Hitting the "Big Four-Oh" is serious business in life. It’s pretty serious in the NBA as well because it is effectively half the season. By this time your team should have solved the problems from early on with a combination of coaching, practice, performance, and possibly trades. You’re either there or you are not. The Jazz, are currently in a tie for 3rd place in the Western Conference (with a Dallas Mavericks team we haven’t beaten, and the glorious, universally adored Oklahoma City Thunder). Both of those teams have way better conference records than the Jazz, so there’s always room for improvement. This isn’t supposed to be an assessment of the team, as a unit, this is just a look at the individual player stats.
I first did something like this after 10 games, and I followed that up with another at 22 games (it was supposed to be 20, but hey, this ain’t my day job). Game 30 happened right before my vacation, so yeah, that’s why we’re going right to 40 here. There are, of course, trends to look at here as well. I’ll attempt to keep this brief though.
Click on to read the rest of my scathing review…
Top Three Guys:
The top players for the Jazz this year are Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson. They play the most, shoot the ball the most (as seen in shots per game), and score the most. Thankfully, we don’t just look scoring as a measure of how good a player is, on the Jazz. Each of these guys brings more to the table than just scoring. Deron has been more decisive than in previous years with his focus on offense. Sure, in the first quarter he doesn’t attack as much, but he has shouldered the burden of being the first option much easier than we would have ever guessed. He leads the team with 22.0 points per game and has continued to improve from deep as the season has progressed. His cumulative three point shooting percentage after 10 games was 33.3%, after 22 games it was 33.7%. Now it is at 37.0%, which (if the season ended today) would be just a whisker under last year’s mark of 37.1% - which would be his 4th best mark of his career. Of course, he’s shooting a career best 85.1% from the free throw line this season. He’s scoring more efficiently (as seen in his over all shooting worth aka points per shot value), and he’s still dishing it over 9 times a game. The evolution to first option has come rather smoothly, and I’m really happy to see him taking that "Stockton Three" on the break which is virtually unstoppable.
Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are getting ‘theirs’, though I must still bring up the point that they aren’t necessarily working together to get it. Sure, maybe I’m spoiled having seen Karl Malone pass so effectively from the post, finding guys like Antoine Carr or Donyell Marshall open for easy scores. They cumulatively average 4.0 assists per game, which isn’t bad for guys who a) aren’t used to starting, or b) aren’t used to being on a team that incorporates passing the ball. But it’s not a good mark at all. Blake Griffin averages 3.4 apg by himself. What is even worse is that their assist to turnover ratios are among the worst on the team out of players who crack more than 12 mpg. It’s not all bad though. Millsap is averaging 17.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg. Jefferson is bringing in 16.6 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Sap is way more efficient (look at his %ages) and gets to the line more. Al is able to make his own shot in the paint against anyone, and is blocking two shots a game. He’s tied for second best on the team in Defensive Gambling, and is tired for first on the team for Pure Hustle. I’d like to report here that Al’s FG% is climbing at a good rate, it’s not, but it hasn’t regressed at least.
The Original S.W.A.R.M.
We love Earl Watson, Ronnie Price, C.J. Miles, Francisco Elson and Kyrylo Fesenko. No one expect that lineup to work, on paper, or on the court. Despite obvious limitations and flaws, they somehow make it work with grit, energy, and hustle. Earl and Ronnie set the tone for the rest of the crew with their scrappy play. Their efforts on defense, where they average 1.5 spg and countless deflections and harries, are where they shine. So much so that it’s just a bonus if they are able to make a shot (Earl: 45 fg%, 58 ft%, 29 3pt%; Ronnie: 39 fg%, 81 ft%, 29 3pt%). Most of the heavy lifting on offense is done by C.J. Miles. He is having a career year where his specific strengths (shooting and driving) are championed, and he’s not reigned into a rigid system that relegates him to being a 4th option jump shooter. Essentially, he’s coming off the bench, and he’s thriving. He’s shooting the ball nearly 11 times a game, but his percentages are down from his career highs – as a result his shooting worth (1.13) is the lowest out of all the players who play more than 15 minutes a game. That’s not so hot when you compound the fact that he shoots the 4th most on the team. Still – a streaky CJ isn’t the worst thing in the world; when he’s hot he’s an absolute delight to watch. His career high GO Rating is a product of this new gunslinger role.
