Saturday, January 29, 2005

Jazz let another Fish off the hook

A Promising start ends in 4th Quarter Heartbreak

The young Jazz struggled to complete a promising game in Minnesota on Friday night. In fact after leading my 16, the Jazz let Minnesota wiggle off the hook late in the game and ruined what was nearly a great trip to the Great Lakes Region. Until the NBA starts giving credit for winning partial games, or counting “we almost did its” as victories, the Jazz will have to keep clawing.

In fact to best understand what happened to the Jazz Friday night, we could examine a hypothetical fishing trip made by a group of young fishermen.

The young fishermen showed up to fish the challenging unfamiliar lake in Minnesota. The young fishermen didn’t have much experience, nor did they feel too comfortable, in the strange surroundings. Luckily, they were given some guidance by an old Ranger, who tried to impart all the wisdom and planning needed to obtain a fine catch. The young fishermen were full of youthful energy and spunk, and while not completely sure how to accomplish the task, they marched bravely ahead. Initially following the plan laid out for them by the seasoned Ranger, the fishermen looked to have a great deal of success. In fact, they hooked a big fish and started to reel it in. The fish while not a trophy fish that would garner national attention, it was certainly a conquer worth having and would gain the young fishermen some esteem and acknowledgement within their region. Things seemed to be going very well, but in the excitement of landing the big fish and thinking of all the grandeur and pride that would be achieved, the young fishermen forgot to stay with the plan and tips provided by the Ranger. As the fish got near the boat, the young fishermen were excited but also getting very nervous and caught up in the moment. The fish decided to fight back and try to free himself. The young inexperienced fishermen went ahead and tried to land the fish anyway, but as they were lifting the fish up out of the water and clearly able to see their prize, they neglected to quickly scoop it into the net. The big fish shook and spun and freed itself. Splashing back into the water the fish swam away and left the young fishermen broken hearted. Instead of leaving their adventure to the Great Lakes Region feeling successful, the young fishermen were forced to endure a late night trip home empty handed.

After the game the Ranger…urr Jazz coach, Jerry Sloan, had to feel encouraged by the way his team of young fishermen, battled and attacked early in the game. However, losing composure at the end and not showing the mental toughness required to win, was surely a tough thing to swallow. One thing is for certain, I don't expect Sloan to give up trying to teach these guys how to fish...urr Win.

For a non fishing related recap of the game, you can read the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of the game by clicking here.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Shooting and Missing

Shooting Percentages in the NBA : The Best and the worst.

As you know, I love to look at statistics of different kinds. One very common statistic is field goal percentage. Usually the best big men in the league are the best percentage shooters. Looking at the top 5 in the NBA, there are no real surprises:

  • Shaquille O'Neal .610
  • Amare Stoudemire .572
  • Eddie Curry .537
  • Carlos Boozer .530
  • Udonis Haslem .528
One guy who makes the top ten is somewhat shocking. Jason Terry of Dallas is #10 in the NBA at .521. This is surprising in that he is a guard who shoots mainly from the perimeter, but also, the guy is a career .432 shooter. Something has changed, and I'd guess it's playing on a winning team that features several other great players who are demanding double teams.

One thing that people don't always look at is the worst field goal percentage shooters. I did, and I was surprised to find who was dead last in the NBA for made FG %. The criteria requires that all these players must be on pace to make 300 FG for the season, so for that reason part time players don't appear much in this list. Okay, who is last?

How about Kobe Bryant. Yes, Kobe is ranked #101 and therefore is the lowest ranked player in terms of shooting percentage. It doesn't help that Kobe takes almost 30% of his shots behind the arc, where he only shoots 33%.

Here are the brick-layers (bottom of the FG% rankings):
  • Kobe Bryant .406
  • Antoinne Walker .409
  • Earl Boykins .412
  • Allen Iverson .414
  • Morris Peterson .415
  • Corey Maggette .415
You can see the entire list on ESPN by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Jazz Show Signs of Life

The Utah Jazz showed signs of life in their 109-100 victory over the Seattle Sonics last night. It might be more accurately stated as "Signs of Health". The two stars of the game for the Jazz were Andrei Kirilenko, playing just his 3rd game back from injury, and point guard Raul Lopez, who has had his career limited by injuries.

