Just How Bad Could The 2013-2014 Utah Jazz Possibly Be?

Can Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors lead a successful team on their own next year? - USA TODAY Sports

They can't be that bad ... can they?

Recently HoopsWorld ranked the top 15 teams in the Western Conference from best to worst. In this unofficial poll the Utah Jazz were picked 15th. Dead last.

The Jazz are all about lottery 2014. The chase will be for lottery balls, not a playoff seeding. Utah has talent like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and rookies Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert. Adding in Andrew Wiggins would quickly change the franchise for the next decade.

Could the Jazz really be this bad next year? I decided to crunch some numbers and find out how bad the Utah Jazz could possibly be. I mean, they can't suck be that bad right? RIGHT???

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Projecting Per Game Averages

Recently, Basketball Reference released their PER 36 projections for almost every player in the NBA for the 2013-2014 season. Which is awesome. But I said almost. They did not release their projections for rookies in 2013-2014. This is a problem if the Jazz are tanking going to be playing them heavy minutes. Luckily Rudy Gobert has PER 40 numbers from when he played in a professional league in Europe. I know it is not the NBA but it is a professional league.

Unfortunately for Trey Burke, he played in a collegiate league last year. So translating his PER 40 numbers from college into our projections wouldn't be the best idea. So ... I went digging for archetypes. I looked for a point guard's stats that Burke could realistically match in his rookie season. I looked for a point guard who played a lot of minutes his rookie year. Any rookie point guard that played low minutes wouldn't suffice because we know the Jazz signed John Lucas III to prevent Tyrone Corbin from benching Burke to back up Burke and provide veteran leadership to him as he plays extended minutes. The person I selected was Kemba Walker. Now before you start bemoaning in the comment section that this is all null and void, remember, this is educating guessing. I'm sure you can select any host of point guards who could accurately depict Trey Burke's rookie season. So for the sake of this argument I used Kemba Walker's PER 36 as a rookie. Deal with it.

I then split up the numbers accordingly. I anticipated the starting 5 to all play 30+ minutes because the Jazz are tanking and the bench is a roaring dumpster fire developing young talent and the bench is weak.

Player Estimated MPG PER 36 PPG EST. PPG PER 36 RPG EST. RPG PER 36 APG EST. APG PER 36 BPG EST. BPG PER 36 SPG EST SPG PER 36 TOV EST TOV
Trey Burke* 30 16.1 13.5 4.7 4 5.8 4.9 0.3 0.3 1.2 1 2.4 2
Alec Burks 32 15.2 13.6 5 4.5 2.8 2.5 0.4 0.4 1.1 1 2.2 2
Gordon Hayward 37 16.2 16.7 4.1 4.3 3.6 3.7 0.7 0.8 1 1.1 2 2.1
Derrick Favors 36 14.9 14.9 10.9 10.9 1.5 1.5 2.3 2.3 1.2 1.2 2.5 2.5
Enes Kanter 31 16 13.8 10.4 9 1.1 1 1 0.9 0.9 0.8 2.9 2.5
JLIII 10 15.4 4.3 3.5 1 4.6 1.3 0 0 1 0.3 1.1 0.4
Brandon Rush 20 13.4 7.5 5.1 2.9 1.9 1.1 1 0.6 0.8 0.5 1.6 0.9
Marvin Williams 10 12.2 3.4 6 1.7 1.7 0.5 0.7 0.2 0.9 0.3 1.2 0.4
Jeremy Evans 15 13 5.5 8.2 3.5 2.3 1 2 0.9 1.2 0.5 1.5 0.7
Richard Jefferson 9 12 3 4.8 1.2 1.9 0.5 0.5 0.2 0.8 0.2 1.3 0.4
Rudy Gobert 10 14.7 4.1 9.4 2.7 0.7 0.2 3.2 0.9 1.2 0.3 2.7 0.8
Andris Biedrins 0 5.1 0 9.7 0 1.3 0 2.2 0 1.2 0 1.1 0
Totals 0 100.3 45.7 18.2 7.5 7.2 14.7

In the projections I allowed Gordon Hayward to lead all players in minutes with 37. That may sound high, but with such a weak bench that will become the norm for him. I gave Trey Burke an average of 30 minutes per game. With John Lucas III that per game average should be even higher but there is one variable I cannot control, the Tyrone Corbin factor. I honestly think Trey will be sat for some inexplicable reasons this year. Honestly, he will have to be sometimes. A young player has to get better learn not to make mistakes so even though John Lucas III is the alternative I do not see Trey Burke eclipsing 30+ minutes a game.

