Fun Reason for Optimism - #1: Defense

Do you believe the Jazz will be a decent defensive team next year? - Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

I have been vocal and upfront about what I think the Jazz can accomplish next year. 35-40 wins. This goes against the grain of most fans, journalists, and analysts. While nobody really knows what the Jazz will do, I'm going to post some reasons why I feel optimistic.

Defense is the team's catchphrase this year. Dennis Lindsey has talked about it a lot in his interviews ... and in ways that show he really gets what makes a strong defensive team and what does not. He has specified that the team's defense is primarily what Ty Corbin will be evaluated on this year. Which is good, because:

  1. It means Corbin will do everything he can to design and implement a strong defense. Whether he sinks or swims, his effort will be in the right place, and
  2. The Jazz have personnel that can theoretically collectively play strong defense. This includes the top three guys: Kanter, Favors, and Hayward. It includes Gobert, Marvin, and Rush. Burks has played elite defense against point guards (his defense against SG's remains a work in progress). Even Biedrins can offer something on the defensive side. Basically 90% of the roster is made up of guys that can make their presence felt on the defensive side.

With these issues surrounding the team right now, becoming a top-10 defensive team seems to me both a reasonable and achievable goal this year. And this is good news, because of this little secret:

It's really hard to miss the playoffs if you are a top-10 defensive team

I looked at the NBA seasons from last year to 2000. This makes up 14 seasons and (obviously) ten top-tenteams over those years, for 140 total top-10 defensive teams.

Out of those 140 teams, 130 made the playoffs. In percentages, that says that if a team is a top-10 defensive team it has a 93% chance of making the playoffs, based on recent history.

And here's a rundown of the teams that did NOT make the playoffs:

  • 2013 Wizards: 5th best defense, and worst offense in the NBA
  • 2011 Bucks: 4th best defense, and worst offense in the NBA
  • 2007 Pacers: 9th best defense, worst offense in the NBA
  • 2007 Clippers: 10th best defense, offense ranked 19th
  • 2006 T-Wolves: 9th best defense, 2nd worst offense
  • 2004 Raptors: 7th best defense, 2nd worst offense
  • 2003 Nuggets: 6th best defense, worst offense. Actually calling it the "worst offense" in the NBA is way too positive. Words cannot describe how horrible this team's offense was 4 ppp worse than the 2nd worst team and 8 ppp worse than the 4th worst team. This Nuggets' offense was simply putrid.
  • 2002 Heat: 3rd best defense, 2nd worst offense
  • 2001 Pistons: 8th best defense, offense ranked 24th
  • 2000 Magic: 9th best defense, offense ranked 22nd

This shows that it's normal to have one top-10 defensive team miss the playoffs in a year. Usually this also requires a team to be among the worst two offensive teams. Whether the Jazz will be that bad offensively is a topic for another day, but I'll just say right now I don't expect them to be even close to that bad offensively.

Of all the teams here, the one that seems to resemble our expectations the most is the 2007 Clippers. It's not an elite defense, but a good one. And it's not a dreadful offense, just a meh one.

That team won 40 games. It would have made the playoffs in the East. But because the West is the West, it came in 9th in the West and missed the playoffs by two games.

The other teams with a poor, but hardly bottom 2, defenses were the 2002 Heat (36 wins), 2001 Pistons (32 wins), and 2000 Magic (41 wins).

Even among the terrible offenses, you have a lot of suprisingly decent win totals: 2011 Bucks (36 wins), 2007 Pacers (35 wins), 2006 Wolves (33 wins), 2004 Raptors (33 wins)

* * *

If you believe the Jazz can pull off a top-10 defensive team (given personnel, focus, etc.), then it's very hard to claim the Jazz will be dreadful ... unless you also believe the team will be one of the two worst offensive teams in the league.

And that's a discussion for another day.

* Sidenote: It's easier to miss the playoffs with a top-10 offense. About 20 teams have done so over the same 14 years - that's about double what you see from top-10 defensive teams.

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