Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hornets vs. Jazz. Paul vs. Williams

The Jazz played the Hornets last night and it was the first match up between two teams that were supposed to be title contenders. The Hornets are doing their part as they are percentage points ahead of San Antonio for second in the West. The Jazz have been disappointing this year and are currently ninth in the West and out of the playoffs but that can be attributed to injuries. The Jazz looked good last night and played a well balanced team game. The Hornets were tired and this was basically a scheduling loss as they came off a tough win over LA the night before.

Current records aside, these teams have a lot similarities other than the obvious Williams and Paul comparisons. They are two young teams that have the talent to be contenders and are maturing at similar rates. They both gained valuable playoff experience last year and set the foundation for future expectations. Both teams are lead by young point guards drafted 3d and 4th in 2005. Both teams have all star power forwards as the second half of their lead duos. Jerry Sloan and Byron Scott both have gone to the NBA finals twice and lost both times.

I will compare Paul and Williams but before we get to that, lets compare the rest of the rosters.

Carlos Boozer vs David West - Both average similar numbers, Boozer being 21, 11, and 3 assists with very efficient shooting numbers. David West gets 20, 7 and 1 block a game. He shoots nearly .500 and is almost 90% from the free throw line. Boozer gets his points on post ups, mid range jumpers and pick and roll lay ups. He is more of your typical power forward that bangs with guys down low. West can go down low but prefers the 10-15 foot jumper and can go out to the three point line. Boozer is a much better rebounder and can get tough rebound in traffic which West cannot. He is also an underrated passer. West is pretty much a black hole but West is a better defender. Boozer has a history of strange injuries but West has had tough time with injuries as well. The bottom line is that salaries aside, If the Jazz offered Boozer for West straight up, the Hornets would do the deal in a heartbeat. Boozer is an Olympian, West is a fringe all star. Advantage Jazz

Mehmet Okur vs Tyson Chandler - very different players that play the same position. Chandler can't shoot at all and has no offensive game other than to catch alley oops. He is lean, long and athletic and you wish that he could harness his skills to be a dominant center. He had a break out year last year but he still hasn't justified being the 2d overall pick. He makes his money on the defensive end and by rebounding but is too foul prone. He is also a bit of a head case. Okur is practically the opposite player. He makes his money by shooting long jumpers and has added a little dribble drive to his game. He needs to lose a couple of pounds, can't jump at all and looks more like a writer than an athlete. His defense consists of waving people by and yelling "toro" and then hacking them so they don't get a lay up. Would the Jazz trade Okur for Chandler? I think they would. The Hornets might like that trade too. Very small edge Jazz.

Ronnie Brewer and CJ Miles vs Rasul Butler and Morris Peterson - Good thing Morris Peterson went to the Hornets so Brewer got minutes to develop the way that he did over the past year. Brewer is getting better but still has some holes that he needs to plug. His jumper is still unreliable. He gets steals but his on ball defense is lackluster. He can't dribble or create his own shot which is essential in a league of 2 guards that score at will. Butler and Peterson are good shooters that stretch defenses but don't do much otherwise. Butler and Miles are similar but on different ends of their careers. Miles is young enough that potential is his biggest asset. Butler is a solid pro that is happy being on a winner. Advantage Jazz

Kyle Korver vs Peja Stojakovic - Peja is a shell of his old self, now surviving in the league purely on his shot. When his shot is off, he is useless. He is a poor defender, doesn't rebound or pass well and is getting worse each year. If Korver played the same minutes as Stojakovic, they would have the exact same stats. 12 points, 40% from three and not so great from 2, good FT shooter. Stojakovic has playoff experience, Korver is younger and not getting worse each year. Small edge Hornets this year, next year advantage Jazz.

Andrei Kirilenko vs James Posey - Posey was a nice pick up but I think they overpaid for him. Posey is the kind of pick up you make when you are one piece away - like the Celtics were last year - but the Hornets are not one piece away. They are one piece away now that they have Posey. He is tough defender and good 3pt shooter that provides a toughness that you cant measure by numbers, but more by championships. Kirilenko is overpaid but has been playing pretty well off the bench. He does a lot of things that is difficult to measure by traditional numbers. His true value can be seen by stats like PER and +/- numbers. Posey is on the downside of his career and has one or two good years left. Kirilenko is getting worse but is only 27 and capable of still being a starter. Advantage Jazz

Rest of the Bench
Devin Brown, Hilton Armstrong, Melvin Ely and Antonio Daniels - Daniels was a great pick up. He can back up both guard positions, he has experience and he plays good defense. Devin Brown is a Jazz cast off that is inconsistent. Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely are first round busts that take up space. Julian Wright is supposed to be talented but he hardly plays. This team misses Pargo for instant offense off the bench. The Hornets really only go seven deep.

