No, the Jazz Are Not Mediocre

February 12th, 2019 | by Clint Johnson

(Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Post-deadline Jazz angst, right on time.

No, none of Mike Conley, Otto Porter, or Nikola Mirotic are in a Jazz uniform. Yes, any of them would have made the team better1. Yes, it’s fine to be disappointed. When chances to improve the team — which all reports indicate the Jazz pursued seriously — don’t pan out, disappointment is a natural response.

But letting disappointment overcome simple reason is another matter.

In predictable manner, many Jazz fans and even some in the mainstream media have let their disappointment become a morose discouragement that is simply not rational.

This tweet from KSL’s Ben Anderson articulates the sentiment:

Numbers one through three, hmm, okay. But number four? Nope, not true, despite how many in Jazzland feel so, and if I might borrow the words Quin Snyder used to castigate Rudy Gobert’s All-Star snubbing, “this is clear, not subjective.”

Let’s remind ourselves what “mediocre” actually means with the Google machine.

At the time of this writing, the following is all true of the status of the Utah Jazz:

  • 32-24 record, .571 winning percentage, each good for 6th in the stacked Western Conference
  • 7th ranked in ESPN’s Power Index above teams like Houston and Philadelphia
  • 8th in FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO rankings above Denver
  • 4th best point differential in the West and 9th in the league 
  • Tied for 6th in the league in regular season wins over the past three seasons
  • One of six teams to reach the Conference Semifinals in the last two playoffs
  • Are listed as fringe title contenders by ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, and Basketball-Reference

Now, how does all this change if we factor in age? The Jazz have a 26-year-old star in Gobert and a 22-year-old star in Donovan Mitchell. So, what happens if we filter these results (which already show Utah in fine standing) in terms of age, say, looking for teams with two stars whose combined age clocks in at under 50 years?

  • Only the 76ers and Denver2 clearly have two young stars and a better record than the Jazz. If you’re willing to add Jaylen Brown to Jason Tatum you can add Boston, and if Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis really gets you excited maybe, with a stretch, Indiana. That’s it.
  • 3rd in ESPN’s Power Index
  • 3rd in FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO rankings
  • 5th in the league in point differential, 2nd in the West
  • 3rd in regular season wins the past two seasons3
  • One of three teams to reach the Conference Semifinals last year and be in position for the playoffs again this season
  • Chances of reaching the NBA Finals THIS YEAR: 3rd best according to ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, and Basketball-Reference

The Jazz are good basketball team right now. Plus, they have more reason to anticipate substantial future improvement than any but two or three other teams in the league.

So enough of the angst, really. 

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

7 Comments

  1. D Rog says:

    Maybe @BensHoops should have said Jazz remain stagnant and they are not a true contender. They appear to be headed for the same # of wins as the past couple years and they probably get knocked out in the 2nd round again… If you are not moving forward you are getting passed.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think you’re right, that would be a more accurate way to articulate the perspective. I do disagree even with that perspective though. Here’s why: the objective is to pass by everyone in a particular window of time, but not necessarily right now. For the Warriors and Rockets, for example, it makes sense to shoot for championships right now for various reasons, and it makes sense for them to leverage all their resources to that end. The end of their window is coming in the fairly near term. Does the same hold true for the Jazz? I think not given Mitchell only being 22. I think Utah’s window of true title contention is at least two years off. So the opportunity cost of going in now on the players people had such hopes on would probably outweigh the benefit.

      Another way to say it: if you’re not aging out of your prime (or losing players to free agency like Golden State) then you’re in a position to pass other teams simply via the passage of time. Jordan’s Bulls to some degree did this with both the Celtics and Pistons, as did the Shaq and Kobe Lakers with the Jazz.

      • ty says:

        This is really the best argument I’ve seen regarding this topic. It takes into account the basis of why it is not a good idea to push chips forward now. Well done.

  2. bball says:

    This is really the best argument I’ve seen regarding this topic. It takes into account the basis of why it is not a good idea to push chips forward now. Well done.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Thanks. I get impatience, I really do. But in the Jazz’s position, impatience is currently far more likely to be counterproductive than caution.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        I think it’s fairly apparent that the Jazz need an upgrade at point guard to become a championship level team. I think the Jazz were hopeful that they could convert Ricky Rubio into a much better outside shooter and get an upgrade at point guard in that manner, by internal development, whereas Rubio seems to have all the other attributes necessary to be an effective point guard. Although the Jazz have been able to help Rubio improve his shooting significantly, it hasn’t been quite good enough so far, and I think the Jazz may be willing to move on from that experiment when Rubio’s contract expires this summer.

        I think the Jazz were also hopeful that Dante Exum could develop into an upgrade at point guard during Ricky Rubio’s initial 2-year tenure with the Jazz, in case the Jazz were unable to coach up Rubio’s shooting to the degree necessary to become a championship-level team. However, an unfortunate bout of injuries to Exum has kept that from happening, as well. Exum can still be a very valuable player for the Jazz, because of his defense and his ability to drive to the basket, but it does not appear that he would be able put the Jazz over the top as the starting point guard–at least not for a few more years, and then only if he continues to develop as hoped.

        During Ricky Rubio’s absence earlier this season, Donovan Mitchell seemed to thrive in the role of lead guard/point guard, even though he does not yet possess all of the play-making skills of an experienced point guard. So, another option for the Jazz may be to move Donovan Mitchell to the point guard position and to bring in a shooting guard who is a very good 3-point shooter and scorer.

        I expect the Jazz to try to fill the void of another scorer/shooter at either the point guard or shooting guard position this summer through either a trade or free agency. It is likely that Ricky Rubio’s Bird rights would need to be waived in order to facilitate a trade or a free agent signing to accomplish that goal.

        It is also apparent that it would improve the Jazz to have a power forward who is an effective 3-point shooter. The Jazz have been trying to convert Derrick Favors into that player, but again, that experiment has not been a success thus far. Derrick Favors is still very valuable to the Jazz as the backup center with limited minutes at PF, but it reasonably appears that he may not be satisfied with that role going forward for an extended period of time. If the Jazz trade or waive Favors (or keep him for only one more year until his current contract expires), they are going to have to find a more effective primary backup center than the centers currently on the roster–Udoh and Bradley–or the loss of Favors could make the team worse overall, even if the Jazz find a better point guard and a PF who can shoot 3-point shots effectively. However, if the Jazz are able to find another scorer at the point guard or shooting guard position on a reasonable salary, perhaps they may be able to convince Favors to stay long term in his current role, with less expensive players fulfilling the role of stretch-4 PF.

        I know he has had maturity issues in the past, but I really feel that Marquese Chriss might be able to fulfill the stretch-4 PF role for the Jazz–and he also has the ability (if he has the inclination) to block shots and play defense. His stock is not very high at this point, and he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. He could probably be signed in free agency for the mid=level exception or less. Perhaps if he got with a team that was working to win a championship and knew how to play the right way, he could reach his potential. Otherwise, he could still be a useful backup player.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I agree the Jazz do need a second quality scorer and shot creator, though I think that might be a guard or a wing. While there’s no way this happens, Paul George would be the ideal type. I also have no doubt the Jazz will get more shooting from bigs around Gobert. But I gotta part ways with you when it comes to Chriss. Never been impressed there.

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