Sunday, May 17, 2009

Utah Jazz 2008-2009 Season in Review (Part 1): The Season that was . . .

. . . a major disappointment? . . . a serious step back? . . . a comedy of errors? . . . a season to forget? . . . the last season for this core group?

aka our 0809 season More than we’d like to admit, this last season was all of the above. You can probably think of a lot more ways to describe the 2008-2009 NBA Season for the Utah Jazz as well. I don’t like harping on past mistakes, as I feel that a more progressive, forwarding thinking attitude gets results. I did take a serious break between the end of Game 5, the end of our season, and now. In that time I wanted to have a chance to cleanse my palate of Jazz basketball so that when I get into the swing of blogging again (starting now) that I will not be writing from a skewed point of view – one filled with more emotion and less logic than it deserved. Games where your team gets eliminated in tend to magnify specific aspects of the team, the roster, and the coaching which steer fans opinions to extremes – extremes that would not logically make sense if the season was viewed as more than just that elimination game – but the entire months long journey that it really was. Sure, elimination games are important – look at all of the Ronnie Price love on Jazz message boards and blogs after his energized performance in the second half of Game 5, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Ronnie Price wouldn’t have single handedly fixed all of the problems the Lakers exposed if he played more.

I like how most of the other blogs did take the time to go straight into the ‘where did we go wrong’ and player analyses after the Jazz were eliminated. I enjoy other peoples’ points of views, though you can read that some of the player analysis were, indeed, fueled partly by emotion and recent memories. (After all, as fans we tend to be more a ‘what have you done for me lately’ group of people) I even had the opportunity to contribute with player write ups for the much maligned duo of Kyrylo Fesenko and Morris Almond at Jazz juggernaut SLC Dunk. (Thanks BBall John!) That said, I think now is the right time to get back to business here at All That Jazz.

Where to start? How about with me? We fans on the internet take the opportunity to type out our opinions and hold players, coaches and the front office accountable for their failings. I’m going to start up by looking at what I thought our team would do, and compare it with what the team did do.

My prediction for total number of wins:

Back in October I went out on a limb and suggested that our team would finish the season having won 65 total games (regular season and playoffs). Boy, did I get that one wrong! Injuries, road woes and the inability to focus against lesser teams aside, the 2008-2009 Jazz only won 49 games (and that’s including the measly 1 playoff game that the Jazz won). Not only is that a far cry from what I felt like our talented roster was capable of (probably our most talented roster ever), but a far cry from the last two seasons where the Jazz won 60 games each (2006-2007: 51 regular season + 9 playoffs, 2007-2008: 54 regular season + 6 playoffs). [And let’s be perfectly honest, 65 wins total was not a completely insane number, as the Jazz for the last few seasons were dropping games against the T-Wolves, Kings, Bobcats, Pacers and Knicks . . . that’s 5 wins right there to go from 60 to 65] There are reasons why the Jazz won less than 50 games – serious reasons – but that does not change the fact that I was dead wrong in my prediction for the Jazz. Wrong by a total of 16 games or (Hyperbole alert) basically the difference between the 2nd seed and the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference

I felt as though the first 20 games of the season were the key. (As having a great start to the season, 13+ wins in the first 20 games, is a very strong predictor of having a solid season, as seen in the last few years) Utah would be playing without Deron, or at best, a severely hobbled one. Looking at the schedule I still felt as though the Jazz would win 15 games out of their first 20. I was wrong as the Jazz only won 12. That was exactly how many games the Jazz won back to start the 2002-2003 NBA Season – a season that finished astonishingly similarly to this one. Here’s what I said back then:

Utah Jazz first 20 games 2002-2003 season write up

Avoiding the low hanging fruit that could be “Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer’s last game together”, our team was bounced in 5 by the LA Lakers and finished the season 48-34. Perhaps years from now NBA historians will look back at this season as another season in transition. That would just suck though, as that means we’re back to square one after 7 seasons. Well, the silver lining is that this season proved my point that the first 20 games of the season are a very strong indicator for seasonal success for the Jazz, even if my ability to predict wins are significantly off.

My pre-season predictions of our roster:

Here two starting wings help out Deron Williams in ways that none of them every concieved that they'd have to. Star Player: As far as no brainers go, I selected Deron Williams as our Star Player. Duh. We played our absolute best when he was at his absolute best. We played our worst when he played his worst. Nothing else really needs to be said. My predictions were pretty much on point for the rest of the team as well.

