Much has been made of Al Jefferson's defense lately, from David Locke's Q and A on Jan. 28 to John Hollinger's scathing review a day after a game versus San Antonio in which both he and I were in attendance and saw totally different outcomes of Big Al's effort.
To be fair, Hollinger was likely distracted by another game going on at the same time, one he'd expressed interest in the day before; SDSU vs The Jimmer. There was a mention or two of "several media members" watching the BYU game over the Jazz game, so...
That leaves us wondering, how far does a rep take a player in an analytical situation?
Raja Bell has been riding a clothesline for years. Next to Carlos Boozer's propensity for matadorism, Paul Millsap appeared to be Dikembe Mutombo. Despite unimpressive numbers, most fans consider Wesley Matthews a defensive force based mostly on blue-collar hustle that pleases the eye and fools the mind.
It doesn't help that such stigmas get reinforced time and again by national analysts that really only see a relatively small percentage of the games and possessions for a given team in a small market like Utah, or by biased fans and bloggers that are extraordinarily vocal about their opinion, often causing it to stick, sometimes for years, despite the best efforts and intentions to get them to see the error of their ways.
And in the same vein, no matter how many shots he changes, kick-outs he forces, defensive rebounds he gathers, or blocks he makes, Big Al will for years labor under the stigma that he can't play defense.
It would be disingenuous of me to try and claim that his defense doesn't need work, --lots and lots of work, in fact-- however, pinning the whole rotten-Jazz-defense-of-late thing on him is just as dishonest. Expecting him to be the last line of defense, as he was in the first half of the recent of of the Spurs game, is unfair and will inevitably lead to more such unfavorable reviews of his obviously under-developed ball-stopping ability.
Yes, he needs to show more on pick-and-roll defense, not falling into deeply ingrained bad habits, collapsing into anchor mode so early. And yes, he needs to get up on his man a lot sooner so they aren't so deep on the entry pass and in position to be dropping "chippies" over his frustrated head. But that's where it all ends, on the defensive end.
Where it starts is another matter entirely.
Jefferson should never repeatedly be in the position to act as the last line of defense, yet he is. Constantly. As such, he automatically falls back and tries to make a play on the ball, sometimes successfully, like when he logs a new career high in blocks versus his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and at other times not so much, like when he fouls out, also incidentally, something that happened against his former team in the last outing.
Some of the stats collected, like those presented by Locke, indicate that Al is the biggest hole in the proverbial defensive bucket, while others, such as those that I've recently presented, indicate that the 2 and 4-spots are worse before it ever gets to Jefferson (the most recent data there shows this to still be the case).
The truth of the matter is probably somewhere in between, but there's also this study on recent wins produced per-position on the Jazz over the last 12 games (before the Minnesota game, but the defense by Utah in that one far from acceptable, so the issue still remains) that would seem to back up the data I collected in trying to determine where the defensive woes stem from.
By Mr. Berri's reckoning the biggest problems among the starters of late have been Raja Bell and Paul Millsap, who were a combined -0.7 in wins produced over the last 12 games sampled. Deron Williams was +1.6, although that's -0.8 difference from where he should be in his contributions based on past preformance. Interestingly enough, the only two starters above projected wins produced were Andrei Kirilenko and Al Jefferson, at +0.6 and +0.2 over their projections, respectively.
Mr. Berri, of Stanford University book fame, The Wages of Wins, wisely cautions against using small sample sizes to make grand determinations, but the overall evidence is growing that certain positions on the Jazz are defensive sieves, not just Jefferson's.
A short aside:
There are worries that swapping out Miles for Bell in the starting lineup leaves the second unit hung out to dry. But can it really get any worse? Would you rather play from ahead and have to try and hold the lead because you started CJ? Or play from behind Every. Single. Game. because you started Raja? Plus, we've seen that Miles can hold his own against starting opposition. What we haven't seen is how much better Raja might play if he got to chew on some second unit a little bit. Just a thought, now back to your regularly scheduled programming...
It's time to face the fact that Paul Millsap shined most brightly in the role of help defender, and now that he has to man-up on lengthier starting power forwards on a regular basis he's being exposed as an average defender at best.
This has the unfortunate effect of making Al look worse, with him being the biggest big on the court for the Jazz in the bulk of the playing time, often left challenging the shooter alone after the ball reaches the paint.
It's not like Al isn't tryng on defense. He's fouled out three times, and logged five personal fouls five other times, indicating that he's at least being aggressive defensively.
Millsap hasn't fouled out once. Not once. And this from the league's fifth-leading personal-foul getter last season. As a back up.
