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Anatomy of a Loss - The Downbeat #881

The Jazz played Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans last night. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward played big minutes and played pretty well. How could they have possibly lost? This Downbeat explains in outrageous levels of detail how exactly that occurred.

Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday's game against the Grizzlies was an interesting one for a few reasons: not least of which was that Coach Tyrone Corbin used the lineups that Jazz fans have been clamoring for. Burks and Evans both got minutes at the expense of Tinsley and Carroll, and the "Big" lineup with Millsap, Favors, and Jefferson was used at the end of the game. Additionally, Hayward and Favors both performed well, giving the fans a good deal of what they want.

Unfortunately, the Jazz lost. How could we have been so wrong? Given this cognitive dissonance, I wanted to evaluate what really happened in the game: why did the Jazz lose against Memphis? To do this, I'll be looking at the game analytically to figure out what exactly happened.

First, let's look at the differences between the two teams in yesterday's game. While he was studying how teams win basketball games, Dean Oliver (author, former Denver Nuggets analyst, and now working for ESPN), identified "The Four Factors of Basketball Success". They are:

Shooting (40%)

Oliver chooses to measure shooting by the simple stat eFG%, which is just the same as regular FG% while taking into account the fact that 3 point shots are worth 50% more than two pointers. In this game, the Jazz' eFG% was 47.2%, while Memphis' eFG% was just 44.5%. It was not a particularly good performance by either team shooting the ball, though the Jazz were slightly more efficient, making 45 shots from the field compared to Memphis' 43. Each team made just 5 threes.

Turnovers (25%)

Turnovers are another key factor in basketball games: obviously, turning the ball over gives the opponent more possessions, as well as more dangerous possessions. The Jazz TOV% was 13.5%, turning the ball over 15 times in roughly 110 possessions. On the other hand, Memphis turned the ball over just 10.5% of the time, 12 times in 114 possessions. In a game when the Jazz shot slightly better, giving Memphis the ball turned out to be costly.

Rebounding (20%)

Rebounding is another opportunity to gain possessions compared to your opponent. While the possessions gained through offensive rebounds are less productive than those gained through turnovers, possessions are still good and valuable things. The Jazz percentage of possessions when they ended up with the offensive rebound (OREB%) was 22.9%, whereas Memphis' was 31.1%. Even though there were fewer defensive rebounding opportunities for Memphis (because the Jazz missed fewer shots) , they still ended up winning the battle of the boards, 51-42.

Free Throws (15%)

Because free throws are the most efficient shots in basketball when taken by non-Andris Biedrins players, it is also important to take into account how often players get to the line and how often they make the resulting shots. One way to do this is to divide total free throws made by the total number of shots taken (FT/FGA). By this measure, or by any measure, Memphis was far more effective than Utah: their FT/FGA was 24.2% compared to Utah's 10%.

As a result, even though Utah shot better than their opponents, the number of possessions, as well as the efficiency of their possessions, let them down. The Jazz used roughly four fewer possessions than Memphis, and on those possessions, scored just 1.008 points per possession, while Memphis scored 1.051 PPP. Those two factors came together for the 11 point Memphis win.

We noted that the Jazz actually shot at a higher percentage than the Grizzlies did, but where did those shots come from? Let's take a look at the shot chart:


The first thing I noticed was how few mid-range shots Memphis made: just 3 makes outside of the key, compared to Utah's 9. Indeed, let's look at it more statistically, using's advanced stats tool:


As you can see, the Jazz' percentages for the game were good or equal when compared to league average, and resulted in the shooting advantages we talked about in beat #1. The Jazz also did a quite good job of preventing good field goal percentages from Memphis, including in the restricted area and mid-range. Unfortunately, where the Jazz struggle on both offense and defense is efficient shot distribution. Memphis shot only 1 more FG attempt than Utah, but shot 4 more in the restricted area, and 10 more in the paint (though the Jazz did shoot 1 more three, good work!). That kind of shot distribution is why the percentages were as close as they were, and are a likely reason for the foul differential we see: Utah simply gave Memphis too many opportunities in the paint. Those are not reduced by fouling, but a more consistent "pack the paint" or a zone approach may address this issue.

