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Written by Alan Zaugg | 08 January 2012

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.

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Written by Jacob Jeppsen | 08 January 2012

It was a night of firsts for the Utah Jazz, and on more fronts than just one.  Utah secured it's first road win of the young season in dramatic fashion, beating the Golden State Warriors in a thrilling 88-87 contest Saturday night.  And getting the road woes monkey off their backs wasn't the only win for this year's team.

A familiar face reappeared to contribute in big ways on both ends of the court for the first time this season.  And just at the right time.

Raja Bell defends Monta Ellis's final shot
Good Raja returns to save the day (Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Much maligned shooting guard Raja Bell broke out of his early season slump to play a major role early on, as well as be the key defensive stopper of yesteryear on the final play of the game.  As vocal as many fans have been regarding Raja's struggles (myself included), it was refreshing to turn those jeers to cheers, especially on that final play.  Kudos to Raja for overcoming some major criticism, some warranted, some not, and shutting the haters up.  More of that, please.

Utah's hot streak to end Friday's game must have been bottled, packed and flown on the plane with the team.  The Jazz got out to a hot start, up 18-6 early in the 1st quarter.  The offense was executing, passing was crisp, and the open man was consistently knocking down the open jumper.  In fact, of Utah's first ten baskets, eight were assisted - which screams "Utah Jazz of old".

But the energetic spark plug that is the Jazz bench didn't quite have it tonight.  Possibly thrown for a loop due to Paul Millsap getting into foul trouble often?  Not sure.  However, not once, but twice did Golden State make runs on the supporting cast (once in the 2nd quarter, once early on in the 4th).  To get that first road win, it was going to be up to the starters.

They were definitely up for the challenge.  

Once Millsap, who led all Utah players in +/- with a +18, got his fouls under control, he was able to anchor the team for the final stretch.  Numerous great passes, including one under the rim to a cutting Josh Howard, sparked the Jazz to an improbable comeback.  Gordon Hayward had a fantastic game as well, scoring 18 points on 6-11 shooting from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc.  But it was Hayward's late steal on Monta Ellis and subsequent free throws from a fast break foul that sealed the win.

Hold up.  Let me rephrase that and give proper credit to who sealed the victory.  Hayward gave Utah the lead with 11 seconds left, 88-87, by hitting one of two free throws.  Golden State would put the ball in the hands of their prolific scorer, Monta Ellis, for the their final possession.  Monta went isolation on the 34 year old Raja Bell, who smothered him with fantastic defense, forcing an uncomfortable fadeaway that clanked off the rim.

For this evening, Raja so often the goat, was now the GOAT.  (Let's not get carried away, but it was great to see glimpses of the Raja Jazz fans came to love.)

High Notes:

Bell, Hayward and Millsap have already gotten love from me thus far.  But this win was truly a team win.  As the title states, this was a night of firsts.  For me, it really felt like the first complete game they've put together.  A hot start?  Check.  Overcoming deficits?  Check.  Trailing late and pulling out a great road win a la Utah Jazz circa November 2010?  Check.  

I won't get too carried away, as I realize that Utah's current four game winning streak has seen each opponent's "best" player in street clothes.  Eric Gordon on Monday vs. New Orleans; Andrew Bogut and Mike Dunleavy Jr. sitting for Milwaukee on Tuesday; Memphis sans big man Zach Randolph last night; Sharp shooter Stephen Curry out tonight.  What Utah CAN'T control is who suits up against them.  And I, for one, am happy to see this team winning games they "should".  Determining whether or not this squad is really progressing is bit more difficult as the level of competition decreases when big names sit, obviously.  Point is, be happy they are winning these games.  Losses would feel much, much worse.

Defense, defense, defense.  This is not a Jazz trait we are used to seeing.  And, yes, while the perimeter defense still has some wrinkles to iron out, Utah is blocking shots (top in the league), getting steals and making life difficult for opponents.  A big reason for this has been our outstanding bench duo of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.  Tonight?  Not so much.  But it was Al Jefferson who came up with a late block that Utah desperately needed.  More of this, Al.  Way to ball tonight. 

Utah beat a Mark Jackson led Golden State Warriors squad in their house.  That's about all that needs to be said there.

Low Lights:

Already having mentioned the bench, it pains me greatly to ask the question:  What is going on with CJ Miles?  I've been a staunch defender of his for a while now, and even I have had to scratch my head.  So far this season, he's shooting less than 20% on shots outside the paint and inside the three.  His shot selection is questionable (that's being kind) and has committed some awful fouls late in the clock or in quarters.  He appears to be in Ty's doghouse, as his minutes keep dwindling - a season low four minutes tonight.  His body language shows something is bothering him.  Here's to hoping he gets it figured out sooner than later.

