Boosting the Jazz Offense: Key to a 2015-16 Playoff Run

March 16th, 2015 | by Matt Pacenza

This Utah Jazz’ recent, red-hot run has shined national attention on the Jazz defense, largely responsible for the team’s 10-2 record since Feb. 20.

Partly due to increased minutes for one freakishly athletic Frenchman, Rudy Gobert, and partly due to a steadily improving team defense, the Jazz have enjoyed a season-long shift from one of the NBA’s worst defenses to one of its best.

Month Def Eff Rank
October 121.6 30
November 107.2 26
December 107.1 25
January 102.1 14
February 97.0 2
March 93.6 3

This clear and compelling trend is at the heart of the Jazz’ late-season success. The Utah Jazz in February and March have been a defensive wonder, suddenly battling the likes of Indiana, Golden State and Memphis to be the league’s best.

But, of course, there’s a whole other part of the game: Offense! In this post, I’ll look at whether the Jazz scoring in 2014-15 has kept pace with its defense. And I’ll dive into some specific numbers to get a feel for which areas the team can improve in as it builds towards 2015-16 — and the playoff run we all hope is coming.

Let’s look at the raw numbers for this year’s Jazz offense:

Month Off Eff Rank
October 107.5 10
November 103 17
December 104.3 13
January 101 17
February 101.3 16
March 102.7 14

Those numbers tell a different story: not one of improvement, but one of consistency. Leave out October (only a two-game sample size) and the team has been, well, average. A less kind term would be mediocre, but either way, offense is clearly the area where the Jazz need to improve heading into next year.

So let’s get more specific. How can they improve? Where are they already doing well? How do they rank poorly?

First, the good news:

  • The Jazz are an excellent offensive rebounding team. This is no surprise. All four of the Jazz big men who have played significant minutes this year (Favors, Kanter, Gobert and Booker)  are superior rebounders. Each grabs more than 10 percent of all available offensive rebounds. That adds up to the Jazz having the single highest offensive rebounding percentage in the league, grabbing 29 percent of all available rebounds on the offensive glass. And the team does a pretty good job of taking advantage of those chances, scoring the third-most “second chance” points of any team.
  • AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    In related news, the Jazz are a pretty productive team in the paint overall. They score a high percentage of their points in the paint — fifth highest in the league. They shoot a high percentage from within five feet of the basket — sixth best in the league. No surprise.

One final bit of good news: As I suspect everyone reading Salt City Hoops knows, the mid-range jumper is the least efficient shot in basketball. And the Jazz take the seventh fewest in the NBA.

Now, the OK news:

  • It’s no surprise that an average offensive team is average at lots of things. Let’s give a quick rundown of a few such indicators. The team ranks 17th in both three pointers attempted and three point percentage. They rank 15th in free throw attempts, but since they play such a slow pace (slowest in the league), their free throw attempt rate (per possession) is actually a pretty decent 10th best.
  • The Jazz are 17th in fast break points. That stat actually surprised me that it wasn’t worse, since it’s amazing how awkward the team often looks when executing a 2 on 1.

Now, the not-so-good news:

  • The Jazz shoot just 73 percent from the free throw line, which puts them 25th in the NBA. And their third best FT shooter, Enes Kanter, has left town. The Jazz remaining three big men — Booker (59.6 percent), Gobert (62.9 percent) and Favors (66.5 percent) — all need to get better from the line. One odd note: Trey Burke shot 90 percent last year from the free throw line (which some fool in the preseason made a big deal of) but is down to just 76.5 percent this year.
  • Relatively few of the Jazz buckets (56.6 percent) are assisted. That leaves them 23rd in assist percentage and 25th in assist ratio (the per possession stat.) The Jazz seem to do a fairly good job sharing the ball — they rank near the top of passes per game — but apparently few of these passes result in a layup or a high-percentage shot. Drilling down, some of this is due to Enes Kanter, one of the least willing (and effective) passers in the NBA, with an assist ratio of 3.5. But Derrick Favors too has some work to do on the passing end, with an assist ratio of just 9.1, leaving him 55th of 72 power forwards. Lastly, it’s worth noting that Trey Burke is also not a huge producer of assists, with an assist ratio that leaves him 56th of 73 point guards.
  • The Jazz shoot well from close to the rim (see above) and average from 3, but poorly from everywhere else. They’re 29th in FG% between 5-10 feet, 23rd between 10-15 feet and 24th between 15-19 feet. The good news, as noted above, is that they take relatively few of those “mid-range” jumpers (the 10 to 19 foot ones) but they take a typical number of the 5-10 footers and hit relatively few. The average NBA team hits 39 percent of those shots — floaters, short jumpers — but the Jazz hit just 33 percent. The main culprits are the team’s guards — Burke, Burks, Exum and Millsap, all of whom struggle from there.

Let’s do one last thing — look at specific Jazz lineups to see which are doing particularly well and poorly this year. We’ll look only at those lineups that have played at least 50 minutes this season.

Let’s look at the team’s seven best offensive lineups. Each of these is above average and would rank in the NBA’s top 11 if they represented an entire team:

Lineups Min OffRtg
Booker,Trevor – Burke,Trey – Favors,Derrick – Hayward,Gordon – Hood,Rodney 51 124.9
Booker,Trevor – Exum,Dante – Favors,Derrick – Hayward,Gordon – Ingles,Joe 51 118.4
Burke,Trey – Burks,Alec – Favors,Derrick – Hayward,Gordon – Kanter,Enes 328 114.4
Exum,Dante – Favors,Derrick – Hayward,Gordon – Ingles,Joe – Kanter,Enes 79 113.9
Booker,Trevor – Burke,Trey – Gobert,Rudy – Hayward,Gordon – Millsap,Elijah 61 111.3
Exum,Dante – Favors,Derrick – Gobert,Rudy – Hayward,Gordon – Hood,Rodney 50 107.3
Booker,Trevor – Burke,Trey – Burks,Alec – Favors,Derrick – Hayward,Gordon 59 106.9
Burke,Trey – Favors,Derrick – Gobert,Rudy – Hayward,Gordon – Millsap,Elijah 72 105.3
Burke,Trey – Favors,Derrick – Gobert,Rudy – Hayward,Gordon – Ingles,Joe 121 104.1

Hmmm. Almost too much information there, but one thing jumps out: Every single above-average Jazz offensive lineup includes Gordon Hayward and eight of the nine feature Derrick Favors. Those two are clearly the team’s rocks on offense. And the great news? They’re signed to long-term deals and are young and improving.

I was pleasantly surprised that four of the nine feature Rudy Gobert. Gobert is of course a work in progress on the offensive end — a fierce dunker, a surprisingly good passer and a terror on the offensive glass — and not much else.

One final point: The clearest area for improvement for the Jazz for 2015-16 clearly comes from the team’s guards. Each offers something to the team, but it’s worth noting that as of right now, every single guard the Jazz are playing regularly — Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Joe Ingles, Elijah Millsap and Rodney Hood — is shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Those numbers improving as those players mature, plus the return of a healthy Alec Burks, plus — hopefully — the addition of at least one proven wing scorer will be the single biggest key towards an improved Utah Jazz offense in 2015-16.

Matt Pacenza

Matt Pacenza

When he isn't writing about the Jazz, Matt Pacenza is an environmental activist, Arsenal fan and world-class blowhard about many matters. A native of upstate New York, with a background in journalism and nonprofits, Matt lives near Liberty Park with his wife and two sons.
Matt Pacenza

One Comment

  1. Mewko says:

    options are open to find the 4th big in the rotation. Ante Tomic, or we can go through draft or free agency.