Paul Milsap, Kosta Koufos, Ronnie Price and Brevin Knight.
Milsap is already having a break out year and might be better than West in a couple of years. It makes me sick that he didn't get these minutes last year. Koufos is already better than Armstrong or Ely. Price is really undersized shooting guard. Knight does a good job in limited minutes. Advantage Jazz

Coach Sloan vs. Scott.
Byron Scott is a good coach and did anice job before he got run out of town in NJ. He took a team that had no history of success to two NBA finals. Granted, those were two of the weakest eastern conferences in history and two of the worst NBA finals ever, but the NBA finals are the NBA finals. Sloan is already a legend. I don't agree with a lot of his player management decisions but he is a proven winner. Advantage Jazz

Looking at the comparisons, the Jazz have an edge at almost every position but their record last year do not bear that out. Last year at full strength, the Hornets ended up with two more wins than the Jazz. This year is hard to compare as the Jazz have had so many injuries. Still, with the Jazz being younger, deeper, with more playoff experience and a better coach, are the Jazz underachievers or the Hornets overachievers? The answer lies in Paul vs. Williams.

Paul vs Williams.
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Williams and feel that he hasn't yet reached his full potential. Bill Simmons wrote an article at the beginning of the year that was recently cited by the Salt Lake Tribune that said that Williams and Paul really isn't an argument, Paul clearly being the better player. That angered a lot of Utah fans but he is on the money with a lot of what he wrote. An argument can be made that Williams is the better player but most numbers say otherwise.

Williams has a few advantages over Paul. He is bigger and stronger which lets him guard the bigger point guards and can post up smaller guards like Paul. In head to head match ups, Paul has had trouble guarding him in the post and has had foul trouble. Williams is a very good mid range and 3 point shooter. Paul has improved his shooting this year but still would prefer to go to the basket than take a 15 footer.
Paul is a much better penetrator and can get to the basket almost at will. He creates so many problems, drawing defenders and scoring when he a second defender isn't quick enough to get to him. Even then, Paul is athletic enough to finish and is the better finisher of the two. He also gets a slight edge in passing with more assists and less turnovers.
Just comparing statistics, the two are very similar. Since Williams has been injured this year we will use their 07-08 per game averages.

Williams 37 min 18.8pts 3.0 rbs 10.5 ast 1.1 stl 3.4 to .507 fg .395 3fg .803 ft
Paul 37 min 21.1pts 4.0 rbs 11.6 ast 2.7 stl 2.5 to .488 fg .369 3fg .851 ft

The scoring difference of 2.3 pts is explained by Paul taking 2.4 more shots per game. The biggest disparity is in steals. Paul currently leads the league in steals while Williams is probably a little below average for point guards. While these statistics don't show much of gap between the two, using other statistics it becomes more obvious.

In the age of "Moneyball" in baseball, basketball has its own equivalents of advanced statistics which help analyze players better than traditional stats. These can be found on and

Season Age Tm Lg
Williams 2007-08 23 UTA NBA
3059 20.8 .595
.544 1.4
8.3 4.9
Paul 2007-08 22 NOH NBA
80 3006 28.3 .576 .524
2.4 10.3

43.6 1.5 0.6 17.7 23.1 118
110 9.0 2.3 11.4
52.2 3.9
0.1 12.1
25.7 125 103
4.5 17.3

A couple of differences stand out. One is PER which is a rating created by ESPN's John Hollinger that tries to put one number on a players total performance. For an explanation of what it means, click below

Williams PER of 20.8 is a very good PER. PER is curved to have an average of 15 so Williams is well above the average and is 20th overall for the year. Paul's PER of 28.3 was 2d to Lebron James and is 38th overall ALLTIME.

Another number that stands out is Win Shares. This is a stat that basically measures the number of wins a player is responsible for by himself for the year. Williams WS of 11.4 is excellent and his best year to date. Paul's WS of 17.3 lead the league last year and was 18th ALLTIME. Offensive rating, defensive rating, assist percentage, steal percentage all bear out the disparity between the two stars. These stats do not say that Williams is bad and that Paul is good. These statistics say that William is good and Paul is great. It also says that Paul's 07-08 season wasn't just great, but historic. The amazing thing is that Paul is even better this year with his PER over 30!

Finally if the statistics don't convince you, then the team comparison should. The Jazz are even or have an edge at every position outside of point guard. So how did the Hornets win 2 more games last year than the Jazz? The Hornets only have an advantage at point guard and as Jazz fans we would like to believe that advantage isn't that great. The truth is that Paul is worth about six more wins a year than Williams. Paul is the great difference maker on that team and if the Hornets were to offer Paul for Williams straight up, it would be a clear no brainer. Am I happy that the Jazz have Williams? Of course. I love Williams and I think his best years are yet to come as point guards don't peak till their late 20's. He might end up a top 20 point guard of all time. I am certainly glad that they didn't take the 5th pick Raymond Felton that same year. Do I wish that they took Chris Paul with the 3d pick instead of Williams? Only a fool would say no. Paul might end up being a top 5 point guard of all time. In fact, it might be the difference between being yearly contenders for the title, and the Jazz winning their first championship.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Utah's case for a national title

Did you catch any of the pre-game show before the Sugar Bowl? If you did, then you basically saw the announcers say that the Utes weren't in the same class as Alabama. Most of the country agreed and even die hard Ute fans weren't crazy enough to predict more than a close victory. Barry Switzer echoed the sentiments of most pundits when he said that Alabama wouldn't even have recruited a single one of the Ute players. The funny thing is that he's right. The recruits that Utah and teams in the MWC get are not the nationally ranked players that go to play at Alabama and the SEC. Tonight's game showed what a team can accomplish versus individual talent. This game doesn't mean that Utah has more talented players, but it does mean that Utah is the better team.

The final score for the game doesn't even tell the whole story. If you started watching in the second half when Alabama made it 21-17, you might think that these were two evenly matched teams heading into the fourth quarter. The truth is that Utah DOMINATED this game. Brain Johnson played one of the best games of his career and lead a precise passing attack. Alabama never got any pressure on him and so he had all day to throw. Their receivers made exceptional plays for big gains in the first quarter and seemed to get the extra yards they needed for first downs. The SEC is supposed to be known for its defense but their defense was really a non factor in this game. They looked slow, they missed tackles and didn't make the stops they needed to make.

There were many surprising aspects of this game but Utah's defense was astounding. They looked like they were playing against a slow BYU team the way that they were beating Alabama's O-line. Their overall team speed was impressive and the way they forced John Parker Wilson into making bad throw after bad throw was the difference maker. Alabama would put a couple of good plays together and then Utah would get a sac that killed their drive. Utah's secondary also played well and there were at least three balls that were easy interceptions that Utah defenders dropped that would have blown this game out. The crazy thing is that Utah is only the second fastest defense in the MWC.

The knock against smaller conferences is that they don't have the athletes to compete with bigger conferences. It wasn't the case here as Utah was so much faster on both sides of the ball and I don't think it was an intensity issue. I know that Alabama must have been disappointed to not be in the Championship game but that was weeks ago and if you can't get up for playing in the Sugar Bowl then you probably shouldn't have been invited to be there. Another wrinkle to this victory is that it was practically a road game for Utah. The game was in SEC country and Nick Saban has a lot of fans down in Louisiana for his work at LSU. Utah doesn't have a national following like Alabama and the crowd was decidedly crimson. The near silence in the fourth quarter was all you needed to hear about the power of this victory. If you played this game five more times, Utah would win four of them.

National Title hopes
Utah numerically has no chance at winning the national title but now you wonder how they would fare against Florida or Oklahoma. Honestly, I don' t think that they would beat either of those teams, or even beat USC but we'll never know and there is beauty in that. Ute fans can forever feel like they were robbed of a chance at the national title and end the season on a high instead of feeling disappointed. No one remembers second place but people will remember an undefeated season and the belief that they could have won the national title will stay with them forever.

Looking a little closer at the resumes of Utah, Oklahoma and Florida
Oklahoma has played a great schedule and has a very impressive resume.
Their wins against bowl teams are (rankings)
1.Cincinnati ( 12) 55-26 H
2.TCU (11) 35-10 H
3.Texas Tech (7) 65-21 H
4.Oklahoma State (13) 61-41 R
5.Missouri (21) 62-21 N
6.Kansas (NR) 45-31 H
7.Nebraska (NR) 62-28 H
They lost to 3d ranked Texas 45-35. The stunning thing about their wins are the numbers that they put up. The destroyed good teams by whopping margins. People in the MWC know that TCU is a good squad and if you watched the game, it was over before at the end of the first quarter. They did play 5 sub .500 teams to pad their win total but they thoroughly demolished those teams too. This is a team that not just beat but killed really good teams and lost close to one great team.