Enes Kanter has a nose for the rebounds and a fearlessness that Jazz fans often celebrate.  If only the offensive skill set matched that fire, he'd be a shoe in for rookie of the year.  What can't be hidden is Kanter's obvious lack of fundamentals on the offensive end, struggling to get shots on target even at close range.  At 19, and only eight games into the season, growth will come.  But watching him fail time after time to seal a put-back layup or get up to dunk it home gives me the blues.

Utah is now 5-3 on the season, riding a four game winning streak into their next game.  That 5-3 may be a little deceiving.  But, as stated, they are winning the ones they should, and that's refreshing.  Next up?  A home contest against Cleveland.  Anyone from the Idaho Stampede wanna sign a 10-day?  Love you forever, Sundiata Gaines.

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Written by Clint Peterson | 07 January 2012

Courtside_Golden_Ticket_med  Greg Miller escorted us to where all the behind-the-scenes action happens in Energy Solutions Arena, and as we came to the first tunnel-turn, there was Utah Jazz legend Frank Layden making his way in preparation for a birthday party with 19,502 other fans of the Jazz. Frank was the first man in charge at the franchise that I became aware of as a young fan of the team, as the always-visible and vocal head coach at the time. I thought I might be nervous to rub noses with living legends such as these, but Greg -- funny, I feel comfortable calling him in the familiar now as opposed to before -- quite literally made feeling uncomfortable impossible.

In fact, I was deeply disappointed when Jerry Sloan took over for Frank, it taking some two to three years for me to warm up to him as the bench general. Silly in hindsight, I know, but I used to rant about Jerry all the time as a frustrated young Jazz fan. Frank was every bit the man he presents himself as to the public -- witty, likable, insightful. It was truly an honor for me to be able to shake his hand and chat for a moment about the recent Mascot Bowl he and Tony Parks did together for charity.

We were treated like kings as we entered the Lexus Club, hats and coats taken for us as we were escorted to Greg's table, his seat situated so that he had a view of the entire room as well as all comers and go'ers (it's an old trick of savvy gunslingers to sit with their back to the wall where they can survey the scene unfolding before them at all times).

One of the most striking things about Greg Miller is how he comes across as such a regular dude, truly a talent Courtside_100_Club_medfor a man in his prominent position. He was quite open and frank about himself, the franchise, the players, or any and all questions we asked him -- not a one of which was refused or met with a "no comment." We were quite literally a part of the inner-workings of the Utah Jazz this glorious evening (Pro Tip: If you wanna see Greg glow, know your Land Cruisers. He has some great stories about his adventures off the beaten trail).

I feel confident in saying that during the recent lockout the Utah Jazz were not "hawks" (during the lockout franchise owners were dubbed "doves," those who favored few system changes, and "hawks," those who pushed hard for a hard cap, believing it would benefit their market more), despite speculations to the contrary. The Jazz are quite realistic about certain market limitations they inevitably toil under, knowing that no system can change these realities. It was exactly as they said it was as the lockout unfolded, the Jazz brass more or less just waiting to see how it shook out, prepping for any scenario presented them. As they always have.

Rather than try and change the direction of the breeze, the Jazz instead build sails to take full advantage of whichever way the wind blows.

One of the more brilliant cogs in the wheel that is the Miller Group is president Randy Rigby, a man of whom I'm a big fan of. Many of you have probably seen the Twitter transcripts I've often done of Mr. Rigby's weekly chats with the flagship at 1320 KFAN, so it was a great pleasure to be able to walk up and say "Mr. Fan Man himself, Randy Rigby!" shake his hand as I introduce myself as "the green basketball on Twitter, Clintonite33," and have him smile and reply, "Oh yeah! Great to  finally meet you!"

Mr. Rigby likes to tease upcoming things in his radio time, and I must say he doesn't mess around when it comes to getting them done, from the great banner on the front of ESA to his preseason proclamations that the franchise was going to go out of their way to treat the fans right after the turmoil and inefficacy of the lockout. Look where we ended up, after all. Randy is absolutely one of the most delightful people you could ever hope to meet, his demeanor belying his tenacity and ability to multi-task for the Miller Group. Indeed, I commented to Greg that it felt from afar that Rigby does the work of ten men. Turns out I may have underestimated that, even. Randy Rigby is truly one of the "good guys," and has a tremendous value to the franchise in many, many capacities, not the least of which is the way he looks out for you, the fan.

Courtside_lapel_pin_medThe Jazz are embracing the social media movement more than ever before this year, so if you like to participate in these most momentous of sports platforms don't be surprised if you too one day receive the fan message of a lifetime for your sincere fandom -- represent well and you could be next. Personally, the Jazz keep topping themselves in my book, unbelievably.