As far as the rest of the minutes, there is nothing out of the ordinary. The projections may vary by a minute more or less but, honestly, not enough to make big impacts on these projections. The only big change could come from Kanter, Favors, and Gobert getting into foul trouble, thus, forcing Andris Biedrins to come onto the floor. If that happens the team advanced projections really take a hit but that will be illustrated later.

From the Projected Per Game Averages we see:

  • Gordon Hayward will be the team's leading scorer with 16.7 point per game.
  • Derrick Favors will lead the team in rebounds with 10.9 rebounds a game.
  • Trey Burke will lead the team in assists with 4.9 assist per game.
  • Derrick Favors will lead the team in both blocks and steals with 2.3 blocks per game and 1.2 steals per game.
The weaknesses of the next year's Utah Jazz team are as follows:
  1. No clear #1 scorer. While Gordon Hayward leads the team with 16.7 points per game, he is not lighting the world on fire. He is only scoring 2 ppg more than the 2nd leading scorer.
  2. This team is VERY turnover prone. The worst team in the NBA last year, the Houston Rockets, turned the ball over 15.8 times a game. The Jazz project to turn the ball over 14.8 times a game. That would be good for 3rd to last in the NBA.
  3. The Jazz would drop from being 7th in the league in steals, 8.4 per game, to 22nd in the league with 7.2 per game.
  4. In 2012-2013, the Jazz averaged 22.7 assists per game making them the 10th best passing team in the league. Not too bad for a team with a black hole Big Al anchoring the offense. However, next year the Utah Jazz are projected to only have 18.2 assists per game. That would rank them as the worst assist team in the league. Worse than the Knicks, Bobcats, and Pacers which ranked 30th, 29th, and 28th, respectively.
The strengths of the 2013-2014 Utah Jazz are as follows:
  1. The Jazz would be an elite rebounding team. Their projected 45.7 rebounds a game would be the 2nd best rebounding mark in the NBA last year.
  2. This team CREATES a lot of turnovers. They would create 14.7 turnovers a game with steals and blocks combined. That would be good for 6th in the league. Unfortunately that still leaves a -0.1 turnover differential. Which leaves them average for the league. Luckily this doesn't include mental errors from opposing teams when facing a defensive sieve named Al Jefferson a better and longer starting five. [Author's Update: I was correctly informed by PaulMansap that blocks are not turnovers. See, kids? THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU WRITE ON LITTLE SLEEP. Stay in school.]
  3. According to their accumulative PPG the Utah Jazz would score 100.3 points per game. This would be good for 10th in the league, a 2.3 point increase over last year.
  4. SWAT LAKE CITY 2: THE SEQUEL. THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL. The Jazz project to be the 2nd best team in the NBA in blocks next season with 7.5. Only team in 2012-2013 with more blocks per game was Oklahoma City with 7.6.

Unknown Variables

This seems as good a time as ever to acknowledge the obvious variables in the numbers before I continue on. The stats I will go into will have a deep reliance on either past performance that was concentrated in very limited minutes and estimated numbers because of no prior professional performance. There is also this:

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JEREMY EVANS Y U DO THIS TO DATA???

In short Jeremy Evans is throwing off the data. I think. If he continues to be effective like that then he could be special. But as of now he's a small sample size blip and not enough to warrant accounting for on a big scale. Moving on.


Estimated Wins

*30 For 30 Voice*

"What if I told you a team full of young players would become a defensive monster that takes over the league?"

