Friday, December 28, 2012

Take It Back

Today's post brought to you by the pride of Victorville, CA.

After Wednesday night's debacle against an admittedly fortified Golden State squad, it's hard (even for us Jazz Kool-Aid drinkers) not to wonder what pieces the Jazz need to have in place to become a more competitive squad.  Foye and Marvin Williams both had off nights, and obviously missing your starting PG is problematic.  But the most recent Jazz loss seemed to be the perfect microcosm of all the little things haunting the Jazz this season:  slow starts, lack of intensity, settling for jump shots, weak defensive rebounding, etc.

It would be nice to have another quality point guard on this team.  Frankly, if we had a better 1 than Mo, I'd be happy to have Mo off the bench and leave it at that, allowing Burks or Foye to run the offense in a real pinch.  But that's not how the Jazz do things.  Similarly, there is no real threat at the 2-3 for a take over performance.  Burks might get there someday, but he's not there now.  And our bigs...well, I think that problem has been discussed ad nauseum already so let's move on.

Who could the Jazz pick up to solve some of these problems?  ESPN's trade machine is probably breaking right now just from people with 801 area codes.  There are a million (well, 420ish) players to consider adding to the Utah roster.  And everybody wants to talk about picking up Steph Curry, Dwayne Wade, or Damon Lillard.  It's not gonna happen.

But that doesn't mean we can't speculate.  And, as long as we're speculating, let's start with the coulda-woulda-shouldas.  The list of former Jazz players spread around the league is fairly impressive, not just in numbers but in talent as well.  Assuming personnel issues and injuries aren't a factor and the paychecks are reasonable, here's a short take on the available Jazz alums and how they might affect this year's squad.

Blake Ahearn (N/A): 6'2", 190, PG.  Last season, Ahearn played four games for the Jazz, and has only played 19 games in the NBA throughout his entire career.  Blake is a terrible shooter from the field, with a career average of 27.3%.  Not a terrific threat from beyond the arc either (.298).  If the Jazz need somebody to fill in for MoW and neither Tinsley nor Watson fits the bill, Blake Ahearn doesn't seem like the answer, either.

Lou Amundson (MIN):  6'9", 225, PF.  Amundson didn't have much of a run with the Jazz, and is only averaging 8.5 minutes per game (in only 11 games) with the Timberwolves this year.  Can't imagine that we'd want this guy over Millsap or Favors; he's shooting 33.3% from the field, 23% from the stripe, and only posting 1.2 PPG and 2.4 RPG.  Snoozer.

Carlos Boozer (CHI):  6'9", 258, PF.  For all the bullocks Boozer gets from Jazz Land, the guy was an integral part of going to the Western Conference Finals with D-Will and Sloan.  His game has fallen off a bit, however.  This year, Booz is shooting at 53.4% (not bad), 68.1% from the stripe, and collecting 9.2 boards on his way to 13.7 ppg.  In contrast, Millsap shoots 51.8% & 71.6% respectively, with 8 boards and 14.7 ppg.  Sap has 2.6 assists, 1 steal, and 0.9 blocks per game, however, compared to Boozer's 2.0, 0.8, and 0.5.  I'd call this one a wash, frankly.

Ronnie Brewer (NYK): 6'7", 220, SG/SF.  If Ronnie hadn't been traded and traded in such a dickfor way, maybe we still have Sloan and Deron.  Just sayin'.  Anyway, this season, the Milkman 2.0 is shooting a lackluster 38% from the field, 30.5% from three and 44.1% on his free throws for a measly 5.1 points per 20.4 minutes (0.25 points per minute).  If we look at this purely in a Moneyball way, Hayward is averaging 12.9 points in 26.6 minutes (0.48 ppm), DMC is good for 5.3 points in 16.9 minutes (0.31 ppm), and Burks gives you 4.2 points in only 10.6 minutes (0.40 ppm).  Cue The Ataris singing the intro to "Your Boyfriend Sucks."

Derek Fisher (N/A):  6'1", 200, PG.  Let's pretend for a minute that Jazz fans don't hate this guy on principle, because we all know it would be nice to have him back on the team.  Fish was good this year for 40% from the field, 37.3% from 3, and 81.7% from the stripe.  Add in 2.1 boards, 3.1 dimes and 8.6 ppg, and it's hard to argue that he wouldn't be a better backup PG than Tinsley (39.3%/32.7%/87.5%/2.0/4.9/3.3) or Watson (29.3%/18.2%/57.1%/1.6/4.0/2.0).  Granted, Jamaal and Earl have higher assist numbers, but neither can score.  Fisher can, and he can do it in clutch scenarios.  Boy, it'd be nice to have him back.

