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Tag Archives: Utah Jazz

Game 10 Results: Sweet

Final Score:  Thunder 115, Jazz 108

Record: 6-4

Division Record: 3-1

Stat leaders

Points: Deron Williams with 31, Durant with 30

Rebounds: Ibaka with 11, Millsap with 6

Assists: Deron Williams with 11, Westbrook with 7

There are  82 games in a season, of which we have now completed 10 (12%). With so many games, it is easy to see patterns emerge.  Yet, you look for things to slowly change, and you search for subtle signs that may have hidden meaning.  A turning point, even.

Midway through the 1st quarter, the Thunder once again found themselves down by 12 to a well tuned opponent.   And we the observant viewers think, “I know how this ends.”

But then, something happened that was different.

“Tonight we left it on the floor, and we can go home and tell ourselves we improved today.” – Scott Brooks

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Cole Aldrich: a Defensive Illustration

Royce Young at DailyThunder posted a video for the Thunder faithful, featuring rookie Cole Aldrich, along with Young’s analysis.  Please read his first, and then I have a few additional comments.

Cole Aldrich’s Defense

Granted, that game was not an overall positive reflection of the Thunder’s interior defense.  On a case by case basis though, Royce takes a closer look at two specific plays that actually mattered when the game was close.

Here’s the video he’s using for his analysis:

In the first scenario that Young highlights, Aldrich is using his body effectively to prevent a superior low post player from getting to his spot.  For a classic back to the basket post player like Jefferson, he is typically going to have two to three specific spots he wants to get to on the court.  Starting out on the block, the offensive player is normally going to pivot either into the lane or to the baseline for a hook shot, a fade-away (0.00), or an up-and-under move.  The biggest key for the defender is what he does before the offensive player even catches the ball.  By pushing the player away from the basket and away from his preferred position, Aldrich is forcing him to take a lower percentage shot.  In this example, he has forced Jefferson just an extra foot or so away from the rim, but you can see that this is all it takes, because Jefferson front-rims his hook shot.

In the second scenario that Young highlights, the Jazz are using a back pick screen to rub Miles’ defender off of him so that he can get into the lane.  Aldrich feels the screen coming without seeing it (and perhaps his teammate communicated it effectively to him as well) so that when Miles came off the curl, Aldrich challenged the passing lane by “showing” his defensive posture.  And yet, he didn’t over-commit and leave Jefferson.  In doing so, it allowed Aldrich to filter Miles into the lane at a difficult angle where the shot was challenged, while simultaneously sealing off Jefferson from either a pass or a rebound.  It is fluid and innate, and the Thunder will need more of this classic post defensive play if they are to cleanse their wounds effectively.

Thanks to Young for putting this little video together.

11/1 Daily Links

Post-debacle thoughts

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • Sometimes, the additional space (2 off days) between a blow-out and the next game is good.  It is a chance to regroup, study film, find your groove, etc.  Other times, it is not as helpful, as the team is eager to get back onto the court to erase the bad memory.  I think that the key to the feeling the team has is directly related to how pissed off they are for the way played.  Losses can either make you hungry, or make you complacent.
  • A ranking after 3 games?  Seventh? Eh, why not?
  • It’s always easier to effuse praise after you’ve schooled another man.  But then again…quid pro quo baby.
  • I am a FreeDarko fan and I appreciate Shoals’ insight, but an underlying tone in his analysis is that this situation is somehow unfair to Green.  I look at the world through an economic lens.  It has nothing to do with fairness.  It’s a question of value.   Shoals’ question may be rhetorical, but the answer isn’t – Green is not going to get HIS money.  This is because it is not in fact HIS money until the someone Cuts the Check (CTC).  His money will be whatever the market will bear, given economic and fiscal reality.  Now, if the question is, is Green a $6 million a year guy (which is what his current level would hold true to) or is he a $10 million a year guy?  Is he more of a Steve Nash value guy, or a Jared Jeffries?  Well, that question has some merit.  In another vein, what is Green’s replacement value? If Green were to demand $10 million on the market, could OKC find another guy, or even 2 guys, for 2/3 of that amount that could give them the same production?
    • Green is a nice player, and he seems to have an innate feel for the game.  That said, there are plenty of 6’9″ guys who want to play on the wing.  The Thunder have decided who their core will be for the next 5 years, and Green isn’t in it.  He’s essentially playing for a big contract somewhere else.
    • Is that sad? That is reality.  But is it unfortunate?  If misfortune is banking $10 million a year, then I say, “yes.”

Game 3: Reality Check

Final Score: Utah Jazz 120, Thunder 99

Stat winners:

Scoring: Millsap with 30

Rebounding: Millsap with 16

Assists: D. Williams with 15

Analysis:

1) The high level view.

