What Actually Worked for the Utah Jazz Last Year?

September 9th, 2014 | by Clint Johnson
Victory Photo

(Jeremy Harmon/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Wins were precious last season. Only one team in Utah Jazz history garnered fewer wins for 82 games of effort than the Jazz’s 25 victories last year.1 I think it’s safe to assume Jazz fans, players, coaches, management, and ownership can all agree on one point: let’s not do that again.

But as rough a year as the Jazz had last season, they did manage to win some games. At times, things worked. Identifying just what worked may help produce more wins this season.

It’s impossible to put too much confidence in projections for this season formed from observations of last. Too much has changed, from Quin Snyder replacing Tyrone Corbin as head coach, to the departure of the team’s starting stretch four Marvin Williams, to young players growing more experienced, and in Gordon Hayward’s case, substantially richer.2 That said, the roster has remained stable enough to use players’ production in their roles last season to at least give ideas of how those roles might be adapted or emphasized this season to help the team win.

In examining last season’s statistics,3 I think two players stand out for materially helping the team win in very specific ways, with two more worth mentioning.

1) Gordon Hayward

When the team won: A free throw shoot’n, assist dish’n, second option.

More of Hayward’s statistics jump off the screen than any other Jazz player when evaluated for their discrepancy between wins and losses, not surprising for a player burdened with being his team’s primary offensive option. In the games the Jazz won last season, Hayward played in a very distinct way.

He punished teams from the free throw line, making 5.2 freebies per game. Averaged over the entire season, that would have been good for 11th in the league. In losses, he made only 3.6 free throws a game, good for 39th in the league. That’s still a respectable number,4 but it’s the difference between an elite point producer from the line and merely a good one.

That difference correlates to another statistic: how heavily dependent the team is on Hayward from the three point line. In wins, Hayward accounted for 18.9% of the teams attempts from range; in the losses, 25.8%. This indicates a reciprocal relationship: when Hayward parades to the line, his teammates get more three point attempts; likewise, with plenty of teammates gunning, Hayward is more likely to get room to attack the defense inside and draw fouls.

Interestingly, Hayward’s role as a passer was more predictive of wins than his scoring, regardless of which metric used to examine it. In Jazz wins, Hayward posted an assist percentage of 27.1 and accounted for 37% of the team’s assists, numbers similar to those of Trey Burke and Tony Parker. In the losses, those marks dropped by 5.1% and 6.3% respectively, moving him to Monte Ellis and Dwyane Wade territory. When Hayward was dishing, the Jazz had a much better chance of coming out on top.

Finally, the Jazz were much more successful when Hayward was making field goals inside the arc off the pass than from his own creation. Hayward’s willingness to take poor efficiency two point shots has been well documented, but in losses more of those shots he made were unassisted, a full five percentage points lower than in the wins. When more of Hayward’s made baskets from inside the arc were assisted – meaning he played off other players or system scheme rather than creating his own offense – the team won.

If this season sees Hayward playing a little more off others, cutting and slashing in moments of opportunity and moving the ball frequently rather than trying to create so much himself, last season’s results suggest the team could substantially benefit.

2) Derrick Favors

When the team won: A shot swat’n, energetic mismatch.5

It’s no secret the Jazz were poor defensively last season.6 What was sometimes lost in the carnage is Derrick Favors’ ability – sporadic and often undermined – to change a game on the defensive end. Despite averaging nearly identical minutes per game in wins and losses last season, Favors nearly doubled his blocks in the wins, 2 to 1.2. In sheer degree of differentiation (a 67% increase), it’s the most drastic predictor of Jazz wins last season…

Except for his predatory scoring. In wins, Favors scored a whopping 14.6% of his points off of turnovers; in the losses, only 8.5%.

Last year, when Favors was protecting the rim well and taking advantage of open court opportunities and defenses that hadn’t gotten set, the team had a real chance to win.

3) Enes Kanter and Trey Burke

When the team won: An inside/outside duo.7

In wins last season, Kanter scored 72.2% of his points in the paint while Burke scorched the net for 41.5% from three. When that wasn’t working, Kanter’s disposition of points down low dropped nearly 10% while Burke’s accuracy from deep plummeted to 28.4% and, shockingly, the team lost.

David Locke has gone on record predicting 100 three point attempts from Enes Kanter this season8 and we’re already hearing mumbles about the team working on extending his range with an eye toward a stretch role to some degree. Given his mechanics, I like the idea in theory, but last year’s numbers give reason for caution.

After all, simple logic supports the plausibility of a 6-11, 260 pound Turkish behemoth Bogarting baskets down low while the guy who made his name making big shots from a long way away at Michigan shoots from, well, a long way away. Last season’s statistics do as well.

Quin Snyder is a pretty smart guy, but innovation rarely starts by targeting what works already9. Invention builds on the past rather than simply replacing it. As rough as last season was in Jazzland, there is a foundation to build from. It will be interesting to see what Coach Snyder constructs, and how familiar the architecture will be.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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2 Comments

  1. gotag says:

    Hey Clint, on #3, was winning correlated to Kanter AND Burke going off in their respective kingdoms or Kanter OR Burke going off?

    Just what I am remembering is the Kanter and Burke didn’t do a good job of playing off of each other at all last year. Of course the Jazz didn’t win all that much last year so maybe the exception would have been a big factor in the wins…

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Very good point. Since this analysis is drawn from simple win/loss splits, it does not correlate specifically to any configuration of the pair on the court only at the same time. Rather, it is two observations of average individual production without regard to specific lineup. So, the Kanter/Burke inside-out game is less a description of what worked last season than a proposal of how to mesh both players so they might better compliment winning contributions each did well last season–a best of both world’s hypothesis.

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