The Jazz Modernize, Make History with the Three

January 25th, 2018 | by Steve Godfrey

The Jazz are in the midst of a historic season for three-point shooting.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw via ESPN.com)

Today’s NBA is all about the three-point shot. Whether you are a winning team in the league or living in the basement, the NBA is letting it fly from deep. The Utah Jazz are no exception, a team that rides or dies by three.

Here are some stats on how Utah is modernizing its approach by embracing the long-range shot, followed by analysis of what it means.

History: the Jazz and the Three-Point Shot

As for most of the league, the sharp increase in threes is a rather new phenomenon for Utah. During the franchise’s heyday, the three-point shot was not a regular part of the arsenal.

In the 1997-98 NBA season, the Jazz went 62-20 while winning the Midwest Division, the Western Conference, and reaching the NBA Finals for the second straight season. Along the way, they shot 670 three-pointers, connecting on 249 of the attempts for a team mark of 37 percent. Jeff Hornacek, the sharp-shooter, shot 44 percent (127 attempts), Bryon Russell shot 34 percent (214), John Stockton shot 43 percent (91 shots), Howard Eisley 41 percent (118 attempts), and Jacque Vaughn 38 percent (8 attempts). Karl Malone was the stretch-four, hitting two of his six attempts in the season for 33%. Relive one with legendary Jazz announcer Hot Rod Hundley.

A few years later, Jerry Sloan led a different squad to the Western Conference finals, only to be outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs. In that 2006-2007 season, the Jazz finished 51-31, taking the Northwest Division crown along the way. This team crossed the 1,000 line for the first time, with 1,056 threes attempted during the season. Four players shot better than 33 percent from deep, although Paul Millsap did so on just three attempts all season, making one. Mehmet Okur shot 38 percent on 336 attempts, Gordan Giricek made 43 percent of his 122 shots and Matt Harpring hit 33% of his 39. The point guards, Deron Williams and Derek Fisher, were both a hair below the 33% average.

The Jazz and the Three Today

Record-wise, the 2017-18 Jazz are struggling. They sit at 20-28, 10th place in the Western Conference. The Jazz aren’t bad enough to tank, currently 10th worst in the NBA, but they also aren’t good enough for a playoff spot (five games out). Yet, despite the lousy record and disappointing season, the Jazz are blasting the teams of yesteryear out of the water with their three-point shooting.

Last year the team set their franchise record for putting up 2,128 threes in the season. This year’s team is on pace to shatter the single-season record, set last season. The 2016-17 Jazz put up 2,128 threes, and this year’s squad had already taken 1,436 threes attempted thus far.

44 Seasons Table
Season Tm W L 3P 3PA 3P%
2017-18 UTA 20 28 522 1436 .364
2016-17 UTA 51 31 791 2128 .372
2015-16 UTA 40 42 694 1956 .355
2014-15 UTA 38 44 610 1781 .343
2013-14 UTA 25 57 543 1577 .344
2012-13 UTA 43 39 507 1385 .366
2011-12 UTA 36 30 273 845 .323
2010-11 UTA 39 43 435 1256 .346
2009-10 UTA 53 29 439 1207 .364
2008-09 UTA 48 34 392 1122 .349
2007-08 UTA 54 28 407 1095 .372
2006-07 UTA 51 31 354 1056 .335
2005-06 UTA 41 41 311 925 .336
2004-05 UTA 26 56 250 762 .328
2003-04 UTA 42 40 252 786 .321
2002-03 UTA 47 35 224 641 .349
2001-02 UTA 44 38 280 842 .333
2000-01 UTA 53 29 325 852 .381
1999-00 UTA 55 27 329 854 .385
1998-99 UTA 37 13 140 388 .361
Season Tm W L 3P 3PA 3P%
1997-98 UTA 62 20 249 670 .372
1996-97 UTA 64 18 334 902 .370
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/53/2018.

For comparison’s sake, eight players on the 2017-18 roster are currently over that 33% figure, with Jonas Jerebko, Raul Neto and Joe Ingles (of course) over 40 percent. Think about that: in the glory days of old, only Hornacek was over 40 percent from deep. Just over halfway through the season, the Jazz as a team have connected on 522 buckets for 36 percent from distance. Halfway through the season, the Jazz have nearly doubled the Western Conference champs we love from 20 years ago.

In one game early this season, they nailed a franchise record 18 three-pointers versus the Milwaukee Bucks. Consequently, the Jazz won that night 121-108. Thabo Sefolosha was the only player that night that didn’t shoot above 50% from deep.

When the Jazz are on, like against the Bucks, it’s fun to watch and they have a good chance to win games. In fact, the Jazz are 13-7 when they hit twelve threes. On the other side, they sit at 0-13 when they can’t reach 30% on a night from deep. It’s live or die, baby.

Monday, versus Atlanta, was one of those bad nights. The Jazz only made four deep bombs, but took 15 attempts to get there. 4/15 isn’t anything to write home about, as the percentage was a measly 27%. The worst, however, was when the Jazz connected on seven three-pointers against the Pelicans on January 3. That night, the Jazz lost 98-108, partly because they kept shooting from deep hoping to make up the deficit. Shot after shot became miss after miss from long range as they finished 7/32 for 22%.

