Jerry Sloan, one of my favorite coaches in the NBA, resigned yesterday, deciding to step down as head coach during his 23rd season. The reason why he was one of my favorite coaches was because of his offense. So as my little tribute, I thought it would be nice to look at my top three favorite plays that Sloan has been running this season out of timeouts.
I am choosing sets out of timeouts because this is where coaches can get most creative, really showcasing their knowledge. It should be no surprise that Sloan's Jazz team were successful working out of timeouts, ranking eighth in the NBA by scoring .9159 points per possession on 45.1 percent shooting.
The first play we are going to look at is something that Coach Sloan uses to get Deron Williams the basketball on the wing, in position to score:
The play starts with Deron Williams entering the basketball into the wing. After that, Williams comes off of a backscreen set by the Jazz big who is set up on the ball side elbow.
After Williams clears the backscreen, the player setting that backscreen comes to the ball to set up a pick-and-roll. As that is happening, Deron Williams is getting staggered pindown screens set on the opposite side of the basketball and he is using them to flash to the elbow.
The timing of the play is for Williams to come off of both screens at the same time the ball handler uses the screen. This puts the defense in a tough situation: Either defend against the pick-and-roll or worry about Williams.
In this case, the Nuggets clog the middle to defend against the pick-and-roll, leading to a wide open jumper for Williams. Here is the play in real time:
The reason why this play is so hard to defend is there is so much going on that the defense can't really key in on anything.
Here, the defense is really worried about Williams coming off the pindowns that the ball handler is able to get all the way to the rim and finish.
A variation of this play is when the ball gets swung to the elbow instead of using a pick-and-roll. The defense now has to worry about an ISO on the elbow as Williams comes off of the staggered pindown screens.
The next two plays we are going to look at are simple plays coming out of the timeout, but the reason I really enjoy them is that despite their simplicity, defenses really struggle with them. The first is a nice little cross-screen play designed to let Al Jefferson work in the post with his back to the basket:
This set starts with a screen being set freeing up a player (this time Andrei Kirilenko) on the wing. The result is a forward on the wing and a guard on the block. The guard on the block goes across the lane and sets a screen for Al Jefferson, who uses it coming to the ball-side block. In this case, it leads to a wide-open dunk.
What makes this play work is that it organically leads to a nice two-man game between Jefferson and another Jazz player. Here, Jefferson is unable to do anything with his original post position. With the ball-side cleared out except for one other teammate, Jefferson is able to kick the ball out and easily repost. He gets stronger position and is able to hit the turnaround jumper.
This clip shows what happens if Jefferson is initially denied. If that is the case, the Jazz simply gives him another screen as teammates swing the basketball to the opposite side of the court.
The final play that I chose was a quick-hitting lob play that Utah uses when defenses start to load up and overplay against the Jazz's tendency to initiate the offense through a player at the elbow:
As the ball gets brought up the court, Jeremy Evans acts as if he is going to step up and receive the pass at the elbow. However, at the last second, Evans spins and cuts backdoor, looking for the lob. He gets it and finishes at the rim.
This isn't a one-time thing either. Sloan and the Jazz have gotten a number of teams with this very simple play:
A play like this works because Sloan is able to look at his offense, understand his own tendencies, and counter how teams try to stop his stuff.
For 23 years, Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz always had one of the best half-court offenses in the entire NBA. His coaching and his offense is one of the things that first drew me to the Xs and Os of the game. That is why, for me personally, it is sad to see him go.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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