Utah Jazz 40 at 40: Beware of fouls.

Andy Lyons

Some how the Utah Jazz have the rep of being a team that goes crazy on the fouls. I wonder where that idea came from?

Okay, I don't know if you've heard . . . but the Utah Jazz have a problem on defense. They foul a lot. Or at the very least they get called for a lot of fouls. It's a chicken / egg thing by now. Do they get called for a lot of fouls because they foul a lot? Or do they get called for a lot of fouls because they have a reputation of fouling a lot? Sometimes the Jazz play rough, and more physical contact is expected. Other times the Jazz play with that same physicality, but get called for whistles. Such is the life of this franchise.

As it stands right now we have this stigma of being a foul-y team. But what is a foul, really? Well, A foul is what happens when you can't do what you want on the floor without breaking the rules. Sometimes this is a charge ("I can't get to where I want because of the defense, so I will try to break the rules!"), or moving screen ("I can't stop this guy from defending my guard, let me move with him!"), or just something simple like hitting a dude hard so he can't make the shot. Really, that's what most of the fouls are in Jazz history. It's a defensive breakdown where the only possible or probable way that they can do anything to make the opponent miss their shot is to go and break the rules.

And thus, fouling.

Fouling sometimes happens to prevent a 'sure' two points. Sometimes you rather foul, and have them 'earn it at the line', instead of just letting them score. Other times you foul to 'set the tone' of a game. Hit someone when they try to penetrate. And hit them hard enough that they think twice of doing it again.

These are the essential principles of the Utah Jazz defensive scheme. Let's not forget that it also works out better when your paint is also anchored by a guy 7'2 to 7'4 feet high who is there to do two things on the court: change shots and foul. If your defensive anchor is a 6'10 guy that you also need for on offense, perhaps the "foul all of the times" defense needs to make way for the new, and risky "actually play defense" defense.

The Jazz have done this before. Really. According to NBA Rank Defensive Rating (DEF RTG) the Jazz spent five years in a row in the Top 5 (1984-1989). And beyond that stretch they spent 9 out of 10 years in the Top 10 (1984-1994). It's no surprise that having John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Mark Eaton in their physical peaks can help you be a good defensive club. But sometimes you have to move beyond the individual abilities (or sizes) and devise strategy. This year would be a good year to start that.

Why?

Well, because right now we have the worst defenses in franchise history, and also still foul a heck of a lot. Here's how it breaks down from our W/L record, pace, Opp. PPG, DEF RTG, how many fouls we get called for each year, and of course, the FT / FGA ratio.

