The Downbeat #885 -- The "It's still good, It's still good" Edition

Doug Pensinger

Okay, I'm not going to lie -- I don't like losing games to the Denver Nuggets, like our Utah Jazz team did last night. And, well, did you know that we lost the first game against Denver in 7 of our last 10 seasons? On a personal level that's a frowny face, but it's not the end of the world. Why? Well, I did a little research today. And while that took some time I think it was worthwhile.

For me the Denver Nuggets are like our 'little brothers' (in the Sports way, I'm unreasonably dismissive of them), but that's only because I became a Jazz fan in the late 80s. In actual history between these two teams is longer than my experience as a Jazz fan; and one could argue, that the Nuggets rightly are the big brothers in this situation. They've been a professional team for over a decade longer than us, for starters. And they used to have a better record. And well, now they have a better record again. But for me, and my frame of reference, I couldn't care two hoots about the Nuggets.

And part of that is validated by historical evidence.

Due to the random changes each season due to expansion, lockouts, and possible playoff meetings, over the last 22 seasons (1991-92 till now) the Jazz and Nuggets have played 101 times. (Nice round number after last night's game, n=101) There are 3 more games scheduled to be played this season and we could meet in the playoffs. Who knows? Well, I don't. But what I do know is that in those last 101 games against the Nuggets we have won 65 of them. That's, predictably, a winning percentage of 65.0%. But more than that, because I see them as little brothers, I do still see them as regional rivals -- and the Jazz have only lost the season series against them twice in the last 21 years. (Sample set is technically 22 years, but we've only played 1 game of four so far). The Jazz and Nuggets have tied the season series 5 times. But every other time? The Jazz have won.

But petty rivalries aren't that important in the big picture, right? Sure. Okay, well, right now the perception is that the sky is falling because we lost the first game of the season series -- and therefore we're a bad team. In 14 of the last 22 seasons (including this year) we have lost the first game of the UTA/DEN season series. Once again, we've only lost the season series twice in that span, so you do the math. But it's more than just UTA/DEN, it's UTA/NBA right? Well, regardless of how sad we may feel after playing the Nuggets, the Jazz seem to do pretty darn well AFTER playing the Nuggets.

Over the next 10 games after we start our yearly season series against the Nuggets the Jazz have gone 139 and 71, which is a winning percentage of 66.2%. That averages out to going 6.3 and 3.2 over the next 10.0 games. That's a lot better than we've actually finished for some of the seasons between 1991-92 and now. For whatever reason we seem to get motivated to perform after rumbling against the *Really* Mile High NBA team to our south.

It gets better.

The Jazz actually play BETTER if they lose the first game of the Den / Uta season series. If the Jazz win their first game against Denver they go 91 - 49 in their next 10 games (per season), that's a winning percentage of 65.0%. If we drop the first game? Sheesh. The Jazz feel so bad about it that they go 48-22 after, which is winning 68.6% of their games.

Rounding up, that's going 7-3 over their next 10 games; as seen as a product of a statistical model that goes back to when Tyrone Corbin was playing 1863 total season minutes for the Jazz.

Db_885_-_jazz_nuggets_history

Yes, this was the "simple" chart, I have one that goes into more details for each specific game too...

Does that mean we'll go 7-3 over our next 10 this year? The Next 10 are: vs. Phoenix Suns , @ Toronto Raptors, @ Boston Celtics , @ Philadelphia 76ers , @ Washington Wizards , vs. Houston Rockets , vs. Sacramento Kings , @ Sacramento Kings , vs. Denver Nuggets , and @ New Orleans Hornets.

Honestly, it's not out of the realm of possibility to win 7 of those next 10. There's only 1 contender that we play during that stretch, and the rest of the games we should be in them. So, statistically speaking, it should be winning time again! Furthermore, I'm sorry for starting this DB off with a long math piece. I just wanted to use the skills that I have to look into the data and prove that "the sky isn't falling". After all, we've only played 6 games this season. The NBA Season is Tantra, not a Quickie is a marathon, not a sprint..

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Going over those last 101 Denver games forced me into looking at a lot of our past Jazz seasons. The one thing that really stood out was, well, back in those days we used to blow teams out. We may like to think being blowing out is a fixed ratio between team quality, the better team should blowout more teams. But that's not the case, blowouts seem to depend more on the game to game volatility between teams. Those Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko teams used to blow a lot more teams out -- and in turn -- also be blown out. We'd also struggle to put bad teams away, or even stay in games with our equals. The aftermath of that core's destruction left us with a team of presumably stable guys. As a result, you kind of knew what you were going to get game to game. Our offense was stable, efficient (overall due to all the overtime periods and offensive rebounds), and did not take a lot of chances. The Jazz defense the last few seasons were a mystery, and as a result we were still victims of being blown out -- but still constantly struggling to put away teams like the Raptors.

THIS SEASON THOUGH? This season we have added a lot of volatility. Essentially, we have guys who can get hot and change a game (for good or bad) in Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, and Randy Foye. If we're making these threes we're scoring at a way better rate than replacement level and can put some distance on our opposition. If we're missing them, well, we can bury ourselves in bricks. I think part of that happened last night. We missed shots we are now capable of making. It wasn't that we were missing shots we had no chance to make. (Save for the Jamaal Tinsley three pointers)

Volatility is good and bad. But sometimes you need that random roll of the dice that gets you a momentum building blowout. We could have one tonight against the Phoenix Suns who have the 28th worst defense in the league, and also played last night. Not saying it's in the books, but their guy who shoots the most shots per game (over 15.0) is Michael Beasley -- and he's shooting only 34.8 fg%.