If you think your voice isn't being heard, I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. When Larry H. Miller opened the Delta Center he gave the Jazz to the community, a tradition held close to the heart and carried forth with conviction from this the next generation. Larry had an enormous impact on Greg's values and commitment, and while he may seem aloof to fans at times, he is not. When you have a chance to speak with him about the Jazz in private the sincerity and passion for the franchise emanates from him with a gleam in his eye. This was a gift to the fans of basketball and people of Utah that the Miller Group takes seriously upon themselves to continue to provide top-shelf entertainment for many years to come, the complexity of which is simply staggering.

When we met Greg at the doors of the ESA my eyes were immediately drawn to something. SOMETHING SHINY! As dinner and chit-chat wound down Greg presented each of us with a token of appreciation for being loyal ambassadors for the game and the Jazz -- a lapel pin to match his own, that something shiny! I had no qualms about it as I pierced the virgin collar of my best white button-up, feeling like a prized pet must that was just dressed in a diamond-studded collar by a proud owner and best friend.

As we made our way further down the VIP confines of ESA toward the floor for a game about to tip off, Greg continued to regale us with tales of his Jazz-hood, proudly detouring us to the locker room tunnel to elaborate on a story of how Larry demonstrated the deepest of desires night in and night out for his beloved club. Hanging on the wall as a reminder to every player and coach who enters or exits is the mantra of the Utah Jazz:

"Nobody laid down, nobody quit, Courtside_LHM_med-small

nobody left anything in the locker room.

It was all out there on the floor...

I've always said to our guys,

'I'll never ask you to win, but I will ask you

to give us everything you've got.'"

-Larry H. Miller

As we listened intently to how Greg has incorporated this into not only his philosophy on the Jazz, but also life, we became aware of someone quietly occupying the space behind us, as we were taking up the entire carpeted tunnel. We turned to see Raja Bell patiently waiting for us to be done with our detour. Naturally, we all quickly apologized and made way, seeing as he was supposed to be out there and all with the game only moments from tip off. He simply smiled as he whispered "Thanks," and hustled off to join the team.

Greg warned beforehand that come game-time he didn't interact much, instead focusing on the play. Some of you noted this during the game, commenting on it. He cannot because he has duties in the locker room at halftime and post-game that he must attend to, and needs be prepared to contribute to for the betterment of the team and franchise, just another example of his commitment. He and Randy Rigby meet for several hours every business day and discuss the direction of things and how they can improve on every facet of the Miller Group.

Making one's way out of the tunnel the Jazz do every home game and onto the floor is a surreal experience I'll never forget and relish my entire life. I think it was David that turned and said, "Look, they're right there!" as we passed arm's length from the Jazz players getting final instructions from the coaching staff as we made our way to the best seats in the house.

And then it was real...

Some Surround-Sound Sneaker-Squeaker Game Notes:

• Ty Corbin never sits down, never stops shouting out instructions, often making his way animatedly to halfcourt on the sideline. He's also giving Thurl Baily a run for his money as "Best Dressed Jazzman"

• Sydney Lowe shouts out defensive assignments, opposing picks, and transition-D encouragement all the way across the court from the bench. He's really into this D-thing the Jazz have going

• Tony Allen is even more hilarious in person than on Twitter. First whistle directed at him he pointed at the official walking straight at him as he laughed maniacally. The Memphis Grizzlies wing was intense the entire time out there, always making the most of his minutes. It was highly entertaining to watch him

• Ty Corbin tried a facilitator role early with Gordon Hayward, a strategy that's worked well of late for stretches. Sadly, G-Time was kinda off his game this night, but he never quit trying

• Devin Harris oozes a quiet confidence as a leader. This is quite a different kind of intensity than we were used to from Deron Williams

• Al Jefferson is amazingly focused out there this year, on both ends of the floor. Marc Gasol ended up with a very nice line, but nothing was easy for him, he was made to work for what he got. Al's eyes never left his man on defense whenever his man was in the play

A short aside:

It occurred to me during this game, as I was up close and personal with the lines of commincation, that sometimes what fans perceive as Jefferson ball-hogging is actually by design, the offense Corbin has designated for a stretch. At these times, in isolation situations, there isn't supposed to be any cutting by other Jazzmen, as Al does what he does best, create a shot in the post, and he's one of the best at doing this.

It was quite plain to see Ty Corbin react when a player went outside the game plan on a particular play -- Ty was never shy about berating the man for that. He didn't do this to Al in these stretches, but did call him over for a missed assignment or movement elsewhere during the game. We may need to fundamentally change the way we view some roles for players under Ty Corbin. And hey, so long as it's working, what do we care how he gets the job done, right?

