Signs Were There for Utah

by Jeff Fogle 11. February 2011 00:46

We've talked a few times in recent days about the many anomolies with the Utah Jazz. Those all came to a head when Jerry Sloan resigned as head coach Thursday...

The anomolies were clear in the results starting with that horrible Eastern swing in Mid-January.

*Utah lost on MLK day 108-101 to Washington, a team they were expected to beat.

*Utah lost two days later 103-95 at New Jersey, a team they were expected to beat by even more. Playoff caliber teams aren't supposed to look this bad, and they're supposed to bounce back after a loss. This wasn't a fatigue spot. It was just a poor effort.

*Utah lost two days later 110-86 at Boston. A rout.

*Utah lost in a back-to-back 96-85 at Philadelphia, proving they weren't holding back in Boston to save themselves for Philly! Four straight losses. Not much energy. Never a chip on the shoulder. Never a sense of urgency.

*Utah then lost very badly in LA 120-91, causing many in the media to marvel at the complete lack of defensive effort.

*Utah fell at home in a back-to-back to San Antonio 112-105, again playing awful defense.

We ran an article at the time about the poor defensive efficiency marks in that six-game stretch. It's as if Utah had suddenly become the worst defensive team in the league in a finger snap.

Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions
116.1 vs. Washington
114.4 vs. New Jersey
119.6 vs. Boston
103.2 vs. Philadelphia
125.0 vs. LA Lakers
115.5 vs. San Antonio
Average: 115.6...Midpoints 115.5 and 116.1

The worst defense in the NBA right now belongs to Cleveland at 109.8. Utah was playing MUCH worse than the worst teams in basketball.

Deron Williams was hurt in the Spurs game, and sat out for a few nights. At that moment...the finger snapped back, and Utah started playing defense again. Utah had stunningly excellent defensive efficiency numbers against Minnesota, Golden State, and Charlotte when compared to what they had been doing.

99.0 vs. Minnesota
104.3 vs. Golden State
86.7 vs. Charlotte
Average: 96.7...Median 99.0

The best defense in the NBA right now belongs to Chicago at 97.2

A lot of analysts are talking about the reported tug-of-war between Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams in terms of offensive play calling. It's worth noting though that chemistry issues, particularly if a team has broken into factions, often show up on defense. Players aren't helping each other...and NBA team defense is all about rotations. Utah wasn't playing much defense with Williams, but they were playing aggressively when he was in street clothes.

Confirmations of bad blood or fractured teams often don't come until way down the road when somebody writes a memoir...or a player in a new city makes a comment about how great things are in his new home compared to the drama in his old place. We may never know for sure who was on whose side the past few weeks. There were certainly numbers announcing that something was horribly wrong behind the scenes.

Not all anomolies are meaningful. One game oddities are often just a team taking a night off to save themselves from the grind. Playoff caliber teams don't take that many nights in a row off. Extremes in defensive intensity typically aren't linked to a point guard's presence or absence. Stat analysis wasn't close enough to know WHAT was wrong...but I think we uncovered fairly quickly that SOMETHING was going on!

Transition Points

*The LA Lakers beat Boston 92-86 Thursday Night. It wasn't quite the thriller fans had hoped for. Ray Allen becoming the King of Three Pointers was definitely a great moment. It's as if the Lakers weren't really there until it happened. Then, Boston lost its intensity just after it did. There weren't many sequences where you felt both teams were at their best.

Our notes yesterday about Boston's rebounding issues proved prescient. The Lakers won the battle of the boards 47-36. The Lakers offensive rebounding rate was an impressive 33.3 Boston's was just 25.5

LA won points in the paint 50-32 according to ESPN's boxscore. Be sure to check Hoopdata's shot location breakdowns in our game box Friday morning.

*The win for Kobe and company improved their Superleague record to 9-8. That may not sound great, but it's fourth best of the 13 teams we isolated weeks ago for head-to-head study.

