Jazz 2013-14 SportVU Snapshot

August 1st, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

As I mentioned in my piece last week, I’m lucky enough to count myself a writer for Nylon Calculus, the new analytics arm of Hardwood Paroxysm (under the Sports Illustrated/Fansided banner). Several of my colleagues are supremely gifted data scrapers and manipulators, and are doing simply remarkable things with extrapolations of publicly-available data.

One bit of scraping I’m eternally grateful for has been done by NC writer Darryl Blackport, with some assistance in compiling from Krishna Narsu. Most of you who read me regularly will remember my frequent references to SportVU player and team data available publicly on NBA.com, but they’re not the only bits of such information on the site. Perhaps slightly less well-known in last year’s public roll-out were Player Tracking Box Scores – game by game only, but with several bits of data that aren’t available within the season-long database, and several others that allow for extrapolation if laid out over the full season. And extrapolate Darryl did: he scraped every individual box score, compiling season-long statistics by both team and player that expound on the data already available. And while I obviously can’t share any full databases, I want to highlight a few bits and pieces I found relevant within a Jazz context, using both Darryl’s extrapolations and other bits of publicly-listed data. Keep in mind these are snapshots, not anything remotely comprehensive, but they still have some interesting implications.

Shooting:

The Jazz had a plethora of issues shooting the ball last season, a fact that’s easily attainable without any sort of advanced information. They spent time in the early parts of the year flirting with all-time levels of awfulness from the floor before smoothing things out to simply bad, finishing the year in the league’s bottom third for both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage. SportVU box score data gives us some further insights: they track contested shots versus uncontested ones1, one of the snippets of info that doesn’t appear on their publicly-housed yearlong stats. Now, the distance-only aspect of this differentiation means they need to be taken with grains of salt, particularly contested numbers – the closer to the hoop a shot is taken, the higher the chances become that said shot was “contested” under these guidelines given defenses’ proclivity for placing themselves in that area, up to the point where nearly every non-fast-break layup attempt (even those with no true challenge, essentially 90-95 percent shots for NBA players) will fall under the “contested” label.

That said, tracking the other end of the spectrum, or “uncontested” shots, can provide us with less noisy data. These shots can’t be convoluted by the possibility of non-challenges, because challenges simply aren’t possible with no defender within four feet. Accordingly, again excepting breakaway layups and dunks, such shots will trend heavily toward open jumpers, and therefore can be of some use.

As far as the Jazz went here last year, the picture wasn’t pretty. Utah ranked 29th in the NBA for uncontested field-goal percentage at just 40.7 percent, over 7 percent below Miami’s league-leading mark and mere tenths of a point above tanktastic Philadelphia. Again, these aren’t perfectly contextualized numbers, but they seem to match up decently with team success overall: 12 of the league’s 16 playoff teams were in the top half for uncontested percentage, meaning just four fell in the bottom 15, and vice versa. The top five teams for this category, in order, were Miami, San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Phoenix, all of whom were in the top eight league-wide for per-possession offensive efficiency.

He’s been piled on unfairly by some in Jazzland recently, but unfortunately Trey Burke comes in as the worst offender here for Utah’s rotation players. He shot just 38.4 percent on 477 uncontested attempts – this was a top-40 attempt number for the entire league, and of these 40, only Josh Smith shot a worse percentage. Gordon Hayward was nearly as inefficient, posting the ninth-most uncontested attempts league-wide and converting at just over 40 percent, only three spots ahead of Burke among this same top 40 for attempts. Easily best among Jazz regulars was Enes Kanter at just over 46 percent, but the Jazz had only four players (Kanter, Gobert, Evans, and Jefferson) over the league average of almost exactly 43 percent. It speaks to an overall lack of jump-shooting prowess on the roster last season, and Utah will hope the additions of sharpshooters Steve Novak and Rodney Hood can boost things somewhat along with rejuvenated shooting years from Burke and Hayward, among others.

Passing:

One element that could be involved in some of the still-present traces of noise in the above numbers involves another we can snapshot, in this case assists and assists per opportunity. This isn’t exclusively a box score tracking stat, but SportVU tracks “assist opportunities”, or passes by a player followed by a field-goal attempt which, if made, would result in an assist for the passer. Inserting a simple formula, we can find each team’s assist-per-opportunity, which is really a measure of two things: how well a team shoots the ball after passes, and how good those passes are in the first place.

