By: J.M. Poulard
On Monday night, the Utah Jazz (17-8) will host the Golden State Warriors (8-15) in a rematch of the November 5th bout that the Warriors won 85-78. Utah is coming off a loss at Dallas that dropped them to a record of 3-3 in their last six games. Do not let that fool you though, the Jazz are a solid basketball team that get it done on both sides of the floor.
The Jazz offense has been efficient so far this season as evidenced by their 101.1 points per game (10th in the league) on 46.8% field goal shooting (ninth in NBA). Indeed, in large part due to their superb point guard play, Utah is averaging a mere 12.4 turnovers per game (best in the NBA).
The Jazz are productive on offense because of their ability to consistently get into the lane against opponents. According to Hoopdata, Utah averages 23.9 shots at the rim (seventh in the league) and converts 65.6% percent of its field goals there (10th in the league). Their shots right at the basket come courtesy of some of Al Jefferson’s post ups (hook shots and up and unders), Millsap’s offensive rebounding and drives from perimeter players such as Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.
Given the fact that Utah gets so many close shots at the basket, they end up scoring 44.5 points in the paint on average (seventh in the league) and getting to the free throw line frequently as they shoot 25.4 free throws per game (13th in the NBA). With that said, the best player on the Jazz is by far Deron Williams; and the team goes as he goes. The former Illinois star is able to get to any spot on the floor; and Utah plays best when he decides to blow by his man to get inside the paint.
Although Williams is not the deadliest of scorers once he reaches the painted area, he does most of his damage with his passing. Once he gets passed his defender, defenses try to close the basket area with the hopes of deterring him from getting to the rim. Although it is at times effective, Williams does an excellent job of finding cutters going to the basket but he also is terrific at locating his shooters. Indeed, he dishes out 3.6 assists per game at the rim and 3.0 in the 16 to 23 feet range (which represents about 60% of his assists).
Although they do a great job of scoring efficiently, Utah can go through a few scoring droughts as a result of their big men. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap at times get shot happy and try to create their own offense from beyond 16 feet; which really is not their strength. If asked to play truth or dare from 16 feet, they will more often than not pick dare and attempt to get themselves in scoring positions. Typically it disrupts their offense and leads to low percentage shots.
As good as Utah is on offense, they are equally good on defense. So far this season, they are surrendering 97.2 points per game (ninth in NBA) on 43.4% field goal shooting (fourth in the league). Also, the Jazz are the third best team in the association at defending the three point line, holding opponents to 32.3% shooting.
Although Utah does a good job statistically on defense, they are not as good as their rankings would suggest. Not only are they good by the numbers in terms of points given up per game, but they also are twelfth in the league with 39.1 points in the paint per game allowed, according to Team Rankings. So what gives? Well, much like Waka Flocka Flame, teams that run the pick and roll against the Jazz can Go Hard In The Paint against them. Indeed, Utah does a subpar job of defending the roller in pick and roll situations, which ultimately results in them fouling…a lot. The Jazz are 28th in the NBA in fouls per game as they average 23.6. As a result, Jazz opponents shoot 28.8 free throws per game (28th in the league).
Also, Utah has faced some issues defending starting shooting guards so far this season. Throughout the course of the year, when Raja Bell has played (Utah’s best perimeter defender and starting shooting guard), opposing two guards have produced 18.0 points per game on 45.5% field goal shooting. In their last two games (Bell has missed last two games due to injury), the Jazz have given up 17.0 points per game on 61.1% field goal shooting to Vince Carter and DeShawn Stevenson. This could be an area for the Warriors to exploit the Jazz in their rematch tonight.
With that in mind, Golden State struggled from the field on November 5th against Utah as they shot 37.6% from the floor. However, they did an excellent job of attacking the glass and pulling down 21 offensive rebounds on their way to a win. So if I’m Keith Smart, tonight I blast Tupac’s Ambitionz As a Ridah in the locker room and tell the players to reproduce the exact same type of effort from the first encounter. The Warriors will need to attack the basket, get to the free throw line (especially the perimeter players) and dominate the boards. If Golden State does that, they should come out on top when the buzzer sounds.