Andrei Kirilenko played two 10 minute stretches for the Jazz, as he is still being limited by the trainers who do not want to rush him back too quick. Perhaps no other player is as hard to describe as AK 47, in that when he is on the floor good things happen and you can't always measure them. That doesn't mean he is a quiet player, as when you are finished watching you know his impact is huge, and huge in a way that the box score sometimes misses. I am not sure whether "Jigsaw" is a good nickname for him or not, but its many different pieces that come together to make an effective result with Andrei. Blocked shots, steals, offensive rebounds, deflections, and off the ball movement are things that he excels at. Sure, he delivers points and rebounds and some assists, but he is dominant in those other areas. Kirilenko being back from injury definitely brings hope to the fans. You can sense it.

Raul Lopez was the unquestioned star of the game. Raul played a career high 38 minutes and set season highs of 20 points and 11 assists. Keep in mind, Lopez had averaged only 13.6 minutes per game this season, but was thrust into the starting point guard position due to the trade of Carlos Arroyo and the recent injury to Keith McLeod. Health will be a key, but this guy may not give back the starting position for a while.

Did anyone see this victory by the Jazz coming? The author of the best Sonics blog going, is in tune with pulse of his team and predicted this outcome correctly (click and read for yourself). I for one was somewhat surprised. I thought the fact that Seattle played the night before, while the Jazz were home and resting, meant it could be close. However, after watching the offensive show Seattle put on the Jazz over the weekend, it was hard to imagine them being slowed down by the less than impressive defense the Jazz have been playing.

The Jazz have a home dominated schedule with 4 of the next 5, and 5 of the next 7, being played in the Delta Center. As the season is rapidly ticking away, the Jazz must now start to win if there is any prayer of playoff contention. I shouldn't mention this, but the Jazz are now 15-28 on the season, and would have to finish 26-13 to get to .500 (which still may not be a playoff birth in the rugged Western Conference).

A closing comment on the Sonics (whom the Jazz have finished playing for the year), is that they sure are fun to watch shoot the basketball. Ray Allen might be the purest bomber in Seattle since Downtown Freddie Brown. And probably not since Jack Sikma have they had a big guy step out like Vladimir Radmanovic and bury endless jumpers. It doesn't end there either as Rashard Lewis, Luke Ridnour, and Antonio Daniels all seem to drop daggers when left open.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Stop the Zebras

The Jazz are all FOULED up

Every time the official blows the whistle, victory is farther away

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong Jazz supporter. However, it has become clear that the Jazz are FOULED up this year.

One over-looked statistic that actually tells a great deal about winning and losing is the fouls called differential. Meaning, the number of fouls called on the Jazz, minus the number of fouls called on their opponent in the same game, creates the fouls called differential (FCD). I'm not sure that it's statistic that is monitored all that often, and perhaps is only being done so now as I grasp at straws to explain the Jazz season thus far. That said, this statistical review delivered a pretty powerful result.

The Jazz have the highest and worst FCD in the NBA at +2.82 per game (A good FCD is a negative number). How important is the FCD to winning and losing? Consider a study of the worst 6 teams (highest FCD) and best 6 teams (lowest FCD) as of Friday night (01/21/05):

Worst 6: Utah (+2.82 ), Atlanta (+2.47), New Jersey (+2.00), New York (+1.92), Chicago (+1.88), and New Orleans (+1.78); Combined Record: 77-153, or .335 winning percentage.

Best 6: Phoenix (-2.82), Miami (-2.47), San Antonio (-2.39), Detroit (-2.26), Sacramento (-1.76), and LA Lakers (-1.67); Combined Record: 163-73, or .691 winning percentage.

How could the fouls called differential be so important? Consider that every additional foul called would most likely be a foul called when the team is already in the bonus for a quarter, and their opponent would get two free throws. So the Jazz are fouling almost 3 more fouls per game than their opponent and therefore giving up nearly an extra 6 foul shots per game. For a team that has lost many close games that is important. Add to the fact that an extra foul here or there could be putting one of their good players on the bench during a key time.