"What if I told you that a starting 5 comprised of 4 players that have never started for an entire season could win 39 games?"

"What if I told you the Jazz weren't tanking? They were releasing a force the league wasn't ready for?"

*End 30 For 30 Voice*

Let's go to the data!

Player Estimated MPG WS/48 Projected Wins
Trey Burke* 30 0.053 2.8
Alec Burks 32 0.058 3.2
Gordon Hayward 37 0.11 7
Derrick Favors 36 0.11 6.8
Enes Kanter 31 0.096 5.1
JLIII 10 0.086 1.5
Brandon Rush 20 0.091 3.2
Marvin Williams 10 0.091 1.6
Jeremy Evans 15 0.168 4.4
Richard Jefferson 9 0.091 1.4
Rudy Gobert 10 0.08 1.4
Andris Biedrins 0 0.096 0
Totals 38.4

This was surprising. I was sure that the Jazz would have a bad team next year. So much, in fact, that my early prediction was for the Jazz to win only 25 games. If the Jazz win 38 games next year then the additional draft picks gained through the Golden State trade will be that more valuable.

But winning 38 games brings another caveat to this whole equation.

If the Jazz with the roster they are trotting out win 38 games then why did the Jazz refuse to follow through with the rebuild two years ago. Why, if 38 wins was reachable and capable, did they postpone the full rebuilding effort? While the result is well meaning and great it could haunt the Jazz in years to come.

Beyond the projected 38.4 wins is the variables. Nothing is perfect. The variables that can shatter this win projection are:

  1. Trades. Further trades midseason can disrupt chemistry. In addition, if one of the young guys is traded away (Yes, this is possible. Quit shaking your head like that.) then that could drop the Jazz from the projected 38 wins to 32 or less.
  2. Jeremy Evans. Jeremy Evans' game genie-like WS/48 cannot be sustained in consistent minutes over the course of a season. Is there a chance it happens? Yes, there's always a chance. There is also a chance that this is the year man makes first contact with aliens from a foreign world. Doesn't mean it'll happen.
  3. Trey Burke. Trey Burke could significantly change these projections for the good or for the bad. If he struggles during his first season in the NBA and has a Kemba-like first year with a WS/48 of .009 then that drops the Jazz's wins from 38 to 36. But that's just directly from him. That does not take into account how it affects other players' WS/48 who rely upon the PG to direct the offense and lead the team. Frankly put, if Trey Burke struggles mightily this year and John Lucas III is called upon to fill the void the fall from 38 wins could be far and steep.
  4. Injuries. These happen. Derrick Favors has plantar fasciitis. It's a chronic condition. It heals up, of course, but there is a good chance that it will cross pass with Favors again. When that happens Andris Biedrins will get his time in the lineup. Trust me, this will not end well if he does.
  5. Foul trouble. This is a young team, minutes-wise. Favors and Kanter are going to have to adjust to being starters and that means staying out of foul trouble. If they get in foul trouble, HELLO BIEDRINS!!! So it is imperative that they are smart with their fouls and pick their battles wisely. This also goes for Trey Burke. If he gets into foul trouble it's hello DUDE WHO GOT SLAMMED ON BY LEBRON John Lucas III.
  6. Tyrone Corbin. It has to be said. I'm not putting this out there to throw him under the bus. But it can't go without saying this is a make or break year for Corbin just as much as it is for any of these young players. If he doesn't live up to front office expectations the projections on this team could go south in a hurry.
  7. New roles. Almost every player on this team besides Gordon Hayward is going to be adjusting to a new role on the team. That causes confusion on the court and requires players to take their game to another level. This forces players to play outside of their comfort zone and, at times, play outside of their talent ability. Hopefully, for the Jazz, the young players take their game up a notch. Is that possible this year?

But 38 wins is an awesome projection even with all of the variables. But there is a catch. There's always a catch, right?

