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Three reasons that have influenced the slow Utah Jazz start to the season, part 1

"Oh man, it's bad now." "Uh-huh." "But it's gonna get better." "Okay, but why so close?" "Shhhh, don't talk. Just feel."
"Oh man, it's bad now." "Uh-huh." "But it's gonna get better." "Okay, but why so close?" "Shhhh, don't talk. Just feel."
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Right now the Utah Jazz are twelve games into the 2013-2014 NBA season. And so far this season the record does not look good. Sure, we're not supposed to judge this seasons Jazz by their record; but in this case the record reflects not just wins and losses, but the record is somewhat reflective of the quality of play this season. Many fans looked forward to this season for the chance, perhaps misguided, that while the record would be bad we could hang our hat on playing tough in games and having Lowevian losses (Jazz assistant head coach Sidney Lowe accumulated a poor Win/Loss record in his early NBA head coaching career not because he was a bad coach, but because his teams were bad and did not have balanced rosters -- but played hard and were in almost every game they played). I will freely admit to the belief that our season would be predicated by precisely that: our team would play well during stretches, but lose the game.

So far this season the Jazz have played well during some stretches, but the team has flat out been out of a lot of games. Way more than they have been in, if you look at the data available. I think there are three main reasons for this slow start, and while you could call them excuses, I would rather label them as reasons. Or at the very least, challenges that our team was incapable of overcoming. And I think they are legit reasons as well. Furthermore, because I love going out on limbs so much, I contend that had only two of the three factors been at play, then our on court performance (and the requisite difference in the W/L record as well) would be more reflective of the team we actually are.

Instead, right now the Utah Jazz are 1-11, look bad in the boxscores, look bad in the stands, and look bad on the court. And might I add, we look worse than we actually are. We are deceptively poor right now. And there are three major reasons for this.

The first, most obvious reason that we have to identify has been this opening schedule.


This schedule is rough for any team. The 1990 Utah Jazz would have a trouble with this schedule. November of 2013 has been a beast so far with the Jazz tacking so many pre-season selected playoff teams -- but a number of teams that are supposed to be contenders this year as well. The lone October game was against OKC but I still count that within the greater aspect of November. So this "month" has the Jazz scheduled to play 18 games (8 home, 10 road) in 32 nights. That doesn't look that bad right? Well, It comes out to 3.9375 games / seven days (also known as a week). So that's four games a week, each week, for the first month. Surely that's normal for the beginning of the season? Well, not exactly, but I'm not going to bore you with that info. It would also be boring to mention that this "month" has the Jazz playing six back-to-back sets (aka the total number the Lakers get some seasons), and seven games that by themselves qualify as the 3rd game in four nights. But hey, that's just the schedule for ya. Sometimes you get schedule wins and losses.

True. But the POINT isn't that "schedule gonna sched", the point is that the Jazz start this season off against GOOD teams. Really good teams. Of the 12 franchises the Jazz play this "month", only one of them hasn't made the playoffs in the three previous seasons. Most of them are supposed to make the playoffs this year. And no less than 6 of the 12 different franchises the Jazz play this "month" are supposed to be (according to preseason projections) Championship Contenders this season (in alphabetical order): Brooklyn, Chicago, Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio.

Not to be Columbo here, but just one more thing . . . those 6 franchises that are supposed to get to the conference finals in their respective sides of the NBA bracket . . . those 6 franchises will make up 9 of the 18 games this "month". So right off the bat the Jazz, failing one of those "amazing" games where a low lottery team plays great and slays a dragon, the team is looking at having only 9 winnable games this "month". (But for the process of having fun, let's say that in a perfect world the Jazz do slay the dragon one time in nine, and should have a record of 1/8 for this section)

So here are the remaining games that are not vs. a potential contender:

I'd say that three of those six teams are playoff capable, but not contenders. I'd pick out Toronto, New Orleans, and Dallas myself -- which accounts for four tough games out of the remaining nine that are just based upon perceived talent. A playoff team should beat a team in a strategic tank, or at least that's the theory. So if you split the difference on those games then you have a Jazz team that should go 2-2 against these 'medium level' teams. So combining it with the one "Slay a dragon" game from the previous section the Jazz should be 3-10. With five games left.

The individual games the Jazz have on this "month" schedule are:

  • Phoenix, on the road
  • Boston, on the road, second game of a back to back
  • Denver, at home, third game in four nights, first home game after a 4 games in five nights road trip
  • Phoenix, at home, first game after Thanksgiving lay-off of three nights
  • Phoenix, one the road, second night of a back to back, played the Suns the night before

There are only two easy games there, the first Phoenix game (the only disadvantage was playing on the road), and the second Phoenix game, which is at home after a long break. And Phoenix is really supposed to be the only club there (save for Boston) that is on the wrong side of the "incidentals advantage" benefit scale against our team. We played in Boston and do not do well there, historically. Though, it should be noted that by this time we knew the Rajon Rondo would be missing the game. Denver gives us a blowout loss each season to start the season, for the last few years. And playing the first home game after a long road trip is usually a loss for the Jazz over the last decade. Phoenix is supposed to be way worse than Utah, but teams usually split immediate home and home scheduled games. Even the Jazz proved this theory correct LAST season by winning at home to the Kings, then losing the next night on the road.

