Bits from Zach Lowe Interview, 3/13
I’m sure you’ve all perused this must-read piece that Zach Lowe wrote on the Jazz, which included this bit that probably had many Jazz fans nodding along as they read:
Here’s a remarkable thing: Utah’s five most-used lineups this season have been outscored. Ditto for 17 of its 18 most commonly used three-man groups, and usually by margins much larger than Utah’s overall negative scoring margin.
Only two of the 80 teams that have qualified for the playoffs in the last five years have done so with their top five lineups being outscored: the 2008-09 Bulls, and … last year’s Jazz. This is very strong evidence that Corbin is basically just playing the wrong guys and wrong combinations in the wrong minutes distribution. His better defenders and all-around guys — Favors, Kanter, DeMarre Carroll, Gordon Hayward, et al. — deserve a larger chunk of the time going to Jefferson, Mo Williams (now back from injury), and others. Lineup data can be pretty noisy over short sample sizes, but the noise is getting really loud at this point.
There’s also the fact that Utah’s defense plays with a weird lack of discipline and unclear, unproductive rules.
1280 had Lowe on after his piece was published to discuss some of the points he made in the article:
Were you surprised the Jazz didn’t make a move at the trade deadline?
I was not very surprised. I mean, what surprised me more than anything else was the number of people who were telling me, you know, “We didn’t even hear from the Jazz,” or you know, “We tried to engage…they essentially hung up on us or told us they weren’t really interested in talking.”
Why are the Jazz so horrific defensively?
They’ve been bad for, I mean, essentially, the last two or three years without really showing much progress. And you know, I don’t think it’s really any secret. They just don’t defend the pick and roll very well.
They don’t have, they have big men who are neither sort of mobile and very good at containing the pick and roll nor are they rim protectors underneath that can really play above the rim and challenge shots like a Serge Ibaka or a DeAndre Jordan, who, you know, their positioning isn’t perfect, their technique isn’t perfect, but they make up for it with just, you know, length and athleticism.
And it’s just hard to be a good defensive team when your core big men, the guys who are playing 30, 35 minutes a game, just aren’t mobile enough or intuitive enough. And I think Paul Millsap is, by the way, but he’s just sort of small for his position.
But when they can’t defend the pick and roll, and hey, look, just watch the Spurs series from last year. That’s their worst possible opponent. A pick and roll team with a really good point guard. They just have no chance. They just can’t do it.
What’s your take on Tyrone Corbin?
You know, look, he’s just starting. I do think the defensive issues are problematic and they don’t seem to have a lot of coherence on that. And the rotation has been weird and I think that he should probably mix and match some lineups a little bit and use some lineups that just clearly don’t work a lot less.
But again, he’s got a weird roster at a weird time and you know, probably the ceiling of this team just isn’t that much higher than what their record is now.
What’s your take on Al Jefferson?
He’s a very nice guy, which makes it harder [to acknowledge his flaws]. But for the money that he’s going to command in the off-season, I just don’t think he’s going to justify the price, and I don’t think he lives up to his contract now. Just because, you know, it’s hard to base your team around a big guy who’s a minus defensive player.
You can do it; I think a comparable is someone like Carlos Boozer in Chicago who I think is a little better defensively than Big Al, but is still a minus on that end, but fits within a successful team defense because he’s got [Luol] Deng and he’s got [Joakim] Noah, two of the 10 or 12 best defenders in the league, around him, and a coach with a system that is absolute and to which the players are like maniacally committed, because if they don’t play exactly the way [Tom Thibodeau] is asking and make every little decision the right way, they’ll be on the bench.
Are you bullish on the core four?
[Alec] Burks is a case that we, you know, as tantalizing as he is, he hasn’t shot the ball very well. And we just haven’t seen him play that much. I mean, he’s been in and out of the rotation. Mostly out. So he’s still a giant question mark.
[Derrick] Favors, I think, is, I’m very bullish on Favors and [Enes] Kanter both, but especially Favors just because a guy, a big guy that can play defense like that is just a huge asset to any team. I mean, he’s going to be a very good NBA player. Needs to polish up his offensive game, but you know, so did every big man who came into the league at 21.
Kanter looks great; we’ve gotten to see more of him. He’s been wonderful this year, shooting 55 percent or whatever.
[Gordon] Hayward to me is the interesting piece. He’s clearly a good NBA player, sort of a Swiss Army knife, can do a little bit of everything. It’s unclear if he’s the third best player on a very good team or maybe can he develop into the second best player on a very good team? I think that’s probably his ceiling. And the difference between those two things is big both in terms of salary and then the potential of the team and whether they need another lead ball handler, which they do, but you know, how good does that guy need to be? Hayward, to me, is sort of the X-factor.
The Jazz’s defensive woes: Coaching or personnel?
I would lean towards personnel. I do think the schemes are problematic. They’re just, you can see it in that piece. The rules are inconsistent and the decisions of how to guard certain plays are a little bit puzzling compared to how the best defensive teams guard them.
But if you combine Al Jefferson with a bunch of young players…young guys historically really struggle to learn NBA defense…you put all those pieces together, I think the pendulum swings a little bit towards personnel. But I don’t think the coaching is helping.