And no, this is not me saying "It's still good, it's still good" to the Jazz fandom; trying to calm us all down and generally, not act like Los Angeles Lakers fans and their historic over-reaction.


Okay, maybe I am.

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So, like every season since Stockton and Malone, our defense is a problem. I'm not going to tear my hair out over it (as anyone who has seen the post game reaction videos can attest to, I don't have hair to spare). Why? Well, because we have a ridiculously awesome defensive player in Derrick Favors. He is a potential defensive anchor for us. And he's not the type of defensive anchor that sinks your offense either. Sure -- he doesn't have the go-to moves of Al Jefferson. Very few starting NBA Centers do. They still start. And some of them actually make the All-Star team; which is something Big Al does not do. What's the difference? Defense.

And Defense is Derrick Favors' middle name. Well, it's actually Bernard. But Defense sounds better. Favors can be that defensive anchor for us. Right now he's averaging 5.0 defensive rebounds a game, and 2.2 blocks per game -- in 22.2 MPG. Per 36 (which is an extrapolation of a rate, not a 'given' that he'd produce like this if given absolutely more playing time) that's 8.1 defensive boards and 3.5 swats a game. Not impressed? Well, he's gobbling up 25.9% of all available defensive rebounds this season, and sending back 7.1% of all shot attempts. That's #2 and #1 on the Jazz, respectively. And moreover, career highs.

He's #3 on the team in DRtg too, but would be #1 out of guys who have played more than 11 minutes this season (sorry Kevin Murphy and Jeremy Evans). So far this season in Synergy the sample sizes are small, but he's killing it on defense. His man (the offensive player) is shooting 25.0 fg% against him on post ups, which is down from last seasons' 29.4 fg%. The opponents Points per Possession (PPP) vs. Favors on pick and rolls has gone down from 0.92 to 0.67 points. And he is yet to be scored on in Isolation, though he's only been tried to be scored on four times. Again, yes, the sample sizes are small -- but he's defending better than he did last season by the numbers.

Best of all? He appears to be playing increasingly more minutes per game, with each successive game.

Db_885_-_favors_minutes

Photo Credit: Sam Sharpe - US Presswire

Over all he's playing 22.2 MPG this season, which is up from last year, and the year before. It's one small step for Favors; but in terms of our actual defensive capability, one giant leap for Jazz-kind. If our current starting bigs (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) continue to play peek and poke up in the treehouse, and not pick and roll defense, we may only see more and more of Favors.

Which is, statistically, objectively, and subjectively, exactly what this team needs. Even if all he ever becomes is a good defensive player and replacement level offensive player -- his give and take disparity is less then that of the guys who play ahead of him now.

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Are any of you guys playing 2K Sports' NBA 2K13 (which is produced executively by Jay Z?) As usual the ratings are just a mess, but I've still found the game a welcome companion now that they've added a horrible currency system to it. This is the most hilarious thing ever because the normal method of currency generation is that you do good things in the game and you are rewarded for it. And then you 'spend' that currency in game for certain things to help your player, team, or franchise. Some of these things are cosmetic, like buying better shoes (which may or may not give you a statistical ability boost), to going out and purchasing a star player for your team in one of the game modes.

I'm probably getting to the age where I shouldn't play games anymore. In a few years I will start having real children of mine to take care of, and not need to baby sit potty mouthed 12 year olds online. The most silly thing, however, is that this currency system has created a horrible, near- Kafkaesque economic system that all-too mimics the actual financial disparities that exist between large and small market teams.

The ratings system already over-rated players on popular teams, and make players on unpopular teams worth less; but now this tacked on economic system which allows you to upgrade players or teams, further widens the divide. It's essentially the Los Angeles Lakers tv deal, but now in video game form.

So, now in online modes you will be matched up against some loser kid who is picking the Miami Heat -- but now because of Daddy's credit card -- they will all be massively overpowered because of in-game abuses of this currency system. My favorite thing so far was their "Build your own team" mode where you are randomly given a bunch of nobodies and you have to try to win games to earn money to get better. This mode is completely broken now because if you care enough about it -- you can go out there and out spend people on the open market to build an All-Star team without having to win a single game.

I know it was EA's slogan (not 2K Sports), but now more than ever, if it's in the game, it's in the game.

Unless you are a second round pick by the Utah Jazz -- then you're not in the game. Sorry again Kevin.

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Overall, this season still exists as an experiment. I'm a data heavy guy (oh Amar, it's not the data that makes you heavy . . . ), so the more we play the better we get to know our players. It's still going to be a fun season here in Jazz land. Aside from the fluke game in New Orleans, the only times we've lost this year were to teams that had way better records than us last year, and all three of them were Western Conference Playoff teams. It's going to get better.

I'm not just saying that, either.

Favors is going to play more. Our three point shooting will naturalize to a solid 36-38.5% (and not be 47% one night then 21% the next). Our coach will continue to juggle lineups (with maybe the help of injures, trades, or Raja Bell communication workshops). And we're going to continue to play games -- and play hard.

It's an 82 game season. And I think what we have here at SLC Dunk is going to be a pretty fun season, I mean it!

It's still good! It's still good!

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