That said, I still wouldn't mind seeing Al pass out of a few more of those double-teams -- the Grizz doubled the Jazz post man a lot last night, converting several of those pressure situations into points.

• And speaking of dimes... Paul Millsap is a MAN, y'all! I love a good pass, and I love it even more when it comes from a big man. He'd have four beauties in the flow last night

• In the second quarter, with the game close at 43-44, Mike Conley went for a layup that Paul Millslapp'd. Before heading to the other end of the floor, Paul gave him a deliberate man's staredown, as if you to say, "Yeah, you gonna try that again my house?"

• The Jazz led the NBA in blocks-per-game heading into last night. They'd pad their league lead with 10 more, now at 7.9 per game, Millsap, Hayward, Jefferson, and Favors adding a pair each, with Harris and CJ Miles each netting one

• The Jazz are 10th in the NBA in steals at 8.9 per game, adding 10 more total to their tally last evening

• Defensive standouts were almost too numerous to name. The entire team did their jobs well there, but Josh Howard on Rudy Gay, Earl Watson on Mike Conley (Earl also had his best offensive game this season, and was barking out defensive assignments even as he was walking to the scorer's table to check in), and Enes Kanter on Marc Gasol stand out. Gasol gave Kanter fits at EuroBasket, and it's clear Big Turkey learned a lot from his summer experience there

• You can visibly see Kanter improving with each passing minute, gaining confidence and getting more comfortable in the NBA and Utah Jazz game flow. Whenever Corbin called Enes over, he would listen intently, nodding and responding with "Okay, coach," then go try to make it happen

• Ty Corbin has a new spark plug: Alec Burks. Burks continues to impress with his energy and ability to get to the free throw line

• A lineup of Watson, Burks, Howard, Favors, and Kanter closed out the third quarter on a 10-0 run, nice mix of vets and young guns doin' work

• Raja Bell again played under 20 minutes, but his intensity was... intense. He'd dish three dimes and add a critical steal and momentum-swinging 3-pointer

Thanks to Steve Brown for a glowing in-game review of our experience as ambassadors and fans "who get it." And a hearty hat tip to Greg Miller and the Utah Jazz, who also "get it" when it comes to the fans.

And thanks to all of our Twitter followers who kept us smiling all game long with congrats, screencaps that immortalized our moment for the masses, and seriously funny commentary. I'm very sorry to disappoint you that I don't have a large, very round and very green head.

Read about Diana's experience here and more in-depth here

Read David J. Smith's Instant Analysis here and his experience here

Courtside_Spalding_Head

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Written by Dustin LaMarr | 07 January 2012

Al JeffersonCJ Miles
both photos via AP

Recap:

If you missed last night's game, go back to the DVR, find the archive on your League Pass, whatever you have to do to see it because it was a fantastic game.  Both teams looked to be out of the sluggish preseason-ish form and into a flow that looked like real NBA ball.  The injury riddled Grizzlies continued to fight for win's, just like last season,  by doing the dirty work:  physical play, fighting for second chance points, and tough defense.  In the end, the Jazz were able to pull out the win by doing those exact same things.  The Jazz lost the TRB and ORB battle, but were able to hold the Grizzlies to 41% shooting, force 19 TOV's, and 23.5% 3P% (there own wasn't much better, but they only launched 8).  Finally, the blockfest continues as the Jazz went for 10 tonight, including 2 particularly great ones by Gordon Hayward on one Tony Allen.


The Good:

-The defense continues to improve, though its most shining examples have come against bad offensive teams, with the exception of Philly. 

-Earl Watson showed us why we all clamored to have him back: his leadership is beyond reproach, he controls the tempo of the second unit (read: The young guys), and he does the things needed to win- last game it was purely facilitating his teammates, this game bringing needed back court scoring-  11pts on 5/7 FGA.

-Paul Millsap had another great all around game, and he continues his efficient scoring.  Last night he dropped 14pts on 7/9 shooting, plus added 8 TRB, 2 BLK, and a steal on top.  He also gets no love from the zebras, going to the line ZERO times.

-The young guys:  Burks, Kanter, and Favors didn't get a lot of burn last night (expect that to change tonight), but still made their contributions, chipping in a combined 16 pts, 9 TRB, 2 BLK, and a steal

The real stars of last night were our Twitter Jazz Fan Compadres Diana (@dianaallen), David (@davidjsmith1232), and our own Clint (@Clintonite33) who were invited by Jazz owner Greg Miller (@greginutah) to join him for the game in his seats next to the Jazz bench.  I hear Clint even managed to bottle some of Big Al's sweat for further analysis.  Congratulations, lady and gents, you are the envy of all of us.


