When the Utah Jazz send out their starting lineup, they look a little bit like dinosaurs trotting out there.
A 7-footer at center standing alongside a true post man at power forward and then another guy who might be a stretch-4 next to him? What is this the 1980s?
Enes Kanter (or Derrick Favors), Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, when they are on the court together represent a type of old school basketball that is dying away in the new age of the NBA. It is a group that is all grit and muscle and little finesse if any.
The Jazz do not use any of those three-man combinations often -- according to NBA.com's stat database, the trio of Jefferson, millsap and Favors have played a total of 17 minutes together this year -- but the potential for doing so has created an attitude about this Jazz team that screams 1980s rather than 2000s.
"We are an inside-outside team first," Jazz coach Tyron Corbin said. "That’s just who we are. That’s how we execute. We want to try and attack the basket and try to take shots close to the basket before we take perimeter shots.
"You’re right, in some ways the league has gone in a little bit of the direction of small with space the floor with four guys and put a 3 to play the 4 spot. We try to force our will on guys to stop us at the basket and make them adjust to us as much as we adjust to them."
The Jazz have had to adjust. They never do trot out a super big lineup with Kanter or Favors at center, Jefferson at power forward, Millsap at small forward and even Marvin Williams at shooting guard. That probably does not make a whole lot of strategic sense with so many teams using faster players who can spread the floor at the power forward position.
Utah's goals of imposing its physical will with its size has found some success. The Jazz, of course, made the Playoffs last year and are in line to make another Playoff appearance this year, sitting in the seventh seed in the West but only a half game ahead of the Blazers for ninth.
That attitude and approach to the game has frustrated opponents too.
The Pistons and Mavericks, according to Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune, both went out of their way to say they had to take the game to the Jazz and be the aggressors. Rick Carlisle even went so far as to say the Jazz were "thuggin' it up."
Paul Millsap took all of that as a compliment, perhaps further showing the team's old-school attitude:
I would see it as a compliment. We are a physical team, this is a physical culture. It’s been like that for years, from the ground up. We’re a hard working team. And I guess if somebody say that it’s got to be a compliment to us.
Indeed the Jazz have always been about those gritty things that are from a previous era and thinking of basketball. And that is probably why Utah has been so successful in stringing together so many Playoff appearances in a row. The Jazz are never accused of tanking and never accused of playing without maximum effort.
Though the Jazz have not been able to get over the top in this new NBA. Utah has become the last bastion of the two-post offense. A team comfortable in the half court, throwing the ball inside and letting the bull in the pivot go to work.
That might be changing. While the Jerry Sloan ideals and principles of toughness may not change, the rumors that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are possibly on the trade block as Utah tries to take that next step.
Releasing one of those players could really end the traditional two post, high-low offense in the NBA in favor of the spread-the-floor offenses that have taken over the NBA.
"We got a kind of unique group of guys with an old school game and a back to the basket game," Jefferson said. "We take a lot of pride in that."
Of course, having the size is not everything. It still comes down to execution and playing well together and Utah has been inconsistent. This is a team still learning and still hanging around .500 at the bottom of the Playoff standings.
Size is not everything, in other words.
"I think we do have our advantage at times with our big size and dominating the paint like that," Jefferson said. "We’ve got to let it happen through the offense. You just can’t go ‘Oh, we have a mismatch, let’s just go to him every time.’ The great thing about our offense is it’s made for big guys who can dominate the paint and shoot the jumper. I think we just have to let it flow through the offense and it will work out to our advantage."
Jefferson is one of the last true post men. His footwork might be the best in the league and he is a constant threat to score any time he catches it with his back to the basket. His ability to step out and hit that jumper also has made him a star player in the league -- even though he has not quite yet experienced the fruits of his Playoff labors.
The post game is not dying out though as Jefferson noted. He said guards are learning to play in the post and so the art that he has perhaps perfected as well as any player in the NBA is still alive, just in a different form.
"It’s dying out, but at the end of the day you still got a group of guys that play that back to the basket game," Jefferson said. "Now you even have guards like Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant doing more of it this year posting up. As a big man, you still got to."
Utah is the last place for the true big man. It may be the last place for that traditional 1980s and 1990s lineup of the two big men. That does not mean the end of post play. It just means the NBA is evolving. It just may be leaving teams like Utah behind.
Enjoy the dinosaurs before they become extinct.
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