SC7: Long December, How Good Are the Jazz, Passing History & More

December 1st, 2017 | by Dan Clayton

Andrew D. Bernstein via utahjazz.com

If it feels like we just did this, it’s because, well, we kind of just did this.

The holiday moved last week’s Salt City Seven column back a couple of days, which means this edition covers a shorter period than usual. But there’s still plenty to talk about, including an allegedly scary month,

A (usually) brief exploration of a prominent theme from the week or the current state of Utah Jazz basketball.

The month of terror has arrived.

Over the next 31 nights, Utah will play nine of 15 on the road. The only times they’ll face team with losing records (entering 12/1) are a mid-month visit to hapless Chicago and three games against the Thunder, who are ostensibly better than their 8-12 record. Their average opponent is the equivalent of a .623 team, or a team roughly as good as last year’s Raptors, Clippers or Jazz.

They’ll face the league-leading Celtics and the reigning champion Warriors in their respective gyms. They’ll face LeBron James’ Cavs and the West-leading Rockets twice each. In his latest ESPN column, Zach Lowe dropped the nugget that Utah’s December schedule will be the toughest month any NBA team will play all season. Yikes.

But don’t automatically assume that the Jazz will be underdogs all month. They won’t be. Here’s how the prediction model at FiveThirtyEight.com sees Utah’s chances in their 14 December games.

Based on odds going into 12/1 games

These types of odds aren’t a guarantee, mind you. If 538 calls the Jazz a 70% favorite for a particular game, that means they think the Jazz will win seven out of 10 games like that one. (The same is true on the other end, too.)

But, broadly speaking, the month looks far less scary through this lens. This shows that the Jazz have six games where they’ll be favored, two that are effectively toss-ups, and seven where they’re pretty heavy underdogs.

It’s also worth noting that injuries factor into the version of the Jazz that 538 puts into its model. At some point in coming weeks, the club should get its best player back, someone who has missed 45 percent of the sample that has formed the basis for these calculations. Rudy Gobert’s return will enhance the Jazz’s chances of winning, even though it won’t immediately reflect here. And on the other side of the ledger, some of their opponents’ odds are artificially high; for example, Utah will certainly have a better than 1-in-3 chance of beating the Paul Millsap-less Nuggets right after Christmas.

Nobody knows exactly how each of these games will play out, but here’s a bold prediction: December won’t be as bad as some people are expecting. The Jazz will be tested, and they’ll fail some of those individual tests — but they’ll head into 2018 right around .500.

 

Words from a Jazz player or coach about a relevant or timely topic.

“Oh, I’m still confident. We are way better than our record.”

– Rudy Gobert, to ESPN’s Lowe

Here are a couple of reasons to think Stifle might be right:

  • The Jazz now have the third-highest SRS (Simple Rating System) in the West, behind only the super-elite Warriors and Rockets. SRS is a good predictor of future success, and 22 games is a pretty healthy sample for trusting what SRS spits out. Based on that rating, they have the macro quality of a 47-win team, even with Gobert missing 10 games and a host of other injuries.
  • Utah is tied for the sixth best Net Rating in the league at +3.1. The Warriors and Rockets are in their own stratosphere, the Raptors and Celtics are a tier lower, and then come the Spurs, Pistons, Jazz and Blazers, all between +3.0 and +3.7.

Yes, the Jazz looked pretty awful for an eight-game stretch in early November, and they also have yet to beat an elite team. But now that some macro indicators have a stable enough sample size, it’s starting to look like the Jazz are, as the big man says, better than an 11-11 team.

 

Stats and figures that help tell prominent stories from the week.

38 assists

Utah’s generosity on Thursday night in L.A. tied for the sixth most assists in a road game in franchise history, and the most since the Stockton-to-Malone era. It also tied Golden State’s November 4 win over Denver as the second highest team assist total this NBA season, behind only a 40-assist effort by Atlanta against Sacramento. Ten different Jazz players got in on the assisting action against the Clips, including seven guys who each had three helpers or more.

5

Gobert has at least a half million dollars in incentive bonuses1 that are contingent on him playing 67 games or more. Since he has now missed 10 games, that means only five games remain before incentive implications kick in that could cost the big guy some scratch.

Take that for what it’s worth: this isn’t a report that Gobert’s within five games of returning, but he’s undoubtedly aware that missing six or more will cost him money. Something to keep in mind as videos continue to surface of Gobert’s pregame work sessions.

