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Are we a one-on-one team, and thoughts on Raja

March 19, 2011
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It’s been a frustrating season–perhaps the most frustrating season that many of us have ever experienced–and Raja Bell is currently playing the role of scapegoat for a large percentage of Jazz fans.

For some, the frustration started in June when Kevin O’Connor used the long-awaited, mythically-proportioned Knicks Pick to select skinny, white, unathletic, typical-Jazz-draftee Gordon Hayward and asked fans to refrain from judging the pick for two years. For others, the frustration started in July with the exodus of some key players from last year’s team (Boozer and Korver), and the Jazz’s decision not to match Portland’s Wesley Matthews offer sheet.

We were winning games early in the season and Gordon soon won fans over, but when the losses started piling up, so did the angst. In the past ten months, the bull’s eye has been on the back of, in order, KOC, ownership, Deron Williams, and now Raja Bell. And when things are going not too badly, hey, we always have good ol’ AK and his max contract as our fall(back) guy.

The barrage of Bell-bashing (ooh alliteration) in recent weeks is hard for me to take. The same Deron fans that issued a call on fans to stop hating on Deron after Jerry resigned because “fans affect players and free agents will want to come to SLC even less” are happily bashing away, and things came to a head when Ty Corbin made a lineup change two games ago.

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard Raja’s comments on the lineup change. This is what I think: There is a difference between answering questions honestly when questions are asked, and complaining through the media. There wasn’t really a story there, but it became one anyway perhaps because it was an off day/slow news day or something.

(Sadly, this is not uncommon. Remember earlier in the season when Jerry decided to give a lineup change a try and started Hayward in front of AK? One member of the media went and asked Hayward during practice, “With you getting the start over AK, did you feel any animosity between teammates when you get the start and get those extra minutes?” *smh*)

The reason Raja talked at length about the lineup change was because the media kept asking him about it. Raja said several times that he’d said all he wanted to say about it, but the questions kept coming. These were the questions he was asked at practice that day, in succession, over the course of 3+ minutes:

–Obviously, Coach talked to you yesterday about putting you on the bench…
–What was your thoughts about being put on the bench?
–How’d you find out you weren’t starting?
–How would that change things for you [if Ty had talked to you about it], as far as…
–So was it more just the time notice, or was it more just the quick–
–Are there benefits to coming off the bench?
–Do you think it benefits CJ to start?
–One of the big things you mentioned when you arrived was how straightforward the organization was. Do you feel disrespected?
–Do you just write it off to Ty being a young coach who’s learning on the go?
–Have you had a chance to pull him aside, say, “Hey, I prefer you would’ve done it this way”?
–[unintelligible, something about how Raja was informed]
–Do you think [the change should have been made?]
–At this point in your career, you’ve started, you’ve done everything. Can you handle coming off the bench?

Seeing as how many of the questions were similar in nature, Raja ended up repeating several things over and over again:

1) He wished that Ty had had a conversation with him about the change instead of just informing him.
2) He [Raja] will do whatever’s best for the team and whatever gives the Jazz the best chance of winning.
3) He supports Ty’s decision, and thinks CJ performs better as a starter.

By far and away, the most “controversial” comment to come out of those 3+ minutes was what Raja said about how in the one-on-one style that the Jazz play, CJ is more effective. Some felt that that was a jab at CJ and Ty. After CJ went off for 40 and the Jazz won, there were comments like “Yeah Raja, the Jazz are such a one-on-one team.” To be fair, that was one game (not to mention probably the best we’ve looked all season) and it was not indicative of how the Jazz have played this season.

I didn’t see that comment as a dig at CJ and Ty, and I happen to agree with Raja (and just for the record, Deron complained about the team’s one-on-one tendencies on multiple occasions before he was traded).

The Jazz weren’t built as a one-on-one team. They don’t have a reputation for being a one-on-one team. I don’t think they want to be a one-on-one team. Jerry Sloan always said the Jazz aren’t good enough to beat teams one-on-one. However, the 2010-2011 Jazz team has been playing one-on-one ball all year long.

–We’ve complained about Big Al being a black hole (though he is improving).
–We’ve complained about Deron trying to take over games even though his wrist was busted and he often couldn’t buy shots.
–We’ve complained about guys just standing around and no one cutting.
–We’ve complained about guys taking bad jump shots instead of moving the ball.
–The players themselves have said all season long that the team doesn’t stick together, that they have no chemistry and no identity.
–It’s not unusual to have two players account for more than 50% of all shots in a game.