Sundiata Gaines (N/A): 6'1", 185, PG.  Yada hasn't seen any NBA minutes this season, but last year he shot nearly 40% from the floor, 30% from the arc, 56.2% from the stripe while dishing 2.2 assists and scoring 5.1 points in 13.9 minutes.  Plus he's young and is willing to adapt to a coach's system.  Look, I love Tinsley and Earl is something of a personal hero of mine, but I have a hard time coming up with an argument that supports having two aging backup points when this guy is available.

Devin Harris (ATL): 6'3", 185, PG/SG.  Devin is coming off the bench in half the games he's played for the Hawks this year.  In 23.1 minutes, DH is shooting at a 44.1% clip, 32.4% from three and 60.6% from the stripe.  Factor in 2.5 assists and 7.7 points scored, and Harris looks like a pretty solid backup PG if the contract wasn't so absurd.  His up-tempo game would fit well with the second unit, to boot.  Stupid money.

Kris Humphries (BKN): 6'9", 235, F.  Besides being famous for having sex with another famous person who was famous for being famous, K-Hump (as I like to call him) has a 46.6 FG%, 66.3 FT%, scores 7.1 points, pulls 7.4 boards, and shows 0.6/0.3/0.7 in assists/steals/blocks per game.  These are better offensive numbers (not accounting for minutes played) than Carroll puts up, but defensively Carroll has a slight edge.  Favors scores more and is has better rebound/block numbers.  Is it worth comparing Humphries to Jeremy Evans?  Touch the Heavens is good for 2.2 points and 0.5 blocks in 7 minutes.  Given Humphries' minutes, Evans goes to almost 7 points and nearly 2 blocks.  Not sure that I'd want Humphries back on our bench.

Andrei Kirilenko (MIN): 6'9", 220, F.  I'm not going to bother with stats.  If AK was getting paid a reasonable amount (I'd go as high as $6 million per year) and could stay healthy, of course you'd want him on the team.  I'd have him over Marvin Williams or DMC.  Hell, even with the risk of injuries, I think I'd still like to see AK in a Jazz uni again, just to show the kids how to 5x5.

Kyle Korver (ATL): 6'7", 210, F.  42.8% from the field, 42.1% from three, 84% from the stripe, 2.8 boards, 1.6 assists, and 9.5 points per game.  Puts asses in the seats, lots of them female.  Did I mention 42.1% from beyond the arc?  Please come back, Kyle. Gordon will only play 2 from now on.

Kosta Koufos (DEN):  7'0", 265, C.  This clown sharted all over the floor in a Jazz uni for two seasons, landed in Denver a few years later and was suddenly a reasonably talented big.  This year, Koof is shooting 59.4% from the floor, 58.5% from the FT line, collecting 6.3 boards, blocking 1.8 shots and scoring 7.6 points in 22.1 minutes.  Enes, in contrast, shoots 51.7%/65.9% and scores 6.4 points in 15.3 minutes, plus 4.2 boards and 0.5 blocks per 15.3 minutes.  Favors shoots 44.7%/70.3% and scores 9.6 in 22 minutes, plus 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.  Enes is worth keeping around for a while simply because he has such enormous potential and is still so young to the game.  I'm not sure that I would be that pissed about trading Favors and some other serious assets for a package that returned Kosta and Ty Lawson.

Wes Matthews (POR):  6'5", 220, SG.  With 15.6 points per game, a 39.5% three-ball, and 1.6 assists per game, do you want this guy coming off the bench instead of Burks, Hayward, or DMC?  No, because you want him starting instead of Randy Foye, who is shorter, smaller, slower, and only gives you 10.3 ppg, 36.9% from three, and 1.8 APG.  Up yours, Portland.

CJ Miles (CLE):  6'6", 210, G.  In 19.7 MPG, CJ is scoring 10.1 points on 38.5% shooting, including 37.6 from three and 90%(!) from the stripe.  CJ's good for 2.7 boards, 0.8 assists, and 0.5 steals a game as well. I don't think you give up Gordon Hayward or Alec Burks for this proven inconsistency.

