Some Positive (!) Notes Among Current Utah Jazz Players

December 8th, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jazz lost their eighth consecutive game against a shorthanded Magic team1 Friday night, and morale surrounding the team has likely reached a season low. Utah continues to hemorrhage points at an alarming rate, still 29th in the league and barely ahead of a Lakers team that’s slowly becoming less entertaining to make fun of every week on SCH Radio given the Jazz’s proximity to their level of ineptitude defensively. They’re still puzzlingly slow-paced as well, 28th in the league to this point2 despite proclamations from Quin Snyder and his staff (and predictions from silly bloggers) that they’d speed it up to a large degree. Things aren’t going entirely to plan, and impatience is bubbling to the surface in some corners of Jazzland.

It’s necessary to keep things in perspective, though. This remains one of the youngest teams in the league, particularly among players receiving the heaviest doses of minutes. Some elements of Snyder’s intended reconstruction have indeed been lacking, but it’s also worth remembering that he, too, is just 20 games into a young NBA career – things were never going to be perfect across the board right away. Most importantly, it simply must be kept in mind that this is a process, one the Jazz are still in the early stages of; even if some steps aren’t directly on schedule, we’re nowhere close to panic mode and certain elements of the rebuild remain well ahead of their projected timetable.

Let’s bust out a little stat pack with an eye to these positive trends. Specifically, where do certain Utah core pieces stack up historically? In a few cases, pretty impressively indeed. With a big assist from basketball-reference.com’s Play Index, let’s have a look:

Derrick Favors:

Neck-and-neck with fellow recently-paid fifth-year stalwart Gordon Hayward for the title of brightest spot on Utah’s roster so far, Favors is looking worth every penny of his extension signed last offseason. He’s 11th in the league in PER among qualified players and has broken out offensively, posting easily his most efficient season to date despite the highest usage he’s seen in his career. A big part of this is the sort of sure-handed player he’s become – Favors was coughing the ball up on well over 15 percent of his possessions when he first arrived in Utah, but after lowering it to 12.9 percent last year, he’s down to an impressive 9.4 percent so far in 2014-15.

Put some of these thresholds together, and Derrick finds himself in some excellent company throughout the years. Among those meeting minimum minute requirements, just 19 players still in their first five years in the league have posted an individual season with a 23.0-plus PER and a 22.0-plus usage percentage while also holding their turnovers under 10 percent, and Favors is one so far this year. Others on this list over the years include Dirk Nowitzki (twice), Shaquille O’Neal, and more recently Anthony Davis (twice, including this year). More telling, though, is that of the 19, only Marques Johnson and Kiki Vandeweghe failed to evolve into consensus household names over the course of their careers3 – and even those two combined for seven All-Star appearances.

Favors is among a number of greats here, and while his work defensively has understandably come into question recently, a continuation of this sort of production will be a major positive going forward for Utah.

Gordon Hayward:

What made Hayward so desirable in his restricted free-agency this offseason was his variety of above-average skills. Guys who can score are a dime a dozen, but ones who can also rebound, create for teammates, and defend adequately are far more uncommon. How rare are they, exactly?

For guys still in their first five seasons, with thresholds of a 20.0-plus PER, 24 percent usage, nine percent or more of total on-court rebounds collected, and at least 18 percent of teammate field-goals assisted while on the court, all qualifications Gordon meets so far this year4, he’s among just 36 individual player seasons historically. Other famously versatile guys on the list include LeBron James, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, and Scottie Pippen, all of whom would be excellent role models for Hayward to aspire to.

To be fair, he barely exceeds a couple of these thresholds where many of his historical peers obliterated them – we can safely assume the next Larry Legend isn’t currently on Utah’s roster. But Gordon’s also near the top of the group in areas like shooting efficiency and steals, and the hope is that as he grows more comfortable in his new system and receives a bit more support from his teammates, Hayward will be the sort of elite jack-of-all-trades swingman the Jazz banked on when they matched his big contract.

Trey Burke:

He continues to have his issues in multiple extremely visible areas, most notably on defense and with his shooting efficiency. But Burke is now in his second consecutive season posting one of the more historically unique statistical combinations one will find, and it’s an intriguing one at that. For guys in their rookie or sophomore seasons meeting minute and usage requirements5, Trey is posting one of just nine individual seasons ever with such a stark blend of distribution and ball control (under 13 percent turnovers with at least a 29 percent assist rate for all teammate baskets). It’s extremely uncommon to see pass-heavy players with big roles in an offense turn the ball over so infrequently, particularly in the early parts of their career, and Burke would have also qualified last year as a rookie.

How this bodes for his future is very tough to decipher. One could point to names like LeBron, Allen Iverson, and pre-MVP Derrick Rose among the others who have reached such thresholds, but the absence of more instances throughout history makes predicting things going forward basically impossible. SCH’s own Dan Clayton has investigated the correlation between passing turnovers and offensive efficiency, and through this lens Trey’s figures here might be somewhat worrying – does he push the envelope enough to succeed consistently at a high level on offense? Time will surely tell.

Rudy Gobert:

The Stifle Tower has been hard at work earning his nickname so far this year, and he has some fun historical comparisons of his own here. Just eight rotation players in their first or second seasons have ever achieved over three blocks per-36-minutes6 while also rebounding at least 18 percent of all available boards while on the court, and the lanky Frenchman can count himself among them. He shares the accomplishment with several greats, just like his teammates above – Shaq did it in both his first two seasons7, and guys like David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo appear as well.

Rudy surely lacks the offensive chops these types displayed even early on, but it’s encouraging nonetheless to see him have so much success right away in the precise areas he was drafted to excel in. He continues to impress and demand more court time with his play, and is even beginning to harness his abilities as a roll-man offensively. He should remain a joy to watch as his fundamentals and basketball IQ keep on catching up to his freakish skill set.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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5 Comments

  1. UtahsMrSports says:

    Thanks for the great write up! Great to keep things in perspective!

  2. Mewko says:

    “Hayward will be the sort of elite jack-of-all-trades swingman the Jazz banked on when they matched his big contract”

    So Ben→→→ When that happens, will Paul George or Gordon Hayward be better? Paul George averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in 2013-14.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Very hard to say, both because of how PG’s injury may or may not impact him going forward and because of how hard defensive play is to quantify still. There’s no question PG was a far superior defender pre-injury though, and if that continues I’d likely give him the edge, especially if his offensive game from last season doesn’t suffer once he’s back.

    • UtahsMrSports says:

      When are we going to move past the Hayward-George obvious point? Yeah, we didn’t get Paul George. We also didnt get Al Farouq Aminu…….

      • Mewko says:

        @UtahsMrSports— I’m not upset about passing on Paul George
        I agree with Ben, Paul George is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, next to Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
        PG attempted more shots per game in 2013-14 than Hayward this year, and PG got 21 pts per game compared to Hayward’s 19.
        PG has the edge on defense, and the Pacers’ cryptonite is anemic offense.
        Hayward has the edge on offense (now that he’s bulked up, he can slash as well as PG, and beat him on outside shooting), and the Jazz are horrible on defense.

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