As we’ve discussed plenty here at SCH, there is more to pace than anything a single number can convey. Sure, the Utah Jazz are still crawling along in the bottom three for possessions per game, but smart people know that’s only one data point.
Head coach Quin Snyder explained before the season that he wanted to redefine pace for the purposes of this year’s Jazz team. Rather than just look at it as a measure of how many possessions the team could cram into a game — keeping in mind that the other team gets a say in that, too — he focused on pace being measured as the amount of time between individual actions.
In other words, he was fine taking more time to make the right play as long as the investment was purpose-driven and the decision time was as close to instantaneous as could reasonably be expected.
That’s not quite what we’re seeing, but it’s getting better. As we covered last week, the Jazz actually are getting a fair amount of their points in transition, but they have to throw the breaks on, a lot of plays descend into a series of empty actions that put Utah late in the shot clock.
Given that we’re roughly a third of the way into the Snyder era, it seems like a good time to check in on pace performance in a way that’s consistent to past eras of Jazz basketball. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll recognize that I’ve been using these graphs since back when Al Jefferson was around and I tried to show the Jazz’s sharp deceleration predated the 2011 megatrade or the coaching change. I’ve updated these familiar graphs with 2014-15 data.1
The Jazz are seeing a slight uptick in early attempts, but they’re still not outperforming the JefferJazz teams or the 2013-14 squad in that department.
Similarly, their late shot clock attempts are essentially the same as the last four seasons. But the encouraging thing from that bottom graph is that they’re getting better at converting those plays — much better. As in, they’re back to the levels of the Williams-Boozer-Memo Jazz in terms of getting something out of the latter part of the shot clock.
Some of that is probably based on focus and discipline: the Jazz have a better idea what they want, so perhaps the last seconds are no longer being interpreted as a blank check to throw up whatever kind of ugly shot. But really, most of this eFG bump late in possessions is probably due to the fact that more of those shots are threes this year. Last year, for example, only 23.4% of the team’s shots were threes, and this year that number is up over 30%.
Obviously pace is a pet topic of mine, so I’ll continue to keep an eye on how this evolves — from a possession math standpoint, a shot clock usage standpoint and, importantly, the Snyder standpoint of playing more purposefully and decisively to reduce the amount of time between actions.
Some other odds and ends…
Coming soon to a screen near you: The Exum Game™
I’m still waiting.
For the uninitiated, the term refers to my perhaps-not-so-bold prediction that a big game is coming soon for Dante Exum. I don’t have specific requirements for what would qualify, but we’ll know when we see it. It will be the game when he starts to realize how elite his tools are, making us all fangirl out and say, “He’s made it!” We’ll be wrong, of course, as this is a long process and a single game won’t signal his arrival. But that won’t stop our excitement when The Exum Game™ happens.
He has made a nice down payment on The Exum Game™ this week. In back-to-back games, he’s totaled 22 points on 12 shots, 5 assists and 75% shooting. Not quite The Exum Game™, but a nice tease.
Meanwhile, a guy who does appear to be evolving before our eyes is Enes Kanter. Some of his well-chronicled defensive shortcoming are still there, but the last nine games or so might be the best stretch of his pro career to date.
Starting with the Denver game, Kanter is averaging 18 & 9 on 53% shooting, and even knocking down 43% from three. His intensity and effort have been noticeably better. There were even moments while Favors was out that it was clear Kanter was the emotional leader, trying to capitalize on the momentum of a big play by riling up teammates, or pulling guys together on a dead ball.
I’m nowhere close to saying he’s answered all the questions that frequently get asked about him, but he’s playing really solid ball.
I am fascinated by the ongoing struggle to define Joe Ingles’ value, most because we don’t have a very strong statistical vocabulary for a player who does what Joe does. He rarely uses a possession for himself2, and when he does, the results have been unremarkable. He’s also a poor rebounder for his size, and that mix — low usage, subpar shooting and anemic rebounding totals — are pretty a recipe for a sub-replacement level PER, WS, BPM, RPM, or any other stat that uses box score metrics as its primary input.
But don’t look past the more subtle ways he contributes. He’s got a facilitator mindset, and I mean that in the broadest sense possible. It’s not just about assists3, but he helps the Jazz get from a dead-end into the next part of their set. He’s also a clever defender, especially in the way he maneuvers tight spaces to get around and over screens better than just about any of Utah’s wings. You never look at a P&R involving Joe and say, “Wow, he just flat out died on that pick.” He is tied with Hayward for the team’s best steal ratio, but more importantly he just does little things to frustrate offenses.
Would the Jazz be better if Ingles’ minutes were going to some more established vet with a more traditionally demonstrable value4? Probably. But don’t look past the impact he has on those subtleties, or on his teammates. Most of the guys who have played big minutes with Joe are actually better offensive players when he’s with them. That includes Exum, who goes from being a hot mess when his countryman is sitting (.87 PPP) to being offensively decent alongside his Boomer buddy (.99)5. In a season that’s largely about someone like Exum getting comfortable, shouldn’t that matter?