How the Utah Jazz Cut Their Own Throats by Trading Mehmet Okur

While it was a wily business decision by GM Kevin O’Connor that created flexibility for the future for the Utah Jazz, the logistics will be a nightmare for head coach Ty Corbin in the trade of Mehmet Okur to the New Jersey Nets. You see, they have no legitimate 3-point threat to keep defenses honest now in an offensive system heavily dependent on getting high-percentage looks that leaves the 3 as a last-resort option.

League-wide, 3-point percentages are at all-time highs — the 3 no longer being a lesser offensive option in the NBA, but a primary weapon in team arsenals, as shown in this chart from this post here at HP a few weeks ago. The generally accepted line between good and bad 3-point shooting is 35%. Indeed, when we examine the Jazz’s 3-point percentages over the last ten years we find that in their six playoff seasons they averaged a total .350 from the arc as compared to only .333 in seasons in which they would miss the playoffs.

Last year Utah was 20th in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .346 and tie-22nd in attempts at 15.3 per-game. In Jerry Sloan’s heyday with the franchise .346 was exactly the league average from the 3-point line. But no more. It’s a brave new NBA, one where the constant perimeter has been extended considerably.

As an astute observer pointed out to me, three of the Jazz’s best career arc aces, Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and last year’s pet project of shooting coach Jeff Hornacek, Andrei Kirilenko, are no longer on the roster, leaving Raja Bell, CJ Miles, and Devin Harris to carry the bulk of the perimeter load. This is a scary prospect.

Raja Bell takes, and misses, a contested 3

What we need to understand here is that it’s not as important to Utah’s offensive scheme that they take and make 3s as it is to have the threat available. A few years ago in the postseason we saw Kobe Bryant utterly disrespect Ronnie Brewer on the perimeter by playing several feet off of him, daring him to pop. It wasn’t pretty for Ronnie B and the series played a part in his eventual trade from the team. The Lakers downed the Jazz in the series relatively easily by simply packing the paint, the place where the Jazz has historically done the bulk of it’s offensive damage to opponents, using it’s superior length to halt any offensive advances. The Jazz were unable to convert enough open looks to dissuade LA from it’s camping spot.

While Okur has not re-found his Money shot since tearing his Achilles tendon, he was still the threat Utah requires to run it’s offense efficiently. Bell is the the best on the roster by the numbers to open up the paint for them, and while Raja is among the tops in career distance pops his .352 percent of last season was way off his career pace of .406 from 3.

A snippet from SynergySports, Raja Bell from 3 last season

Indeed, while watching his entire offense from 3 in 2010-11 on SynergySports he rarely inspired the opposition to truly respect the Jazz from the arc, at most getting a token close-out challenge from a charging player who would then sprint out in transition, often netting an easy bucket from a Bell 3-miss off of a long rebound garnered by a defense-turned-offense-in-an-instant on an outlet pass. Raja hits on most of his open looks, but when contested on close-outs he clanks more often than not, and he can most often be seen in the offense just floating around the 3-line looking for a spot-up. Defenses were more than happy to accommodate him.

This is Utah’s deepest threat remaining on the roster on the outside. Are you beginning to see the problems and collateral damage from not staying current with the league-wide trend of sharp-shooters and combo-threats?

Note: Yes, I am fully aware that Gordon Hayward led the league in 3-point percentage post-All-Star break in ’10-’11, but one attempt per-game is not near enough to make a defense need to run out on him.

CJ Miles is another option already on the roster, one who had a horrendous year on the perimeter, last, but has shown from previous 3-point percentages that he is capable of knocking back rainbows at an acceptable clip. The onus is on him this season to live up to his assertions of improving his consistency there, and Jazz fans were treated to a hopeful future from him in the team’s scrimmage and preseason, where Miles managed to lead the team in overall 3-point efficiency taking five shots and making 40% of them in two games against Portland.

The fact of the matter is, Utah is not a perimeter threat, and the league knows this. Until someone emerges or is acquired by them to be that Al Jefferson will look bad and inefficient and Paul Millsap will continue his career arc of moving away from the basket and out to the mid-range making life needlessly more difficult for Ty Corbin and Co.

Seth Carstens