Some Hornet fans may not have watched last year’s NBA Playoffs due to its lack of New Orleans flavor. But those that did witnessed the coming out party of Jazz PG Deron Williams (whose game I have always respected no matter how much Jazz fans bash Chris Paul). The Jazz took care of a tough Rockets team and easily dispatched an undisciplined Warriors squad. In the Conference Finals, more than one analyst gave them a fighting chance versus the Spurs. San Antonio proceeded to crush the Jazz in a lopsided series.
The Jazz of last year were similar in one major regard to this year’s Hornets- they held the 3rd most efficient offense in all the land while New Orleans was 5th this year. Granted, the Bees’ defense has blown away last years’ Jazz team (7th vs. 19th), but it’s the offense you worry about versus San Antonio, not the defense. With an offense that doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of its opponents (12th among 16 playoff teams), San Antonio has put the clamps down all year (3rd most efficient D). So what lessons can we take from last year’s Conference Finals?
1. Use every offensive weapon you have.
If there’s one thing last year’s Finals taught us, it’s that not even the greatest of superstars (LBJ) can singlehandedly take on an elite defense. Yes, James defeated Detroit in the Conference Finals, but Detroit was significantly worse defensively than SA (gave up almost 4 more points per 100 possessions). Switching gears back to the SA-UTA series, Deron Williams took 0.500 shots per minute.
This was significantly up from the 0.365 he averaged per minute in the regular season. About one out of four field goals was attempted by Williams, again a significant jump from the regular season, where he took one out of six Jazz field goals. The point is that getting away from good ball movement and falling into shot-clock-winding-down isolations is a terrible idea. That might sound like the most simplistic thing you’ve ever heard, but it’s exactly what San Antonio excels at- making an offense one dimensional.
2. Keep your hands to yourself.
The Spurs aren’t a spectacular shooting team (9th among playoff squads in eFG%), nor do they draw a lot of fouls (21st in FT/FG). That’s why it’s stunning that Utah decided to hack the hell out of the Spurs in the Conference Finals. The Jazz fouled at a rate of 43 FT(allowed)/FG while the Spurs drew a mere 23.5 FT/FG in the regular season. In essence, Utah turned one of San Antonio’s only weaknesses into a great strength.
New Orleans fouled way too much in the initial games versus Dallas (+40 rate in the first 3). They ramped it down as the series concluded, and they would be very wise not to repeat Utah’s mistake.
3. Tony Parker burned Utah for going over screens… but don’t believe it.
The way Parker knocked down jumper after jumper against Phoenix is fresh in everyone’s mind. But the fact is after improving his eFG% on jumpers from 40% to 42% and then to 44% last year, TP has regressed back to a 41.9 conversion rate this year. Essentially, this is one place where it would be unwise to extract information from last year’s series. Tony Parker is not shooting as well as analysts say he is, but he’s still the best tough layup maker in the game. I’d go under the screens, not over.
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