The Utah Jazz weren't exactly picked to make the postseason... but they did as the 8th Seed in the Western Conference. But their playoff run was short; they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. I bring back Amar (@AllThatAmar) from SLC Dunk to get his reaction on how the Jazz did.
Well, it was a sweep. But you did say 4-1 is the best case scenario. So you're not too surprised, right?
The ultimate outcome of this series was always going to be a San Antonio Spurs victory, and not even the most homer Jazz fan felt like Tyrone Corbin and his crew would be advancing; especially not after Game 2’s old fashioned whoopin’. So in that regard there really were no surprises in terms of how long the series went. And while taking it to a Game 5 would have been nice, it was not really necessary or possible. The Spurs wanted to win in 4, and they got what they wanted. This is also a team that won 50 games in a 66 game season. They’re a good team when they have their mind set on a goal. Even the Jazz team a few years ago that got to the Western Conference Finals (a team that included Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, and the rest of those guys) could only manage to take the Spurs to 5 games. So bowing out early – especially to a team built to dismantle your own bargain brand squad – was a surprise.
It’s not what you want, but hey, it’s still making the playoffs when the national media felt like it would be hard for the Jazz to win 20 games.
So did you find out anything new about the team in this brief postseason run?
My number one fear this season was that in an effort to make the playoffs the team would have to rely on older guys (Josh Howard, Raja Bell, etc) who did not have a future with the team, at the expense of under-developing the younger players (Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, etc). Due to injuries the Jazz were able to get playing time for the younger guys after the trade deadline without having to trade anyone. This ‘youth core’ also benefitted from these injuries to the point that they even got minutes in the post season. By the way, the post season run was purely a product of playing all the lottery picks the Jazz had found a way to get – the Jazz were horrible this year when starting just the old guys. The run up to the post season and the brief post-season run were important experiences for the youth and for the veterans alike. While this may sound like confirmation bias, we did learn a few things about our team during this time; and of course, I mean things we fans pointed out all year long that the Jazz media and coaches failed to admit. Let’s look at just three:
First, we gathered a lot more evidence for the “Derrick Favors is a defensive beast” theorem. Just putting him out on the floor changes how a team attacks you. For a number of Jazz teams over the last decade interior defense was a second language. Like, it’s something some of our guys took as an elective back in high school, but none of them really excelled at or remember today. Here’s a short list of some of the dudes Utah has been protecting the paint with since 2002-2003: John Amaechi, Tony Massenburg, Jarron Collins, Mehmet Okur, and Al Jefferson. All of those guys started at some point during their years with the Jazz, and I’m convinced I can score on some of them. And I’m a 30 something year old Aziz Ansari body type Indian dude who is doing knee rehab right now. When those guys are the last line of defense they act like neon signs that light up and say “Scoring Inside: Open for Business.” That changed this year. That changed when Favors was on the floor. Suddenly, surprisingly (according to some Jazz reporters), when Favors was patrolling the paint the Jazz stopped getting punked in there. Even when Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap (rightfully, zero career DPOY votes combined) were hemorrhaging points in the paint, adding Favors to the mix fixed that. At times during this post season he was defending three guys by himself. Clearly, he will quietly usher in a new era of defensive toughness in Utah. You know, provided he plays next season.
Second, the Jazz found new depths to fall to in terms of outside shooting incompetence. Sure, some of these guys can make a three here or there, just not as a member of the Utah Jazz. For the season the Jazz were #28th in threes made, #29th in threes taken, and #27th in three point percentage (32.3%) – and they got worse in the playoffs. The Jazz went 9/45, or 20.0% from outside in the four playoff games. All of this outside missing was capped by the elimination game at home where the Jazz went 0 for 13. (Hard to get over the hump when you shoot like that) Jazz fans knew it was bad, but in the playoffs against a good defensive team, we all found out just how bad it really was. Yes, granted, the Jazz were playing without Raja Bell and C.J. Miles this postseason. Both of those guys can make threes, and they were missed; however, it would be historical revisionism to blame the poor outside shooting on their absences alone. Devin Harris went 4/15, and Gordon Hayward went 1/12. Awful. Who took the next most threes on the team? DeMarre Carroll. No, not Matt Carroll. DeMarre Carroll. None of these guys are three point shooters. You’re not going to win many games relying on these dudes to spread the floor. Your “inside scoring only” offense becomes very predictable and easy to plan for if you’re trying to keep the defense honest with these guys. Seriously, it looked like they were going to have a parade for Jamaal Tinsley for his 25.0 3pt% during this series. It was that bad – and it was important to know that our outside shooting prowess was this anemic on such a high profile stage.
Third, the Jazz discovered that everything needs to improve. The players, the playbook, the coaches, even the dance team. Really ladies, that routine to Glenn Miller’s Chattanoog Choo Choo (Dubstep remix) was a reach and you know it. For everything that went right there was a counter point to be made. The Jazz did their work on the defensive glass, but didn’t get out into transition quick enough. The Jazz were able to field a group of strong inside players, but were unable to capitalize on this by successfully posting up on mismatches. When a Utah player was able to reliably get to the line, they were not able to capitalize. And so forth.
Overall, this Jazz team was good enough to make the playoffs (with a little help), but there is a very long way to go still.
So what's next for Dallas?
I guess the first part of this question is to establish what the next level is? Is it to make the playoffs as a higher seed? Is it to make the playoffs outright, and not needing 3 teams ahead of you in the standings to implode? Or is to just simply make the playoffs and win a game – let alone a series? Perhaps the exact goal of ‘the next level’ can’t be clearly defined and agreed upon by fans; however, how to reach it can be unanimously agreed upon. Basically all that the Jazz need to do is make minor tweaks, fix one of our major problems every season, and keep playing hard. Baring some horrible tragedy the Jazz will compete for a playoff spot next season and be an overall stronger team than they were this year. By my estimation the Jazz are one year ahead of schedule. And as a result, that ‘next level’ is a lot closer than any Jazz fan thought when looking at our roster back during a seemingly unending lockout.
Also, the dance team needs to get their act together. Really, they were basically all suspended without pay in Game 4. I can’t even make this up. They’ve all been jackpotting around since Jerry Sloan retired (seems like he was also THEIR head coach too).
Thanks again, Rey-Rey!
PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images.