NBA: Utah Jazz on quest for defensive perfection

NBAUtah's players are being graded on their 'D,' and rookie Matthews is at the top of the class.
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Every morning after a game, the Jazz players can look forward to finding a piece of paper on the locker room board at their practice facility. For the first time, they are being graded individually on the number of perfect possessions they contribute to on defense.

It's part of the Jazz's emphasis on defensive accountability after a season in which they gave up 100.9 points and 46.4 percent shooting on average, with coach Jerry Sloan and his assistants resolving that something had to change.

The catch-phrase now is "perfect possessions," with the Jazz hoping to grade out at 80 percent or better each game. Players are graded on everything from getting back on defense and boxing out to how well they help and stick with the team's principles.

"Just like offensively, you run a play and your guys set screens and everybody passes the ball where it's supposed to be passed," Sloan said. "Those things give you a chance every time if you do that."

The same applies on defense, Sloan added, "if you have good rebounding position, if you've stopped the other team from getting fast breaks and things like that."

"But if you just come down and you don't have any purpose ... we see that on films where we don't have any purpose with what we're doing defensively other than just killing time or trying to recover and get our breath," Sloan said.

Jefferson Sweeney, the Jazz's video coordinator, is responsible for breaking down and grading each possession. The Jazz players see not only their grades from the most recent game, but grades from the previous 10 games and season as a whole.

"It's not necessarily how much your man scores because you're supposed to help," Deron Williams said, "and then the next person helps you.

"So if you help and then the next person doesn't help you and your man scores, it's not on you, because you've got to trust that your teammates are going to be there."

Through 16 games, the Jazz are giving up an average of 98.3 points on 45.6 percent shooting. From his perspective, Williams said the grading system -- done as a percentage, as opposed to letter grades from school -- is working.

"I think so," Williams said, "and then people pay attention to it. They don't want that bad grade the next day. ... It helps us out because you know what you messed up on. They have all the possessions documented, so if you want to go up and look at them."

Wesley Matthews consistently has been the Jazz's highest-graded defender at nearly 90 percent for the season. Sloan regularly has cited the fact in talking about the undrafted rookie, who has started the last eight games.

"I don't want to give it up," Matthews said of his first-place standing. "There's a lot of pride that comes with it. Everybody on this team is a competitor. I'm going to try to stay on top as long as I can."

Williams joked that the battle is for second behind Matthews. ("He doesn't count. I told him he doesn't count. He's too good defensively," Williams said.) For now, Williams is second, about three percentage points behind Matthews, with Ronnie Price in third.

The Jazz have gone 6-2 with Matthews starting -- he limited Portland's Brandon Roy to 19 points Saturday -- even though Matthews has averaged 5.3 points the last six games.

Williams credited Matthews on Sunday with helping alleviate the defensive burden on Ronnie Brewer. Sloan, meanwhile, sees a grading system getting results.

"You can do all that and they still make the shot, but are we doing the right things to try to compensate for that?" he said.


Both Paul Millsap (bruised left knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (strained lower back) sat out practice Sunday after they were injured in the second quarter Saturday. Both are game-time decisions tonight, according to the team. ... Kyle Korver (left knee surgery) will rehab at the Peak Performance Project training center in Santa Barbara, Calif., through Wednesday. ...C.J. Miles (left thumb surgery) took part in the majority of practice except for scrimmaging at the end as he moves closer to his return. ... Williams on practicing with just eight players Sunday: "Why not? When in Rome ..."

Jazz vs. Memphis

Tonight, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio » FSN Utah, 1320 AM, 98.7 FM

Records » Jazz 9-7, Memphis 6-11

Last meeting » Jazz won 117-99 on Feb. 17

Line » Jazz by 10

About the Jazz » If Paul Millsap and Andrei Kirilenko can't play tonight, the Jazz would be left with the league-minimum eight players in uniform. ...The Jazz have beaten the Grizzlies nine consecutive times, tied for their longest winning streak against any team, by an average of 15.1 points a game.

About the Grizzlies » Memphis has won five of its last eight games. ... Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been the NBA's top rebounding duo. ... Rudy Gay leads the Grizzlies in scoring at 21.1 points while No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet is averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds.