Utah Jazz's offense fails to move as team faces crossroads
Jazz forward Gordon Hayward took his time answering. He'd seen what guard Raja Bell had seen. Noticed the same problems documented by center Al Jefferson and coach Tyrone Corbin. The Jazz had just fallen 101-87 to Oklahoma City on Friday, losing their fifth game in six contests, and Hayward had been asked to rate Utah's half-court offense on a scale of 1 to 10.
When the Jazz are humming, turning transition points into easy baskets and getting everyone involved in the blitz, the second-year Jazz forward said his team's attack regularly varies between seven and nine.
But when Utah's offense becomes methodical and predictable, and players spend their postgame interviews using words such as stalled and stagnant, Hayward's rating sank to two or three.
"There are times where we're cutting hard and we're getting backdoors and setting screens and getting cuts to the basket and getting wide-open jump shots drive and kick," Hayward said.
But when the attributes disappear and the Jazz's offense dwindles down to a two-man show that looks average, at best?
"You're getting one-and-done," Hayward said.
Which is exactly what Utah (13-12) has often received while losing eight of 12 and slowly crawling to an early-season crossroads. The Jazz start a three-game away series Sunday in Memphis a journey Jefferson said his backsliding team cannot afford to emerge from without a winning record.
The Jazz have scored more than 100 points in just one of their past five games, and the team has scored 88 or fewer in three of four. It's a sharp contrast to the squad's best run of the season, when Utah scored 106 points or more in four of five from Jan. 10-17 and the team rolled off nine wins in 11 contests.
The Jazz thrive when starting point guard Devin Harris pushes the tempo, Earl Watson ignites the bench, and everyone from first-unit big men Paul Millsap and Jefferson to reserves Josh Howard, C.J. Miles and Derrick Favors receive meaningful touches.
The all-in approach is what allowed Utah to erase a 21-point third-quarter deficit Tuesday against Indiana and nearly steal a road win from the Pacers. When the Jazz hit 9-4 on Jan. 17 and blew out the Los Angeles Clippers by 29, Utah was more Lob City than L.A.
But when it's all Big Two Jefferson and Millsap all the time, the ball sticks, Utah's offense slows down, and the team's wing players simply stand around and watch.
"When you're running off misses, we get into our offense and we're tough to stop. We go on some big-time runs when we do that," Hayward said. "But sometimes you get stuck in the half-court. And for whatever reason, we throw it in the post and just kind of stand. â¦ Al and Paul have been real good for us. But on nights where they're struggling a little bit, that's when it's difficult on us."
With Utah entering Saturday tied for 28th out of 30 teams in 3-point percentage (29.3) and 28th in 3s made (3.7) and attempted (12.7), the Jazz's offensive options have recently become very limited. Other than Jefferson and Millsap, Miles is the only Utah player averaging double digits in scoring. And the reserve small forward barely makes the mark, with 10 points on just 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.9 percent beyond the arc.
As a result, opponents have focused on containing the Big Two, withstanding brief runs by the Jazz's second unit, then holding second options such as Hayward and Miles to offensive production that's noticeable in the box score but won't affect the final outcome.
If either Jefferson or Millsap have an off night the former was 6 of 17 from the field against Indiana, the latter was a combined 7 of 25 during losses to New York and the Thunder the Jazz's half-court offense slowly starts diving toward Hayward's dismal 2-out-of-10 rating.
There's no movement. No energy. No push or attack. And no victory.
"When we get in the half-court, we get stagnant the ball doesn't move," Bell said. "Unless Al and Paul are bailing us out on every possession, we're not going to be able to score enough points to win. â¦ I don't know why. I don't have an answer for you. That's the way we play."
Jazz at Grizzlies
P At FedExForum (Memphis)
Tipoff • 7:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN, ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 13-12, Memphis 14-13
Last meeting • Jazz, 94-85 (Jan. 6)
About the Jazz • Rookie guard Alec Burks has been active but not played in four consecutive games because of a coach's decision. â¦ Second-year small forward Jeremy Evans ranks last on the team in average minutes (6). â¦ Newly signed forward DeMarre Carroll was inactive Friday during his first game with the Jazz. â¦ Utah is 2-7 on the road and entered Saturday tied with three teams for the fewest away games played this season.
About the Grizzlies • Memphis has won two consecutive contests after losing three straight to Oklahoma City, Boston and San Antonio. â¦ The Grizzlies are in the middle of a five-game homestand. â¦ Rudy Gay leads Memphis in points (18.5). All-Star Marc Gasol tops the team in rebounds (10) and blocks (2.3), while averaging 15 points.
The Jazz have lost five of six heading into a back-to-back-to-back away series that starts Sunday at Memphis. Utah has scored more than 100 points in just one of its past five games been held to 88 or fewer in three of four.
With Utah's offense struggling to find a rhythm, big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the only players averaging more than 10.1 points per game. Reserve forward C.J. Miles is barely cracking double digits, averaging 10 on 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.9 percent behind the 3-point line.