Welcome to the 12th installment of the Salt City Seven, which this week features a look at the Jazz from a little closer than usual.
The team is paying a visit to the global SC7 headquarters this week, meaning that your faithful scribe has had the opportunity to talk shop with Jazz folks precisely at the midpoint of the season. For more on that as well as a game ball, some sad numbers, playoff talk and a look ahead, read on!
Forty-two games into his team’s 82 game season, Jazz coach Quin Snyder is pretty uninterested in offering any sort of midseason appraisal of his ailing team.
“It’s really tough to make general assessments about our team,” the second-year coach said, citing an ever-shifting lineup due to myriad injuries. “I wish I could, because that would mean that we have a consistent– you know, a benchmark to base it on.”
OK, that’s fair. The Jazz have lost 94 player games already from just their best six or so players1. Any team would have a hard time establishing an identity with so many key players missing chunks of time.
“The way we play reflects our personnel, and it has to,” Snyder continued. “I think our guys buy into that.”
Not that they have much of a choice. When you suddenly have to play a bunch of games without Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, you have to change the way you defend the pick & roll, or your philosophy about switching. When Alec Burks’ minutes are suddenly going to Chris Johnson, you have to rethink where the second unit gets its points. The Jazz have made several structural changes along the way as a means of surviving.
“It’s why we move the ball. We move the ball to try to gain an advantage, because we’re not just a straight iso team. We don’t come down and have a matchup that one guy can just go score on somebody and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go to him.’ That happens sometimes, but for the most part, we are who we are, and I think our guys understand that.”
Utah does still move the ball more than any NBA team — 352 times per game — but also rank last in the league in assists. Part of that is because their passing numbers are inflated by the fact that their possessions are generally longer. But a lot of passes just don’t lead anywhere.
This isn’t just a case of the Jazz missing shot-makers; they’re 4th from the bottom in potential assists, meaning that the vast majority of their passes don’t even lead directly to an attempt, make or miss.
Snyder returned to the idea of assessing the season in smaller chunks2, saying that he searches for signs of improvement and engagement over 10-game stretches. He also reiterated that, while he wishes that his best guys were healthy, it’s been rewarding to see guys all over the depth chart step up.
“The silver lining in some of this is you start to see guys begin to find themselves even more,” he said. “Rodney has stayed aggressive, Gordon has stayed aggressive. Trey Lyles is doing things that he definitely wasn’t doing the first month of the season. He’s probably the best example.
“Those are the kind of things at least for me that I look at and try to envision it when you get a lot of guys back.”
Now, when will that happen? Nobody knows, but Snyder’s reserving macro judgments on his team in the meantime.
This is not by design, but this week’s “By the Numbers” features only stats from the “sad facts” category.
The Jazz now have nine losses decided by five or fewer points. Only Minnesota has more. But on top of those nine, the Jazz now have two additional games that were decided by more than five, but only after extra time. So eleven of Utah’s losses had the Jazz trailing by 0-5 points at the end of 48 minutes. Heartbreak City.
That’s Trevor Booker’s three-point percentage, on an admittedly small sample size. The problem is that, at that point, you can’t even use the “at least he’s taking them” line. At this point, a possession you invest in a Booker three gives you 0.6 points, which means it’s costing .46 over the average Jazz possession. That far outweighs any theoretical spacing benefit, and it’s not like anybody is chasing a 20% shooter out to the line anyway. It also takes Utah’s best offensive rebounder3 away from the rim.
The number of days since Derrick Favors last appeared in an NBA game.
The Jazz ran a bunch of really interesting early setups in the first part of the Laker game on Saturday. The end result of this one didn’t yield anything too spectacular — they get a switch so Hayward just isolates against Roy Hibbert — but it’s still one of my favorite examples of early trickeration from that game. Just look at all the early motion and synchronous cuts.
First we see Hayward fake like he’s headed to the left corner, but then changes direction and uses a baseline screen to wrap around clockwise. At the same time, Chris Johnson makes a clockwise cut over the top around a Gobert screen. I just love that kind of stuff4.
But the play gets really fun right here.
That’s where G-Time is about to explode into action. He’ll fake baseline, then pop up around a Burke screen followed by a Gobert screen & dribble hand-off. D’Angelo Russell doesn’t help old man Kobe much with his weak attempt at showing, so Hayward already has a huge advantage before he even curls behind Gobert. He’ll accelerate baseline, forcing Hibbert to switch, and then he’ll just take his time.
Watch the play again and just watch Gordon’s motion from midcourt to the shot.
Alas, just one win in the last seven nights. That means there’s not a lot of leather to go around, but with the one game ball at our disposal, we welcome back a repeat customer.
Jazz 109, Lakers 82 – Gobert
A lot of guys had really nice games — when this version of the Lakers comes to town, guys are gonna eat. But 185 & 18 with five blocks in the first truly great performance since his return from injury is the reason the whole game ball exercise exists. Gobert also shared6 the game’s best O-Rating — yes, offense — at 127.5. Trey Lyles was considered here, but the main argument in his favor is that he hadn’t gotten one yet.
“At this point, I think we built our team up enough that we should be getting better from last year. And last year we were close to making the playoffs. I’d say if we don’t make it it would be a disappointing season.”
Hayward, to GQ.com.
Well, we have bad news, Gordon: the Jazz awoke Thursday in the ninth spot. In fact, their recent freefall — they’ve lost four of five — has put them closer to 12th place than to 5th, a ranking that until recently was well within reach.
To be clear, Utah still has a good shot of making it in. B-Ref’s SRS-based projection model still gives Utah a better shot than Sacramento, Portland or the other contenders. But their likelihood of classifying has dropped significantly, from 81% just a week ago to 58%, only modestly better than a coin flip. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Utah a 54% shot, and Fivethirtyeight.com is the most bearish, with Utah getting 8th or better in 42% of their CARM-ELO fueld simulations.
Bottom line: Utah needs to turn this around, and fast.
We used this space last week to remind you that, cushy schedule and all, inconsistent sub-.500 teams don’t magically transform into .700 teams. Lo and behold, they are 1-3 since then.
The moral of the story: can’t get too greedy, even when there are seemingly winnable games on the table. This might just be who the Jazz are for now — at least until they get Derrick Favors up to speed.
With that in mind, here are the games for the next seven:
Melo might have gotten the last laugh on Wednesday, but that won’t keep us from enjoying the French Rejection’s handiwork.