What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Utah Jazz”? Do you think of Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton? Or do you think of more recent seasons with Quin Snyder, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and a team built around defense? Whatever it is, you probably don’t equate the Utah Jazz with speed. And to be fair – you’re probably right.
Last year, the Jazz played at the league’s slowest pace. They played at a pace of 93.26 possessions per 48 minutes, more than two full possessions fewer than the next slowest team, the Toronto Raptors. The Jazz have not played at a pace above 93 since the 09-10 season, when their pace was 96.03.
The Jazz have steadily been declining in pace relative to the rest of the NBA (They’ve actually maintained approximately the same pace over the past six years, but the rest of the NBA has increased dramatically.) Many would argue that a higher pace of play means a better offense, and therefore a better team. Quin Snyder disagrees.
“It’s interesting about pace, because there’s nothing positive associated with being slow,’’ Snyder told the Deseret News. “When you say something’s slow, we don’t see how that’s great — it’s slow. But pace isn’t necessarily bad in this case.’’
“I wouldn’t say it’s fashionable to play with pace,” he continued. “But we’re not Golden State. For us we’re not focused on playing slow, we’re focused on getting high percentage shots and the way that our team is made up, sometimes that involves grinding it out in the halfcourt.’’
With that being said, the Jazz have the personnel to push the tempo when they want to. Team pace as measured by possessions per minute is really a way to analyze a team’s choices about its system and how it want to play, but that doesn’t mean the Jazz don’t have some speed available to them. So who exactly is the fastest player on the Utah Jazz? We’re going to evaluate this in three ways: the “eye test”, combine statistics, and on-court statistics.
If we’re going off the eye-test or perceived speed, then the fastest player on the Jazz is Dante Exum. Dante has been known for his speed since before he was drafted. Per Draft Express:
“An adapt passer with speed to burn in the open floor, a great motor and an exceptionally high basketball IQ, the rest of the game comes easy to Exum. He plays with his head up, fills lanes on the break, and rebounds well for a guard. He’s a versatile defender with great quickness, improving physical strength, and a team-first mentality.”
Though we haven’t had an extended look at Exum, he certainly looks as if he has an ability to make a difference with his speed. One of Exum’s biggest strengths is his ability to change speed. While he doesn’t stop the score in the below play, his speed, particularly his change of speed, is clearly evident.
NBA Combine Tests
One of the tests performed at the NBA Draft Combine and other venues is the 3/4 court sprint, a test of both acceleration and speed. Note that these stats are from the Combine, which goes back to 2009. Only players drafted since then, and who participated in this drill, are listed.
The Combine also features an agility drill, where players move around cones in the key using forward sprinting, side-to-side shuffling and backpedaling. This is often looked at as more of a test of quickness than pure speed, but it is important.
Finally, we’ll take a look at NBA tracking data from the 2015-2016 season. The NBA recently implemented tracking cameras to monitor player movement on the court. This can monitor player movement on the court. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to look at average speed. This data includes all players but rookie Joel Bolomboy, with Exum’s 2014-15 stats.
What can we glean from these stats?
1. Joel Bolomboy is fast. In fact, that might be an understatement. Bolomboy is the fastest Jazzman in both the agility drill and the 3/4 sprint. His agility drill ranks the fourth best of all-time. If Bolomboy can mature and adapt to the NBA game, then his athleticism and speed could be a huge weapon on this Jazz team. This year, either in the D-League or the NBA, we will see how much of his top-end speed can carry over to the basketball court at the professional level.
2. The Jazz are consistently slow. At 4.51 miles per hour, Shelvin Mack was the only Jazz player within the top 30 in average on-court speed. For reference, the fastest player in the NBA last year was TJ McConnell, with an average speed of 4.81 miles per hour. In fact, the majority of the Jazz players rank in the bottom half of the NBA. Obviously, this is a lot due to the half-court offense and defensive style of play that Quin Snyder deploys, but the Jazz move at a uniformly slower pace than most of the NBA.
3. The Jazz can be selective with their speed. Bolomboy isn’t the only Jazzman with top-end speed. Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack, and Alec Burks all rank highly. It is important to utilize this speed when necessary. Fast break opportunities, coming off screens, and getting back on defense are all important moments that speed can make a huge difference. The offense may be designed to grind it out and look for high percentage shots, but speed is still a valuable weapon.
Ultimately, it turns out that it’s pretty difficult to make a definitive statement on the fastest player. Is it Joel Bolomboy? If speed is measured by off-court tests – it probably is. If it’s based on in-game speed, it may be Dante Exum. If it’s based on average speed, then Shelvin Mack wins. Someday we might have one stat that provides the true answer to the question: Who is the fastest player on the Jazz? For now, sit back, enjoy the game, and continue to be amazed.