Game Preview – Jazz vs. Hornets

Last Friday, Bill Simmons released a revision of his pre-season predictions for the upcoming season, based on having watched the first games of the season. In said article, Simmons predicted 55 win seasons for both the Jazz and the Hornets, listed the Hornets as the 3 seed in the West, and the Jazz as the 2 seed.

What’s fascinating about the Hornets and Jazz: They’re built much the same way, with everything hinging on their franchise point guards and how the other eight guys fall into place behind them.

Heading into tonight’s game, the Jazz have played 15 games and the Hornets have played 13. Here’s what we know so far:

1) The Hornets are playing above nearly everyone’s expectations (including my own) to this points in the season. They are 11-2, just behind the Spurs and the Lakers for the best record in the West. They have had quality wins against the Nuggets, Spurs, Heat, and Mavericks; and had 1 quality loss against the Mavericks. One key to their success has been their ability to control their opponent’s offensive effectiveness. The Hornets have been giving up the second fewest  Opp PPG average in the league at 91.1 and have done so while – amazingly – earning only 97.3 PPG, which is currently 21st in the league.

The Jazz are sitting at 10-5 is either surprisingly low if you consider the fact that the Jazz went undefeated in pre-season, or is surprisingly high if you watched the first two regular season games of the year, wherein the Jazz lost by a combined 38 points to the Nuggets and Suns. Since they, however, this year’s Jazz season has featured six games wherein the Jazz rallied from double-digit 2nd half deficits to win the game. The Jazz have had quality wins against the Thunder, Heat, Magic, Hawks, Bobcats, and Blazers; and have had quality losses against the Nuggets, Suns, Thunder and Spurs. The Jazz, are 13th in the league in PPG (100.3) and 14th in the league in Opp PPG (98.8).

In their four match ups during the 2009-10 season, the Jazz averaged 101.3 PPG while the Hornets averaged 92.5. This would seem encourage for Jazz fans, until you remember that Chris Paul played in only one of those four games. As Paul is clearly a major factor in the Hornets offense, the only real game of relevance from the 2009-10 season between these two team was held in Salt Lake City on January 4th, 2010 (Hornets 91 – Jazz 87) . This game was the only game the Hornets won of the four last season. The Jazz won the other three with a 13-point average margin of victory.

The lesson learned here – I think – is that the team that controls the pace of the game is likely to also win this game. If the Jazz can actually get out to an early start, that may be their best chance to get that control.

2) The Jazz have not rebounded the ball well this season. John Hollinger has the Jazz 23rd in the league in offensive rebound rate, 29th in the league in defensive rebounding rate and 28th in the league in overall rebounding rate. Things have gotten so bad that…

If it’s any comfort, the Hornets are ranked 29th in offensive rebound rate and 19th in overall rebound rate. However, the ranked 6th in defensive rebound rate, which has to be of particular importance for Sloan and the Jazz, seeing as how second chance points has been an area of improvement in recent games. The Hornets may be uniquely fitted to challenge the Jazz front court when it comes to rebounds, and it’s probably not a battle that the Jazz can lose if they want to win the game. This may truly be the first game where Jazz fans really miss Mehmet Okur who has long had a particular knack for collecting offensive rebounds. This may also mean that we may see more playing time from Jeremy Evans and Kyrylo Fesenko than one would expect. These players actually lead the Jazz in Offensive Rebounds (4.0 for Evans, 2.7 for Fesenko) once you adjust the numbers to account for the fact that they don’t play as many minutes as Jefferson and Millsap.

A game like this could easily be decided by 6 points or less, and those points could easily come off of second chance points. In other words, expect to see both coaches pressing their teams to battle for the boards through the game.

And that, my friends, leads us to what many are touting as the main event of the night.

3) Chris Paul and Deron Williams are really, really good.

You may or may not be paying attention to all this ‘Year of the Point Guard’ talk that has been floating around this season. To be honest, I’m not yet sure how I feel about it, but I do agree with the pundits that, so far, the best players in the NBA – the guys who have been consistently good night after night – are almost all point guards. Among this new ‘elite’ are guys like Rajon Rondo (11.2 PPG, 14.3 APG), Derrick Rose (25.2, 8.5), Russel Westbrook (23.2, 8.2), Steve Nash (19.7, 8.9), Chris Paul (16.6, 10.2) and Deron Williams (20.9, 9.7).

Now, the reason that I have some trouble with all this ‘Year of the Point Guard’ is because I feel like each of these guys are filling the right kind of needs to the right team for their particular talents, so I do feel there is some nuance in making comparisons with these players that goes beyond the box score. To get a better sense of what I’m talking about, check out this video from a couple weeks back:

Of all the guys currently in this conversation, the two I feel best reflect each others’ talents is Paul and Williams and therefore they are the easiest pair to use for comparison.

Both of these players are firmly in charge of their teams, on and off the floor. Both Williams and Paul are particularly skilled in figuring out how to break down an opponents defense without said defense realizing its been beat. They’re both talented defenders and know how to lead a team to victory on the floor.

When these two are at their best, games between the Jazz and the Hornets rapidly turn into a hybrid version of basketball chess. Both of these guys step their games up for each other, so if nothing else, tonight’s game should feature some fireworks at the point guard position, as two members of the NBA PG elite duke it out for bragging rights.

~ by djepperson on November 24, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: