Jazz fans have just experienced a week in which the Jazz have beaten the NBA's 2nd best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder by a substantial margin, and then watched them get blown out to the West's 2nd worst team, the Sacramento Kings. How does this happen? Well, clearly the Jazz' play is variable on any given night, but what do the Jazz do better in wins than they do in losses? With this knowledge, perhaps the always elusive "winning formula" for the Utah Jazz can finally be found. All of this data, by the way, is courtesy of NBA.com's stats. (Note: you may have to scroll horizontally at the bottom of the post in order to see all of the stats. Sorry.)
In wins, the Jazz shoot just .5 shots more than in losses, but with a full 3.5% better percentage. This is despite a win against Oklahoma City that was primarily driven by having 19 more field goal attempts than their opposition. By the way, this is not influenced by pace: the Jazz actually play slower (93.49 possessions per game) in wins than in losses (94.30). For the most part, Jazz wins come down to who shoots better, not more.
Offensive rebounds happen at about the same rate in both categories, though the Jazz do make 1.2 turnovers less per game and get .7 more steals per game in their wins. These additional trips given by turnovers and steals aren't represented by field goal attempts, but rather free throws: the Jazz shoot 4 more free throws per game (perhaps due to the home crowd's influence). Relatedly, note the number of fouls the Jazz draw in their wins: they draw 3 more fouls per game in wins than in losses, whereas the number of fouls committed stays the same.
Interestingly, the Jazz actually attempt more threes per game in their losses, somewhat surprising given the efficiency of the three. However, in their wins, the 3 point shot is, again, converted at a higher percentage. It all results in approximately a 9 point offensive differential in the Jazz' offense when they win, compared to when they lose. But how do the Jazz do on defense?
Again, the difference for the Jazz turns out not to be the number of shots taken by the opposition, but the rates at which they convert those shots. In Jazz wins, the other team takes about 1 fewer shots, but makes fully 5.4 fewer, good for a 6% decrease in FG%. (This is probably responsible for the Jazz gathering about 4 more defensive rebounds per game in our first table). The Jazz do an even better job of locking down the three point line in wins, with a fully 10% difference in opposition 3 point percentage between wins and losses. The opponents just 1.2 fewer free throws in wins (remember, the Jazz shot an average of 4 more free throws). Remarkably, the Jazz' differential is even greater on defense than it is on offense: in Jazz wins, the Jazz give up almost 14 points fewer than in Jazz losses!
This means that the average Jazz win is by a score of 102-92, while the average Jazz loss is 94-105.
Let's dig a little bit deeper: we know now the basic stats reflected in Jazz wins, but how are they coming about? These are your "broadcaster stats", so called (perhaps only by me) because broadcasters use them a ton, but they don't seem to appear in your everyday boxscore, stats website, or team analyses.
A few notes here:
- The Jazz give up 3.8 more PPG on the fast break in losses, compared to only 1.2 more turnovers per game. That would seem to indicate that the Jazz' transition defense is poor in losses, perhaps a sign of being tired. The same, however, is true for the Jazz' opponents, who give up 3.4 more points on the break.
- Here's perhaps another sign of fatigue: while the Jazz get only .1 more offensive rebounds per game in their wins, they're able to get 1.3 more 2nd chance points. Perhaps the Jazz are more easily able to finish putbacks when their legs are rested, as during many wins? The same might be true of their opponents: when they are well rested, they can easily finish over the Jazz on those putback opportunities?
- The biggest difference here, as you can see, is points in the paint, especially defensively. While commentary often focuses on forcing the ball inside as a route to getting the Jazz going, it seems that keeping the other team out of the paint is significantly more important to the Jazz' chances of winning a game.
||FGM||FGA||FG%||3PM||3PA||3PT%||eFG%||FGM (%AST)||FGM (%UAST)|
|Less Than 5 ft.||17.9||28.7||0.624||0||0||0.624||57.10%||42.90%|
|FGM||FGA||FG%||3PM||3PA||3PT%||eFG%||FGM (%AST)||FGM (%UAST)|
|Less Than 5 ft.||15.3||26.9||0.567||0||0||0.567||51.10%||48.90%|
Now we start to see why the Jazz shoot more threes in losses: they're from further out! Note how in the losses, the Jazz take 12 shots per game from 25-29 feet, eschewing the corner three and the ones close to the line, whereas in wins, they take just 8.6 of them. The convert at nearly exactly the same percentage (35.3% to 35.4%), it's just a shot location issue. On those threes that do come from closer in, the Jazz shoot a much higher percentage in their wins (42%) compared to in their losses (36%).
The Jazz shoot more close shots from within 5 feet in their wins, they also shoot a better percentage on them, perhaps due to fresh legs, or perhaps because more of them are coming from assists. One strange quirk that I'm not sure I have an explanation for: the Jazz assist more often on the threes in the losses than in the wins.
This kind of analysis is somewhat dangerous, because you're not really sure in which direction the cause and effect goes: do the Jazz shoot a higher percentage in wins because they're playing differently, or do the Jazz win because they happen to be hitting more of their shots? Still, I think there are some things that we can learn from this analysis:
- Offensive rebounding, at least in total, is not a significant reason the Jazz win or lose. The team gets the same number of offensive rebounds in wins and in losses, and the difference in defensive rebounds seems to be entirely due to the increased number of missed shots that the Jazz force in their wins. Any increase in the number of shots the Jazz receive doesn't seem to make the Jazz more likely to win overall.
- Playing faster doesn't mean playing better: the Jazz actually play at a slower pace in their wins than in their losses.
- The Jazz must dominate the paint, especially defensively: the Jazz are more than 8 points worse per game defensively in the paint in losses, 5 points worse offensively. If the Jazz are losing the paint battle, they struggle to keep a stronghold. The big lineup may help to force this issue.
- On the other hand, if the Jazz are going outside too much, they're out of their game plan. A huge number of three point shots taken, while being somewhat efficient, is an indicator that the Jazz offense is out of sync.
- Fatigue matters: when the Jazz struggle in transition offense or defense, or struggle with offensive or defensive putbacks, it's a sign that the Jazz may not have the legs to compete with the other team.