Lakers/Jazz Preview: When the Jazz Have The Ball

Kurt —  April 17, 2009

Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz
The Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.

That remains the mantra of this site, and for that reason we will start our preview of this first round series with what is going on when the Lakers are on defense. What the Jazz do is no secret around the league, Jerry Sloan has been running basically the same offense since the Bronze Age. The key is execution — in basketball if you execute and have guys who can shoot you are very difficult to stop. And few teams execute as well as the Jazz night in and night out.

That execution starts with one basic thing they do better as a team then anyone else in the league — set picks. Sloan is old-school and the Jazz set hard, old-school picks. Rule one on defense when dealing with picks is communication — let the man being screened know its there, and talk through it. The Lakers can get lazy about this; if they do in this series you will see a series of layups.

The most obvious place we will see this is on the high pick and roll. As the Lakers have struggled defending it at times, expect the Jazz to run it a lot until the Lakers stop it. Expect them to run it straight away, doing so makes the defensive assignments in the Lakers system less clear. Also, if you have a PG as good as Deron Williams, you should run it a lot, freeing him up to make decisions — score or set up teammates.

Darius walks us through how the Jazz like to use that play and how to defend it.

First off, this play is super dangerous just because it puts the ball in the hands of Deron and lets him create for the entire team. He has numerous options on the play and has found ways to make all of them work for successful offense from his team. So, here are some options that the Jazz run off this:

1). Williams loves to go away from the screen (usually to his left hand) and get into the lane to either score himself or set up a teammate. Normally, on the left hand sideline is their shooter (Korver, Miles) and Williams has a free path to the basket with only one helping big or the helper coming from the corner off the shooter. Williams obviously has the strength to finish inside and we don’t want to give up the uncontested corner 3, so we cannot let him go opposite the screen. This means proper communication between the guy guarding Deron and the man guarding the screener. Because we like to hedge/recover on the P&R, we need the defender on Deron to force him to the hedger to initiate our help situations in the manner we want to help. This should be fairly easy, but Williams changes directions so easily that we must stay on top of this. Tuesday night, he did this a couple of times and last year he did it repeatedly to Fisher and Farmar…We. Can’t. Let. This. Happen. Ever. He’s just too dangerous.

2). If we do force Williams to use the screen, we must hedge and recover and then rotate (when needed) effectively. When Okur sets the screen, he’ll mostly pop to the top of the key to shoot the three. This will be the hardest recovery for the big guarding him (as we’ve seen all season with ‘Sheed and Murphy and Hawes and Brad Miller and you get the point), so we have to do this well or create a rotation for another man to recover to Okur while the man originally guarding him recovers to the paint to guard a different player and defend the basket. If Boozer sets this screen he will also pop, but more to the FT line area where he can shoot his midrange J. This presents similar problems but is an easier rotation for both the recovery man and for another player who replaces in the help situation (as described in the Okur example). Boozer will also roll hard or slip the screen and we must be aware of these dives or Williams will have an easy passing lane between the man guarding him and the hedger. If we can contain the Pop/Roll man while still recovering to Williams we’ve done our job, only to have to do it all over again in 3 more seconds. Ha.

3). When Williams comes off the screen (assuming we do everything right in #2) he is still dangerous because he still has the ball in his hands and there are still other options at his disposal. In the right hand corner it’s usually AK47 or Brewer who love to cut behind their defender who is usually caught watching Deron as he comes off the screen. We have to be aware of this cut by these players because they get at least 2-3 layups a game running this action. We also must be aware of Okur (when it’s Boozer setting the initial screen) floating to the 3-point line where Williams will hit him with a pass after he collapses the D and gets into the lane. Usually the man guarding Okur is near the paint and will help on Deron’s drive, so at that point the man guarding the shooter in the opposite corner must be ready to rotate to Okur (while also being aware of his man – who *is* a shooter – in the corner) while another rotater goes to the man he left in the corner. Also, Williams can always split the screen and attack for himself like he did last night. Lots of options here, we must be ready. No one said it would be easy, right?

Williams is going to have to generate the bulk of the Jazz offense because they don’t have a good matchup anywhere else on the floor — Gasol’s length has long bothered Boozer, as has Bynum’s on Okur. I could go on but you get the idea.

Which brings us to matchups — the Lakers need to make Williams really work hard for his shots, which will be the key. And that means less of Fisher and more of Ariza or Kobe taking minutes on Deron. Off the bench, look for Shannon Brown. The bottom line is that Fisher is too slow and Farmar is not strong enough to really slow Williams. (Honestly, few are, he and Roy may be the strongest PGs in the NBA.) The Lakers need to vary the looks they give Deron, but look for the longer and stronger Ariza and Bryant to get the crunch time minutes on him.

The pick and roll is not all the Jazz run. Kwame a. breaks down some other sets.

Baseline Flex Screen: This is one of the initial actions of the Jazz offense. Okur (or Boozer), starting from the block will set a baseline flex screen for CJ Miles. If Miles is not open, he will clear through and set another baseline flex screen on the opposite side of the court for Brewer. To defend this the Lakers must 1) talk through the screens and 2) bump the cutter to allow the Laker getting screened timed to get through. Kobe cannot fall asleep on these cuts as he sometimes likes to look at the ball out top and this is where Brewer can get his points.

Downscreen for Okur: Another bread and butter play out of the Jazz offense. After D-Will makes his entry pass, he will set a hard down-screen for Okur near the block (who just set a flex screen for Miles). Sloan is a big proponent of hard screens and a big part of the Jazz offense is getting Okur free for 3’s. The Laker guards have to slow Okur down as he breaks to the top of the key and Phil Jackson has to harp about moving screens. Gasol and Odom will be given the task to shut down the perimeter exploits of the Turkish Delight.

Cross-Block Screen: If the ball is entered into the corner, the player on the strong-side block will set a cross screen for the player on the weakside block. Boozer and Milsap are very good at coming from the weak for the catch and score. If the Lakers overplay the player receiving the screen the Jazz wings (especially Kirelinko) are very good at finding the screener for a layup too. Boozer may not be 100%, but when he catches it from weak to strong with a defender on his back, he will score. Another way to limit the success of this play is to pressure the ball in the corner, making an entry pass less accessible.

Stagger-Screen for D-Will: One of the set plays the Jazz run (like the Lakers, the Jazz get most of their offense out of their basic set and are trained well to read and react to what the defense gives), is a double stagger screen for a 3. D-Will triggers the play by passing to a wing and cutting off a UCLA high-post screen from the 5 man. D-Will continues his cut away from the ball, towards the other side of the court where he receives a double staggered screen as he circles back to the opposite wing of the ball. The screen is usually set by Boozer and Brewer because if either of their players leave to get D-Will they pop (Boozer) or cut to the hole for a dunk (Brewer). The Jazz could also run this play for Korver.

One other obvious thing that I picked up after re-watching the Jazz destroy the Clippers last night (the things I do for this blog….):

The Jazz are not a running team, but they will do it off turnovers and they finish well. Deron, once he gets up a head of steam, is virtually unstoppable going to the hole. AK-47, Brewer, even Harpring can finish the break. Like any team, you need to limit the easy buckets to get the win, and simply that means taking care of the ball. Turnovers will hurt the Lakers.

Tomorrow, when the Lakers have the ball.