Best records:
San Antonio 17-6
Boston 15-7
Dallas 15-8 (pending Thursday's late game at Denver)
LA Lakers 9-8

For the rest...

At or Near .500: Chicago 9-9, Oklahoma City 12-12, New Orleans 11-12, Miami 9-11.
Off the pace: Denver 8-11 (pending Dallas), Utah 9-12, Atlanta 6-11, New York 7-13, Orlando 7-14.

This reflects back on an earlier comment about it being a relatively closed race for the championship. The Spurs, Celtics, and Lakers are already in the top four when the best play each other...and their experience might only help them find separation from the pack in the playoffs. Maybe Miami's superstar power can break through. Who else have we seen that could do that in terms of the lessons of playoff basketball the past several years? Chicago's got a nice profile. Young group.

Trades could make things more interesting. Dallas is interesting even if they don't make a trade.

Superleague games Friday: LA Lakers at New York, and New Orleans at Orlando.

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Why Jim O'Brien Was Fired

by Jeff Fogle 1. February 2011 01:08

The day after Jim O'Brien was shown the door, the Indiana Pacers ended a six-week slump with a 104-93 Monday night win over the Toronto Raptors...

After starting the season 11-10, with extremely impressive road victories over Miami and the LA Lakers (!!), the Pacers had dropped 17 of 23 games in such ugly fashion that management decided a change had to be made. O'Brien had already been considered a lame duck coach because rumors suggested his contract wouldn't be renewed at the end of the 2010-11 campaign. The team was playing like the season didn't matter.

Last 23 Games:

Efficiency Averages: 99.1 on offense, 104.9 on defense
Efficiency Medians: 96.9 on offense, 103.3 on defense

(Efficiency is points scored and allowed per 100 possessions)

To give you some context, there is no offense right now in the league that's as bad as 96.9 in efficiency for the season. Cleveland was league worst at 97.1 entering Monday action. Milwaukee was second worst at 98.1. For more than a month and a half, Indiana had the worst offense in the NBA. I didn't see anyone report that in the mainstream media. But, THAT'S the crux of why he was fired. Even if management didn't sit around punching numbers into a calculator all day...the worst offense in the league is something they could see with their own eyes as they watched the games.

The defense, which had started the year very well (inspiring me to write about it at the time), had drifted back to about league average. You can't win with a horrible offense and an average defense. Maybe you're slightly better than New Jersey and Washington (two of O'Brien's six recent victims, with horrible Cleveland being another). You're not going to qualify for a playoff spot, even in the East where it's easier to get a seventh or eighth seed.

All of this was largely happening off the media radar. Indiana's just not part of the league's presentation right now. In fact, some were surprised because casual glances at the playoff picture showed that Indiana might still be a factor:

Eastern Race At Time of Firing:
7th spot: Philadelphia 21-26
8th spot: Charlotte 20-26
9th spot: Milwaukee 19-26
10th spot: Indiana 17-27

The Pacers were only two games away from the playoffs when O'Brien was let go. If you've mostly been watching football the past several weeks, it looks like Indiana fired a respected coach who was on the verge of making the playoffs! Instead, they fired a coach who's abysmal offense had just gone 6-17 to put the team in danger of not even competing for that eighth and final spot.

Note that Indiana's win Monday, coupled with a Charlotte loss at Utah, puts the Pacers just a game out of eighth place.

A win over Toronto doesn't mean you're ready to take the world by storm. But, new coach Frank Vogel (no relation, lol) will at least have a chance to turn things around and make a run at the Eastern playoffs.

Transition Points

*Charlotte's loss at Utah was a 83-78 yawner. But, it was notable because it represented another good defensive game for Utah!

We talked last week about the horrible defensive performances from the Jazz on their Eastern swing, then in TV games vs. the Lakers and Spurs. Two things happened after that Spurs game. Deron Williams had to miss some time with an injury, and the team started playing defense!

