Earlier in the week, I spent some time breaking down last year’s Jazz starting (and most-used) lineup using shooting data expertly compiled by Matt D’Anna of Nylon Calculus – how the five-man unit as a whole as well as individuals within it functioned in terms of their shot selection, frequency, and effectiveness. Continuing the nerd-out today, we’ll turn an eye toward the future pieces within the franchise. How did Utah’s “Core Five” lineup stack up from Matt’s TeamSPACE perspective last year? The lineup played 122 minutes together over 24 different games1, per NBA.com, so they don’t have as large a sample to draw on as the starters from last year, but such a sample is still easily large enough (214 FGA) to draw conclusions from. Here’s the chart:
And just for the purposes of convenient contrasting, here’s the chart I used earlier in the week for last year’s starters:
We’ll begin with the areas that still need work this time around, in part to mix things up and in part because, despite a still-flawed chart for the core youngsters, I think there are a few more areas of promise to highlight here. These are mostly individual areas, though – on the team level, it’s likely this chart showcases even less overall direction and efficiency than that of the starters. Smaller, somewhat isolated splotches are even more frequent, particularly those in the longer midrange areas.
The “in-between” areas, between at-the-hoop looks and midrange, are far too populated with clusters. These shots aren’t necessarily bad from time to time, but in larger groups generally tend to indicate either frequently rebuffed driving attempts or rushed shots after rebounds and at the end of the shot clock2. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the way their activity from beyond the arc was so staggered and inconsistent – the group certainly has work to do in terms of spreading the floor and finding the areas that will best stretch defenses. Of nine Utah lineups with over 100 total minutes last year, this one shot the second-fewest three-point attempts and had the fewest makes.
Of course, much of this is entirely understandable. This unit had no members over the age of 24, had never played together before Trey Burke’s debut, and certainly wasn’t helped much by Ty Corbin’s refusal to start or play them many sustained minutes throughout the year. It’s easy to see how that translates into a lack of in-depth understanding from each player of their individual role within the lineup, and it’s a big part of why there’s so much visible overlapping between guys. But there are positives to glean for multiple individuals within the chart (more below).
After all the flack his shooting has taken from myself and basically the entire known basketball world these last few months, you bet Gordon Hayward gets the first mention here. His chart within the core five group last year, while still far from ideal given the role Utah wants to see him in long term, was a major improvement over the performance he put forth as part of the starting unit. Barely visible in much of the halfcourt with the starters despite his nominal “first option” title, Hayward’s red clusters appear in a far more prevalent way with the rest of the youngsters – and with better results, as well. Per nbawowy.com, Hayward had an Effective Field-Goal Percentage of 47.4 with the starters, a figure that skyrocketed to 55.3 when he played with the core unit. Gordon is far too spread out in an overall sense, but his increased activity with this lineup showcases a comfort level and sense of responsibility that will prove vital as the team works its way up to contender status. It’d be nice to see him move some of those longer midrange shots back beyond the arc, but of course spacing plays a big role here and often isn’t under his control.
Alec Burks also receives a mostly positive grade here, though like both Burke and Hayward his selection is somewhat all over the place. Burks did rank in the top third of guards for “In the Paint (Non-RA)” percentage, but a slightly sub-40-percent figure from there again has me wishing he’d eliminate some of those in-between looks. That said, he was likely the best of the three guards at somewhat clustering his locations. I’ve talked before about his off-the-bounce game being notably more effective when going to his right hand, and either defenses noticed also or Alec wasn’t doing a good enough job getting to those spots – larger clusters to his left side would likely be better served if they were going to his stronger hand. But overall, he seems to be grasping his role reasonably, loading up from distance and in close while hopefully limiting his midrange to more of a secondary option going forward.
I was surprised to see such little activity from Kanter, the de facto shooter at the big position within this lineup. In particular, the (shooter’s) left baseline is noticeably bare of jumpers from the big Turk, despite it being easily his most common and most effective jump-shooting area over the full season3. Whether this speaks to positioning issues with Favors, opportunity issues given the three guards, or something else entirely, I’d expect Enes to make himself more known within these sort of lineups this season, particularly if his midrange game continues the solid upward trajectory it’s followed thus far in his career. But outside this, he’s doing what he should – sticking to shots in his office by the hoop, with a few selective splotches from midrange to complement it. Favors and Burke don’t show too many marked departures from their performances with the starting lineup, so many of the same talking points apply for them.
As a unit, while the entire picture likely isn’t as pretty as we might like, to my eye there’s plenty of promise. Hayward and Burks are clearly comfortable with their young peers, and both are reaching an age where shot selection refinement is a common addition to a player’s game. The group is almost insanely young, and a fairly large amount of improvement across the board, particularly from Burke as he enters his sophomore season, isn’t out of the question whatsoever. They’ll be a lock to well exceed their total minutes last year barring major injury, likely in more sustained periods where they can really nail down the chemistry aspect. And of course, all five have another year of experience under their belts, a heralded player development staff newly on board, and a new scheme within which to operate. Can’t wait to team back up with Matt and take a look at their progress as the season takes shape.