Lost in spotlight of Jerry Sloan's resignation was the fact that the Jazz aren't playing particularly well. In fact, the Jazz have sported a point differential typical of a .500ish team for awhile, indicating that they weren't as good as their record. They still have a record of 9-4 in close games (five points or less) because of all those comeback wins they had in November, which inflates their record as well. This has masked their weaknesses, perhaps the biggest being their inability to grab a defensive rebound, long a team strength. Utah has a defensive rebound rate of 73.6 percent, which ranks in the lower third in the NBA. When watching the tape, there are two reasons why the Jazz struggle grabbing defensive rebounds. One is a problem with an individual; the other is a team-wide problem.
When looking for the individual most responsible for Utah's poor defensive rebound rate, you can't look past Al Jefferson. While Jefferson has an average defensive rebound rate this season (A DRR of 21.9 percent, slightly above league average for centers getting more 20 minutes per game), it should really be much higher. Checking out the game tape you notice that Jefferson is just plain lazy when it comes to boxing out, leading to plenty of offensive rebound opportunities for opponents:
The biggest problem that Jefferson seems to have on the defensive glass is that he never seems to locate his opponent as the shot goes up. Here, he stands and watches the basketball instead of getting in front of his man, this allows his man to sneak in there and get the offensive rebound.
Jefferson thinks that he can just use his height and athletic ability to grab rebounds and that simply is not the case. When you are not boxing out, it makes you susceptible to giving up rebounds on misses that take a weird bounce or don't wind up where you expect it. In the play above, Jefferson stands and watches as Robin Lopez sneaks around him, catching the air-ball. If Jefferson was boxing out Lopez, he would have had the basketball land right in his lap.
This play is similar to the one above in that Jefferson refuses to box out, allowing his man to loop around him and take Jefferson's inside position. That inside position is key when it comes to securing a rebound, and too many times, Jefferson gives it up way too easy.
Here is another example. This time, Jefferson doesn't even jump for the rebound. Instead, he stands there waiting for the basketball to land in his hands, allowing Lopez to dunk the ball on him after grabbing the offensive rebound.
The play above might be the worst of the bunch. As the shot goes up, Jefferson has bad body position with his back facing the backboard. To make matters worse, he lets Elton Brand basically bully him out of the way and get in position to grab the rebound. During this play, Brand actually shows how to properly box someone out. The problem for the Jazz is he is on the opposing team, outworking Jefferson for the offensive rebound.
In addition to getting outworked on the glass because he refuses to box out, Jefferson also takes way too many chances when trying to block shots from help position. One the block attempts that he misses, he takes himself out of the play, giving the offense the advantage in the rebounding battle:
Here, Derrick Rose attacks the basket and Al Jefferson brings the help. Despite having no real chance to block the shot, Jefferson leaves his feet. Although Rose is the one who grabs the rebound, Omir Asik (Jefferson's man) is actually in position to grab the offensive rebound as well.
Once again, Jefferson tries to block a Rose lay-up attempt. He once again leaves his feet, and this time Asik actually secures the offensive rebound. With the player Jefferson replaced in Utah, Carlos Boozer, grabbing over five percent more of opponent's misses, it's not surprising that the switch has contributed to a rebounding drop-off.
Now, Jefferson is just part of the problem when it comes to securing the defensive rebound. There is also a team issue at play here, and that issue is defending the pick-and-roll. The Jazz are terrible pick-and-roll defenders (they give up .88 points per possession to PNR ball handlers, good for just 28th in the NBA), and that poor pick-and-roll defense often leads to offensive rebounding opportunities for the opposing team.
Here, J.R. Smith brings the basketball up and comes off of a ball screen set by Al Harrington. As Smith comes off of the screen, Paul Millsap is forced to show hard in an attempt to keep Smith out of the lane.
Millsap's show does a good job of keeping Smith out of the lane, and Smith is now forced to take a contested jumper.
However, as the shot goes up, you see the problem with the hard show. Harrington now has the inside position, and as I already mentioned, this inside position is key to securing a rebound.
Harrington is able to use that position to grab the offensive rebound, slamming the ball off of Millsap's leg before it goes out of bounds. Here is the play in real time:
Utah's poor pick-and-roll defense has led to a lot of problems, including point guards getting into the lane. The Jazz have taken steps to prevent that but at the expense of something else--position for the offensive rebound.
If the Jazz don't show, they still find themselves susceptible to offensive rebounds as the opposing point guards get into the paint:
Here, Dorell Wright gets a screen and attacks the lane. This forces Jefferson to step up and provide help. As the shot goes up, Jefferson's man is now in position to grab the basketball as it comes off of the rim.
If the Utah Jazz want to get back to their winning ways and they need to grab more defensive rebounds. If they want to grab more defensive rebounds, two things need to happen. First, Jefferson needs to get much tougher under the rim and actually show that he wants to box out. You can't have your center standing and watching as the basketball goes up in the air, giving up position to his man. If Jefferson doesn't start boxing out, there is no way that the Jazz will improve on the defensive glass. Second, the pick-and-roll defense needs to get better. The pick-and-roll really breaks down the Jazz's defense, and when that happens they leave themselves exposed on the back end, giving up rebounding opportunities.