
Take Deron, a man who, for all of his faults, gave his all to the Utah Jazz for many years. This is a guy Jazz fans would frequently and fervently defend as the “best point guard in the NBA”, even though the popular choice was and is Chris Paul. A man whose contributions to Utah reach far beyond his work on the hardwood (think Point of Hope Foundation). A man who was the centerpiece to a team reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2007, and rekindled a flame of love for the Jazz that many a casual fan had seen die out post-Stockton-to-Malone.
Those shoes weren’t easy to fill. Deron Williams was a main part of the reason Utah stayed relevant after relying on its legends for so many years. Many teams slip into years of rebuilding. Utah experienced a minor road bump. Jazz fans can thank Deron Williams in large part for that. Always taking the high road, Williams has moved on from the Jazz and continually had nothing but praise for his time in Utah.
Booing Deron Williams during intros was somewhat expected, and understandable to certain point. Booing him during the game on each touch was over the top, classless and disrespectful to a player who, although no longer with the team, meant a lot to the Jazz organization, fans and Utah’s community. I was in attendance for Boozer’s return to ESA (coincidentally Jerry Sloan’s final game as coach of the Utah Jazz). Boos for Boozer (perhaps the fans were chanting “BOOOOOZ” as they had so many times in the past) faded quickly into silence of indifference. The boos carried on far longer for Williams. To me, it’s indefensible.
Going back through my Twitter timeline last night, there was a great outpouring of apologies and appreciation toward Deron. Obviously it wasn’t every fan in attendance that was booing. Jazz fans everywhere should be thankful for Williams’ contributions to Utah. We could’ve tastefully thanked him for that last night and shown that Jazz fans understand the big picture…and most didn’t. It’s unfortunate. But, as @LostTacoVendor pointed out last night, fans booed Karl Malone’s return to Utah as a Laker. So I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised.no comments
(Photo via Michael Brandy, Deseret News)
As much as I wish I could say so, I haven’t been a Jazz fan my whole life. I’m 19 years old right now, and have only been a diehard since 8th grade. I followed the Jazz when I was younger thanks to the Jr. Jazz program, but didn’t maintain much interest as I started my teenage years. That all changed when I moved from Farmington Utah, up to good ole’ Cache Valley. I moved a few days before school started, so I had no friends. As I desperately tried to find new friends, I remember having a class with a kid who I had seen at church. All I knew about him was he loved the Jazz. I wasn’t much of a fan of sitting alone at lunch, so I decided to look into the Jazz so I could talk to him about. I remember going to the Utah Jazz website and reading that the Jazz had started 4-0, so asked him about it the next day. With that friendship was born, and with that also a passionate fandom. I owe my friend Nathan Sproul (@sproul13 on Twitter) my soul when it comes to being a Jazz fan, I won’t forget that Nathan. But I’m not here to thank him today; I’m here to thank Deron Williams.
My first memory of Deron isn’t too exciting. “A ball-hog who is good at threes” Those were the first words I heard describing Deron Williams, as a different friend (this is before I moved) told me about the rookie guard as we headed to a Jazz game one March evening. It was Karl Malone jersey retirement that night, the only reason I was going. The Jazz lost that game vs the Wizards, I don’t think it was even close. I don’t remember much about Deron playing, just that the opposing team hitting three after three. I didn’t watch any other games that season.
Fast forward to the 06-07 season when the Jazz make an unbelievable run into the Western Conference Finals, my first year as a diehard fan. (What a season to get hooked, eh?) I remember being amazed by Deron’s play, especially throughout that playoff run, when he leaped over Boozer as my favorite Jazz player. I won’t ever forget that game winner vs the Warriors. I watched that game at my neighbors since I didn’t have the channel. I remember jumping off the couch when he dunked on Oberto the next round, even though the game was pretty much over. I remember his incredible game when we slaughtered the Spurs in game 3 of the WCF, which I listened to most of on the radio. After losing to the Spurs, despite being sad I couldn’t help but be excited for the bright future Williams had, I was right.
(Photo Via Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
The next few seasons were amazing to say the least. It was probably the Hornets game, where Deron crossed Chris Paul and slammed on Tyson Chandler, that made me become an obsessive fan of his, at “Man Crush” levels even. Every persuasive essay I wrote in English, was me proving why D-Will as better than CP3 (Always scored good grades on them). I mastered that argument. I bought a jersey from each team he ever played for (HS, College, NBA, All Star, Olympic) and even got them all signed (that was hard). D-Will even had a shrine in my room, constantly weirding my family out.
Man, I’ll never forget his shots either. All the clutch ones, he had so many. That go to crossover jumper, the one we saw him use on Kobe, Allen, Terry, and so many others. There were not many players I have watched who want to win more than Deron, and unfortunately that’s part of why he’s gone.
When you watched Deron it was hard not to love his will to win. However, the same didn’t go for the stubbornness that came along with it. I didn’t have a problem with it, because he was leading our team to the playoffs each year. Then last season came along. Not exactly the fresh start some of us expected. When I try to think of a word to describe last season, “frustrating” comes to mind. It was frustrating to the players, coaches, fans, the entire Utah Jazz organization, and especially to Deron Williams. It wasn’t hard to tell, since his play often matched his mind.
I was in school when the trade went down. David Locke tweeted about it and I got the message through a text. I remember just sitting there, in complete disbelief. I didn’t have a clue what was happening, and why it was. I spent the rest of the day talking to my friends about it, trying to figure out whether we had done something good, or something really bad. But I’m not going to talk about whether I think it was the right move or not (it was) or whether I think Deron forced Sloan out (He played a role), I’m here to thank Deron.
(Photo via Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
Some of Deron’s best work goes unnoticed for some, as it didn’t come on the court. Deron founded his own charity, the Point of Hope Foundation, a program that helps children in need. Deron hosted many golf tournaments for charity, he and Korver also started the Dodge Barrage, another charity driven event. I’m sure it doesn’t end there either. Sometimes people forget that basketball is just a sport at the end of the day, and there are more important things in life, Deron Williams didn’t.
With that, I’d like to thank Deron. Thanks for crossovers, thanks for the dunks. Thanks for hitting big time shots and winning big time games. Thanks for leading us on fun and exciting playoff runs. Thanks for everything, on and off the court. I won’t forget what you did for this community. Thank you D-Will.
(Photo via Michael Brandy, Deseret News)
I have been trying to find a way to visually gauge how the minute distribution between players is evolving over the course of the season. It is too easy to take things out of context, as in last night thinking “wow C.J. Miles minutes are really declining…” In fact, they had been fairly steady until last night, so it might be a little early to be making conclusions like that. Also, with this shortened season, I have become convinced that Ty Corbin has a plan to win the war of attrition by spreading out his minutes a lot more than most teams. The numbers don’t necessarily indicate that so far however, especially with regards to Al Jefferson.
I had to split these up somewhat because there are only so many line graphs you can put on one plot and still be able to make any sense of them. I decided to follow the ‘Point Guard—Wing—Big’ model that I have heard David Locke say a few times (not really sure who deserves the ultimate credit for coming up with it). While some players are capable of playing multiple positions, as in playing the 3 or the 4, I kept it simple and assumed that for the most part there are ‘Bigs’ on our team and ‘Wings’ on our team and they are competing within in their only player class for minutes.
Figure 1. Point Guards
The point guard situation is definitely the clearest, and least surprising. Jamaal Tinsley is obviously our third point guard on the roster and should expect very little outside of garbage time and a lot of DNP-CD’s unless Devin or Earl get hurt. I can’t imagine anyone (including Tinsley) is terribly shocked by this.
What I do find interesting is that, despite who is in the starting lineup, the distribution of minutes would indicate that Earl Watson and Devin Harris are getting an equal share of the minutes more or less. It will be fascinating to see if this is how Ty plans on doing it all year long to keep them both fresh, or if there is a legitimate competition right now for the role as our primary point guard. I would say more than a few people out there (and possibly right here) would argue Earl is the better man for the job, but who knows.
Figure 2. Wings
The first thing that pops out to me is Alec Burks. It would seem that, small sample size notwithstanding, he has played himself right into the rotation. And despite some poor shooting, his uncanny ability to get to the line is going to keep him there.