Florida also played a quality schedule as seen by the number of bowl teams on the list but they don't have as many wins against good teams. Their loss vs Miss is looking better than it did a couple of weeks ago as Miss finished strong but the loss was at home and it still isn't like losing to 3d ranked Texas.
1.Alabama (4) 31-20 N
2.Georgia (15) 49-10 R
3.Florida State (NR) 45-15 R
4.LSU (NR) 51-21 H
5.Vanderbilt (NR) 42-14 R
6.Kentucky (NR) 63-5 H
7.South Carolina (NR) 56-6 H
8.Miami (NR) 26-3 H
9.Hawaii (NR) 56-10 H
Loss to Miss 31-30 H
Florida gets credit for having played a lot of tough games for the duration of the season. Something that gets overlooked is how tough it is mentally to prepare yourself each week for a good team vs every once in a while. As you look closely, you notice that a lot of their wins are not against the upper echelon teams and their best wins are a close win against Alabama and a disappointing Georgia team. Hawaii and Miami squeaked into bowl games and both lost to mediocre opponents.

I have gone over Utah's record in previous posts, in summary
Alabama (4) 31-17 R
TCU (11) 13-10 H
BYU (16) 48-24 H
Oregon State (NR) 31-28 H
Air Force (NR) 30-23 R
Colorado State (NR) 49-16 H
Ok, not super impressive but more impressive than any previous non-BCS team. It really would have helped Utah if Michigan was good this year and they didn't play Weber and Utah state. Regardless, if you compare the three teams wins, I think Oklahoma's looks the most impressive but how much is loss worth? Or how many good wins is worth a loss? Or better how many good wins does it take to erase a loss? 1 good win, 2, 3 good wins cancel out a loss? Hard to say. Utah has better top tier wins than Florida. It also played three less bowl eligible teams but it also didn't suffer a loss. I think it is clear that Oklahoma has the better resume vs. Florida but between Utah and Florida it isn't as clear. It all depends on what a loss is worth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Milsap making a case for starters minutes

Utah Jazz fans have known for the last 2 years that Paul Milsap was good but did they know that he was this good? The rest of the league has taken notice with his recent promotion to starter as his coming out party. He has started the last 12 games with Boozer being out and his numbers make you wonder who should start when Boozer gets healthy. 12 games - 18.7 pts, 11.7 rbs, 2.5 assists, 2 steals and 1 block per night. He's also has 12 straight double doubles (13 if you include tonight's Nets game.) Those are some impressive numbers for an undersized 6-7 PF that was taken in the 2d round.

You look at him now and you wonder how he slipped to the second round but undersized PF's aren't highly regarded by NBA scouts. At some point scouts are going to have to catch on that tough guys that are a little short are better than taller guys with no heart. Craig Smith, Leon Powe, and Jason Maxiell are guys that can play but weren't highly regarded due to their size. If you can play, there is a place for you in the league. Milsap and these guys have proven themselves but bad GM's will continue to take untested 7 footers over them. Part of the problem is that if someone takes Milsap in the first round, you get blasted for taking a guy that doesn't physically fit the mold of an NBA PF. You can gamble in the second round, so if Milsap ends up a bust then nobody remembers. A lot of teams out there that wish that they could have had Milsap. He went 47th in the 06 draft but if you did it all over again, only Aldridge, Roy, Gay, Brewer and Rondo would be taken ahead of him.

MIlsap overcomes his limitations with tremendous energy and a knack for being around the ball. He doesn't usually out jump his opponents but finds himself in the right spot at the right time. Especially on the offensive glass, he seems to know where the ball is going instead of having to fight for the ball. Not that he can't fight for the ball, which he also does very well. His activity on offense also translates to defense. Bigger players can shoot over him but he does force them to take jumpers instead of getting to the basket. One number that sticks out is the 2 steals a game. His hands are extremely active and he regularly deflects interior passes. When he plays with Brewer, AK and Knight, the Jazz have their best defensive unit capable of making stops.

Boozer himself was a second round pick so he knows a thing or two about making the most of your opportunities. They get their points in different ways, Boozer with a variety of pick and rolls, elbow jumpers and post moves while Milsap gets rewarded for his constant hustle with put backs and cuts to the basket. Milsap is developing a jump shot and is only getting better each year. As I have alluded to in previous posts, Boozer is really important for this offense to run smoothly. He gets his points against good defenders and has an uncanny connection with Williams. He commands double teams which Milsap has yet to see and is also a better interior passer. Boozer is an all star, an Olympic team member and when he comes back it will make big difference but you have to wonder if he is going to stay here next year.