The Bad:

-At the risk of drawing the ire of Clint, I have to mention Big Al's continued reluctance to pass out of the double team.  Trust is such an important part of creating a winning team dynamic and his habit of attempting to force a shot over or through even the staunchest double team is hindering that development.

-Free Throw shooting last night was horrendous.  The team went 20/30 for a whopping 66.7%.  Currently they are shooting 71% from the line, good for 24th in the league.  Not good.


Play of the Game:

I have to give it to Hayward for his late dunk that, essentially, put the game away.


Notes:

 
The rookies finally got their adorable pink backpacks- Here's Alec Burks modelling his


Alec Burks with his rookie backpackAlec Burks' Miley Cyrus backpack

-both via Jonathan Rinehart (@jonrinehart), Utah Jazz PR Director
 

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Written by Clint Peterson | 04 January 2012

Al_D_8  Al Jefferson has been accused in mainstream media as being the worst defender in the entire NBA, and he's well aware of this. Indeed, the reputation is so deeply ingrained at this point, even among Jazz fans, that he'll be fighting an uphill battle here for likely years to come, regardless of what he does on the court.

Every time an opposing player drops a handful of numbers on Big Al the immediate reaction will be that it's due to a lazy and lackadaisical defensive posture or an utter misunderstanding of how to actually play defense.  Let's delve into some numbers this season to see how Al is doing, to see if he's backing up his rhetoric that he intends to improve there.

Photo via bettor.com

As many fans realize, blocks and steals numbers can be put up in copious amounts by actual bad defenders, so going by the standard box score can be deceiving as to the true defense that was being employed by a player. Also skewing numbers can be a player that has a particularly warm night shooting, as we saw out of Manu Ginobili recently versus Utah, and Drew Gooden last night.

Determining defensive impact by the numbers is often difficult, much more so than offense. Taking advantage of various tools available to us can help tremendously in getting to bottom of the matter -- it's not uncommon for a sullied rep to fool the eyeball, leaving one with with a biased reaction due to a preconceived notion. Combining sortable data from HoopData to BasketballReference with shot charts, PopcornMachine, and SynergySports, among other sites, are very helpful in obtaining a real insight into what happened on the floor and identifying trends among both teams and players.

Drew Gooden's 12-20 for 24 points from the floor (with no free throws -- sound familiar before last night?) might atAl_D_7 first feel like "Sure, Al scored a lot, but he gave up a lot too," while in fact Gooden had more makes using his great height on spot-ups than he did in the paint. A spot-up from a 7-footer that's hitting is virtually unguardable.

The most successful offensive play against the Jazz this young season is the spot-up shot, usually run off of various screens by the opposition. We've seen Ginobili, Jason Smith, and Drew Gooden make the Jazz pay for being a step slow in fighting through and around screens on defense, giving up open looks that are generally not as high a percentage make as seems to happen against Utah, for whatever reason. I'm sure this happens to every team, but my eyeball bias makes it feel like it happens more to the Jazz than any other team. That's a hazard comes with being a fan, one I willingly accept, but will always challenge myself to enter any analysis with an open heart and mind, letting the truth tell itself.

Al's pick-and-roll defense has been a target of disdain for many years, so I thought I'd take a look inside the numbers for the Jazz bigs to see if actions are pacing rhetoric there this season. Here's the straight numbers, via Synergy, for PnR, post-up, and spot-up defense by the Jazz bigs as they try to better protect the paint this year (Enes Kanter is making visible strides by the minute here, but his sample size is yet too small to be of value):

Paul Millsap

• Defended 16 post-ups, giving up 63.6% FGs and 1.00 PPP (Points Per Possession)

• Defended 7 PnR roll men, giving up 66.7% FGs and 1.43 PPP

• Defended 20 spot-ups, giving 29.4% FGs and 0.69 PPP, best among Jazz bigs

Derrick Favors

• Defended 7 post-ups, giving up 33.3% FGs and 1.43 PPP

• Defended 3 PnR roll men, giving up 33.3% FGs and 0.67 PPP

• Defended 13 spot-ups, giving up 58.3% FGs and 1.38 PPP

Al Jefferson

• Defended 32 post-ups, giving up 32% FGs and 0.66 PPP, best among Jazz bigs

• Defended 8 PnR roll men, giving up 25% FGs and 1.00 PPP, best among Jazz bigs

• Defended 16 spot-ups, giving up 68.8% FGs and 1.44 PPP

Al has been pushing his man farther out this year with body work and textbook positioning, in this case Emeka Okafor. Note the spread of Al's feet and the way he's leaning into Okafor here as Emeka receives the incoming post pass.

