The Jazz Outlook
Utah has made a habit of climbing out of deep holes this season. They did it against pretty much the entire Southeast Division... which is remarkable. On the flip side, New Orleans has made a habit of giving away double digit leads this year (including our initial win streak to open the season). Basically, the overall point is that at no time tonight are we going to feel comfortable.
In another sense, picking up a sizeable lead against the Jazz at any point would be a remarkable accomplishment in itself. New Orleans and Chris Paul have continually struggled against Jerry's Sloan's Jazz. Some will be quick to write it up as "Deron Williams owns Chris Paul." But the more nuanced analysis is that Utah's defensive schemes have taken away Paul's options more often and more effectively than perhaps any other defense over the last 5 years. Additionally, watch for Utah's high trap against Paul. It's another tactic few teams employ successfully against us (and most eschew it altogether due to the offensive opportunities a failed trap on Chris Paul creates), but the Jazz do it very well.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams
In the end, Chris Paul still has the edge here. He plays the other 29 teams in the league far more effectively than Williams. Offensively, he's created 124 points per 100 possessions, a 13 point advantage over Williams (in layman's terms, that's huge. It's about equal to the difference between the league's second best offense (San Antonio) and the league's worst offense (Milwaukee)). Defensively, Synergy Sports technology shows that Paul and Williams have been essentially equal in terms of tracking defensive assignments. That doesn't factor in Paul's propensity to swipe the ball from offensive players whom he's not assigned to. As much as people talk about Williams' size advantage over Paul, the fact is, very few offenses get to a point where they can post a bigger guard against Paul. The Hornets do a good job of preventing it for the most part.
At the end of the day, Chris Paul is the massively more efficient offensive player and advanced stats indicate he's been a hair better on defense this year. But again, it hasn't showed against Utah. Let's see if tonight's the night he puts it together.
Al Jefferson hasn't fit in tremendously well in the early going (15.9 PER despite a career 20+ mark). Paul Millsap is having an All-Star season. If he keeps it up, the coaches will vote him in regardless of the whole ballot situation. And though Kirilenko is having a down year on the glass and from the floor, I still give him the edge on Ariza. Emeka, David West, and Ariza will need to bring their A-games tonight.
Bill Simmons mentioned last week that this year is the "ultimate CP-DWill experiment" because both guys have essentially equally talented teams. His theory is that whoever succeeds this year is the better point guard. Setting aside the fact that Simmons waffles on the CP-DW debate weekly, I'm not entirely convinced that the talent levels are equal. But they may very well be closer than they've been in years past.
- Chris Paul historically plays the Jazz better in Utah as opposed to in New Orleans. Whatever that means.
- Utah comes in about league average offensively and defensively. That might not mean anything though... Sacramento and the Clippers came into their respective Hornets games as the second and third worst teams in the entire NBA.
- The Jazz aren't particularly efficient from the floor (18th), nor do they go after their own misses (23rd). In a sense, that plays right into our two biggest defensive strengths. But Utah also gets to the line the third most of any Western Conference team. The Hornets have to make sure that this doesn't become a free throw fest.
- Defensively, the Jazz currently lead the NBA in effective field goal percentage. That's a surprising stat to me, but they're really doing a great job of preventing good shot opportunities. For a team (New Orleans) that's struggled mightily to come up with quality shot attempts against ridiculously bad defenses, that's a really bad sign.
- The Jazz are the league's second worst defensive rebounding team. If the Hornets miss shots tonight (and they will most certainly miss some shots), the opportunity is there for Oak and JSmith to attack the offensive glass. Monty Williams' strategy has been to lay off the offensive glass and get back on defense, but it could yield solid results tonight if he lets the bigs get after it.
- Last note: Utah fouls a lot. Only the Warriors and Wolves send opponents to the line more frequently. Beating a dead horse, but energy and aggressiveness will pay huge dividends.