The second thing that pops out to me is Raja Bell. Throw out the Laker game and his minutes are about as regular as a high-fiber diet (which, by the way, is highly recommended by your doctor!). What’s not shown here, but can be seen if you look at the minute distribution provided by popcornmachine.net, is that he is starting both halves, playing about nine minutes, and then sitting. It’s a very strange and unusual rotation to say the least. He did finally have a good game last night, so I would not be shocked if Raja remains a solid 18 minute guy for a little while longer
Beyond that there are more questions than answers. Is C.J. really on the downswing, or was last night just one game? I will be definitely be watching to see if he gets more run tonight on the back end of a back-to-back. What about Josh Howard? He has been playing solid, despite being somewhat of a ball-hog. He knows how to get to the line and it’s easy to see why he is being trusted to close out games. Hayward has been in his own little shooting slump, but I have liked what he has shown as far as perseverance, especially last night when he got thoroughly boned by some bad calls (Note to the refs: if both of the defenders feet are off the ground, it’s not a charge!).
What I can say with some confidence, despite my severe amateurism, is that you cannot have 5 wing players all regularly in the rotation all year long, even with the compressed schedule. Sooner than later, one or two of these guys are going to become to the odd-man (men?) out. But who? (hint, I think C.J. Miles is still the most likely candidate!).
Figure 3. Bigs
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are your primary bigs. That is neither surprising, nor up for debate. Derrick Favors is clearly your third big. Kanter is (and hopefully continues) getting a solid bit of run at 12ish minutes a game. For a rookie on a Jerry Sloan (or Jerry Sloan protégé) coached team, that is far more than one can expect. And our beloved Jeremy Evans has become the odd man out…
It’s tough to see where this is heading. I was surprised that Al and sometimes Paul are getting 35 minutes a game. I don’t really see how they can continue to do this in a short season and not get worn out when we are playing more often than every other night. I’m sure Ty is aware of this, however, as I’m willing to bet he knows more about basketball than I do, so we will see where this goes. I don’t see how Jeremy Evans is ever going to get playing time as long as we have the four bigs ahead of him that we do, which is sad. I personally believe that given the opportunity he could become a solid rotation guy. He can do more than alley-oop it, believe or not. I do like Al, but if we traded him, and ended up with a bigs rotation of Favors/Millsap, with Kanter as our third big and Evans getting 10 minutes a game, it would be hard to be unhappy about that.
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sometimes a front court burns so bright it quite simply explodes and with explosions of such proportion come casualties. Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors had fouled out of the game before all was said and done but their charismatic offense and stifling defensive presence took the compelling young Cleveland Cavaliers out with them.
The Jazz, led by astonishingly efficient big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, stunted the impressive performance of the first pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Kyrie Irving, and showed hungry Utah Jazz fans the first performance of the season truly worthy of our legendary home court advantage. While there were certainly still moments to pause and ponder with concern, the end result was one to be pleased with, not only because of the win, but also because of the great team basketball put on display at Energy Solutions Arena.
The First Quarter: Where Paul Millsap Carries the Utah Jazz
It seemed like Paul Millsap couldn't miss in the first quarter and with good reason. Paul Millsap didn't miss in the first quarter. And while new father Raja Bell couldn't get his shot to drop early it seemed like every Cavalier could. A Cav would score, then 'Sap would score. On and on it went until with about three minutes left in the quarter two of Utah's other significant contributors would step in. Favors slammed a big bucket home in the first few seconds of his game and Josh Howard got his first points off of a beautiful up and under off of a full court pass from Earl Watson.
Millsap continued to own at both ends with a huge block at the two minute mark and both Favors and Kanter showed some serious defensive comittment towards the end of the quarter.
Cap all of this off with a dope buzzer beater from Earl Watson that left the Jazz up one going into the second.
The Cavs' bright spots came from both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson who showed offensive flair and rough edges that kept the Cavs neck and neck with Utah.