The team next year is going to look quite different with all of the free agents on the team. With his previous history and Miami being a lot nicer than Salt Lake, I wouldn't feel safe until Boozer signs on the dotted line. Boozer is opting out and is probably looking for Elton Brand money - 5 years 80 million so having Milsap is good insurance. Would you rather commit 15+ million for five years to Boozer or sign Milsap for 5-6 years at 6-8 million a year and have money left over for someone else? Even with Boozer, this team is missing a player to be championship level so I don't know if it would be wise to throw big money to a guy who isn't taking you to the finals.

Williams is the franchise now and paying Boozer 15 million a year will only hurt this team in the long run. I would rather pay Milsap 50% of Boozers money and get 80% of his production. It would be great if they didn't lose Boozer for nothing but bad contracts ruin franchises and the Jazz already have AK's bad contract. The Jazz are usually pretty frugal so I can't imagine them breaking the bank for Boozer. In the end, it will be good for Milsap and good for the Jazz.

Celtics Jazz game notes

I went to the Boston vs. Utah game the other night and although the game was moderately close the whole night, the Celtics were clearly on a different level than the Jazz. Rondo and Perkins played excellent games and it was obvious that Rondo was quicker than anyone else on the floor. I'm not sure if it was his ankle or not, but Williams looked like he was standing still when he was trying to guard Rondo. He could get into the lane anytime that he wanted and didn't have to take a jump shot all night. You have to play off of Rondo and make him a jump shooter to take him out of his game but that is easier said that done. Rondo has all the tools to be a Devin Harris type point guard with better defense if he learned to hit the jumper. He is still young but NBA players stop developing after a while and this is already his 4th year so I wonder if he will ever learn to shoot well.

Looking at the box score, it looks like the big 3 had decent nights but the game told a different story. Ray Allen's shot was definitely off and he was passing up open jumpers most of the night. Paul Pierce struggled but he takes enough shots that he scores double figures. I liked how the Jazz put AK on him in the 4th which frustrated him. The hidden story was Garnett. He was 8-13 for 19pts, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks - a very efficient line but he looked unstoppable. He did whatever he wanted and virtually scored whenever he wanted. He never forced a shot, always looked to pass out of double teams and if he shot more, he could have easily scored 30. His game was effortless yet intense and you can tell that he lets his teammates shine when its possible. He is averaging only 13 shots a game and only 16pts, 9.6 boards - all career lows since his rookie year but his impact on the team might be at its peak. I watch a lot of Celtic games since I live in Boston and he is a player where the numbers do not tell the whole story. He could easily get 25, 12 and 5 if he forced his game. The Celtics win because he doesn't.

Paul Milsap
Milsap had a career night the other night. Most of his points came on cuts to the basket, I bet that he was assisted on half his points but he hit some jumpers that I didn't know that he had in his arsenal. He hit a fade away 20 footer that had the fans in Boston thinking that Karl Malone came out of retirement. He has a great touch around the basket and he is efficient, only taking shots that come to him in the offense. Other than some silly fouls, he plays tough defense and gets steals and blocks that Boozer doesn't even try for. When Boozer comes back, I don't know who you take off the floor between Boozer, Okur and Milsap at the end of games. Okur is money at the end of the game but he makes a bettert matador the way he plays defense. Boozer never comes up with big plays on defense and Milsap plays hard but is undersized. You have to have 2 way players at the end of games to make stops in close games and Milsap is the only one of the three that can do that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The MWC Bowling league

I have never understood why bowl games were such a big deal when there are 30+ bowl games. That means that over 60 of the FBS schools get "rewarded" with a bowl game. The other thing is that bowl game names change every few years when the sponsoring company's stock tanks. You don't know if a bowl game is important because it isn't the same bowl game anymore.

The bowl season is about to begin and the MWC has 5 of their 9 teams playing in the college post season. Just like the regular season, these bowl games have more meaning for the MWC than they have in the past. It's like the team that has a great regular season and then flames out in the playoffs. Those teams are remembered as either overrated or chokers - both labels that the MWC don't want hanging on them till next year. Having a winning record in bowl games will go a long way in establishing themselves as a premiere conference.

