When the Utah Jazz decided to let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk in free agency this summer, the majority of us Jazz fans assumed that our defense would improve. I mean, how could it not? Our interior defense was manned by undersized Paul Millsap and the slow-footed Al Jefferson, neither of whom are rim protectors. Al Jefferson was especially bad defending the pick and roll, and team after team torched us running it. With those two gone, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will now man the paint full time, and will hopefully be an improvement defensively. Dennis Lindsey has mentioned over and over again that the team’s focus this year will be defense. If we ever want to become title contenders, having a top 10 defense is an absolute must. So how goes our quest to becoming a top 10 defense?
Let’s be honest with ourselves here: while our young guys have shown flashes of defensive potential this year, their effort and execution has been below average, and that’s being kind. Last year the Favors and Kanter duo held opponents to 98.3 points per 100 possessions, which would have been good for the third best defense in the league. But how is the duo doing so far this year? 117.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, good for the second worst two-man lineup in the NBA thus far. Now, before we get too upset, let me note that this is a VERY small sample size of 163 minutes. It’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to get better as the year goes on, especially when considering the monster potential that Derrick Favors has. But given how BAD the defense has been, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future. So I decided to investigate for myself what some of our problems are, starting with Kanter’s individual defense.
According to Synergy, Enes is allowing 1.03 PPP (points per possession) on 36 post-ups. The last I checked, league average PPP was .91, and .78 on post-ups. Needless to say, giving up 1.03 PPP on a generally low efficiency shot is not cutting it. So what exactly is he doing wrong? Watching all the plays where he was scored on in the post (via synergy), there were two reoccurring themes: Kanter was either backed down deep into the post and allowed great position to the opposing player, or he gave too much cushion on the mid range shot. Let’s look at what happened when he went up against Brooke Lopez first.
On this play, you can see Kanter does a decent job pushing Lopez a few feet outside the paint. This is what he should be doing on every defensive post-up.
After Lopez caught the ball though, he just backed Kanter down all the way to the rim, where Kanter was pretty helpless as a non-shot blocker. For Kanter to succeed, he’s going to need to use his big frame to keep opponents out of the paint. It was rare last year to see anybody back Kanter down in the post, and it makes you wonder if he is still weak and recovering from his shoulder injury. Lopez is quite a bit bigger than Kanter, but even opponents like Jared Sullinger, Miles Plumlee, and Steven Adams had little trouble getting where they wanted. Here is Steven Adams doing the same thing here.
In this game against the Thunder, Kanter should have known that Ibaka is a great mid range shooter and should have closed the distance between them. Ibaka calmly knocked down the J when Kanter decided to give him space.
It happened here against Brandon Bass and again against Joakim Noah.
With Noah, Kanter was sagging too far off of him when he caught the pass.
These are easily correctible mistakes, and our coaching staff should be pointing this out to him in game tape. Because Kanter is a young player, some mental lapses are to be expected. Unfortunately, they’ve happened way too frequently early on in the season. In the coming weeks, let’s hope Kanter improves as his strength builds and gets back up to game speed. Fixing Kanter’s post-up defense would certainly be easier than learning the nuances of the pick and roll, and is one of the little things the Jazz can do to get their defense back on track.