Man, I take a one-week vacation away from the Jazz and they go on a six-game losing streak? That one's on me, guys. Clearly, my Downbeats are MAGICAL and I must never leave the state again.
Anyway. I've tried to catch up on recent events, but forgive me if I'm a little behind on the team zeitgeist. Seems like I missed a few tough losses.
Given the unprecedented strength of the NBA's Western Conference, though, the losses aren't terribly surprising. Eleven of the Jazz's first 18 games have been against Western Conference foes, including seven against teams currently in playoff positions. (The Jazz have gone 2-9 and 1-6 against those subsets, respectively.) Utah has played the sixth-toughest schedule in the NBA so far. Little wonder the team's record is what it is, then.
Except that, if the Jazz were in the East, they'd only be three games out of playoff contention right now, even after their six-game skid. And they'd only have two teams between them and the 8th spot. Instead, Utah sits 5.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8-seed, with four teams in between.
And while this year's Western Conference is especially difficult, it's been this way for years. In 2013, the Jazz missed the playoffs in the West, but they would have been 7th in the East by win-loss record. In 2011, the Jazz sat 11th in the West, but would have been 8th out East. In 2010, the 5th-place Jazz would have been 3rd. In 2009, 8th in the West was good enough for 4th.
There's a pattern here, is what I'm saying.
And that's just going by raw win-loss record, which doesn't tell the whole story since NBA teams play their Conference foes more often. Here's Grantland's Zach Lowe with more on that point:
In an ideal world, you'd balance all 30 team schedules before putting everyone in the same pool for playoff seeding. Teams now play 52 games within their conference and just 30 games against the opposite conference. If every team is competing against every other team for playoff spots, then they should all play more or less the same schedule. That isn't happening today.
But guess what. The schedule imbalance benefits the East! Those teams get to slap-fight against themselves 52 times! The interconference gap is even larger than it looks. The diciest pitfall of just going with the top 16 teams under the current imbalanced schedule would be rewarding a team that plays an easier overall 82-game slate. But that is already happening.
With more games against weaker Eastern Conference opponents, who knows where the Jazz could have been in prior seasons? And who knows how many more wins they'd have now?
Of course, talking wins and losses isn't that meaningful at this point in the season. It's early, and the Jazz weren't likely to compete for a playoff spot this season in any case. But boy, that six-game losing streak and 5-13 overall record might look quite a bit better now if not for so many Western Conference matchups.
Alas, this is the challenge placed before our team. We'll just have to weather the storm.
Here's some interesting data that probably reflects the difficulty of the schedule the Jazz have faced so far. An NBA analyst on Reddit put together this chart showing the point differentials of every team in the league when their opponent is either above or below .500.
As you can see, the Jazz don't come off looking great here. They're one of only eight teams with negative point differentials in both cases. And guess what? Six of those eight teams have played a top-8 toughest schedule in the NBA so far.
The other interesting tidbit from this chart is that the Jazz's point spreads against above or below .500 teams aren't that different. In other words, they have negative differentials in both cases, but they're not very different from each other. So the Jazz are only slightly less competitive in games against teams above .500 as they are against teams below .500.
That's either a cause for optimism (hey, we're competitive in every game, even against the top teams!) or for disappointment (we play to the level of our opponents, for good or ill). Or both, depending on the individual game. I lean more toward the former -- I think this Jazz season has been much more fun to watch so far. (Then again, I did miss the worst of last week, so what do I know.)
FanPosts! These are a few oldies, since I didn't get to post any last week (and because the cupboard is getting a little stale -- let's pick it up out there, folks).
BTork feels different about Jazz losses this season (although this was before last week's skid):
In previous years I took Jazz losses very hard and quite personal at times. An occasional "what the crap!" or "Here we go again" was know to be heard from me as the game wore on.
But this year is different, I look at the flow of the game rather than the score, things like how many turnovers, and assists there are, how is the team spacing, how many players are in double figures, these are the things I watch for this year.
And the strange thing about this is that I am enjoying the Jazz games more than I have in the past.
qsTep47 went on a troll hunt after Quin Snyder's "wake-up call" and found more than he expected:
Just for fun, if we just pretend that Coach Q's show of righteous indignation was really halftime, the Thunder score 49.someodd% of their points over the ‘first half, and the remaining 50.62% in our ‘second half'. The Jazz scored an easy-to-calculate 28.6% of their total points pre-splosion, therefore scoring a whopping 71.4% of their points post-splosion. You can't tell me that's not influential.
So there. Troll food or no, this brought up some fun info for this game. Take of it what you will.
And Jordan Cummings examines the early-season case for Gordon Hayward as an All-Star:
I would love to see Hayward keep playing at an elite level, as he has done so far this season. He probably won't be voted a starter in the West (Harden and Durant will likely be the starters at the wing positions), but there is a really good chance he steps in as one of the players selected by the coaches around the league. Right now he's playing like a bonafide superstar and is producing like a top-15 player in the NBA, and I love every minute of it.
If Hayward does make the All-Star team, these are the threads he'll be rocking:
(photo from adidas, via ESPN)
The internet's head uni-geek, Paul Lukas, breaks down the look thusly:
The minimalist jersey designs, with nothing but a number on the front, are supposed to pay tribute to the style of basketball played on New York City blacktops, but they really evoke the feel of basketball from the 1930s and '40s, when many pro and amateur teams just wore numbers on their chests. Some fans may find the designs too spare, but they're a big hit here at Uni Watch HQ. And whether you love them or hate them, you have to agree that NBA and Adidas have come up with something genuinely surprising and unexpected here -- good for them.
Click through for more pics and analysis. My take: I like 'em. They're a refreshing change from the gaudy monstrosities that usually festoon All-Star games. There's a lot to be said for understatement.
A quickie to end on: Not much about Dante Exum in this week's rookie analysis from ESPN's David Thorpe -- it's a longer piece comparing Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker -- but Exum does get a mention, sliding to No. 10 in Thorpe's Rookie Rankings. There's another Jazz rookie rising in the rankings, though -- and it's not Rodney Hood. Nope, it's 27-year-old Joe Ingles, checking in at No. 14.