100 points allowed to Minnesota, 99.0 efficiency
96 points allowed to Golden State, 104.3 efficiency
78 points allowed to Charlotte, in what will grade out as one of the best defensive performances of the year obviously

That compares to:
116.1 defensive efficiency at Washington
104.4 defensive efficiency at New Jersey
119.6 defensive efficiency at Boston
103.2 defensive efficiency at Philadelphia
125.0 defensive efficiency at the LA Lakers
115.5 defensive efficiency vs. San Antonio

The six-game average was 113.9. The midpoints were the 115.5 and 116.1 marks.

It's dangerous to make knee-jerk reactions to something like this. But, obviously the team is playing MUCH better defense with Deron Williams in street clothes. Either everyone's rising to the occasion, or he wasn't doing as much as he should have been when the other team had the ball during that recent stretch.

*Utah's win was even more impressive because it came on night two of a back-to-back. Charlotte was in a hermit spot, meaning they didn't play Sunday, and won't play Tuesday. Other "hermits" vs. "b2b's" the last few days:

Rested New Jersey beat tired Denver 115-99

Rested Phoenix beat tired New Orleans 104-102
Rested LA Clippers beat Charlotte 103-88

Rested Dallas beat tired Atlanta 102-91

Rested Detroit almost upset tired Miami in an 88-87 loss
Rested Phoenix beat tired Boston 88-71

Some one-sided victory margins in there (with some big name teams going down), and Miami's close game was expected to be a blowout. There's a school of thought that says back-to-back fatigue becomes more of a factor the deeper you get into a season (because of cumulative fatigue in addition to short-term fatigue). Let's keep an eye on that between now and the All-Star break, when everyone will finally get a chance to rest up a bit.

*Orlando lost another game where three-point accuracy wasn't great and inside defense was soft...falling to Memphis 100-97 Monday night.

Treys: 8 of 32, 25% (38% adjusted)
2-Point Defense: 36 of 65, 55% allowed to Memphis

Hedo Turkoglu did make it to three field goals though. The Magic are almost an automatic loss if he only makes two or less. They needed a bit more from him tonight. Amazing...Dwight Howard played 45 minutes, yet the team still allowed a very high two-point percentage.

See you again Tuesday night...

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Utah's Horrible Defense

by Jeff Fogle 27. January 2011 02:07

Utah's awful 0-4 Eastern swing got some media attention because good Western teams aren't supposed to lose to Washington and New Jersey, or get obliterated by Boston. The slump moved to 0-5 Tuesday Night in Los Angeles, then 0-6 Wednesday Night with a nationally televised loss to San Antonio.

What's going on? The Utah defense can't guard anybody!

I wanted to see this with my own eyes before writing anything up. Tuesday's game in LA was on the NBA Network. ESPN was in Salt Lake Wednesday for the Spurs game. STATISTICAL PROGNOSIS CONFIRMED.

It was amazing to watch possession after possession of smart opposing offenses getting themselves open shots very easily. Credit to the broadcast teams from both networks for telling the story and not sugarcoating it (well, not much). Utah's inside defense is soft. Utah's perimeter defense is slow to get to shooters. Each individual has trouble guarding quality opponents straight up. If a teammate helps, whoever gets left open has plenty of time to shoot.

Possession after possession after possession, the Lakers and Spurs were getting an endless string of open looks just by running their basic offensive motion. Sure, it's the Lakers and the Spurs. But, these issues were obviously in play previously based on the numbers.

123.7 vs. Atlanta (horrendous)
113.4 at Memphis (bad)
98.0 at Houston (good, but Rockets were 3 of 25 on treys)
127.6 vs. New York (horrendous)
103.1 vs. Cleveland (everyone loves playing Cleveland)
116.1 at Washington (bad start to Eastern swing)
114.4 at New Jersey (no bounce back)
119.7 at Boston (awful)
103.2 at Philadelphia (acceptable, but still a loss)
125.0 at the LA Lakers (more spectating)

Tonight's game will be in the neighorhood of 110-ish once the math is done, thanks to a quiet fourth quarter from the Spurs. Even with the quiet fourth quarter, San Antonio shot 57% on two-pointers. Let's run those numbers.