Al_D_1

Al would continue to force Okafor out as he went through his offensive motions to get a shot off, Jefferson forcing a clang off the back rim and corraling the defensive rebound.

Al_D_2

Again, here, Al pushes out Tim Duncan as he received the inlet pass on the low block.

Al_D_3

Al_D_7

Notice the the textbook focus and stance again as Duncan makes his move to the paint. Good defenders are taught to stare at the opposing offensive player's mid-section, using their periphery vision and reflexes to react to where the limbs and ball go.

Al_D_4

Duncan and Jefferson played this out several times during the game, Big Al getting the best of Timmy in the paint, sometimes poking the ball away for a turnover, in this case off of Duncan (Al's done this a handful of times this season to various opposing offensive players, a la Karl Malone)...

Al_D_5

...and others straight up challenging, forcing in this case a miss that the Jazz would recover for an offensive possession.

Al_D_6

There have been quite a few defensive plays by Al where he does everything noted above with the exception of ultimately challenging the shot, often taking that patented poke at the ball then yanking his hands back quickly, holding them up as the shot gets off. Clearly, he's used to hearing a whistle in this case, but it hasn't come often this year, and the vast majority of these shots have resulted in misses due to the nice defense employed causing a lower percentage shot to be taken from farther out -- obviously, Al's bothering guys as they go through their motions.

Between Al's good man-defense, and the threat of two outstanding help defenders in Millsap and Favors standing by to clean up, the Jazz's big men have done an overall fine job in improving their paint defense thus far this season. While there's still plenty of ceiling space before they elevate themselves to elite D-status, the early returns have been quite promising.

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Written by Spencer | 03 January 2012

Alec_Burks_AP_photoGeorge_Frey(AP photo/George Frey) 

Utah Jazz beat the Bucks without Andrew Bogut and bad nights from Delfino and Jennings. They should have. Jazz started out well  and got out to a quick lead, because they ran the offense and passed the ball. Howard left the game with a pulled quad, and Harris left the game (third quarter) with a strained calf. Millsap hurt his knee, took a run to the locker room and came back out.. circa superman.   

The players on the floor during fourth quarter were: Tinsley, Burks, Jefferson, Favors, Miles. 

Jazz closed out the game with Jefferson, Burks, Miles, Watson, and Millsap. 

Pros

Alec Burks Played 28 minutes-  he made some mistakes on both ends of the floor, but had an overall good game. He is not afraid to go to the rack and hit 7-10 FT's the most attempts on the team. He plays good defense and moves his feet well. He added six dimes one the offensive end.

Derrick Favor's Five Blocks-  It's not just the number of blocks, but where and when those blocks are made. Favors is leading the  team in blocks after tonight. The Utah Jazz lead the league in blocks so far this year. 

The Late EarlyOop- With less than a minute left in the game Watson and Evans hooked up on the now routine alleyoop play. Evans goes up the foul line like he is going to set a pick and curls back towards the hoop and finds the ball in mid air for the dunk. Everyone in the building new it was coming except for the back up center for the Bucks. 

Millsap and Jefferson DD's Millsap finished with 12 and 13 and scared Jazz fans when he went down with a hyper-extended knee, but in classic Millsap fashion he went back to the tunnel and ran around for a minute and came back onto the floor. Jefferson started hot last night on a bunch of different shots and had 19 in the first half and finished with 26-10.  Many of his baskets were on moving shots or cuts to the hoop. The offense is not even close to perfect but the Jazz had a great run from the 7 minute mark of the first to the 5 minute mark in the 2nd. 


Cons-  

Bucks without Bogut-  The Jazz should have easily beat the Bucks without Bogut, especially when Jennings and Delfino combine for 4-26 and 10 points. Yes a win is a win and it was good to see the young guys work through a bad stretch in the fourth quarter, but they should have won by 20. 

Injuries to Harris and Howard - In the post game interview Ty did not say exactly how long the guys would be out. Harris had an ankle tweak and Howard and a quad strain. It sounds like they may be day to day and should be ready to go by Friday night. 

Slugish 3rd Quarter- Crappy third quarters have been a problem all year long. The most frustrating part about it is that its hard to say what the problem is. Here they are LA-15, Denver-20, Philly-18, SAN-21, NO-20, MIL -19 Average third quarter is 18.83 points. I don't know if the Jazz are not making adjustments, or if they are just tired, or if they are lazy or what. It is very frustrating.  

A win is win... 

