Naturally, after a record-setting loss to the Rockets, questions are going to be asked. However, in their zeal to right the wrongs of this Utah Jazz team, it can be easy to go off-track into the fringes of irrationality. Here are 5 quick signs that, if you believe them, could be signs you've gone too far.
1. Al Jefferson hurts the Jazz on offense.
I think it's fair to question whether or not Al Jefferson's defensive deficiencies are made up for by his offensive talents. However, one thing is clear: Al Jefferson helps the Jazz on offense. The Jazz are 5.7 possessions better with Al on the floor on the offensive end. His league average scoring helps the Jazz' otherwise inefficient offense, as his FG% (47.5% vs. 44.8%) and PPP (0.96 vs. 0.91) are higher than the team's as a whole. The team, overall, shoots a higher percentage, scores more points, and even gets more assists than when he sits on the bench.
There's a section in Basketball on Paper that asserts that having an average-efficiency, high-usage player actually helps the rest of your offense by a point or two per 100 possessions, the idea being that such a player attracts defensive attention, allowing the other players to get free. We see that reflected in Big Al's numbers while he's on the court, as well as in little things like Randy Foye's career high 3 point percentage. It's not a big effect, but when you add it on to his pretty good offensive numbers, and the team's complete struggle to score points without Al, and it's pretty clear that he helps the team on offense.
January 29, 2013
A) Bell should get playing time for the Utah Jazz
This, of course, is ludicrous. Raja Bell is a terrible player. Bell, you're remember, put up a 8.3 PER last year, and an 8.2 PER the year before, in significant playing time. He's now 36. Only 7 players(and only 3 non-Knicks) who have played more than 10 games this season would be older than Raja Bell, and all of them, save for Jerry Stackhouse, have the distinction of still being good. He wasn't a positive +/- guy either season. He's no longer a good defender, as evidenced by the Jazz' worse defensive rating with him on the floor, as well as poor PPP numbers. Oh, and he's spent his break this season getting his degree, living in Miami, and appearing on ESPN shows with Skip Bayless. Really, the more degrees you can stay away from Skip Bayless, the better.
B) Bell should be waived.
This is more reasonable, and requires a more nuanced approach to answer. That answer is "Why?" Why should the Jazz waive him? According to all reports, he's refusing to take a contract hit upon being waived, which means that the Jazz still have to pay him if they choose to waive him. Seeing as he might make a trade work financially, he makes sense to hold onto has a token expiring contract. Again, according to those same 100% of reports, the Jazz would have waived him had they been able to get that salary savings, but unfortunately, Bell couldn't find an NBA team to sign him to any guaranteed contract whatsoever, and so he's choosing the Jazz' guaranteed money over not being paid. Which is a reasonable choice, but removes any room for Raja "supporters" to demand to free Raja Bell.
3. Burks is having a good season.
This was an understandable position to have at the beginning of the season: after all, Burks had a relatively nice (albeit still below-average in most respects) last season in limited minutes, is a young player, and figured to improve. Unfortunately, he's dramatically declined, and is now hurting the Jazz when he comes on the floor. His +/- stats are now negative (-.6), which is somewhat remarkable given that he's played with a largely positive bench unit for most of his minutes.
The biggest problem is the shooting: he's shooting 36% from the field, making only 22% of his threes, and 67% from the free throw line. You simply can't have those numbers from a shooting guard, at any level. The number of free throws he draws helps, but the 66% conversion rate (2nd lowest on the team, above Evans) means that it's not really that efficient. Indeed, his 9 PER and his 339th rank in PPP tell the story here. His high USG% at those numbers indicate that he might be pressing, but unfortunately it's a detriment to the team.
He doesn't really help in other ways either. His passing isn't great (Paul Millsap averages more assists per 36 minutes despite Alec playing a fair amount of time at PG), and his rebounding is better than the other wings on the team, but still isn't above-average league-wide. And his defense is sub-par: he allows his bench opposition 17.5 PER and 1.14 PPP, good for 393rd in the NBA.
Look, it's a significant shame that this is the case: I really, really like Alec Burks. But he's been very bad this year, and given DeMarre Carroll's positive contributions, it's impossible to really justify more playing time than as a third stringer if the franchise cares at all about winning games this year.
4. Millsap is having a bad season.
This myth is understandable too: Millsap had a bad beginning to the season. However, the games in the middle of the season matter as much as the ones at the beginning do, despite our tendency to remember those numbers more; of course, in November, all we have is November numbers, but by January, we have 3 months to evaluate.
I think it's fair, at this point, to call this Millsap's 2nd-best season of his career. The dropoffs he's had from last year are all pretty minimal: he's less than 1 point per 36 minutes, less than 1 rebound, and less than 2% from the field worse than last season. His PER is still at 20.2, and he's actually started passing more, getting more blocks and fewer fouls, though again, only slightly. He scored 0.96 PPP last year, and is at 0.95 PPP this year. Last year, he allowed 0.82 PPP on defense, and this year, he's allowing 0.84 PPP, though is putting up an improved 15.6 OPER to boot.
It's all largely the same story as before, though his per game numbers are somewhat hurt by averaging about 2.5 fewer MPG. His adjusted +/- has rebounded to slightly positive territory after a terrible start. To me, it's pretty clear: if you liked Paul Millsap last year, you should still like him now.
5. The team is underperforming compared to expectations.
The Jazz currently stand in 7th in the Western Conference, with a tiny percentage lead over the basically-tied 8th place Rockets. I can't find a big-name source that had them higher than 7th. Hollinger predicted the Jazz to be 7th. 3 of the 7 Sports Illustrated writers said the Jazz would be left out of the playoffs altogether. Even Matt Harpring predicted the Jazz would finish 8th.
This position, remember, is despite playing 5 fewer games at the usually-reliable-except-for-during-45-point-losses-to-the-Rockets Energy Solutions Arena, and the team is yet to play a relatively kind schedule in February and March. Given that the Jazz also lost their good PG, and now are actually starting Jamaal Tinsley at the point and playing him heavy minutes, you could say that the Jazz are better than could reasonably be expected. Frustration makes sense after the biggest loss in home history, but a look at the bigger picture says that the Jazz aren't doing as poorly as some seem to believe.