The Second Quarter: Where the Offensive Fouls Flowed like (Root) Beer
Early in the quarter Enes Kanter was trying to get his hands on the ball as often as possible and every other Jazz man was drawing offensive fouls. Alec Burks (aka Alex Burk and Eric Burks) showed his size advantage when he drove to the basket, pulled back from his defender and got off an agile shot around the ten minute mark. Josh Howard continued to earn his keep, creating offensive opportunities by blasting it into an able Kanter in the post and creating his own offense when necessary.
Paul Millsap checked back in and immediately drew an offensive foul on Alonzo Gee, getting him out of the game and reducing the Cavs offensive options. And after Varejao tried to show some fancy footwork and stumbled his way to a turnover, Paul Millsap was able to stay tight and maintain a perfect FG% going into the half. Nonetheless the Jazz missed numerous opportunities to blow the game open in their favor.
Tristan Thompson looked herky-jerky out on the floor but got to the rim when he willed himself to do so. I don't question why he went fourth in last years' draft, there is a diamond in that rough.
The Third Quarter: Where the Jazz Continue to Stuggle
An elbow to Devin Harris' head proved to be a fair metaphor for the Jazz's third quarter which although not truly woeful, was certainly lack luster. Al Jefferson's touch continued to amaze us as he snagged his double double early in the quarter. Raja Bell found his game again, responding to a beautiful layup from Kyrie Irving by driving elegantly to the basket. Al and Raja seemed to have taken the load from 'Sap but Kyrie Irving demonstrated astonishing promise and agility and contribuited to the Cavs' only winning quarter this game around a slightly dazed looking Jazz offense.
The Jazz stayed alive on the efforts of their bigs, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were an incredible 17 of 21 from the floor at around the 3:30 mark but absent any serious defense the quarter was a scorefest and the Cavs stayed alive.
The Fourth Quarter: Where there Weren't Two Techs, but there Really Were
Front court muscial chairs abounded for the Jazz in the fourth as both Favors and Millsap coasted toward fouling out of the game, but not before pushing the Jazz to a ten point lead. First time viewers of a Jazz game would wonder why 'Sap isn't a perennial All Star as he racked up the last of his 19 points on 90% shooting and others would ponder Al Jefferson's All Star potential as he secured the 30th point of his game on 13 of 17 shooting.
Recalled double techs on Anthony Parker and Byron Scott warmed the wax that CJ Miles pressed into the envelope to seal the deal with a sweet dagger three ball with 36 seconds remaining. Ty Corbin knew what alot of us may not have, that CJ Miles was +14 tonight. Leaving him on the floor was prescient and likely sealed the deal for Utah. I'm calling it a "Doe Dagger", PETA objects.
Final Score: 105-113, Jazz win.
- CJ Miles is a really solid player when its clear he isn't thinking about anything but basketball.
- Josh Howard was a steal at twice the price. I hope we aren't just a launchpad for his rebirth. He'd be a great permanent addition to this franchise.
- Our bigs will be the envy of the league in a couple years, if not sooner. Kanter and Favors are earnest, eager and hungry.
- The Cavs are going to be a pretty compelling product in a few years... Dan Gilbert may not have the last laugh, but things don't look as bleak as they should in Ohio.
Just a week ago I was talking about how losing was going to be a norm for the Jazz this season. Our young team had four chances to prove me right last week, and failed all four times. It’s hard to judge our team at the moment. We started the season with three blowout losses in four games, and now all the sudden have won four straight. Sure our opponents have been missing key players in our recent victories, but a win is a win, right? Regardless, this team is winning, and credit needs to be given.
I was much more impressed by our point guards this last week. Both were able to turn around their terrible assist numbers and combined to average 11.25 a game, compared to 6.25 the week prior. Harris still hasn’t been great at all times though. He is known for being a scoring point guard and yet averaged only 9 points a game. A lot of that comes down to whether he is pushing the tempo or not. Watson has been fantastic off the bench. His intensity has been great, especially on defense. Without Watson, we don’t win all four of these games.
