Utah Jazz History: Regular season success leads to playoff success - but it starts with defense

April 24, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) blocks the attempted dunk of Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat (4) during the first half at Energy Solutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

The Utah Jazz were at the top of the Western Conference for quite a while, they went to the Western Conference finals 5 times in 7 seasons. A lot of people outside of Utah seem to not remember that -- the Jazz were more than just a team that broke through to the NBA Finals twice. The Jazz were right there on a number of occasions. There was a five year peak (1995-1996 till 1999-2000) where the Jazz were always 'right there'. I crunched the numbers for those five Jazz teams, got the average, and compare them to what we managed this past season.

This Jazz core is at the bottom of the playoff mountain, but in order to climb to the top we need to fix a few things. Luckily, we've been to the summit before. We know how to get there. And by looking at the type of team we were during that stretch of excessive success we can better understand what, specifically, we need to change. We can climb back up to the top. But we have to be honest with what we have, and not afraid to make the changes we need.

The Numbers:

Because of the Lockout (in '99 and again in '12) it's best to focus on the win % the most. Those veteran heavy Stockton/Malone/Hornacek teams won 72.2% of their regular season games. They dominated. That first lockout year (37-13) extends to a 63 win season -- which would make it three 60 win seasons in a row, book ended by 55 win seasons. That's amazing. Because of the seeding issue (division leader can't be lower than #2 back then) the Jazz got the #3 seed once of those years (should have been #2 in '95-96). Overall they averaged to being the 1.6th seed in the Western Conference. And they averaged getting to the Western Conference Finals.

Playoffs PPG Rating
Season W L Win % Seed Round Exit Jazz Rank Opp Rank O.RTG Rank D.RTG Rank
1 1995 1996 . 55 27 67.1% 3 3 . 102.5 11 95.9 6 . 113.3 2 106.1 8
2 1996 1997 . 64 18 78.0% 1 4 . 103.1 2 94.3 8 . 113.6 2 104.0 9
3 1997 1998 . 62 20 75.6% 1 4 . 101.0 3 94.4 13 . 112.7 1 105.4 17
4 1998 1999 . 37 13 74.0% 1 2 . 93.3 9 86.8 5 . 105.8 3 98.4 7
5 1999 2000 . 55 27 67.1% 2 2 . 96.5 20 92.0 5 . 107.3 6 102.3 11
Average 54.6 21.0 72.2% 1.6 3.0 . 99.3 9.0 92.7 7.4 . 110.5 2.8 103.2 10.4
2011 2012 . 36 30 54.5% 8 1 . 99.7 4 99.0 23 . 106.8 6 106.1 19

That's pretty far from where we are now, being the 8th seed that got bounced early. But hey, we're at the bottom of our success curve; and we're not at our current team's peak. There's room for improvement. Let's look at where . . .

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Offense and Defense:

This current team had a higher PPG value than the average of our 5 year dominance squad (99.7 > 99.3). So, already, we're scoring very well. Of course, three of those five teams averaged greater than 100 ppg. Furthermore, while our PPG rank was #4, our actual Offensive Rtg was #6. Those Jazz team's O.RTG averages to #2.8 -- so while we score more (no doubt a product of all of chances due to offensive rebounds), those Jazz teams were actually way better on offense. And I don't think any of us will argue against that point. The main disparity between those Jazz teams and this one lies on defense.

Those Jazz teams had some of the best *ever* Jazz teams on defense, and their Opponents PPG is only 92.7 ppg (avg #7.4), and their Defensive RTG is 103.2 (good enough for #10.4). Their defense was not shut down, but it was still a Top 10 defense, to go along with their Top 2 offense. Those clubs were better than us. And I think we know how to get better.

We need to tweak our offense a bit (we're close to getting there, but not quite there) -- but the huge improvement needs to come on defense. We were #23 in opponents ppg, and #19 in defensive rating. Those are both, essentially, bottom third of the league; while those great Jazz teams were top third in the same two things.

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Forget offense, focus on defense:

It's all about defense. And if we defend well as a team, we show it in the regular season. And that means more wins in the regular season. And that means a higher seed in the playoffs. And that means more success in the playoffs as we advance farther. And it starts with defense.

We should not tolerate playing poor defenders. We know how far it gets us. If you need a refresher look at Carlos Boozer's work against the Lakers in the playoffs.

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