Nazr Mohammed, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap

It’s time to talk about Al Jefferson’s defense

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The Utah Jazz have had a tough road trip. They lost all five games on the trip, gave up 96 or more points in all five losses, lost to the 76ers, Wizards, and Nets, and lost to the Celtics and Lakers by a combined 53 points. The team’s record is currently 27-18, but their win margin is only half a point, and the team is projected to finish with a 44-38 record. (Remember all those incredible fourth-quarter comebacks the Jazz had earlier in the year? That’s not exactly a sustainable strategy for winning.)

So what’s wrong with the Jazz? Deron Williams is playing as well as he ever has. The Flex offense is still humming, and the Jazz average 24 assists per game, the 2nd-highest mark in the league. Overall, the Jazz have the 11th-best offensive efficiency in the league, which is a slight drop-off from last season (the Jazz were 8th), but not bad at all.

The Jazz’s real problem has been their defense. Last season, the Jazz ranked 11th in defensive efficiency. This season, they rank 2oth. There are a number of reasons why the Jazz aren’t playing as well defensively as they did the last season, but the biggest one is likely Al Jefferson.

There’s a lot to like about Al Jefferson’s game. At 26 years old, he’s one of the few remaining pure post-up players in the NBA, and his jump hook is a thing of beauty. He’s capable of scoring from the block in a way that most young players simply aren’t taught to anymore, and that’s why he was the centerpiece of the trade that got the Celtics KG.

However, no team has ever been able to play decent def,ense while starting Al Jefferson, and that hasn’t changed now that Jefferson is in Utah. Starting in the 06-07 season, when Jefferson first became a starter for the Celtics, here are the number of points per 100 possessions Jefferson’s teams have given up when he was on/off the floor:

06-07 Celtics: 108.5 with Jefferson/102.8 without Jefferson

07-08 Timberwolves: 116.0 with Jefferson/103.9 without Jefferson

08-09 Timberwolves: 112.3 with Jefferson/113.2 without Jefferson

09-10 Timberwolves: 113.1 with Jefferson/111.2 without Jefferson

10-11 Jazz: 112.0 with Jefferson/101.3 without Jefferson

As you can see, the only teams that didn’t play significantly worse defense with Jefferson on the floor were the 08-09 and 09-10 Timberwolves, and that was only because they were so bad defensively Jefferson wasn’t able to do much damage. +/- is a very dangerous stat, but Al Jefferson has started for six seasons for three different teams, and all of them have played horrible defense when he is on the floor.

None of this disputes anecdotal evidence, either: Jefferson can block shots, but he’s extremely slow-moving on defense, doesn’t expend much energy on that end, and has long been considered a defensive liability.

For some reason, team’s have always been willing to overlook Jefferson’s defensive shortcomings because of his offensive gifts. Given that Jefferson is an unwilling passer who isn’t actually a very efficient scorer (he settles for a lot of outside jumpers and longish hook shots, and rarely draws fouls), it’s unclear why fans and teams continue to hold Jefferson in such high regard. Jefferson is clearly talented, and still only 26 years old, but needs to make some serious changes in his game if he wants to be a key contributor on a playoff contender.

Kevin Durant on return to Washington D.C. that never was: “I really just didn’t want to play at home”

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during the game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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A year or two ago, there was a palpable buzz among Wizards fans — they had a shot to get Kevin Durant. LeBron James had just returned like a prodigal son to Cleveland, and there seemed to be a sense from fans that other stars wanted to go home to play. The Wizards needed another star, they had the cap space, so some saw a path for Durant to return to his native D.C.

Except, a lot of players don’t want to go home again. Not to play.

Durant was one of them, as he confirmed to the Washington Post.

“I don’t want to open up anything in the past, but I really just didn’t want to play at home,” Durant said. “It was nothing about the fans. Being at home, I was so happy with that part of my life — playing at home, being in front of friends, hanging with friends and family every day. That was a part of my life that has come and gone.

“I was like, I’m trying to build a second part of my life as a man living in a different part of the country, just trying to do different things. I did everything I was supposed to do in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, I felt. Now it’s time to do something new. I didn’t want to come back. That’s just my thought process behind it. It had nothing to do with basketball, the fans, the city.”

Not every Wizards fan will see it this way, but that’s an entirely reasonable thought process. Sometimes in life, we need a change of direction, and for Durant this would have been a step back into the past. The one he made to go to Golden State has worked out pretty well for him so far.

