Changing of the Guard – Has it Helped?

Photo: Ron Turenne NBAE/Getty ImagesPhoto: Ron Turenne NBAE/Getty Images

After veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley was waived by the Utah Jazz last Wednesday, many Jazz fans began scratching their heads, wondering what move was going to come next. With Tinsley gone and lottery pick Trey Burke injured, the Jazz were down to John Lucas III at the point. The wise words from Jedi Master Yoda to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back really sum up not only Tinsley departing, but this whole season for Jazz fans – “Difficult to see, always in motion is the future.”

Once Tinsley was let go, however, Utah called up D-League guard Diante Garrett, who came out and had a stellar NBA debut against the New Orleans Pelicans, helping the Jazz snag their first win of the season. Garrett’s presence raised an interesting question to me – what was the point guard rotation going
to look like now?  Coach Tyrone Corbin has been fond of playing Alec Burks at the point of late (he’s even started him there the past two games) and if Corbin decided to stick with a Burks – Garrett rotation, I was intrigued to see what would change offensively. Also, Garrett being in the lineup also demoted Lucas to the third string point guard, but he’s seen some time in the backcourt with both Burks and Garrett the past two games. (Also, just as an interesting sidenote here, Tony Parker was asked after the Spurs game Friday what he thought of Burks starting at point, and he replied, “I don’t think it’s his natural position.”)

During the game against the Spurs on Friday night, Utah’s offense looked better. There seemed to be more flow and rhythm on that side of the court for the Jazz, and that manifested itself by Utah leading most of the way through that game. While the Spurs did mount a comeback and win, I thought the Jazz really showed some offensive improvement through the first two and a half quarters or so.

Offensive efficiency is usually measured by assists, field goal percentage, and turnovers. During the Spurs game, the Jazz had 16 assists to 18 turnovers – so even though their offense
looked a little better, they still just about hit their season averages of 17.6 assists and 18.7 turnovers per game. While Utah didn’t see significant changes to their assist and turnover totals, something else changed in the San Antonio game – field goal percentage. During the first quarter, the Jazz shot 52% from the floor and 75% from the 3-point line, scorching hot numbers for a team that averages 41.3% and 27.6% respectively in those categories on the season. While the Jazz did cool off considerably in the second quarter, shooting only 30.4% from the field, they ended the half at 41.7% shooting, just a bit above average.

Utah did finish the game at 38.5% shooting, a terrible number by any means, but what these numbers show us is that the Jazz’s current offense depends a lot on isolation situations. In the first half against the Spurs, Utah had 6 assists to 8 turnovers, a negative differential, but they still held a lead on San
Antonio, 46-41. That five point lead can be attributed back to the isolation plays ran by the Jazz. Case in point – Richard Jefferson shot 3-5 in the first half, which is 60%. On the season, Jefferson shoots 38.1%. His hot shooting obviously helped add to Utah’s lead, but it also illustrates further my point that isolation situations are a huge part of Utah’s current offensive scheme.

With so many young faces and inexperienced players on the roster, running a complicated offense like the flex isn’t an easy task. When plays don’t work out properly, we’ve seen a lot of late-in-the-shot-clock jumpers, driving layups, and three-pointers. These are all hallmarks of an offense depending on a lot of one-on-one play for its production.

We saw this same thing happen to the Jazz against Golden State Saturday night as well. The Jazz had 18 assists, 17 turnovers, and shot 45% from the floor – but only put up 88 points. Between 82 points against the Spurs at home and 88 on the road against the Warriors, we’re really not seeing too much improvement on the offensive end of the court, even with two capable guard in Burks and Garrett getting most of the burn at point.

Really, the only fix to the offensive problems facing the Jazz right now is practice and patience. Hopefully, when Burke returns from his injury, he can help jump-start this offense and get the Jazz rolling to some more wins.

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