Despite The Uprise The Utah Jazz Offense Is Still Struggling


Mar 21, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) controls the ball between Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) and guard Shaun Livingston (34) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Utah Jazz 106-91. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There is so much good happening with the Utah Jazz. Since the All-Star Break there hasn’t been a hotter team. With a newfound sense of chemistry, intensity and aggressiveness, the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trailblazers have all fallen victim to this Rocky Mountain monster.

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Things are beginning to click and long gone are the 0-9 days we all experienced in November.

Much has been said about the Jazz’s charge down the stretch. The defense has been stifling. It makes teams bleed, cry and meltdown simultaneously. It’s also the biggest reason why the Jazz has been on such a tear.

Although none of us are making championship parade plans anytime soon, people are starting to take notice.

Conversely, with attention comes more analysis and advanced scouting; unfortunately for the Jazz, basketball is a two-way game. It doesn’t take a genius to see the Jazz have some very blatant weaknesses — mainly shooting, scoring and playmaking ability. Historically, elite teams launch a balanced attack, ranking in the top 10 in both offense and defense.

Coach Quin Snyder hasn’t received enough credit, but he’s done a phenomenal job of maintaining spacing and keeping the floor balanced. When you watch the Jazz on offense, you’ll quickly see how much it relies on screening and ball movement. It’s a clever way to mask a lack of shooting. However, a mask is bound to come off every now and again.

While crunching the numbers, the Jazz’s offensive woes became evermore apparent. The most glaring is the agonizingly slow pace of play. Its 90.1 possessions per 48 minutes ranks dead last in the league and it’s not one bit pretty. On the average night, you can bet on the Jazz grinding out possessions, swinging the ball into the post or running a pick-and-roll, and milking the shot clock into the waning seconds.

This style of play can be contributed to why the Jazz averages a paltry 94.7 points per game, ranking 28th out of 30 teams. That’s bottom ten percent, folks. As of late, it’s sufficed, but against up-tempo, high-scoring offenses — like the Golden State Warriors, who put up 106 points on the Jazz without Klay Thompson — it’s going to be a problem.

Take for example last week’s game against the Washington Wizards — a game the Jazz lost 88-84. While the Jazz didn’t get blown out and put together a solid defensive effort, it just couldn’t score enough to get the job done. For the game, our boys shot 42-percent, including 18-percent from three. That’s ugly, and far from a viable way to win games.

Lack of shooting and scoring are also huge problems. Outside of Rudy GobertTrevor Booker and Derrick Favors — who all get the majority of their shots in the paint — no one else shoots above 50-percent. Also, other than Gordon Hayward (15th) and Derrick Favors (36th), no other Jazz player’s scoring average cracks the top 70. Yikes.

This is problematic in so many ways. It puts an unfair amount of pressure on Hayward and Favors to perform every single night. And in the event that they don’t, the team doesn’t have the personnel to pick up the slack. This makes scouting and game planning simple: focus on stopping the two scorers, double team in the post and deny Hayward the ball on the perimeter, because no one else can truly hurt you throughout the course of a game.

Collectively, the Jazz shoot 45-percent from the field and 35-percent from behind the arc — both are below the league average. And with the snail-like style of play, the amount of shots put up in a game must be factored in as well. The team also shoots a measly 72.5-percent at the line, good for 26th in the league. This translates into a whole slew of points being left at the charity stripe. Combine all of these variables and the end result is a team that struggles mightily to put the ball in the hoop.

Looking around the league, the best offensive teams present widespread scoring attacks. The Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers all have five players who score in double digits. The Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers have six. The Houston Rockets have eight. All of these teams are considered title contenders and their balanced offenses are a big reason why.

Something else that caught my eye while researching is the lack of playmaking on this Jazz team. Not a single Jazz player averages five assists per game. Trey Burke and Gordon are the two leaders at 4.4 and 4.2 assists per game, respectively. This means there’s not enough ball movement going on and/or there aren’t enough players who can make the right passes or plays. Stagnancy is a problem and too often players have to create their own shots instead of relying on crisp passing and offensive fluidity. Ball movement and screens are nice, but when players can’t make things happen it becomes counterproductive. It’s created quite a paradox in what should be a motion offense.

The team that comes to mind most as to whom the Jazz should model itself after is the 2004 Detroit Pistons; a defensive juggernaut that lacked a definitive superstar, and instead relied on teamwork and scoring by committee. The biggest difference between the two — other than the ring, of course — is that the Pistons had a myriad of weapons. Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, and Rip Hamilton all scored in double digits and could spread the floor and shoot from nearly anywhere on the court. The Jazz isn’t too far off from that and it has the defense down, now it becomes an effort to get the right offensive pieces.

However, it’s not all offensive doom and gloom for the Jazz. There is a shimmering silver lining in play. Rodney Hood has been playing wonderfully since coming back from injury, averaging over 11 PPG and providing a shooting spark; a fully healed and motivated Alec Burks will be back next season; and the Jazz have some money to acquire some scoring and wing depth this offseason.

Names like Arron AfflaloDanny GreenKhris Middleton and former Jazzman Wes Matthews, provided he makes a full recovery from his torn Achilles (which is unlikely), have all been tossed around and would be wonderful additions. On the other hand, if the Jazz decide to go out and get a veteran point guard instead Brandon Knight, Lou Williams, Goran Dragic and Jeremy Lin are all available and score in the double digits.

I have no idea what the Jazz will do, but these are all intriguing names.

The word is out: the Utah Jazz is the sexy, young team on the rise. It’s been thrilling and something us fans should be reveling in. Not since Memo was money have we had something like this to look forward to. But it won’t be long until our boys in blue are no longer winning by catching teams off guard. The object of playing basketball is to score more points than your opponent, and right now those points are coming at a premium. If the Jazz wants to get back to title contention, it’s going to have to find some offense.