Matt Gade, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Utah Jazz are struggling offensively this preseason.
For one thing, Gordon Hayward is the only player on a 19-deep team in the beginning stages of a massive rebuild who averaged double-figure scoring in the NBA last season.
While the fourth-year pro returns with his diverse offensive arsenal, the Jazz lost four of their top five scorers when Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams took their combined 56.1 points per game to various different locales this past summer.
That drastic shift of scoring responsibility, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin admitted, “changes the dynamics of the team.”
And that’s not the only problem.
Throw in the fact that starting point guard Trey Burke is out after having finger surgery.
Don’t forget that likely rotation players Marvin Williams (Achilles) and Brandon Rush (knee) remain sidelined indefinitely.
And keep in mind how Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans have never been counted on for consistent scoring in their pro careers before now.
This all adds up to the Jazz having plenty of built-in excuses to justify an offense that has been less than prolific or potent so far this offseason.
“That’s what exhibition is all about. That’s what a team is all about,” Corbin said the day after the Jazz scored only 82 points in a loss at Oklahoma City.
“When we may not have it individually going, we have to count on our system and the group of guys being in the right place, seeing the right screens, coming off hard, making the right passes and doing it together more than one or two guys.”
Going into tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah has averaged just 87.0 points in five preseason contests.
“That’s the tough thing and the fun thing about figuring out with the group of guys that we have,” Corbin said. “When we’re struggling, where do we get that basket that breaks the ice for us and gets us going? Right now, we’re trying to figure it out.”
If the rest of the team only shot as well as Andris Biedrins, the Jazz would be 5-0. The new big-man addition has made 75 percent of his shots so far.
And the team?
Try a lowly 39.6 percent from the field.
“We have a lot of guys who are kind of being put in positions that they haven’t been in yet, asked to do things that they didn’t necessarily have to do last year,” Hayward said. “I think that’s our only issue right now. I think we’re going to find ways to score and we’ll be fine scoring. We’re just learning how we’re going to score right now.”
As many expected, Hayward, who’s negotiating a long-term contract extension with the Jazz, is leading the team in scoring. Problem is, the 6-foot-8 small forward is scoring 15.0 points per game on just 36.9 percent shooting. Last season, Hayward averaged 14.1 ppg while hitting 43.5 percent from the field.
Hayward, who’s being asked to help facilitate while creating his own shots, has hit 45.5 percent from 3-point range.
“I don’t think we’re worried about it too much,” Hayward said. “I think that’s what the preseason is for — to iron all of these things out and kind of find your role a little bit. I think we’re trying to do that. I think that will come.”
Veteran Richard Jefferson, averaging 7.0 ppg on 50 percent shooting, isn’t worried in the slightest about his new team’s wayward aim in the exhibition.
“I don’t really see that we have an issue offensively. The preseason is the preseason,” the 13-year pro said. “Right now we’ve had a change at point guard (with John Lucas III starting), and before that we were going with a rookie point guard, which is going to take some time. We have a lot of new guys with new roles and new players (brought) in.”
Jefferson also pointed out that Jazz opponents Golden State, Portland, the Clippers and Oklahoma City have most of their key players back from last year.
“We’ve got a whole group of new guys trying to figure it out, learning it as you go,” Jefferson said. “We see improvement. There are things that we see and coaches see, but right now they’re not always translating into the (games).”
One thing he believes will help is getting into the regular season and having regular roles and rotations. That chemistry is so important to an offense, especially one that lacks explosive firepower, stars and experience like the Jazz.
Corbin considers it more of a confidence and comfort issue. That is evident from the Jazz’s poor free-throw shooting in the preseason — a meager 65.4 percent from the foul line.
“We’ve got to get better,” Corbin said of the offense overall. “But we’re getting good shots. We’re just not making them right now.”
Kanter, with 12.6 points per game, is the only player to average in double figures with Hayward. Favors has really struggled, shooting just 32.5 percent and averaging only 6.6 points.
Corbin, also aware that the irregular lineups have not helped out the offensive flow, keeps reminding his team that offense begins on the defensive end. Stops lead to transition and early-offense opportunities. The cycle continues on the offensive end as higher shooting percentages often help the team get back on defense to set up on that end.
Of course, there comes a point when players simply need to do what they’re paid to do on the offensive end — make buckets.
“We need to make shots. We’ve got to score,” Corbin said. “When you score and you defend, the defense can pick up from there because you get a momentum going. When you’re getting stops and you don’t score and get another stop and don’t score, then you tend to struggle on both ends.”
Jazz opponents are only averaging 93.4 points on 42.9 percent shooting, so the team is holding its own on that end of the court despite the four-game losing streak.
“The thing that we can grow at right now is the defensive end more than offensive,” Corbin added. “We’ll let our offense catch up to our defense.”
One thing that isn't a problem, according to Jefferson?
"There’s no lack of confidence."
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