Just How Good Can the Jazz Be?

May 1st, 2015 | by Clark Schmutz


Photo by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

Clark Schmutz

Clark Schmutz is a Jazz fan living in North Carolina who has been blogging about the Jazz for 8 years. Just like with religion, politics and good deals on the internet, Clark likes to talk NBA basketball to find more truth and learning. Find him on twitter @clarkpojo.

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  1. Mewko says:

    I’m not going to make official win predictions for a long time, but I hope they can at least compete for a playoff spot, and if they get eliminated from a playoff berth, than it should be on the last game of the season. Expecting them to make the playoffs is a hefty goal, because the West will still be brutal.
    1. Warriors
    2. Thunder
    3. Rockets
    4. Clippers
    5. Blazers
    6. Pelicans
    7. Grizz
    Jazz? Mavs? Spurs?

    • Paul Johnson says:

      My prediction of playoff finish order for next year (without seeing what happens in the draft and free agency):

      1. Warriors
      2. Clippers
      3. Rockets
      4. Thunder
      5. Grizzlies
      6. Jazz
      7. Spurs
      8. One of Pelicans, Mavs, Blazers and Suns

    • Andrew says:

      It sounds like the Blazers are about to implode this offseason. The Mavs already did. We’ve got more talent than the Suns. Worst case scenario, we jump ahead of those 3 teams, but so do the Lakers (and maybe the Kings. They’ve got talent with Boogie and their inferior Rudy, they just also have Boogie, so they might implode or explode or some other kind of plode at any moment), so we’re fighting for the 8 spot at the end of the season. It seems insane to call that a worst-case scenario so soon after the terrible season to end Ty’s reign of terror.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        Obviously George Karl will make a difference for the Kings, but they need a major upgrade at both point guard and power forward to make any kind of progress towards the playoffs. Boogie is such a talented player that with a couple of key additions they could easily place themselves in the playoffs mix, although chemistry will probably continue to be a problem for the Kings–which stands in the way of free agents wanting to play for the Kings.

        The Mavs and the Blazers are the teams that may be most affected by free agency–the Blazers look like they could lose some key pieces, and the Mavs look like they could gain some key pieces. With some possible major changes in its roster, team chemistry may again be a problem for the Mavs next season.

        The Lakers are in such a shambles, I don’t see them making much progress towards the playoffs for another 2-3 years (and remember, they still have one of the dumbest owners in the NBA in Jim Buss–which severely handicaps the Lakers in building a successful team, despite the draw of Hollywood, great weather, the ocean, and the other big city amenities of LA).

  2. Don says:

    54-55 wins? The title of your article is “how good CAN the Jazz be?”. Your analysis bears out what CAN be. What WILL be could be different. There are always a lot of ifs. Just ask the Thunder or Suns about their CANs for this season.

    54-55 wins clearly falls in the CAN category. The LIKELY category is somewhat less.

    • IDJazzman says:

      Of the top 10 teams in the West, which 2 will not make it? The ones that have the most injuries, especially season ending injuries to their best players and no one can predict that. If the Jazz lose Gobert at the beginning, bite my tongue, Jazz don’t make the playoffs.

      • Don says:

        Chemistry implosion is the other culprit of unreached potential. The Jazz seem to have great chemistry since The Trade (the dump?), and my guess is that management is smart enough to protect that going forward.

        • Paul Johnson says:

          My prediction is that the Mavs and the Blazers will drop out of the playoffs, and will be replaced by the Jazz and the Pelicans–but that is based on an assumption that Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Popovich will all be back for the Spurs. If the Spurs lose any of those players or their coach, obviously that would change things, and would put the Spurs in the mix to drop out of the playoffs, as well.

          • Don says:

            You mean the Jazz and Thunder (the Pels made it this year)- but I get your point, Pels were there because of Thunder injuries. I am not sold on the Pels though, and living in New Orleans I see them regularly. Davis is amazing, and he has a lot of talent around him, but the chemistry is horrible. I think that they are going to need a rebuild to improve.

            Yes on the Spurs comment.

  3. Matt says:

    With a “normal” amount of injuries, I think the floor for next year is mid-40s wins. The ceiling will depend on what these men add to their games, especially Dante and Trey. Also, how will Burks fit in? Will Gobzilla, Gesus, and D-Faves make another jump? BTW, the 2014-15 team was tied for 15th in Off Eff. With another year under Q (who will probably turn more of his attention to offense), I expect UTA to be notably better next year. What if they’re, say, 10-12th best offense and top 3 defense? If they can do that, the y wins will come and the other playoff teams will have more losses – I care not a whit about “which 2015 playoff team drops out?” If the Jazz are winning, that part will take care of itself!

  4. Paul Johnson says:

    Don: Thanks for that catch–I did mean the Jazz and the Thunder, since the Pels made it into the playoffs this year. There was a time or two this season when the Jazz played the Pels where the Pels had everything clicking, and were a very formidable opponent, particularly when Tyreke Evans had his dribble-drive to the basket working. No one on the Jazz could stop him.

  5. Joshua says:

    I think a lot of you guys are including Portland in the playoff discussion but they might be out of it. Just consider for a moment that Aldridge might bolt and Wes Matthews, an incredibly important player to what they do, is coming off an injury that has a historical record of killing careers.

    • Mewko says:

      Portland will be in the playoffs next year. Guaranteed.
      Matthews, Afflalo, Lopez will all be back. Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum are making noticeable strides, and becoming good bench players. If Aldridge does bolt, then Portland can use the cap space to replace him, and even trade Dorrell Wright or Nic Batum to bolster depth.

      Damian Lillard + a team with good depth = playoffs.

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