I'd say that the Jazz could have picked up three of these give games, which would lead the team to being a whopping 6-12 to start the season, which is STILL a win percentage of only 33.3%. That's in the normative best case here.

So if the guideline would have been a 6-12 start the Jazz would have had to overachieve to win more. Let's look at what has actually happened so far:

These are the 12 games Utah has played -- and in this table we also see the cumulative records of the teams we played from the 2010-11 season till today.

Utah Jazz 2013 - 2014 2010-11 to 2013-14 2013 - 2014 Results
Opponent W L % W L % Jazz Opp +/- W L %
1 Oklahoma City Thunder 7 3 70.0% 169 71 70.4% 98 101 -3 0 1 0.0%
2 Phoenix Suns 5 4 55.6% 102 136 42.9% 84 87 -3 0 2 0.0%
3 Houston Rockets 7 4 63.6% 129 112 53.5% 91 104 -13 0 3 0.0%
4 Brooklyn Nets 3 7 30.0% 98 142 40.8% 88 104 -16 0 4 0.0%
5 Boston Cletics 4 7 36.4% 140 100 58.3% 87 97 -10 0 5 0.0%
6 Chicago Bulls 6 3 66.7% 163 76 68.2% 73 97 -24 0 6 0.0%
7 Toronto Raptors 4 7 36.4% 83 158 34.4% 91 115 -24 0 7 0.0%
8 Denver Nuggets 4 6 40.0% 149 91 62.1% 81 100 -19 0 8 0.0%
9 New Orleans Pelicans 4 6 40.0% 98 142 40.8% 111 105 6 1 8 11.1%
10 San Antonio Spurs 9 1 90.0% 178 62 74.2% 82 91 -9 1 9 10.0%
11 Golden State Warriors 8 3 72.7% 114 127 47.3% 88 102 -14 1 10 9.1%
12 Golden State Warriors 8 3 72.7% 114 127 47.3% 87 98 -11 1 11 8.3%
Totals 69 54 56.1% 1537 1344 53.3% 1061 1201 -140
Averages 5.8 4.5 128.1 112.0 88.4 100.1 -11.7

The teams we have played so far this season are a combined 69-54 this year, which is winning 56.1% of the games, which would be a 46.0 win season. The franchises over the longer time frame are a combined 1,537-1,344, with a slightly lower 53.3 winning %. That results to winning only 43.7 games a year.

As a club, the Jazz are losing each game by 11.7 points, which is not nearly competitive enough to placate the fans of this once great franchise. The team has kept the game's final score to 10 or less (including our lone win) only 5 times in 12 tries. The beginning of the season we looked competitive and played hard, losing the first two games by a combined 6 points. Almost every game since them has been a parade of mistakes on the court by the players.

Even in the objective projection above where the Jazz should finish the October + November "month" at 6-12, the team has managed to do the following:

  • lose one of the two games that the Jazz should have won against the Phoenix Suns
  • lost the game against the, at that point, winless Boston Celtics with Rajon Rondo
  • got an early season destruction by the Denver Nuggets, at home

Those were potentially 3 of the 6 wins the Jazz could have had this year. Furthermore, that is 3 losses out of the 5 games I felt like we had a fighting chance for. In the "Slay a Dragon" games (we've played 7 of the 9 games so far) the Jazz have lost each one by a cumulative score of 90 points. That's losing by 12.9 ppg. That's not getting close to slaying a dragon. The closest we got was the first game of the season against the Thunder without Russell Westbrook.

So what's the point of this? Well:

  • The Jazz have a bad record this year
  • The record is more than just a product of one factor
  • The main factor has to be the quality of play by the team
  • But there are other factors that have contributed to the slow start
  • Of that there are THREE big factors
  • ..... and one of them is the schedule

In a perfect situation the Jazz would have gone 6-12 over the first 18 games of this "month". Playing four games every week, is bad. Playing so many games as back to backs or as the 3rd game in four nights is also bad. But the main schedule problem is playing against so many contenders this year (half of our games), and having only very few winnable games on the schedule to start with.

Moving beyond the schedule you have to also look at performance. The performance is poor. And if the team was going to go 6-12 to start the year (in the best case scenario) they have to finish the month going 5-1.

That would mean:

  • having a Dragon Slayer game at home against the Chicago Bulls, on the second night of a back to back, and the third game in four nights
  • winning both games of a home and home (which rarely happens), against the Phoenix Suns
  • and go 2 for 3 in stand alone road games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, and Oklahoma City Thunder

It's very unlikely to happen. And perhaps the 6-12 'ideal' version of the Jazz was a much too generous idea to begin with. Of course, the schedule is bad -- but it's just one of the factors that explains why the Jazz have had such a poor start to the season.

And it's a force multiplier when combined with the other two reasons that I'll talk about in part 2 and part 3 of this series.

The team will be better than it appears right now because these three factors are not going to be hounding the team for the entire season. Don't give up hope. The play has to improve, and it will. But more on that in the following posts...