Wing play was once again sketchy. CJ’s game really went downhill last week, and his minutes followed accordingly. I don’t know how many years we’ve been saying “This is CJ’s year”, but this is most likely his last chance. Bell did play better (I don’t think you can play much worse) this week. He surprised me by making some big plays in the clutch the past few games, and he does deserve credit for them. However he is still not starter material, it may be only a matter of time before Corbin moves him to the pine.
Despite a small cut in minutes, shots are finally starting to fall for Hayward. Gordon’s 18 point game vs the Warriors is the closest we’ve seen him to last season’s form (latter part of the season, that is) so far. It took him over half of last season before he looked good, hopefully he’ll get there in the next few weeks. Howard is continuing to prove he is a good signing. Like Watson, Howard is bringing great defensive intensity off the bench, not to mention his scoring punch (9 points in 20 mins). I think he could play his way into the starting lineup.
As far as rooks go, both Kanter and Burks have continued to make contributions despite playing limited minutes. It’s such a plus that both of these guys have an NBA skill they can fall back on, Kanter with rebounding, and Burks getting to the line. It’s also a plus we have these energy guys coming off the bench, almost always making some sort of impact.
After an ugly first week, Jefferson has made an impressive turnaround. Big Al increased his ppg by over 6 points, while playing within a better flow of the offense (Note: Clint did point out that his isolation plays early in the game may be designated by Corbin). He also went from having the worst +/- on the team, to having the best, with a +6.25 average. The one thing that concerns me about Big Al is his rebounding. In over 34 minutes a game, Al is getting just over 8 boards a game. Just a few years ago he was grabbing 11 a game. I don’t know how much of this comes down to have players like Kanter, Favors, and Millsap on the floor, but if you’re my starting center and getting that much time, you got to hit the boards.
Neither Favors nor Millsap were special last week, but I wouldn’t say they were horrible either. Favors saw a slight dip in minutes, which put his points and rebounds down a little. He also had his night vs the Bucks where he recorded 5 blocks (Did I mention I love this kid?). Millsap’s points dropped by 3 (13.5 to 10.5) which does worry me. At this moment, I feel that he is the best player on this team and needs to be utilized more. Thankfully he jumper has started to fall, something that has become key to his game. It was also great to see him average nearly 3 dimes (2.75) a game, which is fantastic for a big man.
This was a great week for the Jazz. I don’t remember the last time the Jazz won multiple games in a row and had fun like this, maybe all the comebacks last November. We host the Cavs, Lakers, and Nets this week, it will be interesting to see who steps up. Now before I get off track, here is your Player of the Week.
Player of the Week (Week 2)
(Photo via Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Al Jefferson 20.75 pts, 8.25 rebs, +6.25 (+/-)
Runner up: Paul Millsap
Special Mentions: Gordon Hayward, Earl Watson.
*Special thanks to my friend (@sproul13) who helps me keep track of the weekly stats
Thank You Kris.
Over the past five years you have challenged me. You probably knew it, but maybe you didn't. I never said it openly or publicly, but it was there. It wasn't a challenge of power, or a challenge of strength, but a challenge of continuity and effort. No matter how late I stayed up, you were up later. No matter how early I woke up to write a recap or share my thoughts, you found an angle that I hadn't thought of. You found articles translated from Russian or videos of C.J. dancing in an obscure back room in Vegas. If there was Jazz news to be found, you found it. You challenged me to be better.
Over the past five years you were humble, gracious, and kind. You showed patience during the down times, and stayed calm during the high times. You sent every tweet with purpose, and laced them with a hint of sarcasm. You kept a watchful eye on information, and a critical mind on your writing.
Your efforts have connected thousands of Utah Jazz fans around the world. SLCDUNK became a morning routine. It became a cup of coffee, the morning paper, and the standard for which I pushed myself to achieve. Not only did you create a standard, you did it all while keeping the fan safe in an environment for people to share, argue, fight, think, grow, and become stronger, smarter, and more critical thinking Utah Jazz fans. I applaud you for your efforts.
Kris, you have been a huge part of the Utah Jazz community and we will truly miss you and all that you do for us and our fanhood.
Thank you for every tweet, post, story, picture, and comment.
