By John Carroll
The San Antonio Spurs have just finished another fantastic season, in which they finished with the best record in the Western Conference. They are headed to their 15th consecutive postseason, the league’s longest active playoff streak.And this time the Spurs have done it with not only skilled veteran players, but young talent as well. Gregg Popovich has reorganized this franchise into one of the premier offensive teams in the NBA and one that has all the tools necessary to win a fifth championship.
If the Utah Jazz don't stand in their way.
The Jazz have recovered quickly form last season, when they lost their Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Sloan, and their franchise player, Deron Williams. But after starting his coaching career 8-20, new coach Ty Corbin has led the Jazz to a 36-30 record and a surprising eighth seed. The Jazz are a team of non-All-Stars and NBA castoffs. General Manager Kevin O’Connor deserves a lot of credit for building this team with young talent.
Utah has tremendous chemistry and although they may not be able to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round this will be a tremendous learning experience for their young players.
San Antonio Offense
• The Spurs have transformed themselves into one of the premiere offensive teams in the NBA. They were second in the league in points with 103.5.
• The Spurs have the best field goal percentage, at 47.8 percent, and 3-point field goal percentage, at 39.3 percent
• The 3-point shot is an important weapon for the Spurs; they attempt 21.1 per game. Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and Garry Neal are all shooting way over 40 percent from the 3-point line.
• San Antonio gets the ball into the paint and scores. They rank fourth in the NBA in paint points, with 45.2 points per game.
• San Antonio is a sneaky, opportunistic transition team. They average 13.7 points on the fast break. When Tony Parker has the ball in his hands on the break anything is possible. He can slither to the rim and shoot his patented floater or he can find a spot up shooter like Manu Ginobili, Danny Green or Matt Bonner in transition.
• The Spurs will never beat themselves in the playoffs. San Antonio was fifth in the NBA in assists with 23.0 per game and they ranked third in the NBA in fewest turnovers, with 13.6 per game.
• The Spurs love to let Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili initiate offense. They probe and create, attempting to get into the paint. When they get to the paint they have the uncanny ability to finish or find the open man. The Spurs space the court with shooters so that they can take advantage of their opponents when the penetration of Parker and Ginobili forces the defense to collapse.
• The Jazz are weak when they are put into rotations so look for the Spurs to create penetration, force help and kick out to open men. This and pick-and-rolls create rotations and closeouts. The more rotations and closeouts a team performs the weaker their defense becomes.
• The Spurs will put the Jazz into multiple pick-and-rolls in each possession. Look for them to start with a pick-and-roll, swing the ball from one side to another and then run a second or third pick-and-roll. The Jazz are 29th in the NBA in pick-and-roll defense according to Synergy, therefore the Spurs will get the Jazz into rotations they are extremely poor in. Look for them to involve the ball handler with whomever Al Jefferson is defending. He is extremely weak in pick-and-roll coverage.
• When the Spurs need a basket they will still attack thru Tim Duncan. They love to run pick and pops for Parker and Duncan where Duncan can roll to the rim and finish or pop to the elbow for the 15-17’ jumper. In addition they will post him just off the left block where he loves to face and shoot the bank shot he has perfected.
Utah Jazz Offense
• Utah has utilized a big lineup with tremendous success in the latter stages of the season. With Al Jefferson at center, Derrick Favors at power forward, and Paul Millsap at the small forward. This provides Corbin to play his most talented players regardless of position. This is a tremendous offensive and defensive lineup with Jefferson’s scoring and rebounding, Favors shot-blocking and Millsap’s ability to defend multiple positions.
• The Jazz will play through their post players. They emphasize getting the ball inside, with 15.5 shots from the post per game. They will attempt to go at the Spurs inconsistent and undersized frontline. Size hurts the Spurs and the Jazz have size and depth at the power forward and center position.
• The Jazz are second in the NBA in most field goal attempts at the rim.
• Lack of perimeter shooting hurts the Jazz offensively. The Jazz attempt only 12.8 3 point shots per game and shoot just 32.3 percent, which is 27th in the league. They do not have enough shooters to space the court for Jefferson, Millsap and Favors.
• The Jazz rank seventh in offensive efficiency. They average 99.7 points per game, which ranks them fourth in the NBA while shooting 45.7 percent from the field which is 8th in the NBA.