KD is not alone in this. Players see a lot of added stress returning home, both in terms of expectations and the demands of family and friends (asking for tickets, etc.), and some are just not into the idea of a return. The idea that Blake Griffin wants to return to Oklahoma and play for the Thunder may not fit with who he is right now. Russell Westbrook seems to like it in OKC and isn’t itching to get back to Los Angeles (but Paul George might be). Each player is a different case — how they view their hometown, whether they would want to play for the team there  — and each will make his decision.

Durant made his and is comfortable with it.

Pat Riley says Magic Johnson will win with the Lakers

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 22:  Los Angeles Dodgers part owner and former Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson (R) talks with Miami Heat President and former Lakers head coach Pat Riley during the game with the San Francisco Giants on August 22, 2012 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley has never doubted Magic Johnson, and isn’t about to start now.

Riley believes Johnson will succeed in what looks like a daunting task of getting the Los Angeles Lakers back to prominence. After the Lakers cleaned house this past week, Johnson and Riley are contemporaries – Riley as president of the Miami Heat, Johnson in the same role out in L.A., where they won four titles together in the 1980s.

Trade talks, he cautioned, will be dangerous for both sides.

“He’s going to try to rifle my pockets and I’m going to try to rifle his,” Riley said. “But I’m happy for him, and I’m also happy for the Lakers.”

The news took Riley back to 1991, when Johnson delivered the shocking word that he was HIV-positive and had to retire from basketball. Riley was gone from Los Angeles by that point, and was then coach of the New York Knicks. But it resonated deeply within Riley, who has maintained a very close relationship with Johnson.

Hearing Johnson speak about taking over the Lakers this past week moved Riley as well, albeit in an obviously different fashion.

“Back then, all of us and I think everybody in the country not knowing exactly what HIV was all about, we all sort of looked at that as a very difficult time and possibly a death sentence for the kid,” Riley said. “Now 25 years later, he stands at the press conference saying that he’s president of the team. Deja vu, you know?”

Riley said Johnson didn’t seek his counsel on what life is like as a team president before taking the Lakers job. Riley said Johnson already knew the answer to anything he would ask, simply from being around his former coach so many times in recent years.

The news wasn’t entirely easy for Riley to digest, since he also holds now-former general manager Mitch Kupchak in high regard. Kupchak, who played for Riley, was let go as part of the front-office sweepout by the Lakers this past week.

But he sounded completely confident in what Johnson will accomplish.

“There couldn’t be a better person and worker, I think, to be the sort of face and also to spearhead,” Riley said. “He’ll get the job done out there.”

 

Jose Calderon, Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings all officially waived; contenders line up for their services

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It was only a question of when, not if, but it has happened.

Jose Calderon, Andrew Bogut, and Brandon Jennings have been waived and are about to hit the free agent market, according to reports.

They have to clear waivers (Wednesday) before they can sign with a new team. However, all three seem to be headed to teams with dreams of going deep into the playoffs.

The Golden State Warriors want a little depth at the point for the postseason, and they are going with the steady but aged veteran Calderon. He will have limited run behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston, but he will have a role in the playoffs and as a steadying force.

The Washington Wizards are going another, more talented but more combustible direction, and appear the frontrunners to sign Brandon Jennings (Chris Haynes of ESPN had that link. . The Wizards have not loved the play of Trey Burke this season and have leaned on Tomas Satoransky to run some point, expect Jennings to get some healthy run if and when he arrives in Washington.

Bogut is expected to sign with the Cavaliers, although the Spurs could have a shot at him and other teams are asking to get in the mix (not his former team the Warriors, however).

NBA: Bulls beat Suns after two key missed calls late in fourth quarter

Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler (21) celebrates his game-tying shot late in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won in overtime,p 128-121. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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The collective ‘we’ were happy the Bulls reached overtime against the Suns on Friday, because we saw Dwyane Wade‘s fantastic dagger dunk.

The Bulls were happy they reached overtime, because they won the game in the extra period.

But with correct officiating down the stretch, Phoenix probably would have won in regulation.

The Bulls got away with two key violations late in the fourth quarter, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Jimmy Butler got away with traveling with 1:58 left, per the league:

Butler (CHI) move his pivot foot.

Instead of a Chicago turnover, Butler kicked the ball to Nikola Mirotic, who hit a 3-pointer.

Then, Denzel Valentine got away with a defensive three-second violation with a minute left, per the league:

Valentine (CHI) is in the paint without actively guarding an opponent for longer than three seconds.

A correct call would’ve given any Sun on the court — either Eric Bledsoe (who’s making 85% of his free throws this season and 80% for his career) or Devin Booker (82%, 83%) — a single free throw and Phoenix a fresh shot clock.

Instead, the Suns — facing a tougher road penetrating the paint — turned the ball over.

On their own, those missed calls were each big swings. Together, they were huge in Chicago’s win.