Record Defense
Season G W - L % Pace Rank Opp PPG Rank DRTG Rank Fouls Rank FT / FGA Rank
1 1974 1975 82 23 - 59 28.0% 109.4 1 109.3 18 99.7 16 2222 30 0.250 18
2 1975 1976 82 38 - 44 46.3% 106.7 8 105.0 9 97.4 5 2175 29 0.245 18
3 1976 1977 82 35 - 47 42.7% 107.2 11 107.4 14 99.7 14 2099 22 0.238 14
4 1977 1978 82 39 - 43 47.6% 108.3 8 109.5 13 100.6 10 1938 12 0.209 6
5 1978 1979 82 26 - 56 31.7% 108.6 3 114.6 21 105.4 18 1940 11 0.207 3
6 1979 1980 82 24 - 58 29.3% 97.6 22 108.4 10 110.4 22 2006 21 0.237 14
7 1980 1981 82 28 - 54 34.1% 97.7 23 107.1 12 109.2 20 2110 23 0.268 20
8 1981 1982 82 25 - 57 30.5% 103.9 3 116.6 23 111.7 20 2196 22 0.244 12
9 1982 1983 82 30 - 52 36.6% 107.3 2 113.2 19 105.1 12 2017 11 0.208 2
10 1983 1984 82 45 - 37 54.9% 104.9 3 113.8 20 108.0 12 1978 10 0.229 3
11 1984 1985 82 41 - 41 50.0% 105.1 2 109.1 8 103.4 1 1961 13 0.238 7
12 1985 1986 82 42 - 40 51.2% 103.3 9 108.5 9 104.6 3 2038 15 0.258 9
13 1986 1987 82 44 - 38 53.7% 103.2 3 107.5 9 103.7 1 2040 19 0.269 15
14 1987 1988 82 47 - 35 57.3% 101.5 6 104.8 5 103.1 1 1986 19 0.262 15
15 1988 1989 82 51 - 31 62.2% 98.0 22 99.7 1 101.5 1 1894 13 0.246 11
16 1989 1990 82 55 - 27 67.1% 96.1 21 102.0 3 105.4 5 2031 24 0.268 21
17 1990 1991 82 54 - 28 65.9% 95.3 20 100.7 3 105.1 6 1796 10 0.230 11
18 1991 1992 82 55 - 27 67.1% 95.5 17 101.9 7 105.6 7 1746 9 0.214 7
19 1992 1993 82 47 - 35 57.3% 96.5 12 104.0 10 107.4 13 1965 19 0.250 15
20 1993 1994 82 53 - 29 64.6% 93.1 23 97.7 9 104.1 7 1988 25 0.267 23
21 1994 1995 82 60 - 22 73.2% 92.6 16 98.4 7 105.7 8 2045 23 0.292 26
22 1995 1996 82 55 - 27 67.1% 90.0 25 95.9 6 106.1 8 2046 27 0.295 27
23 1996 1997 82 64 - 18 78.0% 90.0 17 94.3 8 104.0 9 1981 28 0.290 29
24 1997 1998 82 62 - 20 75.6% 89.2 21 94.4 13 105.4 17 1961 27 0.271 25
25 1998 1999 50 37 - 13 74.0% 87.0 23 86.8 5 98.4 7 1133 15 0.242 15
26 1999 2000 82 55 - 27 67.1% 89.6 27 92.0 5 102.3 11 2013 24 0.256 25
27 2000 2001 82 53 - 29 64.6% 89.8 21 92.4 8 102.4 12 2107 29 0.301 29
28 2001 2002 82 44 - 38 53.7% 90.3 16 95.1 13 104.6 14 1971 29 0.286 29
29 2002 2003 82 47 - 35 57.3% 89.3 24 92.3 7 102.8 15 1837 22 0.256 25
30 2003 2004 82 42 - 40 51.2% 86.6 28 89.9 9 103.3 14 2096 29 0.319 29
31 2004 2005 82 26 - 56 31.7% 88.4 26 97.3 16 109.5 26 2189 29 0.340 30
32 2005 2006 82 41 - 41 50.0% 87.8 26 95.0 9 107.0 21 2032 25 0.303 30
33 2006 2007 82 51 - 31 62.2% 91.6 15 98.6 17 107.0 18 2067 29 0.314 30
34 2007 2008 82 54 - 28 65.9% 93.2 10 99.3 13 106.5 12 1970 29 0.294 30
35 2008 2009 82 48 - 34 58.5% 93.1 9 100.9 19 107.3 10 1830 22 0.262 26
36 2009 2010 82 53 - 29 64.6% 93.8 9 98.9 12 105.0 10 1859 28 0.269 30
37 2010 2011 82 39 - 43 47.6% 91.0 19 101.3 19 110.1 23 1865 29 0.275 30
38 2011 2012 66 36 - 30 54.5% 91.4 12 99.0 23 106.1 19 1441 28 0.245 28
39 2012 2013 82 43 - 39 52.4% 90.9 21 98.1 16 106.8 21 1750 27 0.226 26
40 2013 2014 42 14 - 28 33.3% 91.7 25 100.9 17 109.5 29 884 24 0.232 25

It's not pretty. I'm seeing a lot of red over the last 15 years. But this is almost too much information to digest. So let's simplify. Let's just look at three factors: DEF RTG, Fouls, and FT / FGA Ratio. And let's move away from the raw numbers, and just look at their NBA Ranks (out of 30). No one asked, but we can try to see which line more closely follows the other:

  • Do fouls, physically stopping the other team from scoring, actually help with defense?
  • Or do fouls more closely lead to putting jerks from the other team to the FT line?

It's almost unfair, because we KNOW the answer. I really think lazy defense is fouling. This isn't a "toughness" NBA anymore. You can't be tough with the stars anymore anyway, you'll get suspended and fined.


That said, I still really like this video.

It really doesn't pay to play physical on defense -- unless you have the reputation that a guy like Roy Hibbert has. But that's just hit. At this point the Jazz are just KNOWN for fouling. And it's a reputation that will be hard to change.

40_at_40_-_16_-_fouling

It is going to be hard to change when all you seem to be doing over the last 15 years is foul people, and send them to the line. But having naturally talented defensive players like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert should help though. If they ever get to play together.

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