The Jazz championship problem – Look no further than the Draft

December 10th, 2010 | by K.Malphurs

This summer there was a minor stir created by owner Greg Miller’s “I think that the best approach for us to take as a franchise is just to be competitive” quote.  When he admitted that “we’re probably not going to win a championship, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to give it everything we’ve got” it upset a lot of Jazz fans.  The Jazz have come very close in the past and the current team they have isn’t that far off from being a championship caliber team.  They just seem to be stuck in the tier right below the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs.   Some of the fault is usually placed on the team being in a small market and that ownership isn’t willing to spend the required amount of money.  I disagree with that.  The main reason the Jazz don’t have a championship caliber team is because they have not drafted well over the past 7 years.

When I write that the Jazz haven’t drafted well over the past 7 years I want to be fair to Jazz management.  Before I get into the negatives let me first start off with the few things the Jazz have done  well in regards to the draft:

  1. Trading up to get Deron Williams.  Kevin O’Connor traded up in the draft to the 3rd pick by giving up picks that ended up being the following players: Martell Webster, Linas Kleiza and Joel Freeland for Deron Williams.  If he had stayed with the 6th pick then the players he would have been forced to draft were players like Webster, Charlie Villanueva or Channing Frye.   Wow.
  2. 2006′s draft - Something must have been in the air that night because Brewer, Millsap and even to a small extent Dee Brown were great picks.  Millsap gave the Jazz leverage with Boozer and will be a great player for the Jazz for years to come.
  3. Al Jefferson trade- giving up a 1st round bust (Kosta Koufus) and two protected 1st round picks (especially when you haven’t done a great job drafting) looks to be a smart move.

Without the above three things the below analysis would be even more depressing to Jazz fans.  As far as the analysis goes though I am going to compare who the Jazz drafted with the player selected right after the Jazz pick.  The reason being  is that it frustrates me when people go back through drafts and play the “what if” game.  What if the Jazz took Landry Fields instead of Gordon Hayward?  Well of course the team would be better right now, but nobody would ever have suggested to Kevin O’Connor before the draft to take Fields with the 9th overall pick.  It would have been a better pick, but it just isn’t realistic.

I could go back to 2001 (Raul Lopez instead of  the next pick Gerald Wallace)  or farther, but I would rather start with 2004 since that was a huge year for the Jazz as they had three first round picks.  Let’s look at the Jazz picks compared to the very next pick and see how the Jazz did in their draft by comparing each player’s career *Win Shares.

*Win Shares = an estimate of the number of wins that can be attributed to one player.  For a longer description check out this link.

Better pick by the Jazz3 times

  • 2005 – C.J. Miles (7.4 WS) compared to the next pick Ricky Sanchez (0 WS). = +7.4 wins.
  • 2006 – Ronnie Brewer (21 WS) compared to Cedric Simmons (0.1 WS). = +20.9
  • 2006 – Paul Millsap (28.3 WS) over Vladimir Varemeenko (0 WS). +28.3
  • TOTAL: +56.6 in the Jazz favor

Worse pick7 times

  • 2004 – Kris Humphries (7.6 WS) compared to the next pick Al Jefferson (31.1 WS).  -23.5 wins
  • 2004 – Kirk Snyder (4.5 WS) compared to Josh Smith (32.7 WS). -28.2.
  • 2007 – Morris Almond (0 WS) compared to Aaron Brooks (10.8 WS).  -10.8.
  • 2007 – Herbert Hill (o WS) compared to Ramon Sessions (8 WS).  -8
  • 2008 – Kosta Koufus(1.4 WS)  compared to Serge Ibaka (6 WS).  -4.6.
  • 2008 – Ante Tomic (o WS) compared to Goran Dragic (2.7 WS).  -2.7
  • 2009 – Eric Maynor (2.3 WS) compared to Darren Collison (4.0 WS). -1.7
  • TOTAL: – 79.5 Win Shares

Comparable picks (I excluded the random 2nd round picks like Robert Whaley if they were matched up with another bust.  Also, I am a Jazz fan and despite evidence to the contrary I rate Deron Williams as the same as Chris Paul) - 3 times

Andrew D. Bernstein /Getty Images

  • 2005 – Deron Williams (43.7 WS) compared to Chris Paul (66.8 WS). -23.1 wins
  • 2010 – Gordon Hayward (0 WS) compared to Paul George (0.1 WS). -0.1
  • 2010 – Jeremy Evans (0.2 WS) over Hamady Ndiaye (0 WS). +0.2
  • TOTAL: – 23 Win Shares

Overall Total:  -45.9 Win Shares.

A negative 45.9 Win Shares difference between the Jazz pick and the very next pick shows how close the Jazz have been to getting some real impact players.  What if the Jazz had drafted Jefferson and Smith in 2004 and played them very few minutes like they did with Humphries and Synder?  What if they had then drafted Chris Paul the following year?  Can you imagine a lineup with Chris Paul, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Memhet Okur with Al Jefferson and Josh Smith coming off the bench?  Would that team have beaten the Spurs in 2007?  What about the Lakers the next three years? 

Even if you go back only 5 years or even 3 years then you see players that would help this Jazz team out.  Darren Collison would be a great backup point guard for Deron Williams and if they had to trade him like they did with Maynor he probably would have brought back more in return.  Serge Ibaka would have provided a solid inside presence to help every year against the Lakers.

Now you can see how the team I described It is pretty clear over the past seven years the Jazz have done a worse job drafting than the random teams that drafted after them.  Does this make me worry more about Gordon Hayward?  Does this make me think that Kevin O’Connor might not be the best GM at drafting?   Does this make me think more highly of Coach Sloan? (Some might think this speaks less of Coach Sloan and point to the fact that he can’t develop 1st round picks.  I disagree since I don’t know any coach in the world that would be able to make Kirk Snyder into Josh Smith.) Does this make it even more remarkable that the Jazz have been a consistent playoff team?