• The Jazz need Devin Harris to play at a very high level to defeat the Spurs. He needs to keep his turnovers down, be successful running pick-and-rolls against San Antonio and knock down shots.
• Utah needs a Gordon Hayward to step up offensively. He makes plays for the Jazz and he needs to do that with the pressure of the playoffs on his shoulders. Haywood averaged 17 points and shot 50.0 percent over the last 15 games of the season. The Jazz need that type of effort in order to compete with the Spurs.
Tony Parker: Parker is the Spurs' MVP this season. He has had one of the best seasons of his career scoring 18.3 points and 7.7 assists per game. He has played at an All-Star level all season while Duncan’s minutes have been limited and Ginobili has been out with injuries. He has shown tremendous poise running the Spurs club this year. He must dominate his matchup with Devin Harris. He must blow by him in transition and in the half court, run him off screens and pick-and-roll him to death. If Parker wins this matchup the Jazz cannot beat the Spurs.
Devin Harris: Harris has developed into the floor leader that the Jazz were hoping for when they acquired him. His play in the month of April has been largely responsible for the Jazz being in the playoffs. He has averaged 17.8 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last five games of the regular season. He is also attempting 7.2 3 point attempts in the past five games and is shooting 44.5 percent. Harris’s is pushing the ball in transition and his dribble penetration in the half court opens up everything for his teammates. He needs to play at an extremely high level for the Jazz to win this series.
Danny Green: He has worked hard to earn not only a spot on this roster but starter’s minutes. He was inserted into the starting lineup by Popovich because of his tenacious defense and energy. Green has the ability to hit open corner 3-point shots with proficiency. Green has figured out to play alongside Parker and knows his role on this team. He has taken advantage of the scoring opportunities he gets playing off the attention that is given to Parker, Duncan and Ginobili.
Gordon Hayward: Hayward has been terrific for the Jazz since he was reinserted back into the starting lineup. He has played 39.3 minutes a game during the month of April while scoring 17.2 points per game and shooting 51.1 percent from the field. He is the most accurate shooter on the Jazz roster, and he knows how to play. He has scored over 10 points 40 times this season. Has seen a real spike in his numbers from last year when he scored only 5.4 points per game.
Kawhi Leonard: Leonard has had an excellent season for the Spurs. He has seized the opportunity that Popovich gave him on Jan. 11 when he inserted him into the starting lineup, and the Spurs have won 30 games since. Kawhi has terrific athleticism and incredible wingspan, which allows him to be a terrific defender; he will usually guad the opponent’s best perimeter player. Leonard averaged 7.9 point per game and 5.1 rebounds. He is active on the offensive glass with 1.7 per game.
DeMarre Carroll: Carroll can score a bit but it is the energy on the defensive side of the ball that has caught head coach Tyrone Corbin’s attention. Carroll is an aggressive player who can defend multiple positions. He has a solid all around game but his calling card is defense. He has been thrust into this starting role due to injuries to Raja Bell, CJ Miles and Earl Watson. In the last ten games he has averaged 22.2 minutes and scored 6.6 points and grabbed 3.3 rebounds.
Tim Duncan: Duncan is one of the greatest forwards to ever play in the NBA. Popovich has limited Duncan’s minutes this season and it has kept his big man fresh and healthy. Duncan has not had superstar numbers this season but he is the team’s second leading scorer with 15.4 points per game and he leads the team in rebounding and shot blocking. He has great touch from the elbow or just off the block where he loves to utilize his patented bank shot. Tim has played in 176 playoff games and has averaged 22.7 points and 12.4 rebounds over that time. Duncan has four championship rings and has the talent and leadership skills to help his team win another.
Paul Millsap: Millsap and Jefferson give the Jazz a terrific one-two punch in the frontcourt. He has played at a high level all season scoring 16.6 points per game. His rebounding numbers have increased from 7.7 per game a year ago to 8.8 per game this season. Millsap is a workhorse who has been consistently productive for the Jazz this season. He has rediscovered his shot this season, shooting 49.5 for the entire season.
DeJuan Blair: Drafted in the second round in 2009, Blair has made the most of his opportunity in San Antonio. Blair is a big-bodied post man at only 6-foot-7 who can score, defend and rebound. He will have tremendous defensive responsibilities in this series, as he will have to guard either Millsap or Jefferson. Blair has a tremendous work ethic and it allows him to compete against taller opponents. He is a terrific offensive rebounder (2.4 per game) because he understands leverage and positioning.