Don’t the Jazz always play physical defense, and most likely always been poor in this category? Actually No. Last year when the Jazz finished with a 42-40 record, their FCD while still not great at +1.18, was more of a middle of the road number. In the last two Stockton and Malone years, the Jazz had impressive -1.38 and -1.19 FCD’s and won 55% of their games.

Why are the Jazz doing so poor this season? It could be the fact that the NBA has changed the way they call fouls this year and are whistling aggressive defensive teams for more fouls. However, three aggressive and physical defensive teams (Miami, San Antonio, and Detroit) are 3 of the best 4 teams in the NBA in terms of FCD.

Missing Andrei Kirilenko with injury, could that be a reason? Could be. Interestingly, with Andrei in the line-up this year the Jazz are 8-6, with a -1.36 FCD, which would be 8th best in the entire NBA.

Perhaps having Kirilenko back in the line-up will allow the Jazz to make a few more defensive plays, and result in the referees blowing that whistle a couple less times per game. One thing is certain: Over a period of games, fewer whistles, means fewer losses.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Breaking NBA News: Arroyo Traded to Detroit

There were rumors that Utah Jazz point guard Carlos Arroyo could be traded. Most people figured it just to be natural speculation because Arroyo was struggling to succeed this season. However, it appears the rumors to be true:

ESPN's Chad Ford is reporting that the Jazz are sending Arroyo to Detroit for Elden Campbell and a future first round draft choice.

This move would give Detroit a true PG, something they have been lacking. It would give the Jazz a first round pick and salary cap room in the coming off season. Elden Campbell would probably be waived. Some will say it was a quick hook by the Jazz to deal him so soon, especially given the fact he played so well last season and had a terriffic Olympic tournament leading Puerto Rico.

Bottom line: I like Arroyo, but he is young and hardly reliable for the Jazz. They have played better without him this year (see previous post on this) and the Jazz ownership has always backed Coach Sloan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bell rings up Lakers in 4th

Arroyo on the bench again, while Jazz sparkle in the 4th Quarter

The Jazz beat the Lakers in the Fabulous Forum last night, 102-94. Okay, so it was the Staples center and Magic Johnson nor Stockton-to-Malone were on exhibit. For that matter, the modern day heroes of Kobe Bryant and Andrei Kirilenko were also absent with leg injuries. It still doesn't change the fact that there is still something fun about playing the purple and gold in La-La land and something terrific about winning, no matter the circumstances. When the camera panned we saw all that we needed: The LA Skyline outside, the stars courtside, the banners in the rafters, and the Jazz with more points than the hometown Lakers on the scoreboard.

As typical with many Jazz games this season, one of the most interesting things was who played and who didn't. Raja Bell, for instance, didn't play much. In the first half that is. Raja even admitted after the game that he didn't like not playing. But in the end, he respected Coach Sloan's decision and did not show signs of frustration or a selfish motivation. Instead, when he was finally given extra minutes in the 4th quarter of Monday Night's game, Bell let his play do the talking and scored 14 of his 16 points in the quarter. He was hardly the only star, but his big 3-pointer late in the game was crucial. The fact that he had the attitude when needed was huge.

In contrast, Carlos Arroyo continues to ride the pine for the Jazz. I understand his frustration, but I'm still optimistic enough to think that if he keeps his head right, that he'll get another opportunity to be the lead point guard down the road. Last night, even during a gripping game against the Lakers when a grumpy person would have been forgiven to lose himself and excitedly support his teammates, appeared somber. There were several times when you could not miss his glum and less than enthusiastic expression. He's young and I hope will rebound, but visually he looks like he is completely crushed.

The media typically refers to Arroyo's not playing because of a fallout with Jerry Sloan. Was there a fallout? Yes, we all saw the argument, but you forget that Sloan routinely fell out of sorts with others in the past, only to give them playing time when they were willing and able to contribute. Greg Ostertag, for instance, was always banging heads with Sloan, but they quickly put it behind them and Greg contributed shortly afterwards. I think rather than pointing to that one argument as to why Carlos isn't playing, we can look at the numbers for the problem.