Yes to all of the questions in the paragraph above.

I think that if the Jazz would have made only one or two different draft picks over the past seven years then Greg Miller probably wouldn’t have had the “just to be competitive” quote this summer.  I think there would be a decent chance that the Jazz would have at least one title and would be looking at another one this year.

K.Malphurs

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9 Comments

  1. Jefferson says:

    Great research! We have been awfully close to some great players…heck, in 2001, we could have picked up Tony Parker…he would have been a much better Stockton replacement than Lopez. With Tony Parker at the point, we could have got Danny Granger, Injured Bynum, or Channing Frye in 2005, without making the trade up for D-Will. Hindsight is 20/20, though. What would be really interesting (and time consuming and monotonous) would be to see how the rest of the league stacks up under this matrix.

    Good stuff!

  2. C33 says:

    That’s why it’s called “the lottery,” no?

  3. memo is money says:

    If you will look at drafts, how about breaking down EVERY TEAM and then comparing them with the Jazz? How many lottery picks have the Jazz owned for 15-20 years? Manu was a late second round pick, so 29 teams made a big mistake by not selecting him? You cannot expect a team to make a great selection from late 1st rounds, EVERY FREAKIN YEAR. You have to be happy that we got Millsap in 2nd round, who exceeded all the expectations. Name me a team that has a success rate of +%50 when it comes to those kind of situations. If you really think the missing piece to Finals or WCF is someone who the Jazz will draft, then keep dreaming.

  4. Kevin Malphurs says:

    Memo is money – I appreciate the comment. I would love to break down every team’s drafting over the past 5, 10, 20 years, but as Jefferson pointed out that would take a long, long time. I don’t expect the Jazz to make a great pick every year. Also, I agree it is tough to really improve when you aren’t drafting in the lottery often. However, I would like to point out my analysis wasn’t based on who the Jazz could have picked. It is easy to pick out someone like Manu since every team made a mistake passing on him. Instead all I was trying to look at was who the very next pick was after the Jazz pick as opposed to the best pick. it is hard to find fault in the analysis that the Jazz have not done well drafting compared with the next pick.

    I think players like Josh Smith, Serge Ibaka or others would really help the Jazz out over years. I am not projecting the future, but looking at the past they have missed out. The misses far outweight the makes for the drafting over the past 7 years.

  5. matt the jazz fan says:

    while I agree that we have made a few bone-headed selections – especially with hindsight, two comments:
    - comparing with the next player is not necessarily fair as we may have been looking for a different position
    - if you are basing yourself on win shares and half of the total difference is paul versus deron and then you say you disagree with that particular stat then… maybe use another method
    HAVING SAID THAT interesting post and too bad about josh smith that’s for sure!

  6. CJ's BBQ says:

    Your analysis here, while interesting, is incomplete. You state that “the Jazz have not done well drafting compared with the next pick” based on win shares, but how do the Jazz compare with all other teams in the league? An overall total of -45.9 win shares is utterly meaningless if what the other teams did over the same time period is unknown. Considering that only a small percentage of the 60 players drafted each season actually end up with a positive win share number, it is reasonable to predict that all teams will have a negative overall win share following the method of your analysis. I think you (or somebody with the time on their hands) need to dig a little deeper before coming to the conclusion that the Jazz “have not drafted well over the past 7 years.”

  7. CJ's BBQ says:

    oops, well, obviously a win share wouldn’t be negative, but you get the point.

  8. CalWill says:

    Where do these stats come from? (WS) If you look at DWil’s history vs. Chris Paul’s, since DWil has come to the Jazz the have always been .500 or better. Chris Paul on the other hand, the Hornets have only had 2 seasons above .500, 3 if you count this year. That would of been a horrible mistake to not draft DWil vs anyone else. I do agree that there needs to be a change with upper management to get what Jazz fans want–Championship. Josh Smith would have been sweet but the draft is never clear on how the players actually turn out. The Jazz need to focus on the draft, but really the fix is trying to get a steal of a deal like the Blazers got with Wesley Mathews. We need young up coming players that we can sign and get at a good price. Look at the OKC Thunder and the Bulls. They weren’t supposed to be in contention a few years ago but with the young talent they had they meshed into some of the most competitive teams in the NBA.

  9. K.Malphurs says:

    CJ’s BBQ – first off I love the name. I would love to do an analysis of every team and rank the +/- win shares by comparing each team’s pick vs. the next pick. That would take some time, but maybe if I only look at a three year time period then that would help with the analysis. Also, a win share could be negative. Unfortunately Gordon Hayward has produced negative .2 wins for the Jazz this year. You have to have really terrible stats to have a negative win share.

    CalWill – Great timing on your comment since I just finished my analysis of Paul vs. Williams for today’s column. I agree with a lot of your points on Deron vs. Paul and would rather have Williams from now on. Check out the article and I would appreciate any feedback.

    Win Share is a metric created by Dean Oliver that tries to calculate how many wins an individual contributes to the team. For example if Deron Williams has 10 win shares this year then you would interpret that as Williams was directly responsible for 10 of the Jazz wins. For more information there are some great books I read such as The Wages of Wins. Here are some sites to check out if you are interested in learning more:

    Definition – http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ws.html
    Win Shares blog – http://dberri.wordpress.com/

    You can get Win Shares by using basketball-reference.com. They do the calculation for you, which is extremely helpful for me.

    I would love for the Jazz to get some young talent either through the draft, trades or free agency. They seem to be so close to having a team that can compete for a title that all they need is one or two good moves.

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