Former coach Jerry Sloan may have talked incessantly about defense, but what really distinguished his teams was a highly effective offense. Except in the years immediately after the John Stockton-Karl Malone era, when they faced a major personnel deficiency, the Jazz consistently have ranked among the best shooting teams in the NBA.
That's not because they've always had a bunch of great shooters. When Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson were coaching the offense, the Jazz were known for running the scheme so well that they could depend on getting a bunch of easy baskets every night. That's not happening now.
In 2009-10, the final season of the Williams-Boozer era, the Jazz shot 49.1 percent from the field and posted a 53-29 record. This season, they're shooting 44.3 percent, ranking 15th in the NBA.
The Jazz (15-17) are threatening to fall as far as the franchise's all-time low of 43.6 percent in 2003-04, right after Stockton and Malone left.
What's the problem?
Some of this is a side effect of defensive improvement disregarding the Los Angeles Clippers' success against them in the Jazz's last two losses. The Jazz have upgraded themselves defensively in the three years since Williams and Boozer were surrounded by the likes of the offense-oriented Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles.
A road-heavy schedule also is part of the answer, because NBA teams shoot better at home. So there's potential for improvement in the remaining 50 games. Beyond that, coach Tyrone Corbin contends the scheme is working, but the Jazz are just missing shots. "'We'll work on it and continue to take the right shots," Corbin said, "and they'll fall."
That's not a fully satisfying explanation, though. Whether the blame should go mostly to Corbin and his staff or the new cast of players, the offense is not being run effectively enough. Shooting percentage is a function of two primary factors in any offensive scheme: creating shots and making shots in that order.
Korver, now playing in Atlanta, described the offense of his Jazz days as "very regimented," which is not a criticism. He always knew where his shots would come from, and a system designed to create movement in the offense consistently gave him and his teammates good looks. "Those were really fun teams to play on," Korver said this past weekend. "We had a lot of talent."
The personnel is totally different now. Only forward Paul Millsap remains from three seasons ago. But it would be wrong to say there's been a big drop-off of offensive talent, even with starting guard Randy Foye shooting only 39.8 percent.
It comes down to this basic issue, in all of its irony: The Jazz's leading scorer is the root of the problem. Al Jefferson is a terrific low-post player, but his style too often results in a stagnant offense. Everybody else is standing around while he's dribbling … backing in … facing up … holding the ball … and, finally, shooting. Or, occasionally, passing.
Even after his 30-point game Sunday, Jefferson is shooting just 47.8 percent, far below Boozer's rate. So the Jazz either have to trade Jefferson, who's in the last year of his contract, or Corbin must figure out how to maximize the center's ability while getting more movement and efficiency into the offense. Otherwise, the shooting percentage will continue to drop and the losses will just keep coming.
Brick by brick
The Jazz's worst seasons of field-goal shooting:
Season Pct. Comment
2003-04 .436 First season without Stockton, Malone
1974-75 .440 Inaugural season in New Orleans
2005-06 .442 Boozer misses 49 games
1975-76 .443 Expansion team's improvement comes slowly
2012-13 .443 More home games may help
2004-05 .449 Sloan's low point (26-56)