Thank You, SLCDUNK
From Spencer (The Utah Jazz Blog)
One of the biggest knocks on the Utah Jazz over the last few seasons has been their defense. They’ve given the lane to opposing guards. They’ve been beat in the paint. They've had trouble guarding the pick and roll. Too much penetration by other teams. They can’t defend the perimeter. They’ve gotten...”soft”.
Much of that “soft play” was blamed on the front court.
Fans were used to Karl Malone’s toughness, Greg Ostertag’s and Mark Eaton’s length, and teams who just wouldn't have anyone coming into “their house” and scoring easily.
Then a new group of Jazz players entered. And that “toughness” went away.
All too often teams felt that they could get in the paint against the Jazz without a fight. A team once known for it’s feisty, physical defense, now known for it’s “soft” defense which would rather give up the easy bucket than get into foul trouble or put forth effort in protecting what rightfully belonged to them...the paint.
Fast forward to the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season. A new regime of Jazz players and a new head coach. Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan now replaced by rookie head coach Ty Corbin.
Photo via AP
The road seemed impossible ahead. An organization known for its toughness and resilience, known for winning ball games (only 4 losing seasons in the last 30 years), now left to start over, and at the same time find it’s way back to successful ways.
There have been and still are many doubters. Coach Corbin has his work cut out for him. It’s not like it’s easy replacing the great Jerry Sloan. But to be successful Corbin had to come in with the mindset to put his imprint on the team, give the team a new identity, and win ball games. And any team in the NBA, in order to be successful needs to have a group of players willing to buy into a system, or take on the personality of it’s coach, or both.
So with a very shortened camp Coach Corbin set out to start his era in Utah. In December he announced that he would be changing defensive schemes. See Jody Genessy’s article in the Deseret News for more on this.
The first couple of games it seemed that the Jazz were doomed to be a bottom feeder. They looked lost offensively as well as defensively.
They WERE lost.
Aside from having a shortened camp and preseason, almost half of the team is under the age of 25. The learning curve would be horrendous with some serious ups and downs.
They began the season with 2 blowout losses. They were beat on the perimeter in LA, and then destroyed to the tune of 68 points in the paint in Denver and looked to be on a crash coarse to their worst losing season in franchise history. Even the veterans looked frustrated at times. Yet thru it all Corbin continued to be patient and teach his young team the art of playing Coach Corbin’s way.
Over the next week of games it happened a little at a time. With veterans leading the charge, the team looked to it’s coaches teachings to be successful.
The game that really caught attention of fans and analysts was the Memphis Grizzlies game. The Jazz were aggressive defensively allowing just 42 points in the paint, holding the Grizzlies to 41% shooting.
Photo via AP
One noticeable change for me was the pick and roll defense. Particularly Al Jefferson.
In the third quarter when Marc Gasol came up to set a pick for Mike Conley, Jefferson would stick his man or body up on him allowing Harris to rotate under the pick quicker and challenge Conley before he was able to drive the lane. This would force Conley to pass the ball around the key to a wing where the Jazz defender was waiting. If there was to be any penetration the Jazz were to force them baseline. No matter what Memphis did they couldn’t get into the lane. And as a result were left to shoot contested jump shots.
Photo via AP
The Golden State game featured more of the same only this time, with a guard like Monta Ellis who is well known for his ability to penetrate, it would require a team effort. Every time the Warriors would drive into the lane there was at least two Jazz defenders there to contest and force the shot outside again, usually funnelling it to the corner for a tough 3 point shot. The Warriors mustered just 34 points in the paint and were held to 41% shooting.
Eight games into the season the Jazz are finally finding their identity, at least defensively. They are ranked second in the league in blocks averaging 7.5 blocks per game. They are showing the toughness and resilience of a team that will not be denied. Teams are finding it more difficult to get into the lane and score easily on a team that has given the lane so freely in recent years.
Ty is instilling his imprint on the team. They are starting to take on the identity of their head coach. An identity of toughness. They won’t back down. And neither will Ty.
Photo via AP
The team is still very young, and the season is as well. There will be many more road blocks ahead. But one thing is very evident, Ty Corbin is coaching and teaching, and the team is responding.
That’s a formula for success now and in the future.