Game 1 counts just as much as game 82, or game 12, or game 46. So while we don’t yet know exactly how predictive the Utah Jazz’s first 11 games are, we do know that their 6-5 start matters — that’s 13.4 percent of their season, after all.
Let’s put it this way: if it’s election night, nobody’s calling the race with only 13% of precincts reporting, but those votes still count. It’s too early to indulge in standings-watch, since 3.5 games separate 4th from 13th, but there are other ways of measuring quality with an eye on the future.
One of the best ways to turn early results into something with some more predictive fidelity is by looking at point differential. Better yet, Basketball-Reference.com has begun the 2015-16 tracking of its “Simple Rating System” that adjusts a team’s point differential by accounting for strength of schedule. It usually takes 20 or so games before point diff is really stable as a predictive stat, but B-Ref’s math shows that there are already some pretty clean breaks between tiers in the West1.
Based on a simulations that play out the rest of the season 7500 times based on teams’ current SRS ratings, B-Ref gives the Jazz a 94.3 percent chance of making the playoffs.
To be clear, there are some things SRS doesn’t know: it can’t account for who’s been hurt, who’s been playing at less than 100 percent, who just got their coach fired, etc. It’s also important to remember that these projections are reactive, so another week of basketball could alter it heavily if a bunch of unforeseen factors started shifting. For example, the 2010-11 Jazz were at one point labeled by John Hollinger’s similar odds model as 100 percent likely to make the playoffs, but then the wheels came off their offense, their star sowed discontent, their coach walked away and their GM shook up the roster with a midseason rebuild. So nothing’s guaranteed, even when it looks like it is.
Even so, is it possible that, instead of fighting for an eighth seed, the Jazz will be a tier higher than most thought, possibly even fighting for home court advantage in the first round?
Maybe, but it’s way too early to take this to the bank. There are teams like Memphis, Houston and the Clippers that I suspect will climb the ladder at some point, with plenty of time left to shake up what look like clearly defined tiers today.
But based on 11 games worth of sample, it appears that Utah is on the right track if the goal is a win total in the 40s and a playoff berth.
Positional Power Rankings
Favors is having a special start to the year, and has been Utah’s best two-way player by a wide margin, while Gobert remains an attention-grabbing defensive game-changer. Only minor shakeup behind them as Withey has battled his way into the rotation.
It’s not the Houdini plays that have Burks atop this list in my book: he’s shooting 48 percent from three, and actually starting to take more of them. Hayward will be fine — more on him in a second — but it’s nice to have Alec picking up the slack while Gordon fine tunes. Hood has been quietly solid all-around.
No major changes here. Burke is still canning angle threes, Neto is still defending well and setting up teammates.
By now, you hopefully understand my fluid and subjective criteria for doling out recognition after every Jazz win. If not, check last week’s SC7.
Jazz 97, Hawks 96 – Favors
This one was easy, really. 23-9-3 including the eventual game-winning shot. It was also, per Derrick, his first good game back home in Atlanta. Also considered: Rudy deserves a lot of credit for allowing just 17 percent at the rim, and both Burks and Hood had big-time second halves.
Jazz 93, Raptors 89 – Favors
I thought this was a lot closer than you all thought. I thought Hayward would get some love. Sure, he fell well short of my bold prediction about him exploding against the Raps, but he had six in an important 14-0 run early on, and then had a 9-point fourth quarter. But hey, can’t argue with the masses2, and the majority of you said Fav again. Can’t argue. He was +26 net per-100-possessions and had an extraordinary finish. After Hayward did the work early in the period, Favors had eight of Utah’s final 11 points. And I’m pretty sure I knew who Quin Snyder is voting for.
Also considered: aside from Hayward, Gobert was the sneaky pick, with several clutch defensive possessions. I actually had a different play already picked out for our weekly X&O dissection, but this was so good when the Jazz used it out of a timeout for an important three that I changed course. If you check out the scoreboard, Utah needed a bucket at this point. So Snyder reached into his playbook and found this one with a lot of tricky actions that rely on perfect synchronization. Let’s break it down: it starts with what looks like a double-pindown for Hayward to come up and receive the pass. And hey, it absolutely accomplished that, but as we’ll see in a minute, Gobert and Favors are hardly done putting up that left-side wall. That’s because Hood is about to use the same double screen to cut baseline. Once again, the bigs are really there so they can wall off the help from Burke, but DeMar DeRozan doesn’t know that so he willingly follows along on Hood’s cut. This is important because it puts him on the underside of Utah’s wall of bigs. At the same time, Burke comes to fake a screen for Hayward, but he never really sets it, instead cutting to the left angle.
The net effect of all these actions is that now Kyle Lowry is forced to help trap Hayward — who drives at the screen right as Burke is flaring out — and Hood’s gravity has resulted in DeRozan being pinned under the Smother Brothers. This is what the floor looks like in the instant Burke catches Hayward’s pass, and Toronto must be realizing they just got duped.
Splash! Trey hits it, and Utah is now down just two. This was an incredibly important moment in the game, and the Jazz responded with an incredibly clever play design to make sure they stayed within striking distance of the hot Raptors. Stats of the week 23.9 That’s Hayward’s usage, compared to a career average of 21.8 and last year’s figure of 26.2, presented as rebuttal to fans concerned that Hayward’s not being aggressive enough. Thanks to the proliferation of player tracking, we actually have a ton of data points that show us that Hayward is still doing Hayward things:
In other words, make sure you separate “process” from “results” when asking the ubiquitous questions about what’s going one with Hayward’s weird statistical start. Tracking tells us what I’ve been saying anecdotally all along: he’s doing the right things. Just needs the shots to start falling3.
“I think sometimes we can over-analyze what the game gives us. The ball finds different people at different points of the game.”
This Snyder quote was actually about Favors’ low number of opportunities for much of the Toronto game, but I think it actually applies well to any of our fan/pundit angst about what we call “aggressiveness”… including the recent talk about Hayward. The Jazz call their offense a “flow,” and that’s exactly how we should think of it: like water flowing down a mountain, looking for every nook and cranny. If the water can’t get through over here, it’ll find a place to get through. It’s not about forcing one particular thing, it’s about putting yourself in a position to let natural forces work for you. The model space-pace-and-pass systems like the Spurs have never been having Player X “assert himself”; for them, it’s a question of adhering to their principles and letting the flow of their offense find and fill every crack in the defense. Presented without comment.
#progress A video posted by Danté Exum (@daanteee) on