Now that he's gotten his long-awaited, and well-deserved shot at starting, Millsap has no interest in spending any more time on the bench than he has to. And it shows in his defensive effort. He's logging career high minutes, while logging career low personal fouls. And letting himself get beat so he can stay on the floor. He has to be more aggressive defensively, put himself aside at times for the good of the team.
Then there's the guard positions.
In the last game against the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were waltzing into the paint at will. This isn't on Al. In fact, Al made some incredible defensive plays that game just to keep the Jazz in it. Just how bad was it? Parker and Ginobili had 49 points between them. Only eight --EIGHT!-- came outside the paint. It was a miracle the Jazz had a shot at all in that one.
For his part, Deron did a lot better job in the second half of fighting through and over screens, finally slowing down the red hot Parker and keeping him from getting to the Jazz's last line of defense like he did in the first half. (For the record, about two hours before the game someone asked me what to watch for that night vs San Antonio. I said "dribble penetration.")
Unfortunately, Raja did no better at containing Manu in the second than he did the first half, and Ginobili picked up where Parker had left off in the first. When you have opposing guards playing "mouse in the house" at will of course your center is gonna look bad. Especially if he already has a rep and a bad rap.
I always say "defense starts with your feet, not your hands." But I'd like to amend that.
Defense starts with your head. It's a mindset. You have to want to demoralize the opposition by forcing them to take a long, poor shot, raising your probability of getting a defensive rebound while lowering their chances of pouring it on offensively.
Next, it moves to your mouth. You have to communicate to teammates about impending screens and switches. Kevin Garnett is one of the best in the league at this, directing the defensive traffic from his vantage point down low, allowing the Celtics to make quick rotations, cover holes and gaps quickly, and close out on shooters who are winding up for daggers.
The Jazz lack a communicator, a director of defensive traffic. They may have to do it as a team, calling out screens so Deron doesn't run blind into them, or waste valuable time trying to get into position while at the same time always looking over his shoulder so he doesn't run head-long into the trunk of a proverbial tree. All it takes in this league is a split second for any number of great guards to burn you with a fast first step.
Al has said the Jazz aren't communicating on defense. Maybe if he stepped into the role of "Defensive Director" they would get burned a little less. At the very least he is in the best position to see screens coming. You get me? Holler! Communication is key to successful defense in today's uber-quick NBA.
In any case, the Jazz had better figure it out fast with four of the league's top scoring offenses on tap on the other side of the ball in the next five games (Golden State 8th, Houston 4th, Denver 1st, Oklahoma City 6th).
Al has a chance to crawl out from under that glass slide in the coming week. Provided he has some help.
All that Amar -SLCDUNK I am upset at the loss, and this is a good sign.
A disturbing Deron "wants out" article.
An agressive Andrei is an ally
Kirilenko Does it All
Jazz Hope Deron Plays Sunday- Jody Gennessy
Love for Love
Studies in Crisis Management- a few days old but a good read. NBA.COM
Jazz- Ahead of the Game
What does it take for the Jazz to win? Saltcityhoops
SLCDUNK Game Thread
NBA All-star Reserves- Fanhouse
Acting COY -Jazzbots
Big Al Steps Up
Steve Luhm The Trib
AP- Yahoo.com Recap
Deron Williams Injured, Early-Oop and The Human Pogo-Stick Coming To Town
Not THE Solution, But A Solution Nonetheless
Times are tough as a Jazz fan. Mired in a 6 game losing streak, Utah is struggling to find answers to cure what ails them. Even Hall-Of-Famer Jerry Sloan admittedly is finding it difficult to pinpoint. Directly following a brutal 120-91 shellacking at the hands of “big brother” Los Angeles Lakers, Sloan was asked what it will take to snap out of this losing streak.
The first words he uttered? “I’m not exactly sure.”
Not a great sign, really. But it’s time to tackle this head on. Jerry has shifted the starting lineup around the past 3 games (Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles starting in place of Andrei Kirilenko at small forward), but to no avail. The reason is simple: The wrong position and needs were being addressed.
Utah needs a change at shooting guard.
We’ve all heard it. “If only Utah had kept Wesley Matthews.” “If only we had a legitimate deep threat like, say, 6th Man of the Year candidates Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry.” “I wish Utah could pull off a trade for O.J. Mayo.”
These names are regulars in the discussion for solutions to Utah’s shooting guard problems. But what if I told you that Utah is better off without them? What if I told you that the solution is right under our noses, but we are refusing to see it? I’m telling you right now, our solution is already in a Jazz uniform.
And his name is C.J. Miles.