Player Estimated MPG Defensive Rating Offensive Rating Offensive Rating Per Minute Ratio Defensive Rating Per Minute Ratio Projected Point Differential
Trey Burke* 30 111 105 13.2 13.9 -0.7
Alec Burks 32 109 102 13.6 14.6 -1
Gordon Hayward 37 110 113 17.5 17 0.5
Derrick Favors 36 101 104 15.6 15.2 0.4
Enes Kanter 31 107 106 13.7 13.9 -0.2
JLIII 10 106 104 4.4 4.5 -0.1
Brandon Rush 20 113 103 8.6 9.5 -0.9
Marvin Williams 10 109 105 4.4 4.6 -0.2
Jeremy Evans 15 106 130 8.2 6.7 1.5
Richard Jefferson 9 106 106 4 4 0
Rudy Gobert 10 108 98 4.1 4.5 -0.4
Andris Biedrins 0 98 102 0 0 0
Totals 0 97.263 96.8085 107.3 108.4 -1.1

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Remember how I said Jeremy Evans messes everything up? THAT'S BECAUSE HE DOES. Jeremy Evans projects to have a better point differential than Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter combined. COMBINED. It took all the integrity of my soul not to just throw his pogo jumping butt out of this assessment. But I didn't. Why? Because I care. BECAUSE I HAVE INTEGRITY. Actually, I don't want a mutiny in the comment section. But let it be known that it throws off worthwhile projections. How do I know that? Because if one takes Jeremy Evans and regresses him to the eventual mean that he will be at offensively, about 110 Offensive Rating which is being VERY GENEROUS, the Jazz go from -1.1 point differential next year to -2.2. Jeremy Evans is a tool sent from basketball hell to ruin stats.]

In this I adjusted the each Jazz player's offensive and defensive efficiency to their pace of last year which was 90.9 possessions a game. I do realize the Jazz should play at a faster tempo. But until that becomes a reality on the court I will adjust for a slower pace of play. Last year Tyrone Corbin said the Jazz would run and get into their sets with urgency. That did not occur. In other words, I'll believe it when I see it. Until then, I will not adjust for a faster pace of play.

I then took each player's offensive and defense ratings and created a ratio for each player according to minute distribution. Because obviously every player isn't at the game at the same time for the same amount of time. I felt this would even the bar and help fix the HOLY CRAP JEREMY EVANS STOP EFFING EVERYTHING UP the Jeremy Evans factor or minimize it.

Observations:

  1. The Jazz PPG projections had the team scoring 100.3 points per game. The Offensive Rating projections have them scoring 96.8 points per game. That translates to 1.2 points per game less than last year which would have them rank them 17th in the league. It's not terrible but it's a step back.
  2. The Jazz would give up 97.3 points a game in these projections. That would be an improvement upon the 98.1 points per game last season they gave up, an improvement of 0.8 points per game. It would make the Jazz 13th in the league. Last year the Jazz were tied for 15th in points allowed per game.
  3. The Jazz's point differential would be -1.1. Teams that had between a -1.1 and -2.5 point differential won a maximum of 38 games and a minimum of 29 games. If the Jazz stay healthy that looks to be their floor and ceiling.
  4. Small sample size is a killer. Because of the small sample size it is hard to project this Jazz team. They are all over the place. If any young player takes a step back this year it could impede an already flawed basketball team.

Conclusion

The numbers actually surprised me. I expected to see numbers indicative of a 20-25 win team. Instead I saw numbers that actually show this team will be really competitive in most of their games that they play. They will not win the majority of them but a -1.1 to -2.5 point differential in games is not a large margin. That is promising. But the lack of data is scary. Without having more data on Trey Burke it will be hard to get a pulse on the engine that will be driving this Utah Jazz offense. Jazz fans have witnessed first hand how discombobulated the Jazz offense can look with an unstable point guard hand at the wheel.

If I were to give my prediction I would have to say the Jazz win 33 games this year. Most of all I think this will be one of the most fun to watch Jazz teams the Miller family has put on the court in a long time. They are athletic, young, and hungry to prove themselves. While there most likely won't be any banners being hung in the rafters this year, let's enjoy this year. This team will tank surprise us either way.

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