The Jazz ranked dead last for assists-per-opportunity last year, and also dead last in a similar category, assists per total passes. Though there were a few more exceptions than the uncontested shooting numbers above, the top of the lists for both these areas mostly included top-10 offenses and vice versa. Quantifying what portion of Utah’s showing here is shooting skill versus bad passing is impossible given the information available currently, but I unfortunately lean toward the former – passing accurately has much more room for error and is intuitively far less integral than shooting. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Jazz just weren’t good shooters last year from any viewpoint, and it’s even possible that their miserable early season showing was closer to reality than the slight improvement their overall offensive efficiency seemed to indicate later in the year.

Rebounding:

One area the Jazz stacked up well in was team rebounding, per SportVU’s rebound chance stats, defined as any time a player is within 3.5 feet of an available rebound. Utah ranked eighth for defensive rebounds per chance (62.6 percent) and ninth for offensive rebounds per chance (54.5 percent). The defensive number is of particular importance seeing as they gave up the second-fewest total misses in the league, and a failure to rebound at such a good rate would have sunk their already-league-worst defense to even further depths.

Within the roster, Hayward and Burke both get credit here – Hayward was the top rotation player for Utah, snagging 68 percent of his available boards, while Burke trailed just him and Diante Garrett, grabbing 62.5 percent. These elements can help compensate some for deficiencies in other areas, and the Jazz will surely be pleased at placing 13 roster members last season, including eight rotation players, over the league average of 57.8 percent2.

Again, these are just a few small pieces in the massive jigsaw puzzle that is player tracking data and its potential extrapolations. Like absolutely everything in this league, they must be analyzed in proper context and through an unbiased lens to be of optimal use, and here’s hoping the amount of data available makes this process easier and more detail-rich in future years.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and general sports fanatic based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Nylon Calculus (Hardwood Paroxysm/Fansided Network), and can be heard on the airwaves for the SCH podcast and appearances with ESPN AM 700. With a strong background in both statistics and on-court fundemantals, he writes primarily as an in-depth strategic analyst. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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5 Comments

  1. Clint Johnson says:

    A large part of last year’s offense was designed to get Burke and Hayward open jump shots, which compounds the problem of their inefficiency at those shots. This is one area where criticism of Tyrone Corbin was, I think, generally valid. He often said in post-game comments that the team “got good shots, they just didn’t go in.” Those weren’t good shots, not for those players, even if they were sometimes open. I’m confident Quin Snyder will have a different definition of “good shot” than Corbin did, one far less rigid and more contextualized to individual player ability. This should help both Burke and Hayward so long as they run the offense.

    • Aged fan says:

      Great post, with a lot to digest, and possibly a lot to argue about what reasons are. I’ll just leave one bit of agreement with Clint:

      In a very important sense, this season is about rehabilitating Burke’s and Hayward’s shot. The returnees from last season’s Jazz team expected to contribute this coming year and not named Burke or Hayward collectively shot 50.2% on two-point shots. The league average was 48.8%, and so this group (without Hayward and Burke) would have come in about 8th of the 30 teams in the league. Collectively Burke and Hayward (who together took about 1/3 of the Jazz’s returnees’ 2-point shots) shot 43.5%, which would have been worse than 30th in the league (and a huge margin under #30).

      Those two didn’t help out much in 3-pointers either. Of the Jazz returnees, they shot a bit over 80% of the team’s 3-pointers, making 31.8% (would have been 29th in the league. The other returnees shot only a bit better (34.0% — 27th in the league).

      There are reasons to think Burke and Hayward should eventually shoot decent percentages; getting them to do so will go a long way to fixing the Jazz’s offensive inefficiencies.

    • cw says:

      I don’t think I agree that the offense was “designed to get Burke and Hayward open jump shots.” Hayward Burke, Burks and Kanter were all within 80% of each other in terms of shot attempts and Favors was only a little bit further back from that.

      And there is only so much you can do if your team can’t make open jump shots and they also can’t score well in the post and the two guys that handle the ball (Hayward and Burke) the most can’t get to the rim. There’s not many other ways to score.

      I think that team was just really flawed, more or less on purpose, and a different coach wouldn’t have made any meaningful difference.

      And I think snyder has to hope Burke and hayward will start making open jump shots because jumps shots are pretty much how those two score (although hayward is good at getting fouled). I guess they can try to run more, but that seems like a partial solution.

  2. Mewko says:

    I think if we keep Enes Kanter than we have one of the best rebounding frontcourts in the NBA.
    With the Spurs system coming to Utah, it looks like there better not be any egos out there, nobody should think they need to be the star that has to be the MVP of the team every night. The leadership does selectively go to Favors and Hayward since their older, but I think Trey Burke will be the vocal leader and captain of this team soon.

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