While Miles carries a reputation as an inconsistent streak shooter, which isn’t completely untrue, he’s often overlooked by fans and coaches alike as a defensive presence. Raja Bell, meanwhile, gets a pass as a defensive stopper based solely on reputation alone. I hold absolutely no reservation is stating that C.J. Miles replacing Raja Bell as Utah’s starting shooting guard is a good move. A great move, even.
It’s not even close. And statistics back me up.
Keep in mind, C.J. is 23 years old and has less than 6,000 career minutes under his belt, while Raja is an aged veteran at 34 years old. This alone should give Miles a bit of a nod, but nonetheless, Raja remains the starter. Essentially, both players’ reputations precede them.
First, let’s take a look at C.J. Miles this year compared to Raja Bell’s first year in Utah (fourth year in the NBA). Raja quickly became a fan (as well as Coach Sloan) favorite for his toughness, shooting and intangibles as a glue guy. C.J. is still battling a stigma, even this year, that he’ll never be the player Utah expected when it drafted him out of Skyline High School.
Miles vs. Bell – Offense
Similar points in their careers. Similar usage as a role player off the bench. Raja was a slightly better 3-point shooter, but outside of that, CJ owns. On technically less minutes per game. And advanced statistics show offensively, C.J. now was a bigger threat as well as better with the ball.
That was then, this is now. How does an off-the-bench CJ stack up against Utah’s current starting SG? Since the minutes played are a bit off, we’ll also look at Per-36 stats as well as advanced stats to give a more accurate assessment.
The 3P% deficiency is virtually the same as in the previous comparison, and while Raja has vastly improved his free throws over the years, Miles is getting to the line twice as much as Bell (3 FTA per 36 for Miles to 1.5 FTA for Bell), suggesting a more aggressive approach on offense. Also, on Per-36 points per game, we’re led to believe that C.J. could nearly double Raja’s output were he given the starter’s minutes. Also, you have to think Raja’s TS% is bolstered by his very impressive 92.5% from the charity stripe.
While shooting percentages this year are virtually a wash head to head, Miles protects the ball and is a better teammate in terms of sharing the ball effectively. It’s not surprising that C.J. is a greater offensive threat. I’m sure most assume that was the case.
This is where it gets interesting….
Miles’ inability to provide on the defensive end like Raja Bell is what is holding him back, right? Well, let’s take a look:
Miles vs. Bell – Defense
Using Per 36 Minute averages (due to playing time discrepancy between the two) and advanced statistics, we compare C.J. Miles and Raja Bell’s effectiveness on defense.
Yes, Raja has aged. But these figures aren’t even close. Per 36 stats alone should bust the myth that Bell is a better defensive SG than Miles. But look even closer at the more accurate and relevant advanced stats. IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE. Miles is by far a better defensive rebounder (a key stat, considering Utah’s woes giving up offensive boards), and the lineups he is in benefit from him being on the court more than having Raja out there.
Yet Raja continues to start at SG, get 30+ minutes per game and even close out games. Raja’s ineffectiveness is costing Utah wins and robbing Miles of minutes that would be better suited for his skill set.
This should settle the Miles vs. Bell debate as to who should be starting and getting the majority of minutes from the two spot. But what about those other guys I mentioned earlier? What about Matthews, Crawford, Terry, and Mayo? Would those guys put the Jazz over the line of pretender to legitimate contender?
See for yourself:
Miles vs. Shooting Guards - Offense:
First, let’s look at offensive production. Even though these three come off the bench for their respective teams, each gets anywhere from 5-8 minutes more per game than Miles. Therefore, we will again look at per game, per 36 and advanced stats. We’ll also compare the same categories that we compared Miles and Bell head-to-head with.
As it stands, Miles’ point production per 36 minutes is on point with all four, given he is allotted their equivalent minutes. Mayo is still very young and could develop, but when Miles is already on your team, why wish for someone less effective?
Look, I know we all miss Wesley. And yes, he is having a terrific season. His shooting percentages are better than C.J.’s. But you have consider his usage/role is up as Portland’s second option behind Aldridge, thanks to Brandon Roy’s knees. He would be the 4th option on this Jazz squad and wouldn’t produce in the way he does for the Blazers. Apples and oranges.
Besides Wesley, the only player who definitively shoots better than C.J. is Jamal Crawford. And while Crawford and Jason Terry distribute better than Miles, is it enough to offset the defensive presence C.J provides over them?
You be the judge.
Miles vs. Shooting Guards – Defense:
Once again, not even close. Miles defense is severely over looked by Jazz fans (and, dare I say, coaching staff). Wesley on defense is closest and still Miles is statistically better in EVERY CATEGORY. Who knew?
Mayo is also close, but his offense alone makes it a moot point. Miles statistically beats Mayo in every category, save 3P% (and it’s very close).