MWC bowl games

New Mexico Bowl
At Albuquerque
Payout: $750,000

Colorado State (6-6) vs. Fresno State (7-5), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

This is one lame bowl game. Does anyone care who wins this one? Fresno State was a major disappointment and you wonder what would have happened if they had beaten Wisconsin earlier in the year. Colorado State isn't exactly a world beater but it did have to finish well to get into this bowl game. It is nice to see them get out of the MWC basement as they used to be a football power. This is a toss up but maybe the fact that it is being played in MWC territory will help declare a victor.

Las Vegas Bowl
Payout: $1 million

BYU (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Back to the Las Vegas Bowl again. BYU can't be very excited to be going back to sin city when they had designs on the BCS. In the end, this isn't a bad place for BYU to land. It is practically a home game for BYU with so many fans going down from Utah. They play a weak Arizona team that has already lost to New Mexico earlier this year which means more victory fodder for BYU. They will get credit for beating another PAC-10 squad and go 3-0 for the year against BCS conference teams. I expect them to squeeze out a close victory which is better than getting embarrassed by a good team. There is always next year.

Poinsettia Bowl
At San Diego
Payout: $750,000

Boise State (12-0) vs. TCU (10-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

This is the best bowl matchup outside of the title game and will mean a lot in establishing the Mountain West as the best non-BCS conference. TCU with its speedy defense vs. Boise State putting up crazy points makes it even more interesting. I'm surprised that Boise State took this bowl game. The payout is relatively meager and there are large risks with playing TCU. Boise State is undefeated and ranked in the top 10 but they can't shake the feeling that it is all due to playing in a weak conference. TCU has the defense to shut Boise State's offense down and if they look bad here then they will be exposed as the cream puff beaters that they are. If the win, well they were expected to win because they are undefeated. A loss would also prove that Boise State wouldn't have gone undefeated if they played in the MWC, let alone in a bigger conference. TCU might end up being ranked in the final top 10. I've been betting against Boise State all season and I will bet against them again with TCU stomping them like the stomped BYU.

Armed Forces Bowl
At Fort Worth, Texas
Payout: $750,000

Houston (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-4), Noon (ESPN)

This is a rematch of a close regular season game that Air Force won in Houston. Well the game isn't in Houston but it is in Texas and I imagine it will be favoring the Lone Star representative. Houston has a good offense and really has only one bad loss. They have good wins against Tulsa and East Carolina and other then their slip up to Marshall, their losses come from Air Force, Colorado State, Ok State and Rice. This one will probably be close but Air Force has been consistent in beating the teams that they are supposed to beat and I expect more of the same.

Sugar Bowl
At New Orleans
Payout: $17 million

Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1), 8 p.m. (FOX)

This is another great game for the MWC. Alabama was the number one team till the last week of the season so this isn't the Pitt team that they trashed in 2005. This is the second best team in the SEC, a top 5 team and was one game away from the national championship. They have a ton of history and a big name coach in Nick Saban to boot. No one in the national media thinks that Utah is legitimate and Alabama will have all of the pressure on them to win. The knock on non-BCS teams is that they play weak schedules but if they beat Alabama which went undefeated in the SEC regular season, it would strongly propose that that Utah could have done the same in a major conference. That will also boost both BYU and TCU as their losses have come from Utah.

Look closely at Alabama's schedule and you will see that it wasn't as tough as you would suspect coming from an SEC team. They have played 3 ranked teams other than Florida. They are Georgia - a former number one that really flamed out, LSU - showed its true colors by the end of the season falling out of the polls and Clemson which finished 7-5. Their pretty boy quarterback John Parker Wilson manages games but doesn't win them. All of their games against good schools were close and he only threw 9 TDs all season. Alabama really doesn't have the firepower to blow people out and it wouldn't be surprising if Utah won this game close. Utah has managed to win its close games and this shouldn't be any different.

So I expect a 4-1 post season, with the Utah and Colorado State games being toss ups. No one remembers the regular season but bowl memories are quite long so hopefully it will turn out well for the non-BCS folks.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good win against Portland for the Jazz

Last night's win against Portland was the best win for the Jazz all season. They haven't played many tough games so far and Portland has been playing well of late. The Jazz really dominated this game for 4 quarters and it was never even that close in the second half. Their two wins against Portland are their only quality wins this season. The last couple home games haven't inspired confidence and fans are not used to having 3 home losses so early in the season.

