Life without Jerry Sloan

New Jazz Head Coach Tyrone Corbin (Deseret News)

Maybe the biggest Xs and Os question facing Coach Corbin as he heads into his second game as head coach is what to do about the flex offense. Given his history with Jerry Sloan – both as a coach and a player – one would think it’s a easy decision. Ordinarily, you’d think he’d keep things exactly as they had been under Coach Sloan, but there’s a problem. Something is broken in the Jazz offense, and I’m not that anyone knows exactly how to fix it.

The Utah Jazz have lost 11 of their last 15 games, including 4 in a row at home, but that’s just the start of it. In reality, the Jazz haven’t looked like themselves since December 3rd when the Mavericks broke a 7 game winning streak (the Jazz have had only one 3-game win streak since then).

Their offensive potency has diminished in nearly every area, so to say that you’re just going to keep on with Jerry’s system could well turn into a disaster.

At the same time, Corbin is facing a unique challenge. He’s taking over a team whose fan base expects them to make the playoffs this year. He can’t just throw out the playbook and start fresh, he doesn’t have nearly enough time to turn that into a winning formula.

So, let me ask you again. If you’re Coach Corbin, how much of Jerry Sloan’s old offense do you keep playing when you know that Jerry’s offense isn’t getting the job done right now? It’s a tough call, but I guess it depends on what you think may be wrong in the first place. Here are some theories.

(NOTE: If you’re new to the flex or would just like a recap, enjoy this post from NBA Playbook, they managed to explain a very complex system very well)

Theory 1 – Guys aren’t playing it correctly

…Or, to be more precise, guys aren’t playing it with nearly enough energy.

If you take a look at this video (all videos curiosity of previously mentioned NBA Playbook article)

You’ll see things in action, and action is the key word here. Compare that with current game. In fact, compare it with the highlight reel on NBA.com from the other night vs. Phoenix. Even in the highlights, guys aren’t moving as fluidly as a team  on the offensive side.

In the last several games I’ve seen, I’ve seen a lot of single passes into the interior while three other guys waited on the wings.

One of the strengths of the Flex offense is that there’s generally so much going on that it’s easier for a point guard to read the defense and find the open guy. However, if the players involved aren’t running the offense quickly, opposing defenses are able to break it down. This may be why you’ve seen a lot of games recently wherein the Jazz’s 2nd half point production falls through the floor.

Course of Action: Put guys on the floor who want to play it right

Over the course of the whole season, the Jazz has seen huge boasts from their 2nd unit. Guys like C.J. Miles, Jeremy Evans, Gordon Hayward, Earl Watson and Francisco Elson have dominated other 2nd unit guys, and generally provided a spark when it was needed. It’s hard to know if they’d be able to keep it up while playing a bigger role, but for better or worse, it may be time to take off the training wheels.

Though, if you’re going to do that, it’s time to lock Raja Bell and Gordon Hayward in a gym with Jeff Hornacek between games, and forbid any of them from shooting the ball inside the three point line.

Theory 2 – Guys aren’t getting it

This is a theory that’s been floating around for a while, perhaps most notably from sources like this and this. In brief, the theory is that guys aren’t getting the system, and when they run into trouble, they don’t know how to create offense for themselves.

The reality is that this is a complicated offensive system. Maybe one of the more complicated systems in the NBA (and maybe in all of basketball). A lot of Jazz guys have talked about how challenging it can be to get into a rhythm on the court while thinking about where they’re supposed to be be and how their supposed to be there.

It’s not an easy learning curve, and most of the time, it takes several years for guys to really get it.

You remember in Star Wars: The Phanton Menace when Yoda said that Akakin was too old to start Jedi training even though he was like, what, 8 years old at the time?

Well, the sad truth of the matter is that the Jazz had no choice but to put Al Jefferson, Jeremy Davis and Gordon Hayward through the Luke Skywalker three-day seminar with Yoda on Degobah before sending them out to face Vader (and by Vader, I do, in fact, mean Kobe Jellybean Bryant).

Course of Action: Practice, Practice, Practice

To be honest, I have trouble believing this is the core issue, but if it’s an issue at all, then there’s little you can do than to just get them to work at it and try to figure things out. That sucks to hear as a fan, but if this is the issue, it’s kind of a no-way-out-but-through kind of deal. Guys’ll get it eventually, unless of course…

Theory 3 – Guys don’t want to play it

This is where things get complicated, and tricky, and maybe a little painful.

In the aftermath of all retirement talk, a variety of bloggers and media folk suggested that part of Sloan’s frustration came from Williams blowing off calls and running his own offense. Notably, Williams seemed to be blowing off calls and calling his own plays during the last three possessions by the Jazz, all three of which were stopped as a result of Williams turning the ball over, ultimately leading to the loss.

The undercurrent of this talk points to a theory that Williams (and others) aren’t calling set plays, electing instead to invent the offense as they go.

But this is a nuanced issue, because the truth is, Deron Williams (and all good point guards) *should* be calling the plays on the floor and they should be inventing the offense as they go.

The question, I suppose, comes down to what Williams is calling, and is that in sync with what the coach wants to be calling.

So if you’re Coach Corbin, how much of leash do you give to Deron Williams? Presumably, always kept a close handle on his star PG, which is a likely cause to conflict seeing as how Williams has evolved into one of the NBA’s best playmakers.

One would think he’s earned the right to have the training wheels taken off, but on the other side of the coin, you don’t want to just hand over the offense, do you?

And here’s where things get really complicated. Everyone from Dick Vitale to Hubie Brown to Charles Barkley to John Stockton will tell you that a PG is meant to be an extension of the coach on the floor. Williams has been with Sloan for six years, and knows the system inside and out.

I feel like Williams WANTS to keep running the flex offense. I don’t think he’d really have much reason to change that, unless the pieces around him ready/willing, at which point, does he have to make changes to help guys out? And if so, how far does HE go to help them?

Course of Action: Honestly, I don’t know

There are plenty of options. Corbin can take the hard and fast ‘we’re doing things Jerry’s way’ approach, he could go with a ‘to hell with tradition, let’s give Deron the ball and see what happens’ approach, he could ask Kirilenko to go all Ivan Drago on the court and go out in a blaze of glory, or… he can go his own way. ‘Course, I have NO idea what that may mean, but win or lose, it’s going to be fun to figure it out.

In my nerd-adled brain, I imagine Coach Corbin writing up diagrams on a whiteboard with Jeff Hornachek. Like two physics professors, they keep re-drawing the same play, trying to find some element of scientific truth that will quiet the critics and calm the masses.

Finally, somewhere around 3am, Hornachek breaks into some variation of the speech From A Few Good Men that Kevin Pollack gives when Tom Cruise is trying to decide to put Jessop on the stand.

…Neither Lionel Kaffee or Sam Weinberg are the lead counsel for the defense in the matter of U.S. versus Dawson and Downey, so there’s only one question: What would you do?

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~ by djepperson on February 15, 2011.

2 Responses to “Life without Jerry Sloan”

  1. Who is Jeremy Davis?

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