Sasha Pavlovic (POR): 6'8", 220, G/F.  If you're like me, the mention of Pavlovic in a Jazz uni will make you think, "Oh, right, I guess he was on the team for a season."  Anyway, Portland's Pavlovic is effectively a non-factor, with just 2.3 points on 37.3% shooting in 13.2 minutes a game.  Hard to see his value above that of Hayward, DMC, or even Kevin Murphy.

Ronnie Price (POR): 6'2", 190, PG.  I miss Ronnie, and you do too.  The dude wasn't on his way to being an all-star or anything, but he was a guy you were glad to have on your squad.  This year, Ronnie is good for only 2.9 points  in 14.6 minutes, an abysmal three point percentage, and negligible impacts on boards, dimes, or picks.  Sadly, while it's fun to feel nostalgic about Mr. Price, we're not missing much.

DeShawn Stevenson (ATL): 6'5", 210, G.  What to say about our 23rd pick in the 2000 draft?  DeShawn is shooting at 41.2%, including 40.8 from three, on his way to 6.9 points in 24.5 minutes per game.  He also manages an impressive 37.5% from the free throw line (seriously), 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 0.2 BPG.  While it would be nice to have Stevenson's distance, I'm happy with DeMarre and Gordon.

Deron Williams (BKN):  6'3", 210, PG.  Okay, pretend Deron never got bent about losing Wes, Korver, and Ronnie.  Maybe he never has a problem with Sloan, and he's still on the team.  Do you really care that he's having a crappy season?  Mo Williams isn't a better point guard than D-Will.  I'd take him back.  You would, too.

So who do we take back?  Fisher, Gaines, Harris, Kirilenko (sorta), Korver, Koufos (sorta), Matthews, and Deron.  Too many PG's, obviously, and I'm not sold on Koufos without it being part of a package.  Otherwise, here's how my super-alumni backed Jazz would look:

PG: Deron Williams, Derek Fisher, Sundiata Gaines (sorry Devin Harris and the existing PGs)
SG: Wesley Matthews, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks/DMC (see ya, Randy Foye)
SF: Andrei Kirilenko, Marvin Williams, DeMarre Carroll/Burks
PF: Derek Favors, Paul Millsap, Jeremy Evans
C:  Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Kosta Koufos

That's a full 15-player roster.  It's excessive, but it's hard to argue that it doesn't have the makings of a better squad than what we have now.  Granted, most of the departed players who "made the cut" left as free agents.  But as long as we're speculating, right?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Greatest Laker

I feel unclean for compiling this data and writing this post, but my curiosity was piqued.

When 1280 The Zone's Big Show posted a Facebook poll about who the greatest Laker was, I couldn't help but want to answer.  Starting with Jerry West, there have been six players wearing the purple and gold of Los Angeles who are imprinted on the history of basketball in an astounding and permanent way.  And because each of these players have been blessed with incredible natural talent in an individual way, it's difficult (if not impossible) to definitively declare the all-time best.

But, being basketball fans, the easiest way to start this kind of discussion is to look at stats.  And so I give you: AMATEUR NUMBERS IN A PILE SOME RUDIMENTARY STATISTICS.

Some of the numbers here bear explanation.  Jerry West shows a pretty miserable chance of landing the Lakeshow in a division championship, but that's because the makeup of the NBA has changed since West's inaugural season of 1960-1961.  These changes are also reflected in West's average wins per season.  But the Western Conference (formerly Western Division) and NBA Championship numbers are accurate.  The only other minor points to note are (1) I didn't include Magic Johnson's 1996 "season;" (2) the current season isn't included in Kobe's stats, but two lockout seasons are; and (3) the 1999 lockout is also reflected in Shaq's statistics.

Surprisingly, you don't see a different player leading in each category:
  • Wests numbers are a little wonky as the league was developing.  3rd in ppg, 5th in game availability, last in average Laker wins, last in division champion probability, 3rd in conference champion probability, and waaay dead last in championships per year. 
  • Chamberlain:  1st in ppg, 4th in game availability, 1st in wins, 2nd in division probability, 1st in conference probability, and 5th in champ odds.
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 4th in ppg, 1st in game availability, 3rd in division probability, 4th in conference probability, and 3rd in championship probability.
  • Magic: 6th in ppg, 2nd in games, 2nd in wins, 1st in division probability, 2nd in conference probability, and 1st in championship probability.
  • Kobe: 2nd in ppg, 3rd in games, 5th in wins, 4th in division probability, 6th in odds to win the West, and 4th in championship probability.
  • Shaq: 5th in ppg, 6th in game availability, 3rd in wins, 5th in division odds, 5th in conference odds, and 2nd in championship odds.

If we look at the average rank, Jerry West (with the shakiest of mathematical underpinnings) is dead last at 4.833, which I don't feel that bad about since he only won a single championship.  The fifth-greatest Laker is Shaquille O'Neal with a 4.333.  At 4.000, fourth goes to the Black Mamba.  Third place is Kareem with a 3.167.

There's a tie for first and second, with both Wilt Chamberlain and Earvin averaging 2.333.  But these numbers include career-average point-per-game numbers, which doesn't favor a point guard like Magic.  Drop ppg from the metric, and Wilt averages 2.600 while Johnson drops to 1.600 (Kobe and Shaq switch 4 and 5 spots).

So you see, using some probably-not-good-enough-for-seventh-grade statistical analysis, Magic Johnson remains the greatest Laker to ever play the game.  Sorry, Kobe.

Actually, I'm not sorry.  SUCK IT, MAMBA.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wish List

[Author’s note:  Since I’m now cross-posting much of my content to/from, I guess it’s finally time to abandon my intarwebs-friendly all-low-caps typing style.  What a sad, sad day.]

Today’s post brought to you by Jets to Brazil.  They’re not that punk, but the lead singer was in Jawbreaker, so there’s a tie-in to my normal theme in a long-winded way.

As of this afternoon, December 6, 2012, the Jazz are back to .500 after dropping two in a row on the road, and posting ESA’s first loss.  The loss in Oklahoma City wasn’t terribly surprising.  The loss in Houston might have ended differently if not for some questionable officiating that really killed Utah’s momentum.  And the loss against the Clippers, while also featuring some, ah, interesting whistles, still comes down to the Jazz blowing a 14-point lead.

David Locke has mentioned during some live broadcasts that, despite losing three in a row and still showing a lack of resolve on the road, the Jazz are improving as the season progresses.  The problem, from a fan perspective, is that they’re not improving quickly enough.  After yesterday’s ugly-but-we’ll-take-it win over miserable Orlando, I was reminded that, while the Jazz are improving, most other teams are still improving as well.

After all, we’re still only a quarter of the way through the season.  Teams are still gelling after major personnel shake-ups in most big NBA towns.  You can bet that Tyrone Corbin isn’t the only coach still tinkering with line-ups.  Players are returning from injury or getting injured.  Every team in the league, as far as I can tell, is still making adjustments for the better.

What does this have to do with wishing?  There are two things on my Utah Jazz Wish List right now.  First, I’d like to see a team that can hold onto a lead, a team that simply puts its foot down on the gas in the third quarter until all 48 minutes have been played.  I think a lot of fans really wish we could do that.  I also think we would see a lot of fans give the team a pass for losing to superior squads if we could just crush the games that we’re “supposed” to win.

But, when you lose games to New Orleans and Washington every year, I’m not sure that you can ever have a “supposed to win” game.  Eventually, this team will likely get to that point.  Assuming minor improvements continue throughout this season, Utah should stop losing those head-scratchers.  And once the team begins regularly winning games it’s supposed to win, that boosts confidence and increases effort against teams that you might not normally beat.

So what’s second on my wish list?  I hate to alienate anyone here, but it’s that fans would calm the hell down.  Nearly everyone I follow (Jazz-wise) on Twitter was all fire and brimstone after the Houston and Clippers losses (including, admittedly, me).  This is still a young team, both in average age and in intra-team relationships, with a young coaching staff, a brand-new GM, and a young(ish) owner/CEO.[1]  The team is going to suffer some embarrassing losses, but that’s how you learn.

This applies to both the Trust In Ty faction of online Jazz Fandom and the Core Four Forever folks.  Jefferson has only been to the playoffs one time in his entire career, and he’s having to learn how to be on a team that wins more games than it loses.  Even if you think the sun rises and sets by Favors and Kanter’s future, they are still learning a lot from Big Al and Millsap (arguably more than they’d be learning if they were doing it by themselves for 30 minutes a night, but I digress).

While nobody likes waiting around, the Jazz are going to have to be patient.  But that’s always been the name of the game with this franchise:  steady, reliable soldiers who are willing to do things the hard way because it’s the right way.  Maybe it’s time some of us take a cue from the team we love so much.

[1] I am aware that Gail Miller, and not Greg Miller, is the legal owner of the Utah Jazz.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees here.