Over the course of 82 games, EVERY team, regardless of how good, have games like this.  There are always a few games where everything is going right for the other team, and everything is going wrong with you, the lead balloons, and the team falls like, well, a lead balloon.   After watching the NBA for decades, I can tell  when it is happening, regardless of whether it is during the regular season or playoffs.  At that point, I’m faced with a choice; I can choose to become bitter, or I can watch the outcome looking for things that matter.  Everything matters; the challenge is finding some silver in the dross and have the patience to refine it.

Given that general rule of thumb, is that what this game was – an anomaly? Statistically, it is possible to conclude that the game was an aberration.  The teams took approximately the same number of shots, got a similar number of team rebounds, and attempted (and made) a similar number of free throws.  So all things being equal, the only large disparity was in the shooting percentage.  The Jazz simply shot better, the Thunder, worse.

However, here is where statistics can often belie reality, especially if you did not watch the game.  By looking at who scored the Jazz points, and where they scored them, and by how many assists contributed to these points, you can see a different story emerge.  The Jazz pummeled the Thunder on the inside.  Millsap and Jefferson met very little resistance in either getting to the spots they wanted or in taking the shots they preferred.  The Thunder’s interior defense was terrible.  This highlights the discrepancy between a team like the Pistons, who have no inside game to speak of, and the Jazz, who are adept at getting the right people the ball in the right places.  The Thunder’s interior defense against the Pistons was actually inflated, if that makes sense, because the Pistons are subpar in this offensive category.  It wasn’t as hard for Ibaka and Krstic to play well against the likes of Ben Wallace and the more perimeter-oriented game of Villanueva.  Against a true blue post-up front line, however, the Thunder were clearly overmatched and unprepared to deal with it.

There aren’t many teams that can throw up such a low post presence, but the Thunder are going to have to decide how they’re going to deal with that kind of lineup over the course of this season.    There is a good chance that the Jazz are going to fall within that low-50 win range, so the likelihood of seeing them in the early rounds of the playoffs is high.

Underscoring that prediction is, of course, that the Jazz are a playoff team.  I think they are, and I think after three games what is apparent is that the Jazz were not as bad as their record reflected, nor are the Thunder as good as their start indicated.

The other note worth mentioning is the gap between where Deron Williams is and where Russell Westbrook is.  Westbrook is a top 5 PG; Williams is probably the best.  When Williams has the proper tools, nobody is currently better at setting up his teammates, managing floor spacing, and possessing the innate ability to chase his own shots only when necessary.  Williams’ 15 assists came mostly within the confines of a half-court offense, which means that he ran the offense on his own terms.  Williams ran it efficiently and he found the right players who had the best shots available per possession.  

It is always difficult to decide how you’re going to guard a player like Williams when he has his entire game working, and sometimes you have to take an unorthodox approach to it. The immediate example that jumps to mind is how the Lakers put Kobe Bryant on Williams during the last two seasons’ playoffs, successfully disrupting the entire Jazz offensive scheme.

2) Silver.

But wait…this is a Thunder blog, yes?  It’s always difficult to find silver linings in a game where you get thoroughly outplayed, but since NBA basketball is often a game of mini-runs (perhaps to the rest room), you can still sometimes find spots where positives stood out.

The main thing that I look for during a blow-out is, how does a team decide it is going to mount a comeback?  When I think of the great teams in the past who had a penchant for knowing how to get back into a game (Jordan’s Bulls, Kobe’s Lakers, Duncan’s Spurs), I create a mental “To Do” list like this:

  • Establish that only heightened defensive performance gives you the best shot at coming back from a 20 point deficit.
  • Get the leading team into foul trouble quickly in the quarters, which will allow your players to get to the free throw line early and often for easy points.  It also lengthens the game, which can sway the law of averages back in your favor.
  • Change defensive strategy, including occasional full court presses.
  • Deviate from offensive weaknesses.  If the three point shot is not falling, stop shooting! It is remarkable how lack of offensive self-awareness frequently derails all the energy put into amounting a comeback.
  • Finish quarters well.  Meaning, when there is a minute left in a quarter, go on mini six to eight point runs.
  • Going into the fourth, cut the lead to under 10 points.

The Thunder did maybe one of those well – they did change up their defensive strategy, and in the 3rd and 4th quarters a few times cut the lead to 15, which is a manageable deficit to actually do something against.

But the rest of my list, they did not do well at all.  They did not play defense in a manner where they believed it was the only way that they could come back.  They certainly have the tools to do it – Durant, Westbrook, Green, and Ibaka are all long guys that can cover large spaces by themselves.

Frequently it was the Jazz that went on the end of quarter mini runs, undoing whatever gains the Thunder had made.  Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps it was youth, perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the situation. Regardless, scenarios like this will happen again.  The challenge is to learn how to deal with it better.  The Thunder need to learn how to deal with large deficits in a more clinical, deliberate, and process driven manner so that when the 4th quarter comes around they can be in a much stronger position to amount a final run that actually has a chance at succeeding.