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Written by Matthew Oliver | 02 January 2012

BurksBelli
Alec Burks doing work. Photo Credit: AP photo/George Frey


Those arguing for the youth movement in Utah to take a more prominent role should look to tonights game for evidence in support of their cause. The bulk of the points came from Big Al and Devin Harris but the spark that lit up Energy Solutions Arena tonight came from a player with far fewer games under his belt. 

See tonight's intro from the upper bowl.

Why tonight, the future looks bright: Youth

The second quarter belonged to Alec Burks. In only 10 minutes Burks' 5 points and 3 boards changed an offense that looked like it had missed its cup of coffee in to one with flair, hustle and competive dignity. The Jazz net score grew by 8 points in Burk's stint - a +/- that was second only to Josh Howard's +12. 

Enes Kanter is continuing the Jazz tradition of Turkish big men who work hard and don't shy from sticking their necks out. With 4 points and 4 boards split down the offensive and defensive column he showed a willingness to get dirty, play hard and stay out of trouble. Zero, count them, Zero personal fouls. Pretty good for a big man who played 13 minutes in the second home game of his NBA career.

Derrick Favors has touch and finesse that most basketball players his size and age have yet to demonstrate. Favors contributed offense and defense, got big stops and boards all while staying out of foul trouble and staying on the court for nearly half the game. Those are minutes we should start setting our watches to.

Why tonight, I still feel a little worried about our coaching: Raja Bell 
19 minutes. No points. 1 Rebound. 1 Foul.

I know that the sample size is limited, but when one expands it back to last season, even before Jerry Sloan's departure, one sees a problem. A big one. Raja Bell has played so poorly that while he was once a fanbase's sentimental favorite, many now clamor for his expulsion from the starting lineup and perhaps, all lineups. If that is going to change, the trajectory of Raja's play needs to change. If it doesn't, and his presence doesn't diminish, I will begin to wonder what specifically is keeping his name in the player introductions every night and why Ty and the guys aren't changing anything.

What tonight, made me jump out of my seat and yell alot: CJ Miles wiiiiiide open 3-ball 
I was a little surprised, and a little intrigued to see Josh Howard and Alec Burks enter the rotation before CJ did. I know he had a little spat with Coach Corbin in San Antonio on Saturday but I can't imagine that that is the reason for this change. What I can say is that I readily forgave CJ all his tresspasses when he nailed the go-ahead open look from deep. I was waiting fully expecting him to clang that shot... Pleasant Surprise.

***

Our boys don't get much rest, but we'll see tomorrow night how they handle their first home back-to-back. Can they handle the up-tempo Bucks and keep the home record perfect? Tune in to find out. 


 

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Written by Kyle Kirkham | 02 January 2012

POW

This may be my first (official) week of doing “Player of the Week”, but I can already tell you that it’s not a fun task to find a winner when the team goes 1-3. But with the Jazz rebuilding (no matter how much Kevin O’Conner denies it) and going young, it is something that I will have to get used to.  At this point I still don’t know what to expect from our young squad. We’ve shown flashes, like in the Philly game, of what we can become. But we’ve also been downright terrible at times.

Point guard play was once again a problem. With former players like Stockton and Williams, Jazz fans have come to expect a facilitator who can run the offense and dish out 10 assists on a nightly basis. We don’t have that right now. In a matter of fact, Devin Harris is averaging a mere 3.5 with Watson coming in at 2.75. Now Harris is not a pass first point guard, so we shouldn’t expect him to be Stockton when it comes to running the offense. Harris did look great against Philly. He pushed the tempo, got to the line, and played with an intensity that we need to see much more often. Watson was iffy to me, taking what seemed like more shots that usual (.7 more shots than last season, actually).

Hayward, who has started all season so far, has proved to be our best wing at this point. While he has struggled to find his shooting touch, he leads the team so far in assists with 4 a game, and is only averaging 1 turnover. And that is with him running the offense only part time, something I think he needs to do more often. Oh and we cannot forget his daggerous jumper against the Sixers. Howard has proven to be bright spot in the rotation as well. In about 23 minutes a game, the former All-Star is averaging 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. It should also be pointed out that he had the third highest total +/- for the week at +2 (only three players were positive).

Last year after the Williams trade, Al Jefferson took over this team. He led the team in scoring and rebounding and became a leader. We haven’t seen much of that from him this year. He does lead the team in points with just over 14, but fans are still cringing over his outing vs. LA where he shot 2-16. Now to be fair, Big Al did recover and put up 20 and 8 in his next two games. Regardless Jefferson has to improve if he wants to help this team.

