Improving the Offense

Photo: Melissa Majchrzak NBAEj/Getty ImagesPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak NBAEj/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz have had their fair share of struggles this season – injuries, youth, a tough road schedule, and relative inexperience when it comes to starting basketball games in the NBA. That’s really manifested itself on the offensive end, as the Jazz have particularly struggled to get points in an efficient way this season.

Efficiency is a funny thing nowadays among stat guys in the league. Players are being put under a harsher microscope in terms of whether or not they can use the basketball in the most efficient way possible on the offensive end.

The player efficiency rating, or PER, has become the standard by which to measure a player’s productivity, given of course, that you as a fan or analyst buy into advanced analytics. John Hollinger is the author behind this stat, among others. In his words, Hollinger describes says that, *The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” Hollinger goes into deeper, more tortuous detail about his statistic, but for the sake of this article, a basic understanding should be enough.

The league average PER is set at 15 every season. The current league leader is Kevin Durant, at 30.7, followed by LeBron James at 29.51. Jeremy Evans, at 18.78 leads the Jazz in PER this season. The next closest Jazz player is Derrick Favors, at 17.79.

What this shows is that, per-minute, Evans and Favors are the most productive and efficient all-around players for Utah.

The PER ties into Utah’s offensive woes this season, simply by the fact that leading scorer Gordon Hayward has a PER of 16.2, barely above league average, and scoring machine Alec Burks has a PER of 15.41. This illustrates further what we’ve seen all season – the Jazz aren’t a great offensive team. In fact, they rank 23rd in offensive efficiency, only putting up 99.9 points per 100 possessions.

This offensive struggle comes largely because of the youth of the Jazz.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed three things the Jazz can try and improve on offensively that should help them play better basketball down the stretch run of the season.

1. Run more pick-and-roll

The pick-and-roll is the bread and butter of any point-guard power-forward combo. Burke and Favors have the potential to become an above-average pick-and-roll threat. Burke, who’s struggled as a shooter this season but has steadily improved as well, presents a threat coming off a screen, and Favors has proven that he’s a legitimate low-post presence in the NBA.

This means that instead of teams needing to defend either the ball handler running off the screen, or the screener rolling towards the basket, equal respect has to be given to both players. When those players are Burke and Favors, this presents a great offensive weapon for Utah.

Kanter needs to be used as the screener more often as well. He’s still very uncomfortable in the pick-and-roll, despite having a great passer in Burke dishing him the rock. If Kanter’s going to continue his offensive performances of late, he needs to learn how to run a pick-and-roll.

Running a pick-and-roll doesn’t just create a jump shot or easy shot in the lane. Defenses usually collapse around a pick-and-roll play, meaning that other players will be open for a drive and dish opportunity – with Utah’s improved 3-point shooting this season, they should try to take advantage of it.

2. Quit forcing the offense

This is probably the most subjective of the three offensive tips, because what I see as forcing the offense, others may see as patience.  A few times every game, the Jazz run a certain play. The play involves the point guard holding the ball at the top of the key, while screens are set down in the post by the big men. The two wings then drive into these screens, running their defenders off them and thereby freeing themselves up for a quick screen-and-pop jumper.

However, it seems as if the point guard, usually Burke when this play is ran, already has decided before the play is even initiated, which player he wants to pass to. More often than not, Burke still passes to the player he wanted to, regardless of whether or not the pass was the right one to make.

This is just one example of how Utah forces things a little too much offensively. The shot clock in the NBA only gives teams 24 seconds to run a play, but the Jazz can still slow things down, focus on execution, and wait for the best shot possible to open up.

3. Get out and run

The Jazz are better when they’re playing a lot of transition basketball. I cover some high school basketball in addition to the Jazz, and even at that level, the teams who run the court as often and effectively as they can are the most successful. Transition offense does wonders for a basketball team – it creates easy shots, gets everyone involved, and gets the crowd engaged as well.

At the end of the day, offensive prowess is an aspect of basketball that comes with experience, but it’s also something that needs to be worked and focused on a lot, or else it’ll fall the by figurative wayside.

Hopefully, the Jazz can focus on a few of these things and improve their offensive play as the season winds down.

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