Let me start out by saying that I didn’t want to go negative with my first article. As a long time lurker and occasional commenter I’ve been wanting to contribute to the site for a while now. I rumbled through several half formed Ideas in my head about the cap space and the C4, and about how the Jazz have a bright future. While all that is definitely true, I just couldn’t shake the bad feeling I have about this years team. I think part of it is our/my obsession with the future pieces. We live in an instant gratification world, and I think it is disappointing to struggle through a period of growth while there are shiny globes of future expectations just out of reach on the horizon. On this site in particular, and amongst the fan base in general, there is a dark pallor about this years team. There is an abundance of angst wrapped up in Ty Corbin and Al Jefferson. As Coach Sloan always had his whipping boy (ahem! Ostertag), so do we. I started to do some investigation as to why I had a deep sense of foreboding about a thoroughly average team, and a near lock for the 8th seed. Eureka, I think I have discovered it. To the schedule.
Despite losses in the last two games, I’m legitimately excited by the win against Charlotte last Friday. Sure it came at the expense of the lowly Bobcats (quick sidebar; how bad of an owner is Michael Jordan. The less magnanimous part of my personality cant help but feel a little joy at his utter failure as an NBA executive. 97/98 finals, Never Forget!), but I’m sure I’m not alone in my feelings of validation at how well the C4 played together Friday night. This is an exciting young group to build around. Despite the way this season has played out, I think KOC and crew deserve a fair amount of credit on building a young talented team flush with cash. So, with that out of the way, I’ve got some bad news; this Jazz squad is not a playoff team. Sure technically they currently sit in the eighth spot, and neither Houston nor Golden State have looked like world burners. The Lakers are dysfunctional at best, and face similar problems to the Jazz, but as I’ll lay out, a little schedule analysis will show just how dismal the Jazz have looked against quality opponents.
First, the good news. The Jazz this year have eaten weaker teams alive. Utah is a commanding 14-0 against non play-off teams at home. The ESL has given the Jazz a strong advantage against the lower class of NBA teams. This is nothing new of course, Utah has always been a notoriously tough place to play for the road team, but 14-0 is impressive nonetheless. On the road against non-playoff teams, Utah has posted a respectable 9-8 record, decent even considering the weaker opponents. So overall, against the have-nots of the NBA, the Jazz have a dominating 23-8 record which is a .741% winning percentage, awesome. But, and it’s a big one, here comes the bad news. Utah is dismal against quality oppents. Not just dismal really, but the worst in the Western conference amongst potential play-off teams. Utah has put up a pathetic .300% winning percentage against play-off teams. That’s worse than the Lakers (.342%), Golden State (.400%), Portland (.406%), and Houston (.500%). What do these teams have to do with the Jazz you might ask, well they are the four other teams fighting for three Western conference play-off spots. After the loss to Atlanta last Wednesday, Utah is 8-8 at home against play-off bound teams. While not soul-crushingly terrible, when you consider their 14-0 mark against lesser squads, they really should be better at home. Speaking of soul-crushingly terrible, did you know that Utah is a truly, absurdly Bobcatian 1-13 against play-off teams on the road. I’m gonna let that one sink in for a minute………………
At first glance Utah’s 10-21 road record is bad, but hardly unforgivable. After all Utah is a young team, they’ve also suffered injuries to some of their key players for chunks of the season, and its not like the Jazz have been known for their road prowess. In the last five years the Jazz have averaged a road winning percentage of .412%, or about 17 wins per season. Their current pace of twelve isn’t too far from that mark, but the 1-13 against quality opponents is exceptionally awful. Utah’s one quality road victory this year came way back in 2012, December 18th, 2012 to be precise. Utah went on the road and beat a floundering Brooklyn Nets team a week before they fired their head coach Avery Johnson. They won by two. Against good teams, on the road, Utah has been nothing short of useless.
So what does it all mean. Utah has 21 remaining games, 11 at home and 10 on the road. As Amar laid out in his article the other day, the rest of March is going to be brutal. The Jazz play 8 more play-off bound teams, 5 of which are on the road. This month could certainly sink any hope the Jazz have at a playoff berth. The Lakers have been playing better as of late, and their schedule, though road heavy, is a bit easier than Utah’s. My contention however is that even if Utah manages to sneak in as the 7th or 8th seed, my expectations are extremely low. They are a coin flip at home, and about as close to a guaranteed road loss as there is in the NBA. Utah is 2-6 against the 1, 2, and 3 seeds in the Western Conference (four of those losses are to the Clippers however), and 0-4 against those teams on the road. I think there is little debate that Utah is not as strong as San Antonio, OKC, and the Clippers (gross!) this year, and would struggle in any away team match ups.
I bring all this up not to piss on any lingering optimists out there in Jazz land, but simply to put this years team into perspective. The Jazz, despite managements plea to the contrary, are a rebuilding team. They are one of the youngest teams in the league, and they rely on their young guys to provide key minutes, and play big. Without Al and Paul, this Jazz team would be in the same class at Portland, Cleveland, and Washington, amazing young talent that hasn’t put it all together yet. Utah, unlike those other teams, for better or worse, weren’t willing to let the young guys soar. That is the most frustrating part for me. If the Jazz collapse down the stretch and fail to make the playoffs, this season will have been a total disaster. They will have failed to leverage their expiring contracts (how good would Bledsoe have looked on this team!), and the C4 missed out on extremely valuable minutes for naught. After looking at how this team has played against the NBA’s elite, it is painfully clear that Utah is not amongst them. That frankly makes me sad. I think we all harken back to the two decades of dominance that this team enjoyed. In years past you could not seriously talk about the power brokers in the NBA without mentioning the Utah Jazz. The fact that that is no longer true leads to a huge deflation of ego, and it is this loss of ego that has created an atmosphere of general malaise. All is not lost though, I truly believe good things are ahead for this team. As I mentioned, Utah has money to burn, and a great core of young guys. I think the future is bright in Utah, I just wish it would come a little sooner.