You may not have noticed yet, but I have a major man crush on Derrick Favors, who is our first real contestant for this week’s award.  In the Jazz’s lone win this week, Favors started at center (for the first time ever) for the injured Jefferson. The sophomore did not disappoint, giving us 20 points and 11 boards in a career high 39 minutes. Whether he fouled too much or not, Favors wasn’t able to get big minutes in the other three games (around 20 a game), and his stats suffered accordingly. Favors should only improve from here, it may just be a matter of time before he earns that starting job back.

In one week, Paul Millsap has easily proven that he is a top player on this team, if not the best. Millsap was the most consistent player of week, even with a short stint off the bench. Clint (@clintonite33) pointed out earlier today on twitter that Paul was having a poor year in shooting, something that is normally a strength for him. Clint also mentioned his improved rebounding, which is at a career high 9.25 right now. I expect Millsap’s shot to start to fall and his percentages to improve on the season, which will no doubt put him in contention for the award on a weekly basis.

Before I finish I must mention our rookies. Kanter has continued what he started in the preseason; rebounding. The young Turk has been playing 15.5 minutes a game while hauling in 6 boards, that’s 14 per 36. He is still struggling to shoot from the field though, which will probably an issue for most of the season. Burks has played great, in fact awesome in his (extremely) limited time. In just under 10 minutes, Burks scored 15 points vs. the Nuggets. He also scored 4 points in 3 points in San Antonio. Now this is obviously garbage time, so take if for what you want. But the kid is proving that he can score, and get to the line. He needs to get his minutes, and for everyone’s sake I hope it is sooner than later.

And in yet another very hard decision for me, so lets not put it off any longer.

                         Player of the Week
(Week 1) 


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(Photo via Scott Winterton, Deseret News)

Paul Millsap 13.25 pts, 9.25 rebs

*Runner up: Derrick Favors

*Special Mentions: Josh Howard, Alec Burks
 

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Written by Spencer | 02 January 2012

Written by Clint Peterson | 01 January 2012

At first glance it would appear the Jazz were outclassed and out-gassed by San Antonio. The fact of the matter is, Utah did almost everything right with two exceptions; they couldn't hit the 3-ball or beat the Spurs' excellent screens.

One of the biggest deficits for the Jazz, especially against the Spurs, has been dribble penetration and pick-and-roll defense. The new force baseline defense was employed successfully in this regard versus San Antonio for the first time since it's implementation by Ty Corbin. Al Jefferson, maligned, and rightfully so in the past, for his defense, played magnificently against Tim Duncan, keeping him away from the rim and holding him to lower percentage shots, 2-10 from the floor, head-to-head.

As a whole, the Jazz rotated properly, if a step slower than need be. They'll need to learn to anticipate screens better defensively, as this was where the Spurs beat them. Let's look deeper at how Gregg Popovich's boys did ther damage. 

In the last two games last season the Spurs dominated Utah in PnR (pick-and-roll) play and paint penetration, Utah giving up a combined 106 points in the paint, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combining for 74 points on 44 shots with only five total of their makes coming outside the paint. Last night the Jazz quelled this almost entirely, winning the paint 48-36, forcing the Spurs to play from the perimeter.

The thing is, they were able to, and ridiculously well. 

The Jazz held the PnR ball-handler to a mere 33.3%, the roll man to less than 43% last night. But sometimes the hot hand burns you. Ginobili had made a combined four field goals outside the paint against Utah in his previous 62 minutes. In last night's game he'd made five in less than 14 minutes. And just kept it rolling from there on until the game was out of hand.

It's not that the Jazz didn't fight through screens -- OK, watching SynergySports, Raja did not. But Josh Howard did -- it's just that Manu is so good that all he requires is a sliver of daylight to make a play happen.

On this play Tiago Splitter would set a killer screen and roll to the paint getting the ball from Ginobili.

Spus-Jazz_screens_1

As they did all game long, the Jazz collapsed to the paint, stymying the PnR with force baseline defense as they'd been taught by Ty Corbin. Splitter would be forced to kick out to Matt Bonner as Manu would recognize the play dead and sprint back to the 3-point line.

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The Jazz would rotate as Bonner receives the Splitter pass.

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Other than maybe not anticipating the rotations earlier the Jazz did everything right here, all players on their way to picking up a man or positioning themselves for what is a miss two-thirds of the time. However, Manu did not miss. Like, EVER, on this night.

Spus-Jazz_screens_4

This game was an aberration for even the inimitable Manu Ginobili, as he'd go 9-10 from the floor, six of his ten shots coming outside the paint and 5-6 from 3. Indeed, the Jazz would lose by 15 and the entire deficit can be accounted for by Manu Ginobili's five made 3-pointers.

Initially, it might feel like the Jazz played awful, but sometimes the other team just wins.

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