Early Myth-Busting on Utah Jazz Trends

November 13th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
Is Burks as "magical" about finishing in traffic as we think? This and other myths. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Is Burks as “magical” about finishing in traffic as we think? This and other myths. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Nine games isn’t a lot of time to figure things out. But it is plenty of time for certain perceptions to spread like the flu and become part of the early dialogue before they’ve been pressure-tested.

Today we tackle a few mounting myths in the early Jazz conversation. Before you take a swig of this snake oil, check some of the facts we’ve pulled together for you here at SCH.

Myth #1: The reason Enes Kanter isn’t making a high percentage of 3-point shots is because he needs to stick to the corner three.

This one is a myth on two levels. First, it’s not like Kanter is avoiding the corners. Going into the Hawks game, 8 of his 11 three point attempts had been from the corners. Three of his four Wednesday attempts were above the break, but he still has taken 60% of his threes from down there in total.

And the other part of the myth is that he’s going to be more automatic in the corners. So far, he’s just 2-for-9 on corner threes (22%) and 3-for-6 (50%) when he shoots out front, usually just left of the top of the barrel. This just goes back to what I think is an oversimplification of what a “good” shot means. For some players, the corner shot, despite being a shorter three, is just harder. You don’t have the backboard, so it’s harder to get a friendly bounce, but also some players just benefit mentally from having an angle on the backboard for whatever reason. It’s easier to visualize the shot, perhaps. Whatever the reason, Kanter’s early performance doesn’t jive with the idea that his three-point shooting will go up if he scoots down into the corner.

Now, my guess is that Quin Snyder’s reasons for wanting him down there has more to do with the spacing, but if we’re purely analyzing the claim that Kanter’s percentages are being hurt by where he’s shooting from, then the corner is the culprit, not the cure.

Consider the Kanter corner myth busted.

Myth #2: The magic man.

“Houdini!”

To hear the TV broadcast crew tell it, Alec Burks is a wizard in the restricted area. The reality is quite the opposite: Burks has had a harder time than anybody finishing close shots.

The starting shooting guard is connecting on just 47% of his shots from under 5 feet, the lowest on the team. He’s also shooting just 22% in the next zone — 5 to 9 feet — also worst on the team.

So what gives? Well part of it is a conscious trade-off to try to get fouls. Burks does a fair amount of Harden-style flailing on his drives, and that costs him some finishes on plays where he doesn’t get the whistle. But he does get it sometimes. He’s going to the line 4+ times per contest, third best on the team.

But I think the larger issue with Burks’ point-blank finishing problems is that he has a tendency to overcomplicate a lot of plays. As Frank Layden used to say1, this isn’t like diving where you get extra points for degree of difficulty. Right now, there are almost three plays per game where Burks gets into that area and the Jazz come away with nothing — no bucket, no foul.2 I wonder if sometimes he’d be better off going up someone’s chest, rather than trying to treat us all to a “magic man” play that often lacks the magic.

For a player that has backslid a bit from his 2013-14 scoring and shooting stats, it would definitely help to have a few more of those go down, even if that means fewer crazy jackknives, double-clutches, and super-English spins.

Myth #3: Jingles all the way.

There are a lot of reasons to get behind Joe Ingles. He’s an Aussie. He’s the childhood hero of our beloved Dante Exum. He is smart on the court. He flips off Rudy Gobert in pictures. What’s not to like?

The fact that he’s jived well in some early lineup combinations has only helped his case. But then we as fans took it to an apocryphal new level about how the team just plays better with Jingles on the floor. Which, in absolute terms, just isn’t true right now.

Yes, Ingles is part of two specific and very solid five-man units. If you take the bench quartet of Joe, Exum, Gobert and Trevor Booker and add either Hayward (+15 per 100 possessions in 17 minutes so far) or Burks (+22 in 6.5 minutes)3, good things happen. It helps to have another solid decision-maker and facilitator out there with Exum and whichever starting wing is slumming with the second unit, so it’s not surprising that the Jazz have yielded good results with those lineups.

But it’s a vast overstatement to say that Ingles makes the team better in overall terms. The Jazz offense  produces fewer points per 100 possessions when Ingles is on the floor (102) versus overall (105), although the defense gets slightly better (107 versus 109). Ingles’ 102.1 ORtg is second worst among the nine guys who have appeared in every game, outproducing only Gobert at 99.4. This of course isn’t all Ingles’ fault. He plays with a crew that struggles to put points on the board.

But the hyperbole here — the notion that Ingles makes the Jazz better no matter what — so far is not true. And that shouldn’t surprise us. A guy with an eFG of 44% probably isn’t going to have some mystical effect on the game just by osmosis. But Ingles will keep getting chances because of the basketball IQ and specific skills I mentioned before. He has a fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio, and the reality is that his spotty shooting isn’t hurting the Jazz because he’s only using possessions at a rate of 8%.

Two more quick ones.

Myth #4: Any of four or five guys could lead this team in scoring for the season.

I could combat this myth with numbers, but the reality is that anybody watching the offense in these first nine games knows that it’s going to Hayward or Favors over the long haul.

Myth #5: Exum is outplaying Trey Burke.

This myth busted itself in game 9, probably Exum’s biggest clunker since the start of November. Dante has done some things well, but the Jazz are giving him a much simpler slate of nightly work. Even in the 9.2 minutes (sample size alert!) that Exum has played with the rest of the starting lineup, they only produced .83 points per possession and got outscored by 11 per 100. I get that Exum is the alleged future star, but it’s not treasonous to still want Burke to be good. Right now, the Jazz definitely need both playing well.

Are there any other myths that need busting or early season trends or ideas that you’d like to pressure test? Join in the comments below and we’ll get to work at picking apart what we know after 432 minutes and what doesn’t yet add up.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

7 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    Is this an up-tempo offense, or myth?

    • Dan Clayton says:

      ooh, that’s a good one, Jeremy. The short answer: it’s a myth. But it’s not because the Jazz aren’t running. The Jazz are fifth in the league in % of their points scored in the FB. The problem is that if the FB isn’t there, it usually takes them a long time to get something out of a play. Great question!

      • Paul Johnson says:

        Does that mean the Jazz are bad at the “early offense”?

        Back in the Stockton/Malone days, even when a fast break did not come to fruition, the Jazz still got a lot of easy points off of the “early offense”–by exploiting the defense before it had a full opportunity to get set up in the half court. I believe that Snyder would like the Jazz to master the “early offense,” as well, because I think that is part of what he means by saying he wants the Jazz to “play fast,” but I have not seen much “early offense” from this group.

        Would you agree?

        • Dan Clayton says:

          They’re getting a little better, but for the first few games, most of the Jazz’s possessions were either fast break or late in the clock. So you’re right, although they’re back to 23% of their attempts coming with 11-15 seconds elapsed, equal to last year.

  2. gotag says:

    This is a big if but if Kanter can up his minutes he could move in to the top 2 scoring for the Jazz, right now on a minute per minute basis he barely edges out Favors.

  3. casey says:

    I’m not sure if this is a myth, but we heard a lot about the Jazz limiting opponent fast break scores in the pre-season. Are we still doing that? Are we winning or losing the fast break point battle?

  4. Pingback: The 10-man rotation, starring the ability to vote for anyone for the All-Star team | Sports

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