Al Jefferson- Al Jefferson is on the cusp of being an All Star. He knows how to score. Jefferson has tremendous footwork in the low post and excellent post moves. He has averaged 19.2 points per game and 9.6 rebounds this season for the Jazz. He has become a more complete player on offense than ever, trusting his teammates much more than he ever did. He is still a liability on defense and the Spurs will attack him with multiple pick and rolls and put him into movement where he struggles.
San Antonio Bench
Manu Ginobili: Still is the best sixth man in the game. Ginobili has battled injuries all season to post decent numbers in the games he has played: 12.9 points and 4.4 assists per game. Still plays with reckless abandon. He helps space the court for Parker and Duncan. Manu will be an important player for the Spurs in the playoffs because of his shot-making abilities in the clutch. Will make big baskets in the fourth quarter. Clutch player.
Tiago Splitter: Splitter has become a consistent role player for the Spurs logging 19 minutes per game and scoring 9.3 points and grabbing 5.2 rebounds per game. With his height and length he provides the Spurs with another rim protector. Splitter has developed into an efficient interior player, possibly their second best bench player after Ginobili.
Gary Neal: Neal has had a nice two-year career in San Antonio for an undrafted player. He is a long-range shooter, drills perimeter looks at opportune times and has shot 41.0 percent from the 3-point line.
Stephen Jackson: The Spurs reacquired Jackson at the trading deadline from the Warriors. He has been a volatile but prolific scorer during his career. He is one of Popovich’s favorite players so this trade is perfect for both parties. He was on the Spurs 2003 championship team, and is familiar with the Spurs system. Jackson has the ability to help the Spurs win a game in the playoffs with his 1-1 shot making skills.
Patty Mills: The Spurs acquired Mills after T.J .Ford retired earlier this season. He will play just backup minutes to rest Parker throughout the playoffs. He can score and distribute but has never been in the playoff spotlight so his minutes will be limited.
Boris Diaw: Diaw is a mobile forward who the Spurs picked up after he received a buyout from the Bobcats. He has never been an aggressive scorer but as a complimentary piece he has scoring and passing abilities that will fit in nicely for the Spurs second unit. He shot 56.9 percent from the field during the regular season.
Matt Bonner: Bonner is one of the league’s best 3-point shooters and an important reserve for the Spurs. He shot 42 percent from the 3-point line this season. He helps space the court with the ability to knock down the open shot.
Derrick Favors: Favors is a terrific athlete, who can score and rebound. He is a game-changer on defense. He has tremendous shot-blocking instincts and has become and excellent pick and roll defender. Unfortunately he struggles to get consistent minutes on the court due to the talents of Paul Millsap. His play during the month of April has been encouraging. Favors has averaged 9.4 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 58.0 percent from the field in 25.2 minutes this month.
C.J. Miles: When CJ Miles is on his game attacking the basket and knocking down perimeter shots he helps the Jazz win. But his game is not consistent and his production is up and down. He is also turnover-prone at times. Miles needs to constantly play with an edge and swagger to be the best player he can be. Has averaged 9.1 points per game but has only shot 30.7 from the 3-point line.
Alex Burks: Because of injuries to several of the Utah Jazz perimeter players Burks has gained more playing time and has been able to play through his mistakes. He can get the basket and create his own shot off the dribble. There are still questions about his shooting range. Burks is shooting 42.2 percent from the field but only 31.8 from the 3-point line.
Jamal Tinsley: Tyrone Corbin has inserted Tinsley into a backup role since the injury to Earl Watson. Tinsley is a veteran guard who possesses the ability to score and run a team. He has scored 3.7 points, delivered 3.3 assists, in 13.5 minutes playing time.
Enes Kanter: Kanter has good size, and good hands. He is a fluid big man who is a work in progress. Kanter is already a NBA rebounder and has averaged 4.2 rebounds per games this season. Over the month of April in 12.1 minutes per game he has shot 65.6 percent from the field.
Josh Howard: Howard has missed a month and 19 games of the regular season due to a knee injury that required surgery. He was averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds in 18 starts before injury. Brings playoff experience having played in 62 games scoring 15.5 points and 7.2 rebound for the Dallas Mavericks.
Prediction: San Antonio in six