I’m sure every Jazz fan has tried to figure out just how good the Jazz are, or will be, next season. And I’m sure every fan has gotten carried away to some extent, dreaming of 50-win seasons and pushing for home court advantage next year, not just the playoffs. It’s ludicrous to think that the Jazz could make such a leap. It took 55 wins to get home court advantage in the Western Conference this year and the Jazz aren’t adding 17 wins in the next 12 months. They only added 13 this season. But I’ll admit that I’ve thought about the likelihood of the Jazz being great next year. And I’m not going to tell any Jazz fan what number of possible wins to believe in. But what is realistic?
The Jazz finished the season 18-11 after the All-star break. That’s equal to 51 wins stretched over 82 games. But the Jazz were also experimenting with lineups and playing teams that weren’t giving it their all half the time. But win-loss record probably isn’t as important of an indicator of future performance as point differential. In short, how good the Jazz can be next season isn’t as much about wins and losses as it’s about by how much they can outscore their opponents consistently.
With this in mind, the best way to estimate win potential next season for the Jazz may be to figure out what their point differential will be like. If we can estimate where the Jazz will finish both offensively and defensively league-wide, we can estimate what their point differential should be.
For instance, let’s assume that the Jazz can carry over their defensive chemistry next season and be the best defensive team in the league. Over the last ten seasons the best defensive team has given up an average of 97.4 points per-100-possessions. The Warriors gave up 98.2 points per-100-possessions this year. Now let’s assume that this same hypothetical Jazz team is only the 20th-best offensive team in the league. Over the last ten seasons, the 20th best offensive team has scored 102.5 points per-100-possessions. So the Jazz would have a 5.1 point differential in this scenario. Over the last 10 seasons, a +5.1 differential in the Western Conference has yielded just over 53 wins. Fifty-three wins! For reference, the Jazz had a +4.6 point differential over the last 41 games of this season.
But what if the Jazz were the best defensive team and the 15th-best offensive team next season? Averaging the last 10 seasons, this would see the Jazz giving up 97.4 points per-100-possessions and scoring 103.7 for a differential of +6.3, or 57 wins. You can manipulate the numbers and rankings for the hypothetical Jazz next season to see how they would do. Here is a chart of some expected outcomes based on the Jazz’s potential performances:
But where do the Jazz fit in that table?
You didn’t come here to see some fancy schmancy table with hypothetical numbers and win totals. You came here because you wanted to think about how good the Jazz are going to be next season. How good do you think they can be defensively? How about offensively?
I think the Jazz would have to suffer a major setback or injury to not finish as a top-five defense next year. They may not be the record-setting defense they have been the second half of this season, but I almost expect them to be the best in the league. Is that unfair? Maybe. But I also think it should be the goal. Offensively, the Jazz were less than average while boasting the league’s stingiest defensive team. Playing Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert together for so many minutes does have its impact on the offense, especially without shooters. But I also expect almost everybody to get better at playing offense together next season. On top of that, the offseason could bolster the Jazz’s shooting and overall offensive talent. Or the team could really struggle to recapture its magic from the last 40 games.
Bottom line: I expect the Jazz to lead the league in defense (no worse than the third-best defensive team) and to have the 17th or 18th best offense. This would put the Jazz in the ballpark of a +5.5 point differential and 54- 55 wins. On paper, it seems unfathomable. I can’t believe I just wrote that number out loud. But we should expect some pretty crazy results from the Jazz if they are able to continue their fantastic showing defensively. I expect this team to not only compete for the playoffs, but for home court advantage.