Position Spotlight: I chose our Shooting Guards for the position spotlight, and I think that for most of the season this was a fairly solid, yet unspectacular group of guards. Sadly, my predictions for the best case and worst case scenarios seemed to come true for Ronnie, Kyle, C.J. and Morris. Brewer did earn a title and rep as a defensive stopper (and got called for fouling a lot less), and was able to keep some defenses honest with his outside shooting in the regular season. In the playoffs he wasn’t even defended and I am beginning to feel like his current skill set may be better suited as a Small Forward on offense. Kyle did improve his defense as the season went on, but due to a variety of reasons his shooting percentages did taper off and his over-all importance with the team appeared to be reduced during crunch time. C.J. would put it all together during stretches of the season – being a very solid shooter and defender, yet disappear in other games altogether. He did become a starter, but lingering doubts about his true value to a championship contender exist. Nothing really right happened for Almond this season, and as I wrote, “his inability to be a complete player negates his technically proficient scoring skills” – and he did not get significant playing time with our club for the second straight season. In the playoffs none of our guards could make shots . . . a major point of that position spotlight was the search for a ‘making guard’, as more than a dozen shooting guards have been auditioned in our system over the years. Our problems at this spot appear to be in just a similar state of flux as they have been for the last few seasons. Things are better, but not completely satisfied – and that’s a problem when this is the number one skill position in the NBA right now (Kobe, Wade, even guys like Kevin Martin and Jamal Crawford give us the business when we play them).

Top Transaction of the Off-Season: As far as our current roster needs were at the start of the season (need for defensive big, defensive wing, and solid back up PG to spell Deron), I felt like the Jazz brass really only addressed one. They have been drafting project bigmen for a while (three 7 footers in the last 2 drafts) and feel as though our wings can develop into good wing defenders (Brewer, for one did) – so the Jazz brass focused on the back up PG issue. Kevin O’Connor turned a really bad player into a potentially very useful player. Clearly Brevin Knight was an upgrade over Jason Hart, right? Based on this premise I felt as though this was the top transaction of the off season. Even though Knight didn’t perform as well as we hoped, I still stand fast with this selection as the other moves did not make much of a difference this season. (Matched the offer for C.J. – maybe Korver would have been a better starter? Drafted Kosta, who didn’t even get a chance to play this season.) Of course, I have to come clean, as hindsight is 20/20, and say that while this was still the top transaction that it still wasn’t a good one. Knight turned the ball over too often for a guy who was advertized as a savvy vet who did not make mistakes with the ball. He had a stretch of over a week without a made FG. He played worse than an ancient Derek Fisher in the playoffs. Yet, he was cheaper than Jason Hart, and his deal is off the books now.

Thanks NBA photographer person! Thanks for all the silly rookie poses! Top Position Battle: On paper the Jazz are a pretty solid group with a well defined rotation. Deron plays the lion’s share of minutes at the point; there’s a legion of similarly talented (in relative terms) wing players that can be shuttled in and out; and Boozer, Memo and Millsap handle most of the minutes in the paint. The only big question mark was back-up center, and that’s exactly how I felt going into this last season. As fate would have it, this battle became a battle of attrition as at times, as there was no back-up. Collins was injured for most of the season recovering from his hilarious Golf Cart accident. (And yes, his twin brother was also involved) Fesenko had Work VISA trouble which required him to leave the team, and country, in the middle of a road trip (that did not involve playing the Raptors). And Kosta, well, he was diagnosed early with rookieplayingforJerrySloanitis. The season ended with Jarron Collins starting in 3 of the last 5 games; Fesenko active, but collecting DNP-CD’s; and Koufos sitting behind the bench in a suit. If anything, this is exactly how the most disappointing season in recent memory should have ended. More precisely, this is exactly the opposite of what should have happened.

Collins is clearly at a state of greatly diminishing returns in his career. Sloan trusts him, but this isn’t exactly the best way to get your young centers a chance to improve. Sure – Collins has experience that guys like Kosta and Kyrylo do not have, but he got that experience by actually playing in and starting games as a rookie. Don’t believe me? Look it up! (If you didn’t click on that link please do so . . . and forward that link to guys like Sloan, Locke, Siler and crew) Fes has all the size, strength and athleticism to, at the very least, slow down bigs and discourage guard penetration. He’s not great on offense, but he’s not taking shots he can’t make (58 fg% would only be higher if he actually threw down half of the amazing dunks he attempts). Kosta has the work ethic, offensive polish (he was taking Brand and Dalembert off the dribble and scoring inside with nifty hooks in the 8th game of the season), superb shot blocking instincts and willingness to improve – basically he should have *won* out this position battle for the back-up center spot . . . though he was not even allowed to compete. Silly.