The most impressive thing was how they ramped up their defense when Portland would make mini runs. Multiple times when the lead was cut to 8 or 10 the Jazz would respond with stops. They were much more active than usual and in the second half used some strong double teams forcing bad passes. What was also different was some strong double teams in the post which is unusal for Sloan. They also didn't let Portland get in the lane and get to the free throw line. TV announcers always talk about the Jazz's no lay up policy - or better put - just hack anyone that gets by you defense. I can't stand watching Mehmet Okur not trying to block a shot but just hack to stop a guy from getting a lay up. If you just played good defense, other teams wouldn't hit 70% of their lay ups in traffic as they hit 70% of their free throws. The Jazz haven't been hacking as much but it might have to do with Harpring and Boozer being injured as they are the some of the worst foul mongers.

Another nice wrinkle was having AK play Roy during the fourth quarter. Roy went crazy in the 3d and it looked like he was ready to take over the game. AK guarded him the rest of the way and really shut him down. He didn't have many touches and his 7 points came on a 3 where Kirilenko rotated off, a lay up where Kirilenko lost him and a meaningless lay up in the final minute. For some reason, Sloan has lost confidence in AK and has been playing him less and less minutes and not having him finish games. If you want AK to be a useless player by the end of the season, keep playing him 22 minutes a game and have him sit at the end of games. His handling of Andre will go down as his biggest mistake and possibly the reason why this current group never wins a championship.

I'm not worried about Williams as it will take some time for him to be at full strength. He looked good passing the ball last night with some great dishes after penetration but he still looks ordinary with this finishes. He gets a ton of his lay ups blocked and he had another bad shooting night. When he goes into the lane, I hope that that he passes because it is embarrassing how many time his shot gets thrown back at this face. I'm sure this will get better as he gets more explosive.

Milsap and Okur really have been playing excellent of late. You have Boozer go down and the new stars show up. I love Milsap's energy and hustle and he has developed some nice moves around the basket. He definitely is more than just a bruiser down and shows a nice touch around the basket. Of course he doesn't have the offensive skill of Boozer but if Boozer played with half the heart that Milsap plays with on defense then the Jazz would be set. Milsap still gets overmatched by bigger guys. He had a hard time with Aldridge last night but he gets blocks and steals that Boozer doesn't even try for.

As impressed as I am with Milsap's play, this team is really different with Boozer playing. Let's say that Milsap starts all season and averages 15 and 10. That would be impressive but Milsap gets his points in completely different ways than Boozer does. Boozer creates his own shot and commands a double team in the post giving other players open shots. When the Jazz need a crucial score, they can go to Boozer for a mid range jumper or go pick and roll. Milsap doesn't have the same automatic scoring. Automatic scoring is a premium in this league. Guys like Boozer get 15-10 on off nights. Scoring in the NBA is largely dependant getting double teams and forcing bad match ups. Boozer creates mismatches every night where as Milsap doesn't. That doesn't mean that Milsap integral to the team's success, in fact he might be the team's MVP so far this season. We will see what happens when he comes up for contract because if Boozer leaves, it would definitely soften the blow if Milsap is here to take his spot. Right now, they have the best of both worlds and Milsap coming off the bench for 25+ minutes will mean success for the Jazz.

It makes me sick every time Harpring comes in the game and the announcer states the obligatory "oh he is the toughest guy in the NBA." "He is more of a football player, he comes from a football family." " He is so tough, just a great guy to have on your bench." As you might have guessed, I really dislike Matt Harpring. He had has day as the star of the team 5 or so years ago and he did a nice job but those days are long past and so are his knees. For some reason, Sloan never gets mad at him for jacking up a shot every time he touches the ball. He plays for 8 minutes and takes 4 shots. He can't defend anyone and had 3 fouls during his limited duty. He is an awful passer and I'm surprised that there haven't been more injuries on the Jazz from him hitting people during practice. He is definitely the crazy white guy on the court that is running around like a mad man breathing really hard, can't control his momentum and knocks you in the nose with an elbow. Sloan has to stop playing this guy. If you are going to give 8 minutes to someone, why not give them to CJ miles or Morris Almond? Why not give them to Kirilenko who is getting less than 20 minutes a game? I know it is only 8 minutes but this team is deep and you have young guys that are developing and need time out there. Announcer should recognize that he is just a skillless brute and a huge liability on defense.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Quarter year report

It is only early December but 25% of the season is already over for the Jazz. After 20 games we have learned some things that we didn't know before the season started and some things are still up in the air.

