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Utah Jazz basketball: Improved long-range shooting aiding Jazz offense

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 7:56 a.m. MDT

Utah's Randy foye as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball  Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.    (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Randy foye as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It's evident simply watching the Utah Jazz, this 2012-13 version isn't playing the same type of basketball music that previous squads cranked out for decades under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan.

Not by a long shot.

And, yes, that was a reference to beyond-the-arc long shots from 22 feet or so out.

Formerly a pick-and-roll playground, Utah is now doing more in 3-point land.

The Jazz are both taking and making more deep shots. Keeping the limited 12-game sample size in mind, Utah shooters are averaging 18.1 3-point attempts per outing this season compared to just 12.8 trey tries a game last year.

The thing Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin likes the most?

Utah, he pointed out, is also "making a little bit more."

 Utah Jazz power forward Marvin Williams (2) shoots by Phoenix Suns shooting guard P.J. Tucker (17)  during NBA action in Salt Lake City  Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. The  Jazz won 94-81.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Jazz power forward Marvin Williams (2) shoots by Phoenix Suns shooting guard P.J. Tucker (17) during NBA action in Salt Lake City Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. The Jazz won 94-81. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The 2011-12 Jazz averaged 4.1 made 3s last year on 32.3 percent shooting, but they've hit 6.3 bombs a game this fall on a slightly improved 35.0 percent rate. That's an additional 6.6 points a game from 3-point territory.

"We've got 3-point shooters on the team. I think that our big focus as an organization was to get some 3-point shooters to help our inside game out. It looks like we've figured that out," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "We got some good pieces ... stepping up to shoot and shooting pretty well."

Improving outside shooting was an offseason emphasis for the Jazz, which was made clear with the additions of three veteran shooters in Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye.

Foye and Millsap have made the biggest overall impact from outside.

Utah's Randy Foye has proven to be an effective weapon from distance in the early going for the Jazz this season.   (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Randy Foye has proven to be an effective weapon from distance in the early going for the Jazz this season. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Millsap is only shooting 46.9 percent from the field, but he's turned himself into a legitimate long-range threat and has hit 55.6 percent from Hot Rod Hundley's parking-lot territory. He's currently fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage.

Foye leads the Jazz in 3-point attempts per outing (5.1) and is hitting a sizzling 44.3 percent from the bonus-range perimeter. He's the third-most accurate 3-point shooter in the league amongst players who average at least 5.0 long-ball attempts a game.

In fact, the 6-foot-4 Foye has become such a steady performer with his new team that Corbin trusted him enough to insert the seventh-season player into the starting lineup this past weekend.

"I'm not perfect. Some games, I struggle. Some games, I hit a few threes," Foye said. "But the main thing for me is my preparation."

Foye, a career 36.9 percent 3-point shooter, said he spends time every day before and after practice and again on game days working to fine tune and hone his outside touch.

Randy Foye of the Utah Jazz celebrates a big play against the Los Angeles Lakers during their match up at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Randy Foye of the Utah Jazz celebrates a big play against the Los Angeles Lakers during their match up at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

For him, the continual effort helps increase his ever-important belief that the shot will fall in games when he gets the opportunities to fire away.

"Just having the confidence in myself, understanding that I take those shots over a million times," he said. "I'm saying to myself when I'm shooting it in the game, 'There's no reason it shouldn't go in now.'"

Millsap has also worked hard to develop more consistency and confidence to be able to stretch his game, adding another weapon to the ever-diversified arsenal of the versatile forward.

That's helped him convince Corbin to allow him to roam out into 3-point range without raising eyebrows.

"I put in a lot of work over the years. My main focus was being confident and just getting out there shooting it," said Millsap, who's shot 30.4 percent from 3-point land throughout his seven-year career. "I think if I'm confident shooting it, I don't think (Corbin) will have a problem with it.

Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams (5) shoots over Dallas Mavericks point guard Rodrigue Beaubois (3) as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Okespañol) Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams (5) shoots over Dallas Mavericks point guard Rodrigue Beaubois (3) as the Utah Jazz play the Dallas Mavericks in NBA basketball Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Okespañol)

"It's one more dimension I added to my game. That means I can step out and shoot it a little bit more and they have to respect that," Millsap added. "I'm able to go out to the basket or drive and create for somebody else. It helps out a lot."

The increased acceptance to 3-point shooting does come with some downsides, one of which was evident when Mo Williams heaved up a rushed trey on fast breaks late in losses during last week's 2-2 East Coast road swing. Williams isn't having his best season from outside, either, shooting 32.6 percent on 4.2 attempts a game.

But Utah is in a risk-comes-with-rewards mode, so some ill-advised shots come with the territory.

Though Corbin isn't giving Jazz players the green light to go bonkers from beyond the arc, the Jazz have made a concerted effort to open up their game. Utah knows 3-pointers can swing momentum, but more importantly for this group, it can clear space inside for the team's bevy of bigs.

In that sense, the Jazz remain much more like their old selves than a team that looks like it's having a 3-point-shooting contest on a nightly basis.

The focus remains on going to Al Jefferson, Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The paint still rules over the perimeter.

"The philosophy's still the same: inside-outside," Foye said. "The big guys are making it easy for me and I'm trying to help them out a little bit. But the philosophy's still the same — pound the ball in until they stop us."

Utah didn't have that luxury last year when poor outside shooting allowed opposing defenses to camp out in the paint — something that became painfully obvious in the four-game playoff sweep against the San Antonio Spurs.

"It helps us out. It opens up a lot, especially down low for the big guys," Millsap said. "I think our main problem last year in the playoffs, they (were) packing the lane on us and we couldn't really get anything at the basket. To have some outside shooters, it opens things up a little bit for us."

So while the Jazz are only 15th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, they're at least making strides to extend their offensive options.

That's the biggest reason why Corbin has placed an emphasis on stretching defenses.

"One thing that we know is going to happen — at some point they're going to try and get Al in the post. We're going to get him in the post and they're going to try to get the ball out of his hands in the post," Corbin said. "At some point in time they're going to have two guys on the ball in the post, which means if we space the floor somebody on that weak side should get a wide-open 3-point shot, a wide-open shot, and we want to make them pay for it."

While it helps to have more shooters on the team, it also requires the Jazz bigs to recognize their predicament and pass the ball back out. In turn, defenses will have to counter by doubling less and paying more attention to the Jazz shooters.

"If," Corbin said, "we space the floor, move the ball, take advantage of those open shots as a result it will give him more opportunities on the post one-on-one."

Though the Jazz aren't a traditional 3-point shooting team — as witnessed by Utah hucking up more long balls than they have in the past decade — Foye was excited to join the team this past offseason knowing that he might get more chances from outside.

"You're playing with guys that can score — Al, Paul, Big Turkey and D-Favs, that's why I came here," Foye said. "You know you're going to get open shots if they're going to double. That's the best — swing-swing (passes) and you're just standing there and your eyes just light up when you see no one's there and you get a chance to line them up."

"Those are good shots for us," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward added. "We've got to be able to step up and knock those down if we want to free the big guys inside. That's something we need to be able to do is step up and hit 3-pointers."

To that point, Big Al even joined the perimeter party with that oh-so-timely overtime-forcing 3-pointer in the eventual three-OT win in Toronto.

"We're going to hold back on him a little bit. We like him in the post," Corbin said, laughing when asked if Jefferson was going to get more 3-point opportunities. "He did make a big one for us, though."

Jefferson loves to occasionally take treys, but he enjoys having teammates who can make them even more.

"Most definitely," he said. "It do make my life easier."

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