Box scores don’t lie. Oh, they sometimes bury the truth. But they don’t lie.
Typically the reason for victory or defeat jumps from the page like a Jack-in-the-Box. Big points. Overall team effort. Shooting percentage. Rebound differential. Turnovers.
Great players know that. They can look at a box score and quickly see what may not be obvious to the novice. Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams could have glanced at the points aligned with his name – 31 – and wondered why the Jazz lost 116-96 to Golden State, a likely lottery-bound team, on Sunday night.
But box scores don’t lie. “The thing I look at first is turnovers,” he said after the game. And what he saw was the number “6.” It was the fourth game in five when Williams, one of the game’s bright young lights, committed at least five TOs.
The Jazz won three of those games, but on Sunday Williams said: “The last four games have been pretty disgusting to me.”
As has much of the season for the Jazz, a team which reached the Western Conference semifinals last season. It’s way too early to start printing playoff tickets, but it seems certain that a good team will not qualify for the postseason out West. And the Jazz have reason to wonder if it will be them.
Utah stands a respectable 29-23, just behind the maybe-soon-to-be-imploded Phoenix Suns for the final playoff slot. Utah’s record is actually more than respectable given the lack of healthy bodies at head coach Jerry Sloan’s disposal. The Jazz had only 11 healthy players on Sunday and that included neither Carlos Boozer nor Andrei Kirilenko. Boozer, the All-Star power forward, has had knee surgery and missed 40 games. More recently, Kirilenko, the wiry “small” forward, underwent ankle surgery. He’s missed 10 games and counting.
In other words, the Jazz’ prospects are much like those generally laid out for our pitiful economy: It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.
Williams is averaging a career-high 3.58 turnovers. He’s also shooting .465 from the field, solidly below the .507 that made him so dominant last season.
But he’s not totally to blame for the Jazz’ offbeat season. He playing with a new band, a young ensemble that often jams with the best of them, but struggles to find a consistent rhythm.
Paul Millsap is a much-improved third-year forward who has started 33 games, 30 more than in his two prior seasons.
C.J. Miles, a wiry guard in his fourth season, has started all 47 of the games he’s played. During his first three seasons he started 26.
Right now, Williams is dangling in that treacherous space between leading by doing and leading by trusting. In Boozer and Kirilenko, he trusted. In Milsap and Miles, not quite yet – at least not every night. “I’ve got to do a better job of being aggressive,” he told the Deseret News. “But at the same time, I get myself in some bad positions when I get in the air and have nowhere to go.”
Right now, the Jazz clearly have somewhere to go. But they’d better start getting there soon. And that’s the truth.