Francisco Elson and Kyrylo Fesenko are both having up and down seasons. Now that Memo is back into the fold (for now) their minutes keep shrinking – and their production shrinks accordingly. Elson still is making all of his free throws (2nd best on the team by %), Fesenko is still, uh, nearly averaging a foul per every 5 mins of action. Fesenko blocks and boards more than Elson in less minutes; but Fes looks to have seriously regressed offensively. I think part of their shared dilemma is sample size. But like the rest of the SWARM, their value isn’t seen in individual numbers; rather, it’s that they are part of a unit that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. (82games.com shows that this unit is actually tops in win %, and 3rd best over-all in +/- while being only the 8th most used lineup)
The Long ARM of the Law:
Arm? That’s a dumb name for Andrei,Raja and Mehmet. But let’s talk about what they’re doing, and not focus so much on that dumb name I just gave them. These are guys that all could be starting if some hair trigger fans had their way, or could all be on the bench, of other, different, hair trigger fans had their way. These vets are all on the wrong side of their best years. They are our teams 5th, 6th and 7th best offensive players this year (based on GO Rating). They aren’t getting it done from the field this year, too many times have we seen Raja (43.5 fg%) brick jumpers, Andrei (44.3 fg%) miss layups, and now Memo (37.8 fg%) try to find his sea legs. That said, going forward they are going to be increasingly important parts of the rotation and are making their threes. The worst shooter from deep is Memo (30%), but he’s only going to improve as the games continue. Andrei is shooting 37% from deep, and Raja 40% from there. It’s good to have vets who can space the floor for the younger guys to operate in the paint and/or drive. More than just offense, though, is that these three vets are all two-way players. Raja is nailing threes and harassing wing scorers. Andrei is "Mr.Everything" again (especially with his double duty as the starting small forward and now also the back up power forward) – don’t believe me? Check out his defensive gambling rating . . . what that means is that he’s getting an adjusted 2 combined blocks and/or steals for each foul he’s whistled for. (It’s almost an effective defensive analog to points per shot in a way) Okur is boarding with a vengeance in limited minutes. He’s not playing his regular minutes, but he’s doing his work on the glass when he’s in the game. He outrebounds (per game) everyone on the team, except a number of guys who are on the floor 30+ minutes per game (and CJ, who is playing way more than Memo is). Hmmm, three point ability . . . long; arm of the law, for their work on defense? Maybe the idea of these three, older sheriffs coming into the game to lay down the law isn’t that bad of a concept?
Gordon Hayward is getting it. What ‘it’ is, mind you, seems to be up to the reader. He’s getting more playing time than he used to (up more than 3 mpg from his cumulative stats after 22 games). He’s gaining more confidence with his role on the team and role as an NBA basketball player. He’s getting more, uh, hickeys as well. More than all of those things, he seems to be getting ‘it’ when ‘it’ means our system. He has nearly doubled his GO Rating from earlier this season, and is getting pretty close to double digits for the first time in his very young career. He’s playing defense as well. He still has a long way to go but we’re all glad that he’s no longer shooting 50% from the free throw line and 14% from three anymore.
Jeremy Evans is excitement personified. He’s in the dictionary under the entry for "high-flyer". Sadly, he’s also mentioned in the entry for "rotting on the bench." His numbers have fallen back to earth, naturally, it’s called gravity – even Evans must obey it; and I think that if he remains just a practice player he’s going to not advance as quickly. With Okur’s health (hopefully) no longer a cause for concern, we may see him assigned to the Flash at some point. There, I am sure, other teams will get to know who he is and force him to develop an offensive game that relies on learning how to play the game – and less on his stealthy jumping ability. That said, there’s no need to whine about his playing time just yet. He’s already played more minutes for the Jazz in his rookie season than: Troy Hudson, Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko, Otyhus Jeffers, and Luther Wright; and only 87 more mins away from tying how many C.J. Miles played as a rookie.
This bar graph attempts to show improvement (in terms of GO Rating) over the course of the season. The first bar is for 10 games, the second for 22, and the last one for 40 games. Have fun.
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