 

A quick dissection of an awesome bit of Jazz offense from the week.

Since Favors is one of the Jazz’s top performers of late, we might as well watch him get a bucket.

This play was part of the 10-0 run that Utah used to take the lead for good in Tuesday’s battle with the Nuggets.

It starts with Mitchell zipping left to right over staggered screens and taking the dribble hand-off. This is mostly fluff, although it does force Nikola Jokic to “shade” the rookie guard, shifting over to stay at roughly the same longitude as the ball handler. This gets Jokic ever so slightly out of position to guard the next action, which is the real meat of the play.

It’s called elevator doors, and it’s an action where a player runs straight through a pair of screeners, who then close the “doors” behind him so that defenders can’t follow his path. In this case, two Nuggets lunge around the picks, which leaves room for a double-roll by Favors and Jonas Jerebko. Now they have a 2-on-1 against a recovering Jokic, which means somebody’s going to get a layup.

And somebody did.

 

Doling out credit for Jazz wins, one imaginary Spalding at a time.

Even in a short SC7 week, we still have leather to dole out.

The Jazz at 11-11 (click to expand)

Jazz 106, Nuggets 77: Derrick Favors

I had Jerebko penciled in for most of the game because of timely shot-making, good defense and some emotional energy that helped Utah find some juice. But then Favors happened. Actually, Favors’ whole game was impressive: a 24-9-5 line with three blocks and 12-for-16 shooting, plus he kept Jokic in check all night. It was the fourth quarter that really sealed it for him, though. He went for 10-5-3 in that period alone. From the 10:08 mark to 3:17 left, he had a layup, a dunk, two jumpers, a hook shot and back-to-back kickout assists on Mitchell threes. During those seven minutes, he had a hand in 16 of the Jazz’s points in a 19-6 run that put the game on ice. It was straight domination, something we haven’t seen from Favors at that magnitude for a couple of years.

Jazz 126, Clippers 107: Alec Burks

Burks literally had his best game in years. He has scored more points twice in his career, but that might have been his best all-around performance. He helped change the game when he brought wing rebounding help off the bench. Then he started cooking on offense, and got in on a historic passing night. The overall line was 28-7-5-3-1, and it’s no coincidence he was a team-best plus 30. Mitchell was great too, with 24 points, a good floor game, and probably the three best highlights of the night.

 

A look at the Jazz’s postseason probabilities

It’s becoming increasingly clear that injuries are going to play a huge role in how the bottom of the West playoff race takes shape.

As we’ve been saying in this space for a few weeks now, the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Wolves and Thunder are most likely in. That leaves six teams that are roughly in range to fight for three spots. And as of right now, most of those teams are dealing with injuries to important players.

Nuggets (currently projecting 45 wins per FiveThirtyEight): Paul Millsap is arguably their best player, and he will miss the next three months with a wrist problem. Wilson Chandler and Mason Plumlee are also dealing with shorter-term stuff.

Blazers (44): Portland is the healthiest of this bunch. Wade Baldwin IV and CJ Wilcox haven’t played yet, but the Portland rotation is pretty much intact.

Jazz (44): Gobert and Joe Johnson could be back sometime in December, but Dante Exum has no timetable for return. There’s also some day-to-day stuff: lead scorer Rodney Hood has now missed more than 20% of his team’s games.

Pelicans (42): The Pels’ core is pretty healthy, but some rotation players are missing. Rookie Frank Jackson has yet to debut after surgery on a broken foot, and two reserves (Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca) are also out for long periods.

Clippers (36): L.A. was already in a freefall before star forward Blake Griffin was ruled out of the next two months. Patrick Beverley is out for the year, which makes Milos Teodosic’s plantar problems sting worse. And Danilo Gallinari is again in and out of the lineup — he’s played just nine games so far.

Grizzlies (33): Memphis just can’t afford to be without Mike Conley, which is why they’re winless in the two weeks since he was put on the shelf with Achilles soreness. The oft-injured Chandler Parsons has knee problems again, and three other rotational players have missed recent games for the Grizz.

Keep an eye on those players’ situations, as the West playoff race could become a war of attrition if these injuries continue.

 

Because, at the end of the day, this should be fun.

We end this week on a note from scout and commentator Jared Sutton, who offers this tidbit about the reputation of Quin Snyder around the league. The Jazz run a lot of complicated stuff, and mastering play calls with action upon action can’t be easy for players. But here’s why they do it.

Salt City Seven 2017-18 Archive

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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