First, a general comparison of some of Arroyo's average numbers between this year and last:

This year: 24.7 mins, 40.1 FG%, 38.9 3pt %, 1.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 TO, and 8.2 points .
Last year: 28.3 mins, 44.1 FG%, 37.4 3pt %, 2.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 TO, and 12.6 points.

There isn't a huge fall off statistically, although he isn't shooting or rebounding quite as well, but the key is that the team isn't performing as well when he is in the game. The role the Jazz give their point guard is to be responsible for others and the overall flow of the team. You might say that it's subjective to say that Arroyo isn't doing as well as the other PGs on the roster, and there isn't much tangible proof that the team isn't performing when he is on the court. Well after a little digging some interesting numbers can be found. The amazing folks at have taken statistics to a new level. You can see a report on the Jazz, that shows how the Jazz perform with each player on the court, in terms of +/- points relative to their opponents (based on a 48 minute game). When you compare the three point guards on the Jazz, this is very telling:

Arroyo -8.3
McCleod +6.0
Lopez +8.4

For conversation sake, and to highlight how much the Jazz miss Andrei Kirilenko, his number is a +21.7. How big is Kirilenko's presence? Compare his to some other NBA greats: Duncan (15.6), Iverson (1.6), Garnett (14.4), Kobe (9.7), Lebron (12.2) and Steve Nash (12.7). We'll have to keep monitoring these numbers as the season goes one.
(Note these numbers seem to be very fluid and change with each game, but as of this moment, you can get the idea)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Kings execute Jazzmen

The Jazz were playing sweet music the last two games. Cliche? Sure, but after beating two of the best teams in the NBA this week, the Jazz may be entitled. Thursday night in Sacramento, the Utah Jazz were brought back to earth a bit, when the Kings used terrific offensive execution at key moments, to end Utah's two game winning streak.

The Kings were warriors. It was a physical and bloody night. Greg Ostertag had his false teeth knocked out when he was accidentally elbowed in the mouth by Jazz center Curtis Borchardt. Kings forward Maurice Evans went strong to the basket late in the 4th quarter but was challenged in mid-air by Carlos Boozer and Kirk Snyder of the Jazz. Evans lost his balance and landed gruesomely on his head and shoulder. When all said and done, Ostertag has six stitches, Evans had twelve stitches and a concussion, but the Sacramento got the victory.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Sacramento victory was the execution on offense. Especially noticeable after timeouts. Virtually every time they came out of timeout the Kings scored a basket off a well designed play. One of the few times the Jazz completely defended the designed play, Chris Webber took it up on himself and made a forced shot. With regard to Webber, he clearly is not the same guy physically that he used to be. He isn't as quick and his swagger and way of moving now seem to be a product of years of banging on his body, rather than a style point being made. That said, Webber is savvy, still very talented, and makes up for physical slowing by good decision making. You may not always respect things he says and does off the court, but there are many reasons to respect the way he has continued to adapt his game over the years.

There were a few comments that always need reacting to....

What was said:
Peja Stojakovic, perhaps the best shooter in the NBA, said, "When they grab and hold you for 30 minutes you get mad. I was just letting the referee know, if you are going to call it by the rules, you should do it, and not let them get away from that."
What I think:
You know I respect his shooting, but his whining about someone trying to actually guard him is a little irritating. It is not as irritating as his constant flopping, whining, arm swinging, and exaggerated movements he makes to try and draw fouls, but you get the idea. From the, 'If I could get what I want file', I'd like to see Peja being guarded by Jerry Sloan, the young or old Jerry would be fine. For the record, Peja can relax, the officials noticed and called the game exactly the way he would have hoped, with Utah being whistled for 26 fouls and Sacramento only 16. I'd rather have Peja commenting about how great his teammates Brad Miller and Chris Webber played, or the precision play calling of Rick Adelman. He is a marksman on the court, but a few of his comments are a little off the mark.

