Wasn’t This Supposed to Be the Utah Jazz Year?

The Utah Jazz were the glamuor pick in the pre-season guessing game of the team with a lock to make the playoffs. After all, last season they finished strong, winning 20 out of their last 30 games, a 66% win percentage. It was considered a predictor of a future that the Jazz, under first year coach Quinn Snyder, had indeed turned the corner. They were built as a defensive team and it showed. They finished first in points allowed. Now all they had to do for the upcoming season was add a better offensive strategy and they were set for the Western Conference playoffs.

But after 33 games played which is roughly 40% of the season, the Jazz have a losing record at 15-18. It puts them in the 8th slot of the Western Conference playoff race but being worse than mediocre is hardly the improvement that was expected. This time last year, the Jazz were 12-21. Their three game improvement is a small sample of the roster getting better but not the strong showing that was expected, especially for a down year in the Conference.

The Jazz are treading water in the 8th slot, unlikely to change their position because of their offensive sorrows. That hasn’t improved. Yes, there is a cushion separating the teams that are behind the Jazz from the Jazz’s prized playoff slot but what if one of those teams goes on a run like the Jazz did last year. Where is Utah then?

Utah finished with 38 wins last year. If they continue winning 45% of their games this year as is the pattern, they will finish with 37 wins. What has changed?

Their defense has gotten worse. They are no longer the best defensive team in the league; San Antonio is. Their skill is defending two point shots. The league shoots 48% of their two-point shots against the Jazz, thanks to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert in the paint. Where the Jazz have remained horribly the same is their three-point defense. At 36%, it is at the bottom of the league, ranked 25th. Yet and still, a 4th rated defense, regardless of the efficiency, should translate into wins given the fact that the Jazz don’t give up a lot of points.

A Tale of Two Seasons (Defense) Points Allowed FG% Defense 3-Point% Defense Defensive Rating
2015-16 Utah Jazz 96.8 (4th) 44.9% (16th) 36.9% (25th) 105.3 (17th)
2014-15 Utah Jazz 94.9 (1st) 44.6% (14th) 36.2% (25th) 104.9 (14th)

But the Jazz cannot score.

Their offense is still cover your eyes awful. The only teams worse at scoring points are the Lakers, Grizzlies and 76ers. The Jazz are a mediocre  rebounding team, both on offense and defense. They are the worst team in the league in assists. They don’t move the ball to make open shots. They were a bad assist team last year so at least they are consistent.  They don’t have shotmakers. They miss 57% of their shots. They are a good three point shooting team, 8th in the league. But without ball movement, you are a hamster on the wheel, running around in circles, exhausted and weary.

A Tale of Two Seasons (Offense) Points Scored Assists FG% 3-Point % Offensive Ratings
2015-16 Utah Jazz 96.7 (27th) 17.7 (30th) 43.5% (23rd) 36.0% (8th) 105.1 (13th)
2014-15 Utah Jazz 95.1 (26th) 19.9 (29th) 44.7%  (19th) 34.3% (19th) 105.1 (17th)

What is missing? A point guard.

Raul Neto averages 2.1 assists per game, the worst among all Western Conference starting point guards. He assists on only 19% of the Jazz made baskets.  Neto is a backup the Jazz are trying to make a starter but this glaring deficiency is why the Jazz are last in assists. He is not a playmaker. The Jazz need to package up a couple of players and a draft pick and send it to Houston for Ty Lawson, a proven point guard who has a track record of making plays for others and being in the playoffs.

Point Guard Drama Assists Assist % Turnovers PER
Raul Neto, Utah Jazz 2.1 19.5% 1,3 9.7
Patrick Beverly, Houston Rockets 2.4 15.6% 1.3 11.3
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers 2.6 15.3% 1.5 16.4

Shouldn’t the Jazz rebound better? 19 NBA teams have better rebounding numbers. The Jazz small forward, Gordon Hayward, the most athletic and versatile player on the roster, averges 5 rebounds a game. That’s grabbing one rebound per quarter and then an extra as a bonus. It points to Hayward’s lack of toughness in the paint. The Jazz depend on Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors to handle all of the offensive rebounding responsibilities. Only Jeff Withey and Trevor Booker average more than one offensive rebound for the Jazz. Offensive rebounding translates into more possessions and more opportunities to score.

The Jazz biggest issue or glaring weakness is perimeter scoring in a league in which perimeter scoring is of high value. The Jazz have tried to be an outlier and go big when the rest of the league has gone talented and small.  None of the Jazz wings shoot well. Gordon Hayward, the Jazz best and highest paid player, shoots 42%. Rodney Hood shoots 41%. Alec Burke, before the injury, shot 40%. Trey Burke shots 42%. Trey Lyles shoots 39%. The NBA is a make or miss league. Defense is a good starting point but you have to score. The Jazz don’t get easy baskets. They don’t have drivers or athletes that can create offense on their own.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. This year is last year.

The Jazzz need a shake-up at the trade deadline. Getting into the first round of the playoffs only to be swept by a high octane Warriors team is not progress. There has to be a road map on how to be a contender. There has to be a star the Jazz can depend on to deliver wins. Or, if not a star, then a team first concept where the ball moves for the open shot. Otherwise this is what you have.

15-18.

 

photo via llananba