Shoot Your Shot

Like most of the league, the Jazz used to rarely hit the 1,000 attempt mark, getting there just once in the first 32 years the club existed1. Things are changing across the association, perhaps a product of the pace-or-space style of the modern Golden State Warriors or the Seven-Seconds-or-Less-Suns, two teams that realized that three is bigger than two. It could be argued the Warriors revolutionized the sport, frequently passing up an easy lay-up to pass out for a three. The Warriors didn’t invent the role of the stretch forward who can shoot and space, but they unlocked it like never before, and the rest of the NBA is now trying to catch up. Every single team has passed 1,000 three attempts in the season so far. The Jazz, who aren’t even a winning team overall, are ranked 9th in the NBA for makes and 10th for attempts when it comes to the deep ball. Houston, an elite team by record, leads the way having attempted nearly 2,000 threes and already connecting on 728 of them.

The Jazz have three players creeping up on Randy Foye’s single regular season record for threes in a season, which stands at 178. Ingles is 15th on the franchise list with 107 made threes, Mitchell is 22nd with 101, and Hood has connected on 97 for 23rd. By the years’ end, all three should be in the top 10. Hood (161 in 2016) and Ingles (123 last year) have already achieved top-10 seasons on the franchise list for threes made.

Speaking of Mitchell, the rookie is proving the evolution of the NBA with his deep shooting. Fellow rookie Lauri Markkanen, of the Chicago Bulls, made waves mid-January when he became the fastest player to make 100 threes in a season. It took him 41 games. Mitchell needed an extra week or two, but now sits in second with 47 games needed to cross the century mark.

The 2017-18 current roster even holds All-Time implications. Rodney Hood has played just four years with the Jazz, yet is already ranked eighth all-time in franchise 3-point makes with 434, and Joe Inglesis ninth with 383.

The Modern Jazz

So what gives?

Simply acknowledging the Jazz are adapting to the NBA is a good thing. They are trying to keep up, knowing it leads to success and wins. They are constructing a team that fits the modern NBA. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey recently admitted that the Jazz would like to add even more shooting, in the form of a big who can shoot 40 percent from deep. Such an acquisition would change the team, further shifting the focus to the three-point line.

Threes have also become something of a bellwether for predicting outcomes. Forget stats for a second and just think of how confident we feel when we see Ingles line one up from the corner We know there is a very strong chance it’s going in. Is the team taking at least 15 threes in a half? If so, that’s good news. Are they connecting on at least one in three? Another good sign.

We can also use all this information to see that the Jazz are running an offense to get a three-point shot. NBA.com stats shows that 38% of all field goals attempted are a three. That’s more than a third of the time that the Jazz are hunting for a triple, which is eighth in the NBA. Yet, at least once a game, fans are frustrated as players make an extra pass, but their goal is to get a better look, a more open look, and probably, a three-point look. According to NBA.com stats, 32% of all Jazz points are brought forth by the deep shot. Not surprisingly, that number is again top 10 in the league (7th). What’s interesting, however, is that the Jazz are making the extra pass (so it seems) only to rank 26th in the league when counting the percentage of three-pointers assisted. Unassisted threes often result from isolation, late in shot clock pull-up threes or perhaps from a pick and roll where the defender drops under the screen and dares the ball handler to pull up.

What about a more detailed analysis? According to Basketball-Reference, the Jazz are more reliant on the corner three than just about anybody in the league. In fact, 27 percent of Utah’s deep bombs are from the corner, which is tops in the league. At the same time, the Jazz connect on about 42 percent of those corner threes, good for sixth in the league. What does that indicate? Purposely, it’s in the game plan to get to the corner. Additionally, the game plan is using Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favor’s strength as screeners and roll men to create that shot. Coach Quin Snyder loves side-to-side movement and a corner triple is the shot you get when the defense is unbalanced. Quin wants it to happen because he knows it’s a strength.

Team Shooting Table
3-Pt 3-Pt 3-Pt 3-Pt 3-Pt
Corn Corn Heav Heav
Rk Team %Ast’d %3PA 3P%
Att. Md.
1 Atlanta Hawks .870 .253 .442 11 0
2 Indiana Pacers .809 .225 .433 12 0
3 San Antonio Spurs .879 .226 .426 9 0
4 New York Knicks .848 .186 .423 11 0
5 Charlotte Hornets .785 .164 .417 11 1
6 Utah Jazz .789 .269 .415 6 0
7 Sacramento Kings .819 .218 .414 12 0
8 Denver Nuggets .851 .157 .414 9 0
9 New Orleans Pelicans .888 .234 .413 10 0
League Average .830 .207 .393 9.8 0.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/23/2018.

Building on the Three

Regardless of wins or losses, the direction of the NBA, and the Utah Jazz, is to shoot from deep. You can bet that as the team drafts, makes free agent or 2-way contract decisions, or builds a team around their budding rookie or lengthy Frenchman, the shot from the top will be of utmost consideration. Today’s path to success is the road from downtown. For the Jazz to get where they want to be, it’ll be 3 and D.

Steve Godfrey

Steve studied journalism and English, and now teaches high school in Northern Utah. He started his own website and writes about being a Tortured Jazz fan at: http://www.thetorturedfan.com/. He joined the Salt City Hoops team at the start of the 2017-18 season to connect with more Jazz fans and to continue to apply his passion for writing and for basketball.

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