Don’t call me a crazy homer if I suggest that having a young guy like Kosta or Fes ready to contribute in the playoffs by playing regularly in regular season games wouldn’t have helped a teeny tiny bit against the Lakers (Gasol, Odom, Bynum) when Memo was injured and out of action. The rebuttal that I’ve gotten from the Utah Jazz press is that our club is in a win now mode, and doing so may have resulted in a variety of losses that would have put us out of the playoffs. Really? Is that the worst thing that could have happened – we would have missed out on getting embarrassed by the Lakers in 5 games? The Risk, in this case, clearly does not match up with the reward of having a useful back up center who can play defense where we are notoriously poor – in the paint. That’s why we have to double with a wing, leaving three point shooters open . . . because we can’t guard other teams bigs in single coverage because you just can’t defend a guy like Gasol or Bynum with a 6’8 guy like Millsap or 6’7 Harpring. Hence, the SOLUTION to our inability to stop threes is rooted in the INABILITY to stop inside play – we need better INTERIOR DEFENSE!!!

Break-Out Player: While I felt as though there were a few qualified candidates, it was either going to be Korver or Millsap. And as this season went along (complete with the near-annual 40+ game injury to Carlos Boozer) Millsap had plenty of opportunities to really break out. I was really surprised by Kyle’s lack of improvement on offense this season – I really felt as though he would have proven the Hornacek hypothesis (that even a gifted offensive player who is traded to the Jazz gets better after a training camp with the team). He has an injury to his shooting hand, so I can give him a break. It doesn’t really matter though, as Millsap was predicted to break out, and that’s exactly what he did.

X-Factor: The X-Factor for your team can pretty much make or break your season. Strangely enough, a lot of teams come to rely on these decidedly non-stars to be the true barometer of how well they play. For example, the Boston Celtics have three huge names in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen – though it is Rajon Rondo who powers them to wins. Back before the season started I dubbed Andrei Kirilenko as the team’s X-Factor this year. When he was healthy and anchoring out 2nd unit the Jazz were quite capable of winning games against better teams. When he was playing poorly, he left a hole in too many places. Surely Andrei was not as important as Deron WilliamsDeron has the talent and stature to lead the team and will them to wins. The X-Factor, on the other hand, is capable only of preventing losses. Andrei wasn’t a huge game changer this season (his MPG keeps going down), but when he had a good game the Jazz’ record was 28-7. That’s an 80% win percentage. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that correlation and causation are completely different aspects of any result; hence, the necessity to understand that HE may not be completely responsible for that winning percentage, but when HE is involved and having a good game (as defined as close to a double double; or a good shooting percentage and scoring 10+ ppg in 22+ mins; or having at least 5 points, rebounds and assists and a combined 3+ of threes, steals and blocks; or any other combination of having a solid game off the bench) the Jazz are a very hard team to beat.

Basically, I was right about these things, even if I was really wrong about how many wins the Jazz would get.

My pre-season predictions of our rotation:

Because I’m just really super-duper into the Jazz I took the time to plot out how many MPG each player on the team would get this season, and I ended up being pretty accurate on this as well. Wow, go me.

Called it! (off by less than 2 mpg):

  • Last season Deron played 37.3 mpg, and I suggested that with added PG depth that his MPG would go down, but only slightly. I had him in at 37 mpg, and this season he averaged 36.8 mpg. Yeah, called it. That was a difference in only 0.2 mpg.
  • Morris Almond played 4.3 mpg in his rookie season and I felt like he would pretty much double that, and I suggested that he would play 9 mpg. This season he ended up playing 10.2 mpg, a difference of only 1.2 mpg. That’s pretty darn close for projecting the playing time for a guy who was a rookie playing less than 5 mpg.
  • I felt like Memo needed more MPG, more than his 33.2 mpg from last season. I said 35 mpg, and he ended up playing 33.5 – a slight increase, but for me, still a difference of less than 2 mpg (1.5).
  • Lastly, my hate for Jarron Collins (as a player) showed up by me plotting his mpg to go down from 10 mpg to 6. Jerry compromised and played him 7.7 mpg – meaning I was only off by 1.7 mpg.

Pretty Close (2-3 mpg off): 

  • Last season for the Clippers Brevin Knight played 22.6 mpg, and I had him playing 10.5 mpg for the Jazz. He ended up playing 12.7 mpg, making me miss calling it by the smallest of margins, and putting my prediction for him in the pretty close range: 2.2 mpg off. I think that’s pretty amazing, especially because we had no idea how much he would play as he was traded for.
  • I went through the trouble to chart out Matt Harpring's decline last pre-season, and had him pegged for a fall from 18.1 mpg down to 13.5. Ol’Jer one upped me and dropped him down to 11 mpg. Putting me off on my estimation by 2.5 mpg.
  • Carlos Boozer played in 34.9 mpg last season, and I just rounded that up to 35 mpg. Alas, this past season was not a good one for him, and his mpg actually dropped to 32.4 – putting me 2.6 mpg off.