Next game: at the LA Clippers on Wednesday, Nov. 3.

Game 3 Preview

Utah Jazz at the Thunder on Oct. 31

7:00PM Tipoff

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • There are things you can usually take away from previous meetings, even when it wraps around the off-season.  However, it appears that the Jazz are going through some growing pains, though it frankly surprises me.  They added Al Jefferson to their low post to play along side Paul Millsap.  Jefferson replaced Carlos Boozer, who now finds himself in Chicago.  To me, Jefferson is a huge upgrade offensively.  I think over the course of the season, he is going to learn how to play extremely well with Deron Williams, one of the top 3 PG’s in the league.  However, there will be an adjustment period because off the screens that the Jazz like to run, Boozer was often a step back mid-range scorer, while Jefferson prefers his back to the basket.  This combination should pay dividends over the course of 82 games, but for now the team is struggling to find itself.
  • The defensive side of the ball seems to be where the Jazz are struggling most, and that again appears to be lack of coordination.  The team has talked about not being sharp on its rotations. Knowledge of this type of information always bodes well, but again it is going to try the Thunder’s resolve to stay committed in their half-court set.  When a rotation fails, the gut instinct is to shoot as soon as there is space.  A team, and specifically a PG, committed to exploiting rotations must be patient and force the issue by making the extra pass.  This often leads to layups instead of open 15 footers.
  • Given the Jazz interior struggles, it will be imperative on Krstic and Ebaka to have impact games and avoid foul trouble.  So far the team as a whole has resisted early foul struggles, which has allowed their bigs to stay on the court and make sizable impacts.  They will have their hands full with Millsap and Jefferson.  Defensively, the Thunder will need to stay at home and avoid getting trapped out on high screens.  Deron Williams is extremely adept at being patient with his passing.
  • This game will be another outstanding opportunity for Westbrook to square off against one of the league’s best in Williams.  Williams is a more traditional kind of point guard, who is very committed to the schemes Coach Sloan likes to run.  He doesn’t have the explosiveness of a Rose or a Rondo, but he is fundamentally sound and doesn’t make many mistakes.  Where he will have a distinct advantage is in the low block – Williams is adept at posting up smaller guards.  We might see Westbrook take the posture of attacking Williams with his speed to try and force the issue and get Williams to pick up some fouls.  Regardless, Westbrook seems to love measuring sticks like these, and this will be a key matchup.
  • Will the Thunder get better guard play this game? Thus far, James Harden has had negligible impact, accumulating only 7 points and a single assist so far this season.  If Deron Williams has his way with Westbrook on the block and Westbrook picks up some fouls, it will be imperative that Harden be ready to take the reins against the Jazz.

What to expect:

This one is easy.  The Jazz will hit the Thunder with a heavy dose of pick and rolls.  The game will hinge on whether the Thunder can deal with them, in part, or in whole.  The Jazz will be reluctant to run on the Thunder, because while their bigs are skilled, they are not court-runners like Green and Ibaka.  The Thunder will need to look to push those screens higher than the Jazz want, in order to force the play into a screen and kick rather than a screen and roll.  It doesn’t look like the Jazz have the perimeter shooters that they have in the past to take advantage of this strategy.

Stylistically, the Thunder will want to run, and it will be incumbent on Westbrook to maintain discipline when the fast break numbers are not present.  So far he has played well in the point position, tallying 11 assists against the Pistons.  I expect him to come out strong, the way he did against Derrick Rose, because the young man likes a challenge.  However, Rose is not yet a disciplined PG, and Williams will not make the same kinds of mistakes.

The Thunder are tempting fate by continuing to force so many outside shots, and I think that dealing with the Jazz’ inside presence on the boards will haunt them if they do the same this time around.   They cannot continue to have 2-15 3 point shooting games and not expect that to average out over the course of the season.  Right now, they are not a good 3 point shooting team.  Coach Brooks needs to recognize that, and rein in the outside shooting because it really isn’t necessary.  Offensively, the Thunder have tactical advantages with Durant and Green, and getting them in closer to the basket should be a priority.

With Durant, he faces an interesting matchup where he will likely be guarded by Kirilenko.  Kirilenko has the length to challenge Durant’s shooting. Durant will need to change up his game a bit in order to get the open looks he is accustomed to seeing.  Kevin needs to find offensive patience in this game if he is going to have a more efficient offensive game.  Again, 9-24 shooting nights eventually hurt you, even if they haven’t hurt the Thunder yet.

Playing the Jazz is always a temperature-taking game for teams.  The Jazz are deliberate, precise, and make you play the same way.  The Thunder are more talented offensively and athletically, but this is the kind of game that can expose the sloppiness that the Thunder have covered up with wins so far.  Fortunately, they’ll be back at home and the boisterous crowd should help with their energy.

Prediction:

Thunder by 6.