I know that Jazz fans can be a little down right now. Last night the Jazz lost a home game by 23 to the Atlanta Hawks. It wasn’t an inspiring effort even if you take it account that they were without *Paul Millsap. The team has made it a habit of falling behind early in the game and it is hard to make a double digit comeback every game. Deron Williams acknowledged this recently in the Salt Lake City Tribune. Also, John Hollinger’s playoff odds have the Jazz projected as the 5th seed with 47 wins. They have a 0.7% chance of winning the championship. Things are starting to turn negative and I would like to reverse that trend by pointing out some of the positives I have seen from the Jazz this year.
*Millsap should send the media his stats and a tape of the Hawks game to every relevant person to prove that he should be an All Star this year.
Positive 1 – Elite players- The most difficult asset for any NBA team to acquire are elite players. Those teams that do (ex. Heat and Lakers) stand a great chance of advancing far in the playoffs. The Jazz have two elite players in Deron Williams and Paul Millsap. Both are putting up unbelievable years. Millsap is shooting more and making them at a higher rate. He is playing more aggressively and is signed for a very reasonable salary for 2.5 more years. For those of you who question whether or not he is an elite player check out the Win Shares and the Win Shares Per 48 Minutes leaders on basketball-reference.com. He is 12th in the former (between Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki) and 17th in the later. Deron Williams is also on the list coming in at 6th and 14th respectively. Williams continues to improve his play every single year and he has to be in the discussion of the 10 best players in the NBA. The Jazz have the two players they can build around.
Positive 2 – Gordon Hayward - I have never been much of a Hayward fan as evidenced by my When should Jazz fans start worrying about Gordon Hayward post. However, he has shown signs of life over 3 of the past 5 games. David Thorpe wrote about the rookie improving in his latest rookie watch (Hayward moving up) article. It looked like something clicked in the 2nd half of the Clippers game and since that moment Hayward looks like a different player. If he could provide some much needed help on the wing then the Jazz will improve tremendously.
Positive 3 – They are still in 1st place in the Northwest division. While Hollinger’s more advanced projections might peg them for 47 wins they are winning at a pace of 54-55 wins. I think they will still settle in around 50 wins, but maybe we have it wrong and they are really a 54-55 win team.
Positive 4 – After 36 games last year the Jazz were 2 games above 500. This year they are 12 games above 500. That is pretty remarkable considering how much has been written about this year’s Jazz team trying to incorporate new players like Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Gordon Hayward. Below is a chart graphing the wins above or below 500 for this year’s team compared to last year’s team.
Positive 5 – Al Jefferson is going to get better. This is more of a unsubstantiated prediction than anything else, but I think Al Jefferson is going to have a much more productive 2nd half than 1st half. Based on his career numbers he is a doing a better job blocking shots and not turning the ball over for the Jazz. Also, his free throw percentage is at a career high at 79%. The main difference is that he just isn’t making shots at the same rate. His field goal percentage is a career low of 47%. That will go up and it is important that it does because Jefferson is a key player for the Jazz team. When he scores less 15 points or less the Jazz only win 43% of the time. When he scores more than 15 points the Jazz win 82% of the time. Even more remarkable might be the stat that when he makes 50% or more of his shots the Jazz have won 12 out of 14 games.
This team can be frustrating to watch at times. Also, I know that it can be tough to feel like the team is always going to be right behind the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs in the NBA standings, but keep your heads up Jazz fans because the team is close. There are a lot of things to like about this team and this year so far and I think things are only going to get better.