What was said:
Greg Ostertag, former Utah Jazz center, said, "That's just Jerry [Sloan]. You don't expect to see stuff like that happen, and I don't think it was intentional, I think he just got caught [Maurice Evans], and that's what he gets for jumping so high. But Jerry's hands on. 'Stick your nose in there , and if it gets busted, stick it back in', that's the way Jerry coaches."
What I think:
All those years of banging heads with coach Sloan, we always thought he and Jerry didn't understand each other. We were wrong! Actually, in all seriousness, the fall by Maurice Evans was scary. To the point that after the first couple of replays, I was very tired of seeing it and had to look away. It is however part of the game and I don't like how the world and NBA are always looking for someone to blame. The other quotes and comments suggested it was a dirty play, and even the officials gave the Jazz a flagrant foul on the play. The truth is, two players on the Jazz defended the basket and tried to get the basketball, and Evans was a high flyer who went strong to the rim. Falling and getting hurt is a risk and Evans should share some of the blame. To leap into the heart of a defense like that without assuming that bodies will collide doesn't make sense. In the end, this kid looks to have a bright future, is a terrific athlete, and reports are that despite the mild concussion he'll be fine.

Closing notes...
Kudos to the Sacramento Bee and writer Scott Howard-Cooper for the fine piece about Jerry Sloan and the emotions he has over losing his wife Bobbye. It is a must read and you can do so by clicking here.

Jazz announced Kirilenko is out until January 22nd, despite rumors and hopes that he would be back Saturday the 15th.

All in the Family. Sacramento's fill-in point guard, Eddie House is actually Mike Bibby's brother-in-law.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A rare eclipse - Jazz block out the Suns

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse rolled into the Delta Center.

For the second time this week, a true NBA powerhouse was beaten by the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz won the game, 115-108, behind a huge night from Mehmet Okur. Okur ended the night with 21 points and 17 rebounds, 10 of which were on the offensive end. There were many other contributors for the Jazz, as they flashed signs of what could be. Signs of what they hoped and thought they could be all along. They did not flash any signs of a team that entered the game in last place in their division, and had only won a third of their games on the season. To understand the brilliance of this victory, you need to look at the opponent.

Phoenix entered into the game with an astonishing 31-4 record. With only 4 losses the Suns had only half as many losses as the next closest team in the entire league (San Antonio with 8). The Suns were on pace to win 72 games in the season, which would match the Bulls for the most wins ever in an NBA season. The Suns, the night before had beaten Miami, the best team in the Eastern Conference, in a dominating fashion 122-107.

Phoenix departed Salt Lake City with loss number 5 and while showing amazing offensive ability, also showed a few areas of fragility. Lack of Depth - An injury to a key player (Nash, Stoudemire, or Marion) and this team would become very beatable. Who does the dirty work? The absence of any real ability to do the thankless tasks of rebounding and defense was evident.

The outside observer trying to explain what happened, would write this one off saying the Suns overlooked the Jazz, were tired from the night before, and probably victims of an officiating crew that favored the home town club. To be honest, the first two items are true. The Suns who rightfully have a healthy swagger going, probably overlooked the Jazz. Its also likely they were tired from the night before. However, some of the fatigue issues have more to do with team setup and coaching philosophy, than the fact they simply played the night before. Even though the Suns are young and energetic, the fatigue issue won't go away because Phoenix has no depth and a coach with a philosophy of "keeping 7 or 8 guys happy" with playing time. The result: Only two Sun reserves played more than 10 minutes, and none played more than 19, leaving the Suns with a grand total of 6 points and 3 rebounds contributed by the bench. The third explanation, about the Suns getting unfair treatment by the officials who may have been inclined to favor the home team, is simply untrue. The Jazz were whistled for 26 fouls, the Suns only 16. The Jazz shot 16 free throws the entire night, the Suns shot 36 and that factor alone kept the Suns close.

A few things and numbers, that I find interesting....

