We often hear, when the Jazz win, that the team won by playing “Utah Jazz basketball.” For me, that has always connoted heart, hustle, tough defense, smart offense, and above all, teamwork.
When you think about the best teams in franchise history, they often exuded teamwork – an altruistic mindset. These Jazz squads were the ones who seemed to take joy in making the extra pass and in doing so, everyone got involved. The teamwork and passing was simply contagious. The result were some very successful years and many deep playoff runs. Moreover, they were a complete delight to watch, especially for basketball purists.
They were rosters comprised of many capable and, more importantly, willing passers. While John Stockton and Deron Williams were naturally the catalysts behind these stellar passing teams, the Jazz have had a bevy of excellent passers in Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Andrei Kirilenko, Howard Eisley, and so forth.
One of my favorite statistics to watch: the percentage of the team’s total field goals which were assisted. Let’s call this the Assisted Field Goal Percentage, or AFG%. The team that has the higher percentage often places themselves in a good position to win on a given night. For instance, when the Los Angeles Clippers demolished the Jazz Saturday evening, they did a masterful job executing (especially in a preseason outing). Led by Chris Paul and Darren Collison, they assisted on 29 of their 43 field goals–a 67.4 percent clip. Furthermore, it was much higher through the first three quarters, prior to letting the end of the bench finish the evening out. The Clippers did a lot of other great things that night and the Jazz had a rough go at it, but the high AFG% definitely contributed to LA’s victory.
Here is a historical look at how the Jazz have done on AFG%. Let’s start with the 1987-88 campaign, when Stockton and Malone took the NBA by storm (side note: many people cite this as the first year Stockton started. He did start 38 games his second season.). Besides AFG%, the overall field goal percentage and record are also included.
|Season||FGs||Asts||AFG %||Overall FG%||Record|
While pace and scoring have fluctuated greatly in the NBA the past few decades, the Utah Jazz has been consistently high in AFG%. From 1987 to 2009–much of which came under Jerry Sloan’s tenure–the team had an AFG% of 64.4 percent or higher 22 of 23 seasons. During the 15 seasons where the team eclipsed the 50-win mark (including the 1998-99 lockout season where they would have), Utah sat between 66 and 71.5 percent 14 of those years. The high mark in 2002-03 happened to be the final season before #12 and #32 rode off into the sunset. 72.7 percent is simply stellar.
The past few seasons have been much lower, particularly the most recent lockout season. The offense focused on Al Jefferson’s low post abilities, which had some definite positives. It also took away from the more open, free passing offense that has been a stable of Utah Jazz basketball for decades. Likewise, the changing of the point guards–Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, and Mo Williams–definitely contributed. Without consistency at the helm, it is difficult to set the tone.
While this season will be a season of some growing pains, along with the defensive foundation that Tyrone Corbin and the front office has been fittingly espousing as a goal for this year, the Jazz would do well to help reestablish Utah’s longstanding focus on smart and effective passing, while boosting the team’s AFG%. Trey Burke’s injury certainly hurts, but with able passers like Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and some big guys who can dish, there are some very good pieces in place. As the team rebuilds, if it is to return to the ranks of contenders, keep an eye on the AFG%–it’s a true part of “Utah Jazz basketball.”