Sure, Crawford and Terry would be more of an all around offensive threat. But for the miniscule offensive boost they provide, their presence on defense would severely damage an already fragile mix that Utah has. The tradeoff? Not worth it. Miles doubles them in rebounds and blocks per 36 minutes. He is a more efficient in every defensive category than them. And again, it’s not even close.
Am I trying to sell you on Miles as being Utah’s Ray Allen or Manu Ginobili? Of course not. Those guys are big-time players making big-time contributions to big-time teams. What I am going for is to help each of you realize that we have a solution to what ails Utah. We don’t need Wesley Matthews. Our solution is right under our nose.
At 23 years old, Miles is a much better option than a 34 year old Raja Bell. Hands down. Defensively, he’s better than *gasp* Wesley Matthews. Miles, given the proper minutes, could be our own Jamal Crawford. Our own Jason Terry. Our new Wesley Matthews. And even more.
And Mayo shouldn’t really even be in the conversation, unless he’s coming in for an outgoing Raja and planning to come off the bench. That, I could go for.
My conclusion: Let the statistics speak for themselves. If you are still hung up on C.J. Miles as a viable option at starting shooting guard on the Utah Jazz, it’s time you wake up to the fact that C.J. has matured and is filling his role quite well.
Even Levar Burton likes C.J. Miles. Ok, I made that up.
But, as they say, you don’t have to take my word for it.
I’ll let the stats to do the talking for me.
I divided these link into two sections. Today's game and Last Night's Homicide. There is also another John Stockton (steals) article mixed in.
Coach Pop "I can see myself coaching for a while"
Courtside with the Spurs
Tim Duncan's Big Scare
48 Minutes of Hell Spurs Blog
Last Night's Homicide
Salt City Hoops
SLCdunk Game Thread
NBA Steals leaders article from Yahoo.
Brian T Smith the Slc Trib
Purple and Gold Blog
New Lineup for third Straight Game
What's wrong with Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz Bleacher Report
CJ Miles is a Starter
Purple and Blues
In order to save ink for those of you that print these out, I am recapping the game in four letter words from our Jazz fans around the world. Here you go.
1). In Utah we have the little brother mentality with the Lakers, as in we have not been able to get past them in the playoffs since 99' when Shaq and Kobe started dominating. How do the Lakers faithful feel about Utah the state, the Utah Jazz, and the Utah Jazz fans.
WM-Ouch... tough question. I'll cover it in two parts...
There are no series of rumors connecting either guy to the Lakers yet, but that never stop Laker fans from talking about other superstars in the league as the next big acquisition for the Lakers. But Jeannie Buss has been mentioned just recently saying that the Lakers are starting to look into ways of trying to bring in some younger talent or talents perhaps to become the next cornerstone or two. Considering this is most likely Phil Jackson's final season in L.A., the Lakers are gonna need a true point guard to run the new offense. Whether that's someone in the level of either Williams or Paul that the Lakers feel the need that they should have is another issue entirely.
Most Laker fans seem to like Chris Paul more, but I personally don't mind either one.
WM-Sorry man, LA have that battle won. I think they're going to be VERY up for this game. Both as a team, and on individual levels. Bynum/Odom will be out to prove All Star credentials, and Pau's due for a burner.
WM-It's a tough one. Maybe? With the return of Theo Ratliff imminent, I think they have the pieces to really be a tough play. They're set and have enough depth to make sure that players are well-rested and ready for the playoff push.
TPGBlog-Play them with physicality and make Kobe a volume shooter. Those have been the most proven methods of beating the Lakers for a game but not a 7-game series. The Lakers are too versatile of a team not to adapt to their opponents. That's why they've been in the Finals for the past 3 seasons.
WM-Another good question. It'll impact LA, no doubt about it... still, I think that LA have the ability to cover that - Ron Artest plays a large part in that, and he has the opportunity to continue to improve (he has improved!). Ron's pretty key for LA over the next few weeks/months. I bet that's causing some sleepless nights.
WM-Tough opponent. Hard-nosed, pushing physicality to it's legal limits.
Just wanted to thank the guys from the Purple and Gold Blog and With-Malice, go check out their write ups for tonight's game. With Malice had me put a Jazz Haiku together and PNGB always has a good read.
Jazz's downturn leads to depressing forecast.
Jazz's Williams Digs in as Utah's Slide continues
Too Old to Dominate?
Jazz mess up now, pay later
Utah Remains Solid, but not Spectacular
Silver Screen and Roll
SI.COM Defensive Issue Mute Jazz (courtesy of Jake Jeppsen)
Will Deron Williams be the Next Carmelo Anthony?
Out of Tune Jazz Visit LA.