USA TODAY Sports
The Utah Jazz have played 52 games so far this season and claim 7th spot in the Western Conference by virtue of a 28-24 record. We're winning one in every three road games, and still dominant at home despite a few 'cheapie' losses in the ESA. Well, 52 out of 82 total games is actually 63.4% of the season. If we look at a super duper direct comparison with LAST season, after 63.4% of the 66 total games, after game 41.8 or 42, our record was 20-22. So last season by this 'time' we were a team that won 47.6% of the time. This year? Despite dropping our last two we're still winning 53.9% of the time.
Not too shabby.
Wins and losses aside let's delve into five reasons why this season has been a success (so far):
1. Winning Through Adversity:
The Jazz are on the road to the playoffs again. And before the All-Star break it doesn't look like a fluke. The hardest part of the season was the horrible October / November / December stretch of almost endless road games. Lest we forget, we started the season off playing 12 of our first 18 on the road -- and I think we played our first 18 games in 32 actual days. We were a .500 team back then when faced with our greatest challenge: road games. Secondly, while we started off in the middle of the pack, we were mostly starting from scratch as we are starting 3 new starters with our team. Mo Williams was here before, but that was years ago; Marvin Williams and Randy Foye have never been here before. And all three are starters -- and it's not like these guys are attached at the hip. They all played the majority of their careers on other teams. So not only were they new to the Jazz, but new to each other (except in the case of Randy Foye, who had previously played with both Mo Williams, and also previously with Al Jefferson).
Oh, and if having a 60% new starting group and playing the devil's share of their road games all at the beginning of the season (so practice days are substituted for travel days) . . . they've also done it with significant injuries this year. Only two players have played in every game: Paul Millsap and Randy Foye. Beyond that everyone has either missed games to injuries, were sent down to the NBDL or were just flat out DNP-CD'd. But let's not worry about the end of the bench, let's worry about how this team has won games through adversity . . .
- like missing starting point guard Mo Williams for 28 games (54% of the season so far)
- missing former #2 PG Earl Watson for 19 games (37% of the season)
- missing our starting SF for 8 games (15% of the season)
- missing our 6th man Gordon Hayward for 8 games (15% of the season)
- missing either Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter (our #3 and #4 bigs) for 7 games (14%)
As you can imagine a lot of these injuries happened at the same time, so we were forced into using lineups during the season (a season with few practices early because of all our travel days) that we had not even gave thought to during the preseason and training camp. Yes -- every team goes through injuries -- but the Jazz are getting injuries en mass to specific groups like PGs or SFs. It's not spread out. Today we're still not healthy, we're still using crazy linups, and we're still winning. And that's pretty awesome.
2. Diversifying our offense:
Last season Al Jefferson shot the ball 17.2 times a game, and Paul Millsap shot it 13.5 times a game. No one else shot it at least 8.9 times a game after that. This season Big Al is shooting it only 15.4 times a game, and we have four guys all shooting it way above that 8.9 #3rd place threshold from last year -- Paul at 11.4 FGA, Mo with 11.3 FTA, Gordon with 10.4 FGA, and Randy with 9.6 FGA. We're sharing the sugar and we have a more diversified offense this year. We can score inside and out. And we can score with 5 offensive players on the court who all need to be checked. Our offense is more diverse, and we're harder to defend. The end result is that on offense everyone is contributing more, and it's paying off.
We've had dagger shots, game savers to sent it to overtime, or game winners all shot and made by Big Al, Mo, Paul, Randy, and Gordon off the top of my head. Last season we were 11th in total assists, and this season we're clocking in at 6th. Our offense is more diverse and it's paying dividends when we play team ball.
3. Maintained our flexibility / no distractions:
It's a great thing that the only time we mention Raja Bell is as a punchline now. He's so out of sight / out of mind that we have to bring him up to remember that his $3.5m expiring deal is still on the table. He's still getting paid but we still can move him if the price is right. We can still move anyone on our team as we're so far retained our flexibility as much as possible with a 15 man roster. We did not make a dumb trade just to make one either.
And ultimately, with 7 to 8 guys who are free agents at the end of the season, we were really afraid of having a bad locker room. If we were losing, guys would turn against one another and look out for their next payday in 2013-2014. That was my concern for sure. But we're winning. The locker room is being held together by precisely the guys who are free agents. The chemistry is reacting agreeably. And there have been no distractions this year. So far it's all been about the team, and that's a success.
4. Our younger guys are still developing:
Yes, it's true -- I would love it if we could play Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks more minutes. But it's also true that they are performing well with the minutes they are getting, and displaying that they are not only just doing their jobs, but they are doing their jobs well. They have improved from last season. And as a result -- it's super fair to say that they have developed.
Gordon can play against anyone in this league and has dropped game winners. Derrick Favors looks dominant during stretches of the game on defense and ALSO now on offense. Enes isn't getting blocked every second shot anymore, makes his space, and has a face up game now. Burks is someone who can look for his teammates and not turn the ball over anymore -- as he's succeeding while playing out of position. Each player worked on their bodies this summer, and are stronger, faster, and can jump higher. And each player is better at defense than they were last season.
They have all gotten better, even if they haven't made huge jumps or haven't had huge jumps in their MPGs.
5. The 2012-2013 Utah Jazz are a better team than they were last year:
First of all remember all those three point misses last year? This year we're bombs away from deep and now when we MISS I feel cheated. It's gotten to the point that I almost assume we'll make all our open, spot up, three pointers now. That's a huge positive change. We're also a better defensive team and play better team ball -- thanks in part to no longer having Josh Howard -- but it's more than just that. The team is more capable on the road now and have had some very impressive and encouraging road wins. I've already pointed out that our offense is more diversified, our younger guys are better, and that we're winning through adversity.
But it all goes back to winning. Last year at this point we were a sub .500 team. This year we're above .500 and looking up. There's over a +6% winning percentage increase. We're winning more. And that's what is the clearest indication of improvement and success.
We're not a perfect team, we have some flaws. However, we're not without our merits either. If we can keep up our winning while bringing everyone back in a few weeks we can make another solid, most likely successful, push for the playoffs. The next 30 games aren't going to be a piece of cake -- but we're ahead of my schedule and can only get better as the season goes on. There are a number of interesting story-lines to be ready for as the season continues after the All-Star break. I can't wait to see how they all unfold.
We can't know for sure how it will all end up, but at midseason it's clear that this season has been successful in a number of ways. It's not a full success, but it hasn't been a full season either. I think we're getting better, and we'll see some confident play from our Jazz players down the stretch run. It will be fun, and I can't wait to watch all these games with you guys! (Catch all the excitement here at SLC DUNK! I am plugging our future posts, I'm so revolutionary / sleep deprived!)