48% vs. Atlanta
50% at Memphis
48% at Houston
52% vs. New York
51% vs. Cleveland (even Cleveland broke 50%!)
56% at Washington
49% at New Jersey
61% at Boston
41% at Philadelphia (good showing)
68% at the LA Lakers
57% vs. San Antonio

Versus championship contenders, Utah alllowed 61%, 68%, and 57%. No hope.

I mentioned earlier that perimeter defense was slow. The following teams from the list all reached 43% or better on treys during the recent stretch, which equates to 64.5% or better as a two-point equivalent.

Atlanta 14 of 25
Memphis 5 of 11
New York 14 of 29
Cleveland 9 of 21
Washington 6 of 14 (rounding up from 42.8%)
New Jersey 8 of 16
Boston 9 of 21
LA Lakers 8 of 18

From a distance, it can be tough to know the reasons for a stretch of non-effort like this. Tired legs from a team that lacks depth and is still adjusting to picking up Carlos Boozer's minutes. A lack of chemistry. A temporary rest break in a long grueling season. Everybody owes somebody else from a poker game so nobody has anyone's back. Maybe the real reason will show up in somebody's autobiography in 2020.

Right now, it's very easy to get open shots if you're a Utah opponent. And, it's very difficult for Utah to score enough on their own to keep up with what they're allowing. That's true whether they're playing the best in the league, or somebody like Washington and New Jersey.

Utah's slump has dropped them to #7 in the Western standings. But, they still have a 5-game lead over #9 in the 8-spot playoff chase. Plenty of time to right the ship.

Transition Points

*Denver moved ahead of Utah into 6th place with tonight's 109-100 win over Detroit. Carmelo Anthony spread the ball around more, taking only 16 shots while dishing out 7 assists. That's in stark contrast to the 25/1 and 27/1 ratios he had recently vs. Oklahoma City and Indiana.

Anthony has showed a tendency this year to shoot less on night two of a back-to-back.

Carmelo on night two of b2b's thus far:
20 shots, 4 assists at Houston
17 shots, 4 assists at Dallas
15 shots, 2 assists at Indiana
21 shots, 3 assists at New York
17 shots, 0 assists at Sacramento
16 shots, 7 assists at Detroit

That's an average of 17.7 shots per game in the sextet. His average is 19.5 shots in all other games. (Note: Denver has had a night two at home this year, but Anthony was absent from the team). 

*Another road game, another double digit loss for the LA Clippers. Fatigue definitely seemed to play a role in this back-to-back spot, with the Clips losing the fourth quarter 26-10.

Blake Griffin: 5 of 16 from the field
Baron Davis: 5 of 17 from the field

It's a two-man team without Eric Gordon, making fatigue spots even tougher.

*Milwaukee was trailing Atlanta by 11 points entering the fourth quarter Wednesday Night, so I prepared some "boy, Andrew Bogut sure is struggling" stats. The Bucks won the fourth quarter 34-15 to win the game 98-90! But, Bogut was just 3 of 12 on the night, continuing a recent slump.

Bogut is reportedly still recovering from an undisclosed infection. And, he may not be all the way back from last season's gruesome elbow injury. His offensive output the last seven games in order is 10-10-6-23-14-8-8. Guess who the 23 was against. CLEVELAND!

Bogut only shoots in close to the basket, yet is just 26 of 66, 39% from the field when not playing Cleveland the last two weeks.

*New Orleans won its 10th game in a row Wednesday night, beating Golden State 112-103. Here's the Jeckyll and Hyde sequence for the Hornets

11-1 to start the season
10-15 their next 25 games
10-0 most recently

Hang in there Utah fans...New Orleans is showing the way...

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