Jazz: Scoreboard tells the story of new-look

Published November 22, 2006 1:10 am
To the surprise of many, only Phoenix is averaging more points per game than Utah
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - He had spent two seasons being schooled in the Utah Jazz playbook, the unbending, never-changing Dead Sea Scrolls of basketball that dictates every possession be deliberately mapped out like landing patterns at JFK, that considers shooting while the shot-clock reads "2" to be too early.

So Kris Humphries' reaction Monday night to the reality that the NBA's highest-scoring team is the one running those same moldy plays said a lot about the new Jazz:

"These guys? Really?" the former Jazz forward said, a look of disbelief clouding his face. "Wow."

That startled expression might as well sum up the attitude of 29 NBA teams, many of whom, to hear conventional wisdom tell it, probably haven't felt the need to update their scouting reports on the Jazz in a decade or two. Wait, make it 30 NBA teams - because a straw poll of the Jazz's locker room found no players aware that they are the league's pace car, ahead of the field for at least a day or two.

"You can try to figure it out all day," said guard Derek Fisher, "and it might never make sense if you hadn't seen it."

But there it was, in the black-and-white of NBA statistics for 48 hours over the weekend: Golden State and Denver, the Don Nelson and George Karl experiments in track-meet basketball? Fourth and third in scoring. Phoenix, the take-a-shot-any-shot greyhounds of the league? Second. And scoring at a faster clip than any of them?

The former tortoises who ran the same plays a year ago - who have run the same plays for 19 years and

counting - and managed just 92.4 points doing it.

"We have a different kind of team now," said coach Jerry Sloan. "We felt like we would have to score more with the type of players we have. And they've done a good job of playing within our offense."

Yeah, but 15 points better? The Jazz ranked 26th in the league in scoring last year, and first in shot-clock violations in three of the past four seasons. They reached 100 points 21 times last season, and failed to reach 80 seven times.

Their 101 points on Monday dropped Utah behind the Suns again, but the Jazz are still scoring 107.6 points per game, their quickest pace since 1991-92. They have reached triple-digits in 10 of their 11 games, and the shot clock is never an issue - the Jazz have heard that buzzer just four times all season.

"We have young guys who are comfortable being aggressive offensively, and are comfortable making plays," said Fisher.

And the Jazz's versatility has allowed them to minimize the times when they are using lineups that cannot score.

"We can play big, or we can play small ball," said Deron Williams, whose own improvement as the triggerman has changed things, too. "We're adaptable."

Effective, too.

"The perception that's gone around the league is that the Jazz can't outscore you," Fisher said. "They're about offensive execution, taking good shots, being smart. That's what we're still doing."

They're just doing it better than ever. Utah leads the NBA in shooting percentage, having converted 49.7 percent of its shots. And when the Jazz miss, they tend to get another chance, considering no team collects a greater percentage of available rebounds.

But unlike past Jazz teams, they are not padding their scoring at the free-throw line. In fact, Utah has not shot more free throws than its opponent in any game this year.

Sloan credits enforcement of hand-checking rules for helping his team score more, and he points to a more talented bench for avoiding long scoring lulls.

Best of all, Fisher said, is his opinion that the Jazz will be a better offensive team once their injured players heal.

"Gordan [Giricek]'s been our best shooter so far, and [we're missing] Andrei [Kirilenko]'s blocks and defensive deflections because they allow us to get out in transition," said Fisher, who sharpened his fast-break skills alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. "We haven't scored as many fast-break points as we can, as we were before they got hurt. So if we can get those guys back, that's going to make us even more dangerous."

That, or trigger the apocalypse.


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