After a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz are back to .500. At times it feels like the Jazz can do no wrong and other times it feels like they still have a lot of growing pains left to experience.
The Jazz are currently tied with the Chicago Bulls for the sixth-best defensive rating in the league and everyone knows why. Utah has two of the best rim protectors on the planet in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Snyder has designed his defense to force opposing teams into the paint where the bigs are waiting for them. Subsequently, the wing defenders can afford to take some gambles on the perimeter knowing they have a safety net behind them. Utah ranks ninth in the association with 8.9 steals per game, but it’s not the wings who are the Jazz’s biggest thieves. The aforementioned Favors leads the team with 1.9 steals per game. He’s been able to use his deceptive quickness to get around his man and into passing lanes.
One thing that’s especially noteworthy is the fact that Utah is in the bottom three in defensive rebounds, yet teams are only scoring 11 second chance points per game against them, tied for sixth-stingiest. So even while teams are getting more looks at the basket, Utah is turning them away. Part of what aids the defense is the way the Jazz take care of the ball on offense. At only 14.7 turnovers per games, the Jazz are tied with the Brooklyn Nets for eleventh in the association. What separates the Jazz from a team like Brooklyn is that the Nets allow 17.5 points off of turnovers, while the Jazz are tied for first in league rankings while only giving up 13.5 points off of the exact same number of turnovers.
The Jazz defense has been an absolute headache for most of their opponents.
If the Jazz defense is a headache for opposing teams, the offense might as well be an aspirin for them. Ranking in the league’s bottom 10 per-100-possessions, it’s the offense that’s holding the team back from being elite. Despite having some truly gifted players on offense like Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Favors, the Jazz offense hasn’t been able to get it going in year two under Quin Snyder. Of course it is still fairly early in the season and there have been stretches of brilliance on the offensive end, but it’s rare to see the team put together a great game here from beginning to end.
Part of the problem is how poorly the team is shooting near the basket. The Jazz have a shooting percentage of 54.7 when attempting a shot less than five feet from the basket, among the 10 worst teams. Trevor Booker has been especially terrible within five feet, only making 35 percent of his shots. Interestingly enough, the team still has a lot of success down low. 46.1 percent of Utah’s points come in the paint. So a large chunk of the offense is designed to get into the paint, meaning the team is leaving a lot of points on the table by failing to execute from in close.
Remember how efficient the Jazz are at getting steals? Only 11.6 percent of their points come from fast breaks. The Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards average 9.2, 9.1 and 8.8 steals, respectively. The difference being that all three of those teams rank in the top five of percentage of points scored in transition. Part of the problem is that it’s Utah’s power forward who leads the team in steals, and thus isn’t likely to push the pace for an easy bucket. The other part of the problem is that the Jazz don’t have a true starting-caliber point guard. Yes, both Trey Burke and Raul Neto are listed on the depth chart as point guards, but Burke is better off the ball and Neto shouldn’t be leading a team on a quest to end a playoff drought. Hopefully, once Dante Exum returns from injury, a lot of what hinders the offense will fade out. Unfortunately, Exum almost certainly won’t be returning this season.
The Utah Jazz are still a playoff contender and can compete with almost anyone. It just depends on which Jazz team shows up on a given night.