There’s more.

Throughout the Layden-Sloan era, the Jazz were traditionally at the top of the league in three stat categories: 1) FG%; 2) assists; 3) fouls. Excluding the three post-Stockton/Malone non-Playoff years (2004-2006), you would have to go back to the Tom Nissalke era–skipping past the entire Layden and Sloan tenures–to find a season when the Jazz averaged fewer assists than they are this year.

It’s pretty much the same situation with FG%. The Jazz are shooting 46.6% on the season, which, excluding 2004-2006, is the lowest mark since 2001-2002. Only once between 1979-1980 and 1997-1998 were we more off-mark than we are this season.

I don’t think the Jazz mean to be a one-on-one team, but that is how they are playing this season. Raja’s comment wasn’t news; it’s something we already knew from having watched 60+ games. During one of his weekly interviews with David Locke back in January, Raja noted:

We tend to think we’re good enough to beat teams one-on-one, and we’re not. We are a team put together to run a certain offense and to play a certain way, and when we don’t do that, we’re not good enough to beat teams because they’re built to play the way they play, and they’re doing it. If we’re going to get away from what we were put together to do, we’re not going to be very successful. And so that’s the trust I’m talking about, trust that what we’re supposed to do is going to enable us to win the game, and we don’t do that every night. BUT, I’ve seen plenty of nights that we do do it, and that’s why I think the future’s bright if we can figure it out, because we can be good. (LOJ)

Anyway…I just needed to vent a little (or a lot). Everyone’s frustrated when the losses pile up, especially if in your lifetime you’ve hardly had to deal with player turnover, inconsistency, instability, and prolonged stretches of losing. Doesn’t it seem kind of ludicrous, though, to blame all of the season’s woes on one player or one person? I just hate that things always have to get blown out of proportion, and that there always has to be a scapegoat/villain. :/

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jazzy Girl permalink
    March 22, 2011 3:11 am

    Thank you so much! I love Raja! I am so grateful for his honesty and his candidness and his leadership and I DO NOT understand those who choose to point the finger at him…

    A story for the Raja haters;
    My roommate and I had vowed to each other that we would sit as close as possible behind the Jazz bench for one game this season. We bought tickets from the scalper “For a Good Time Call Tom” (who is actually a tool; guess it comes with the job), we were row 5 behind the Jazz bench, paid $90 each, and we were as happy as any 2 fans could be.
    The game was amazing, the view was indescribable, and we even got Fes to do a little dance. We were still floating on air after the game and we refused to let the night end there…

    In the good’ol days, Stockton to Malone and older, after a game crowds of fans would wait where the players drive out in their cars. Players would stop and sign things, give out shoes, roll down their windows and wave, etc. So we decided to go to this spot and wait for a wave or a hello or a autograph.

    There was a very small group behind the barricades, and we became optimistic. We stood out there, waiting in the snow, for over 30 minutes as we watched car after car exit the parking lot. All most all of the cars had windows tinted so dark it was impossible to see who was inside. No one stopped, not one player gave an autograph or even a game sock. Not one player rolled down their window and said a damn thing! AK and Memo waved as they speed away. I knew what cars, D-Will, Hey Hey Hey, and Jeremy were driving, so Jer and Hey gave a laugh and a little wave. The quest was almost a complete disappointment… until Raja. Raja stopped, rolled down his window, waved, thanked all of us for coming and for our support, and told us to have a safe, great night. A 12 year old kid standing in our small group told me that after the home game 2 nights earlier; Raja had stopped his car, got out, and gave the 2 kids one signed game shoe each.

    I will always love and respect Raja Bell! That man is the very example of how a true NBA star should act.

    • Jazzy Girl permalink
      March 22, 2011 3:19 am

      That story was unnecessarily long, sorry.

    • March 22, 2011 10:43 am

      That’s a great story! No doubt he’s struggling right now, and being blamed for ALL of the Jazz’s woes isn’t going to help. I appreciate what he brings to the team and how he is off the court, and it’s sad that there are fans that think he is singlehandedly responsible for the Jazz’s inability to play as a team and losses.

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