Now that we've established what the factors were that led to the Jazz' demise, let's look begin to look at the players involved. We'll begin by looking at lineups using Popcorn Machine's gameflow of the game:


A few notes:

  • Derrick Favors was in the game for part or all of 5 of 6 Memphis' runs of 6 points or more. This is probably slightly unfair, but this gives him the resulting game-low +/- of -17.
  • While it seemed that the starting lineup was equally terrible in the third quarter as it was great in the first quarter, they actually only lost 3 points overall during their 2nd half stint, before Foye entered for Marvin Williams. The starting lineup was actually the most effective(+7) in the game, yet wasn't used in the 4th quarter.
  • The worst lineup was the lineup used in the beginning of the 2nd quarter: Foye/Burks/Evans/Favors/Kanter. Also not a good sign for those players: none of them managed to improve their -6 +/- throughout the rest of the game.
  • The real problem in the third quarter was assists and turnovers: Utah had a 2/6 assist-to-turnover ratio in the 3rd. Obviously, that means a lot of hard shots (37% FG for only 18 points) for the offense and numerous opportunities for the other team.

Now that we've used the Popcorn Machine Gameflow to figure out who was on the floor and diagnose what the problems were at those times, let's look at the box score and play-by-play to figure out exactly what happened.


For some reason, the +/- stats don't exactly lineup from Popcorn Machine, but we'll move past that. What needs to improve?

  • Jefferson's 3 turnovers to lead the team really stand out given Al's tendency to never, ever turn the ball over, but the only one to lead to a Memphis score was in the 4th which extended the Memphis lead to 10 with 2:48 left. That's certainly a big turnover, but it was instead Millsap's two consecutive offensive fouls that had the higher impact on the game's proceedings in the 3rd quarter: those turnovers leading to Memphis tying and then taking over the lead. Marvin Williams' 3 turnovers look pretty bad given his low usage as well.
  • Rebounding was certainly a problem for the Jazz. Who is responsible? Kanter and Favors look fairly suspect in this analysis. Kanter's grand total of 1 rebound is troubling, but even though Favors did gather 8 rebounds, he allowed his competition to get some fairly lofty totals. Zach Randolph gathered 6 of his 9 offensive rebounds while matching up against Favors, including 4 in the 4th quarter. When Kanter and Favors were in the game in the second quarter, Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights gathered 7 rebounds, including 2 offensive, while Kanter and Favors gathered only 3. Obviously, small sample size applies, and these two young players have had excellent rebounding percentages in the past, but they got beaten on the boards tonight by Zach Randolph. Jefferson, on the other hand, did a pretty good job against Marc Gasol, limiting him to 8 rebounds and only 2 offensive boards.
  • While the Matt Harpring solution to everything is to foul more, it's actually not a good strategy for winning basketball games. Each of the Jazz big men, save for Favors, had 4 or more fouls, and Millsap fouled out with 6. This meant the Grizzlies had 13 more made free throws than the Jazz, who only lost by 11. The Jazz have always been a foul-happy team, but in order to actually become a good defensive team, the fouling rate will need to decrease. Here, the young bigs diverged: Favors showed an excellent ability to play defense without fouling, whereas Kanter somehow accumulated 4 in only 11 minutes of play. The importance of playing defense without fouling needs to be stressed, unfortunately, I often feel that the opposite is true in Jazz land.

Or, for those tl;dr people out there, the Jazz gave up possessions through a few rebounds and turnovers, and fouled too much. The Jazz are usually pretty good at the possession battle, so last night's game was somewhat of an aberration there. However, fouling remains a significant problem.

On a completely different note, Clark and I recorded the 9th episode of our podcast on Monday, this time talking about the Alec Burks lack of playing time, and what the Jazz need to do to improve. We also compiled our list of the most entertaining Jazz players, so, you know, if you thought this Downbeat was way too statistical, we have something for you too!

Alec Burks' Playing Time and Utah's Most Entertaining Players - Clark and Andy Show #9

And just like always, you can listen to us through Stitcher Radio or iTunes.

Oh, and what do you think? What factors, in your eyes, led to the Jazz loss last night? Let us know in the comments.