The Denver Nuggets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night, making a San Antonio Spurs-Utah Jazz first round match up official. Once it looked like the the San Antonio and Utah would meet up, people started talking about Utah’s size and how it could give San Antonio trouble just like Memphis did last season. Could it be that the Spurs got the worst possible match up for the second year in a row that ultimately mean their demise? The short answer is no, but let’s analyze why.
In case you didn’t know, the Jazz have some really good front court players in Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and the emerging Derrick Favors. Before we go forward let me just say I LOVE Derrick Favors’ game. I would consider trading anyone on the Spurs’ roster not named Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to get that guy. He’s on his way to becoming the best defensive big man in the league. Still, he’s not close to being that guy yet. And as much as I really enjoy watching Millsap and Big Al, they’re not Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Both are undersized for their position and neither are above average defenders. When Favors comes in, it becomes easy to key in on either Millsap or Jefferson. Also, Jefferson has such an indifference to passing out of the post, that it’s easy to key in on him and not worry about Favors killing you diving to the basket if Big Al gets double teamed. The Jazz front line presents problems for San Antonio, but nothing coach Gregg Popovich and crew can’t game plan for.
The other major difference between this season and last season’s first round match ups is this Spurs team is much better equipped to face big front lines than last year’s squad.
First off, they’re deeper than last year’s team. There’s five bigs who get regular minutes on any given night for this year’s roster as opposed to four guys last year.
Second, Paul Millsap being 6’8″ and Al Jefferson being 6’10″ means a guy like DeJuan Blair won’t be at the extreme disadvantage he was last year. Also, the Spurs have the advantage on offense if you’ve got say Favors and Jefferson on the court at the same time matched up with Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan. If Favors is guarding Bonner, that means he’s far, far away from the basket, opening the lane for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc. If Favors is guarding Duncan, that means Jefferson who isn’t the swiftest guy has to guard Bonner, which means the “Red Rocket” will likely get a ton of open looks.
But Utah’s Millsap thinks otherwise.
“On the offensive end, it creates mismatches for everyone. On the defensive end, you’ve got me out there roaming, trying to get my hand on the basketball, and we’ve got two shot-blockers down the middle. So we’ve got the best of both worlds on the defensive end.”
One last note. Lately the Jazz have been going to this super-sized trio playing Millsap at small forward alongside Favors and Jefferson down low. This might provide a problem for the Spurs in spurts, but ultimately the Spurs can go small (or put Bonner in), spread the ball around and make Favors and Millsap chase them around. When the Spurs are on defense, they can likely sag off at least one of the Jazz perimeter players to double down on Millsap or Jefferson.
Obviously it’d be easier for the Spurs to be playing a small team like the Phoenix Suns in the first round, but the 2011-2012 Utah Jazz aren’t the 2010-2011 Memphis Grizzlies. Their frontline isn’t the monster Memphis’ was last season and their guards and small forwards aren’t as good or as experienced. More importantly the 2011-2012 San Antonio Spurs aren’t the 2010-2011 San Antonio Spurs. There’s depth here and the “Three Amigos” are healthy, so yes, I like their chances in the first round.