  • Suns forward Shawn Marion said, "We came out of the gates on fire tonight and I think we just relaxed a little bit. And as soon as we relaxed, they became the aggressors and they started getting the calls." Can someone send Marion the stat sheet showing that the Suns attempted more than twice the number of free throws as the Jazz? Can someone remind Shawn that he took 6 free throws, which is twice his season average (3.2 per game)?
  • The Suns totaled 14 assists for the game. Not bad. However, take away Steve Nash's 11 assists and you see only three other Suns contributed one assist each.
  • The Suns shot 27 three pointers, only making 9. That sounds like an awful lot of three point attempts, but the Suns average 24 per game on the season. It also sounds like they weren't too successful with all those shots by only making 33%. However, consider those 9 made three pointers totaled 27 points, meaning the Suns would have needed to make 14, or 52%, of 27 two point shots to equal the total points scored. Bombs Away!
  • This was the first game the Suns had lost to a team with a losing record this season.
  • A bunch of young guys were on the court last night. The oldest starter on either team was Steve Nash at 30. The 10 guys starting for the two teams averaged 25.2 years of age.
  • The Suns up-tempo, offensive style is fun to watch. They average 110 points a game, which is nearly 8 more points than the next closest team (Dallas - 102).

Did you Know? The Suns hold the NBA record for most points scored in the first half of a game, with 107. Record was set in 1990 against Denver.

The Jazz head to Sacramento tonight and then return for a game against the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if they can keep building on this new found ability to play an entire game. They should receive a boost if Andrei Kirilenko returns to the lineup this weekend as predicted.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Why they play the games, and why we watch

The Jazz are enduring a difficult year. That is an understatement. However, before we over-react to their losing record and struggles in the what seems like the 2nd half of every ball game, we need to keep perspective. Perspective, like Jerry Sloan, who recently said:

"Hardships never hurt anybody. It's how you deal with them. I've dealt with plenty of those things," said Sloan, whose wife died last June. "This is not a hardship. This is just basketball. Last year was a hardship."

Only perhaps a demeanor like Sloan could set the stage for the, "We are down, but we are not out, game of the year" thus far.

Monday Night in the Delta Center, the San Antonio Spurs entered the game having won 18 straight games over the Jazz. The Jazz last beat the Spurs nearly 5 years ago (Feb 2000). The Jazz entered the game having lost 9 games in a row, which was their longest losing streak since 1983. While those streaks didn't sound promising, the further realities of the Jazz season made it even worse. The Jazz announced that afternoon they would be without Forwards Matt Harpring and Raja Bell, who would both sit and rest injured knees. Keep in mind the Jazz were already without their best player, Andrei Kirilenko, and another rotation regular in Jarron Collins. No problem, they'll just lean on Carlos Arroyo who stared in the summer Olympics, and give him a chance to shine. Right? Well, Carlos hasn't been himself and is barely getting any playing time in Sloan's rotation.

Was I alone in feeling that the task before them was ridiculous? Hardly. In fact, I think I may always remember the demeanor and tone of those on the Jazz radio network during the pregame show. Former Coach Tom Nissalke and co-host Ian Fitzsimmons, were sort of chuckling under their breaths as they tried to give credence to the Jazz's chances of winning that night. I don't blame them, I didn't see it coming. In fact, I probably would have forgiven the Jazz if they just mailed this one in.

Well by now, you all know what happened. Mehmet Okur tipped in a miss by Keith McLeod at the buzzer and the place went nuts, as the Jazz beat the Spurs 97-96. The players and fans celebrated like they had won a playoff game. Getting the monkey, at least for a night, off your back was clearly a huge thing. Even the normal even keeled Jerry Sloan stated, "Tonight they deserve a reward because they stayed with it for the full 48 minutes". Just how much love was in the air? Even San Antonio coach Greg Popovich wasn't entirely disappointed with the outcome of the game and commented, "I'm happy for them, in a strange sort of way."

Was this the game that will turn around the Jazz season? I'd like to say yes, but the truth is, this is a Sloan coached team. He will eventually get the best out of them, and their success will hinge more on the health of key players, improvement by the new players, and the ability for the team to improve together, than the emotion or result of a single game.

For one night, the fact that the improbable happened cannot be underscored enough. It was a terrific game and a terrific thing to watch. In fact, its games like this that explain why they play the games that seemed decided ahead of time, and why we love to watch them.