Utah Jazz: A well-tracked but elusive stat

Jazz » Players hustle on defense to compete for the most deflections.
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There's no all-encompassing definition of what is considered one, let alone a count of them to be found in any box score. Yet every time the Jazz players are in their locker room, home or away, one stat is staring back at them from the board.

For more than two decades, the Jazz have been tracking deflections as a measure of defensive activity that goes beyond steals, blocks and shooting percentages, posting updated totals for each player in the locker room before every game.

"Not all of it comes from getting up and getting in a guy's face and getting a piece of the ball," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said by way of explanation, "but a lot of times it does when you're playing the game.

"A lot of it's blocked shots and that sort of thing. You can get a pretty good idea of how you're playing when you look and see. If we have 40-something deflections in a ballgame, you're usually right there in the game."

The Jazz have set a goal of producing 10 deflections a quarter as a team while inspiring some friendly competition among their players. With 10 games left, Ronnie Brewer is poised to end Andrei Kirilenko's seven-season run as the team's deflections leader.

Yet Brewer has no idea about the most deflections he's ever had in a game in his career. Neither does Kirilenko, though he holds the team record with 24 deflections in a game, as well as the single-season record with 697 in 2003-04.

Such is the elusive nature of the statistic. Jefferson Sweeney, the Jazz's video coordinator, is the final authority on the deflection, charting them from behind the bench during home games and off television when the Jazz are on the road.

Assistant coaches Tyrone Corbin and Scott Layden keep an unofficial count on the road, alternating the responsibility depending on who scouted that night's opponent.

"Some quarters, you can tell without even looking at the marks that we're doing well, just by the energy of how we're [playing]," Layden said. "Rarely do you have an aggressive, good quarter without having a lot of deflections."

The count is being kept by the Jazz assistants on paper, but Corbin believes the players are well aware of it as well. "If one guy's being real active that way, then everybody else kind of feeds off that guy's energy," he said.

What the Jazz count as a deflection, though, goes beyond the simplest definition of a defensive player getting a hand on a ball.

Steals and blocks are the basic elements, but a defender who pokes free a ball, keeps it from going out of bounds and then collects it for a steal, could be credited with multiple deflections on the same sequence.

The Jazz count it if a defender slaps the ball out of a player's hands even if the opponent quickly regains control. They count it if a defender kicks a ball, a violation in the rule book. They count it if a helping defender blocks a shot after a whistle to deny a three-point play.

"It takes opposite team out of the rhythm because you're always on the ball, you're always in front of the guy, you're always kind of deflecting from the position," said Kirilenko, who led the Jazz in deflections in 2004-05 even though he played in only 41 games.

Additionally, the Jazz count it if a defender ties up a player for a jump ball or if a defender draws a charge or any other offensive foul, thereby crediting a deflection to a player who might not even have touched the ball yet contributed to a change of possession.

One thing the Jazz do not count as a deflection is if a player goes up and tips a rebound. The Jazz have been tracking deflections since Frank Layden's days as coach, Sloan said, and also keep count of charges taken on their locker-room board.

Heading into tonight's game against New York, the Jazz have produced 2,731 deflections this season, an average of 37.9 a game. They are averaging a combined 13.5 steals and blocks, evidence of how much further the deflection goes as a stat.

Brevin Knight has played for nine teams during his 12-year NBA career, but said the Jazz were his first to count deflections. "If you're getting hands on balls, more times than not, then something positive comes from that," said Knight, who has 199 this season.

Sloan will bring up the deflection count between quarters, as well as at halftime. Although he believes low-deflection games usually lead to blowout losses, the most deflections the Jazz have produced in a game this season (52) came in a Dec. 15 loss at Boston.

Brewer leads the Jazz with 470 deflections (6.6 per game) while Paul Millsap is second with 356 (5.4) and Kirilenko third with 301 (5.3). Part of him is joking, but Millsap is adamant he would be leading Brewer had he not missed six games while injured.

As much as they try to one-up each other when it comes to deflections, Brewer and Millsap stop talking about them almost as quickly.

"It's kind of crazy because we don't want to jinx ourselves like that." Brewer said. "If we have a game where we have a lot of deflections, we don't really try to talk about it too much because during the next game, that's when you mess around and have like two or three."

Sloan said Brewer's numbers are evidence of his improvement in his third season. "If you've got quickness and you don't use it, you're not going to continue to improve," Sloan said. "I think that's what he's done all the time that he's played for us."

For his part, Brewer was asked whether he would get anything once he is crowned the Jazz's 2008-09 deflections champion. "Not that I know of," he said. "I've never won it. I guess it's a pride thing."


Jazz vs. New York

At EnergySolutions Arena

Time » 7 p.m.

TV/Radio » FSN Utah, 1320 AM, 98.7 FM

Records » Jazz 45-27, New York 29-44

Last meeting » Jazz lost 107-99 (Nov. 9)

Line » Jazz by 12

About the Jazz » How dismal have the Jazz been against Eastern Conference teams this season? They need a victory over the Knicks tonight just to finish 15-15 against the East. ... The Jazz will own the Knicks' 2010 first-round draft pick, with New York holding the NBA's ninth-worst record entering Sunday. ... The Jazz lost to New York in November with Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph combining to score 57 points. Both were traded away this season.

About the Knicks » The Knicks have fallen out of the race for the East's eighth and final playoff spot by dropping seven of their last eight games, including stunning losses at home to Sacramento and the L.A. Clippers. ... David Lee leads the NBA with 58 double-doubles, Nate Robinson is averaging 18.1 points off the bench and Eddy Curry played for only the second time all season in Saturday's loss at Charlotte.

Deflecting praise

For more than two decades, the Jazz have kept count of deflections and post the numbers before every game.

Single-game team record » 62 vs. Milwaukee Jan. 3, 1995

Single-game player record » 24, Andrei Kirilenko

2008-09 single-game team high » 52 vs. Boston Dec. 15, 2008

2008-09 player leaders » 1. Ronnie Brewer, 470 2. Paul Millsap, 356 3. Kirilenko, 301 4. Deron Williams, 250 4. Mehmet Okur, 250

Jazz vs. New York

At EnergySolutions Arena

Time » 7 p.m.

TV/Radio » FSN Utah, 1320 AM, 98.7 FM