What we have learned:
CJ Miles is an NBA rotation player.
While he hasn't put up amazing numbers, you couldn't have expected much more from a 21 yr old that hasn't played much. 20 games, 19 starts, 22 minutes a game, 10.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.1 apg and two 20+ point games. It is strange watching the Jazz with some many guys that can catch an alley oop. There are tons of players that show flashes of brilliance for one play or one quarter but what is more impressive is his confidence. He is staying in the Sloan offense and takes that shots that present themselves. Miles looks to pass to the right player and he is confident enough to pass up a shot. I wish he played with a little bit more energy, like Morris Almond, but Almond is a desperate man playing for a contract so there is a different level of urgency. I can see CJ taking all of Harpring's minutes as instant offense off the bench. He has the potential to be a solid starter if he learns to do something other than score. You have to love how effortless that lefty jump shot looks.

Kosta Koufos, back up center of the future.
The Jazz haven't had a big man that can block shots since Ostertag and nobody wants to go back to the days of Ostertag. He probably lost more assists for Stockton than actually scoring off his passes. I'm not projecting Koufos to be a starer in the league anytime soon but he has done some nice things in limited playing time. He plays with a lot of energy. He moves pretty well for a 7 footer and shows a decent jumper. He doesn't have rocks for hands. That's it, that all someone has to do prove he is better than Collins. I don't see why Sloan wouldn't play him 10 minutes a game to get him some experience and hopefully block a couple of shots. As I am writing this, I am stunned by how stubborn coach Sloan is. The fact that Collins is still on this team and up till last year was getting 10+ mintues a game is amazing. It is 4 on 5 when he is on the floor. I would much prefer Koufos or Fesenko taking all of his minutes.

Sloan's system is more important than players
The Jazz have had a ton of injuries and different players getting minutes every night but the Jazz continue to get their wins and even without Williams or Boozer, this would be a .500 team. It shows the strength of an offensive system that enhances the abilities of the players. Really talented teams can win running and gunning but as the Olympics this past summer showed, a good team offensive can compete with an ultra-talented team. Half of Brewer's points are lay ups off of back cuts and dives to the basket that are system driven. Harpring did a lot of the same things but took more jumpers than slashing to the basket. Miles will eventually learn the same things. Shandon Anderson and Bryon Russell used to do the same things 10 years ago. Jerry Sloan has his faults but having an offensive system that works is what keeps him employed as an NBA head coach. Sloan would do wonders with a young talented team that needs discipline.

Still waiting for answers
Morris Almond's future
He didn't get his contract extended but has been getting some playing time these last couple of games and even played most of the fourth quarter the other night. Almond has been playing well with the limited minutes that he gets and it sounds like he works hard in practice. He plays with good energy and is a natural offensive player. The problem is that Brewer and Miles are in front of him. Brewer is a better athlete and defender. Miles has more potential as an all around player. I see Almond becoming an Eddie House type gunner in a few years. I hope they deal him and get a 1st round pick in return.

AK fully loaded or shooting blanks?
AK has played pretty well as the sixth man and his numbers have inched back towards his production from a couple of years ago. Overall, everyone is very happy with what he has provided off the bench and how he has handled the perceived demotion. There are a couple of things that make me wonder if the joy will last throughout the season. AK needs touches to be involved in the offense and for that, he needs minutes. His minutes are already tailing off a little as they did as the season progressed last year. When the team is at full strength, his minutes might get cut even more. I think it has to do with Sloan being harder on him than other players on the team. It puzzles me how much Sloan complains about his play when AK does more of the little things that don't show up in the box score than anyone else. He leads the team in deflections and hustle plays. In the end, it will depend on Sloan's ability to adapt and let AK play his game. If he can't do it and limits his minutes, AK will be unhappy and his production will tail off. At some point AK needs to be in Golden State playing for Don Nelson and with his taller twin brother Andres Biedrins. Also, Deron Williams doesn't like passing to AK. Just watch, he hates to pass him the ball.

Team Defense
So I mentioned in the season preview that the biggest issue with the Jazz is their lack of good team defense and that still holds true. The Jazz have get a lot of steals but there is a huge difference between stealing the ball and playing good defense. If you watch the team down the stretch of a close game, the Jazz might force the occasional turnover but they don't get regular stops. You don't see the defense tighten up and force tough shots. Steals means jumping in passing lanes. Stops means good team defense. This I think, falls on the coach. Good team defense is system oriented and Sloan's unwillingness to experiment with more zone defenses, double teams and different switching schemes is what keeps the Jazz from being better.

Just a playoff team or contender
The Jazz are definitely a playoff team but there are few title contenders. The definite contenders so far are Boston, LA and the Cleveland. The possible contenders are Houston, New Orleans, San Antonio and Utah. That's it. Portland is still too young and Denver will be a nice regular season team but without enough talent to win it all. The Jazz defense and road record will tell you if they are better than last year.