Missed it by thiiiiis much (3-5 mpg off): 

  • Last season for the Jazz Kyle Korver played in 21.5 mpg, and I just couldn’t find that much more space for him on the floor – so I put him on the schedule for 21 mpg. Jerry found a way to play him half the game (24 mpg), making me 3 mpg off on my prediction.
  • Ronnie Brewer really took off this season, having played only 27.5 mpg last season I had upped his time on the floor to 29 mpg. WRONG! He ended up playing 32.2 mpg, making me miss the mark  by 3.2 mpg.
  • Big Fes only played 7.8 mpg as a rookie, and with the advancing decline of Collins (in at least in my mind) had him set to play 11 mpg for the Jazz this season. Of course, Jerry found a way in a season when we were desperately in need of healthy bigs, to play him LESS mpg than in his rookie season: 7.4 mpg! Making me, and many Fesenko fans, 3.6 mpg off of where we thought he should be playing.
  • On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ronnie Price played 9.6 mpg last season, and I felt that he would only receive a marginal increase (due to the injury situation for Deron), and bumped him up to 10 mpg. Price had to start a lot longer than we would have wanted to begin the season, and ended up playing 14.2 mpg this season – making me miss the mark by 4.2 mpg.

Way Off (5+ mpg off): 

  • C.J. Miles is quite an enigma. I didn’t know he was going to start, and when I knew he would, I didn’t know that he was going to play so much. Last season he played 11.5 mpg, and I projected him to play 16 mpg – while giving AK more playing time with the starters during crunch time. C.J. ended up playing 22.5 mpg for the Jazz this last season, making me underestimate him by 6.5 mpg.
  • Perhaps I was a little too mean on Kosta Koufos. I surely didn’t expect him to average double digit mpg as a rookie for Jerry Sloan. I felt like he’d see more time than Mobe did, but less than Fes – around 5 mpg. He ended up playing 11.8 mpg this season! Wow! Putting me off by 6.8 mpg – to my credit, though, I would have played him a few hundred more minutes this season than he did end up playing – even if it would be at only 5 mpg over-all.
  • Speaking of underestimating, I did not expect Millsap to be such a beast this year. To me he was a guy best suited as an energy player off the bench who was good enough to start. Now I see him as a potential starter on most, if not all, teams in the league. Last season he played 20.8 mpg and I felt like he could handle playing nearly half the game, at 23 mpg. He was pressed into handling a whole lot more, and finished the season averaging 30.1 mpg – making me wrong by 7.1 mpg.
  • Last, and most wrong, was my highly optimistic and overly-generous use of Andrei. Last season he played 30.8 mpg and had an okay season. After looking at the stats I felt like this was too low, in terms of what he can produce for the Jazz. Excuse me for wanting our highest paid player to try to earn his paycheck. I bumped up his mpg to 37 – where he is absolutely a monster. Of course, CJ ate away a lot of minutes at the SF, and Andrei actually averaged less mpg than the season before (one of 4 guys in our key rotation who did so). Andrei only played 27.3 mpg which is really low for a guy being paid so much. I’m not advocating just playing him based on his pay, but playing him based on what he can do with those minutes. Andrei didn’t get enough burn, we lost a lot of games, and I was 9.7 mpg off on my estimation of him.

I’d like to give myself a passing grade here, as 7 of the 15 players (Deron, Morris, Mehmet, Jarron, Brevin, Matt and Carlos) were within one standard deviation (plus or minus 2.688724) of the net difference between my projected MPG and the actual 2008-2009 MPG. Another four (Kyle, Ronnie B, Kyrylo and Ronnie P) were within two standard deviations – putting that number up to 11/15. The only major outlier was Andrei (three standard deviations was 8.066172 – and he was off by 9.7), and this can be easily explained by the fact that Jerry Sloan has no idea what he’s doing with him, and I’m a serious Andrei homer.


Over-all, my first year as a blogger went okay. I had an okay ability to predict trends, events and identify important roles for our players. Hey, I even predicted that at some point during the season Ronnie Price would beat our Brevin Knight for 2nd on the PG depth chart – too bad it took the last half of the season for that to come true! I need to improve on my consistency in blogging (but hey, the number of posts I put out seems to be inversely proportional to my sex life . . . either way it’s win-win for me). I enjoyed blogging and will continue to do so until something really crazy happens. (Like the release of a long awaited video game, for example) The worst part of this entire year was that my pathetic blog ended up being more successful than the Jazz this season. Hopefully this will not be the cast next year . . . to all the loyal readers, thanks for sticking with me and through all the episodic, erratic postings. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, for the team and this blog. For starters, expect Part 2 of the season in review later on this week! In the meantime, here’s another reason why I felt like AK didn’t get enough PT this last year:

Woo! Abject Homerism for the win!